Sage’s Everest: Building Mind and Market Share With A New Generation of SMBs

everestAt last week’s Sage Summit, one of the featured speakers was renowned British explorer, entrepreneur and adventurer Justin Packshaw. Among other achievements, Packshaw spoke about the challenges he and his team of 10 climbers faced to successfully reach—and then descend—the peak of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on the planet.

Watching Sage’s new (as of November 2014) CEO Steven Kelly interview Packshaw, I couldn’t help but think about the uphill battle that Sage has faced in attracting net-new customers to its accounting and ERP software solutions over the past several years. While many rivals were quick to bring innovative cloud, mobile and social capabilities into their solutions, Sage has taken a slower, more conservative approach. As a result, although Sage has done a fairly good job of retaining existing customers, it has struggled to gain mind and market share with new generation of cloud and mobile savvy SMB customers that it needs to fuel substantive growth.

Making the Case for the New Sage

Steven KellyKicking off the event, CEO  Kelly made his case for a newly energized and more engaged Sage. At the 50,000 foot level, Kelly:

  • Pledged Sage’s commitment to “being the best technology company for small businesses,” by providing small businesses with help to run their businesses, give them more control, and help them make the right choices.
  • Positioned Sage at the forefront of the “golden triangle” of accounting, payroll and payments solutions to make small businesses “100% compliant, 100% of the time.”
  • Reiterated that Sage “loves on premises, hybrid and cloud solutions” and will support all of these models to give businesses choice.
  • Vowed that “end of life” is not part of the Sage vocabulary. Sage won’t force existing customers to go to the cloud before they are ready; instead, it will provide pathways and tools that enable customers to control the pace of their migration.
  • Asserted that the term ERP (enterprise resource planning) really means “expense, regret and pain,” and that Sage will also banish this term from its vocabulary (which by the way, got a pretty big round of applause).

All of the above should be welcome news for existing Sage customers, who have stayed the course through numerous changes in Sage strategy, management and products over the past few years. But, it doesn’t offer much in the way of helping Sage attract net-new customers So how will Sage ascent its Everest? 

Sage Live: Poster Child for the New Sage

sageliveKelly’s roadmap for new growth focuses on rapid, global new solution development for next-generation business decision-makers who are already sold on a cloud and mobile first world. Sage One, Sage’s offering for sole proprietors and very small businesses from pen and paper and spreadsheets, is part of this, but Sage Live  (formerly Sage Life) is really the poster child for Sage’s new approach tailored to the “office of the future.” Notably, Sage Live was designed and developed in six months from when Kelly gave the team its marching orders.

Built as a multi-tenant cloud-based accounting solution. Sage Live is aimed  squarely at growing small businesses who need more power than entry-level accounting solutions offer, and want cloud, mobile and collaborative capabilities out-of-the-box. Pricing starts at $30/user/month for full users (such as finance and accounting users) and $15 per user/month pricing for more casual business users. Slated for U.S. release now, and for UK availability at the end of the summer, Sage Live is designed to be a global solution.

The Salesforce1 Shortcut

Sage choose to build Sage Live on Salesforce1, the largest cloud development platform in the world, to gain development and go-to-market efficiencies, including:

  • A rapid development environment and tools to design, build and bring the solution to market.
  • The ability to embed Salesforce1 mobile and collaborative functionality, such as Chatter, directly into the Sage Live solution.
  • An enormous partner ecosystem to add features and functions for specific markets. For example, Kimble PSA announced its integration with Sage Live at the event. With a partner-centric approach from the get-go, Sage Live doesn’t need to become a clunky, monolithic solution.
  • The same look and feel as Salesforce, giving Sage a natural entrée into Salesforce’s 95,000 SMB installed base customers. 

Customer-Centric Design

Salesforce1’s platform also made it easy for Sage to pull in its best small business accounting experts from around the world to collaborate on Sage Live. Sage also involved customers in its early adopter program from the beginning, seeking out non-Sage customers–both owners and those in financial roles—for input.

What Sage heard is that they are spending too much time juggling too many spreadsheets. As their businesses grow, they need better tools to budget and forecast, the ability to look at their business through different lenses, and more collaborative capabilities. They want a “one-office approach” with easy cloud and mobile access to real-time information for all users.

In response, Sage Live’s multi-dimensional accounting engine allows users tag records with geographical, product or other information. Users can then easily pull up different views and reports based on the tags. The solution can also be configured for different role-based views or “scoreboards” giving users just the information most relevant to them.

iwatchEmbedded Salesforce1 real-time social and mobile capabilities make it easy for users to collaborate and share information, ala the “business in the moment” example of Sage Live notifications on Apple iWatch.

Perspective

New and fast-growth SMBs are increasingly gravitating to the cloud for accounting and ERP. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that 29% of SMBs planning to purchase new accounting/ERP solutions are leaning toward cloud deployments. Sage Live provides Sage with a much-needed solution to tap into this market, and meet it’s elusive (to date) challenge of attracting net-new business. 

While some have questioned the wisdom of building on Salesforce1, I believe that this was a good choice for Sage. Salesforce1 has enabled Sage to skip the plumbing work and to build Sage Live much more quickly than it could have from scratch. Furthermore, Sage gains exposure to Salesforce’s large SMB customer base, and an entrée to Salesforce’s extensive developer ecosystem.

In addition, while Salesforce customers have many choices when it comes to accounting solutions, Sage Live is the only small business accounting solution native to the Salesforce1 platform (FinancialForce is native as well, but aimed more at the midmarket).

Finally, armed with a true “net-native” cloud solution, Sage can apply its extensive expertise as a volume SMB marketer to the cloud and mobile first SMB segment. Sage is even opening a new Customer Business Center, exclusively dedicated to digital marketing and sales for the Sage Live solution.

However, this is not enough to ensure success. I see a few areas in which Sage will need to double down, including:

  • Creating a clear, constant drumbeat to articulate why Sage Live is different from other Sage and its competitors’ offerings. Getting on SMB radar is hard in a market where so many vendors are vying for customers that have outgrown QuickBooks and other entry-level accounting solutions. And, since SMBs rank “Figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges in SMB Group’s SMB Routes to Market surveys. Sage will also need to provide in-depth education to make it to SMB short lists.
  • Persuade Salesforce to more actively promote Sage Live. From what I gathered at Sage Summit, Salesforce sales reps will refer customers to Sage Live if they want to integrate accounting and CRM. This is a start, but fairly passive. Sage Live needs Salesforce to play a more active role to kick-start consideration and adoption. Sage will be a Platinum sponsor at Dreamforce, and it will be interesting to see how Salesforce reciprocates.
  • Prove that it can expand traction with developer partners. To further validate its cloud direction and ambitions, and to fill in key gaps for critical customer segments, Sage must quickly recruit high-profile Salesforce developers to the Sage Live fold.

Prior to Kelly’s appointment, Sage had been investing in new technologies to modernize its existing accounting payroll and payments solutions for quite some time. But progress seemed to be slow, and it was clear that simply moving existing solutions would not be enough to fuel significant  growth. With Sage Live, Steven Kelly is already operating at a bolder, faster and more aggressive pace than his predecessors to pursue this growth. Now, having proved it can get on the fast track with product development, Sage’s next—and bigger challenge—is to get on the fast track with marketing and sales.

Yes, Virginia, SAP Does Have a Real Small Business ERP Solution

SAP logoWhen it comes to business management and  enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, SAP often isn’t on the radar for small and medium businesses (SMBs). But, while the ERP giant is best known for its large enterprise solutions, SAP Business One is aimed squarely at providing small businesses with a unified business management solution.

In this three-part series, I interview Luis Murguia, who was recently appointed Senior VP and general manager for SAP Business One to discuss how the solution fits into SAP’s strategy, what makes it a good fit for SMBs, and how the vendor plans to move Business One from being one of SAP’s best kept secret onto SMB short lists for ERP solutions.

In this first post, we discuss Luis’ background, Business One history, and some of the key differentiators it has in the SMB ERP market.

Laurie:  Hi this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Luis Murguia, Senior VP and general manager for SAP Business One. Business One is SAP’s flagship ERP solution for small and medium businesses. So Luis you’re relatively new in this role, can you tell us a little bit about where you come from, and why you decided to become part of the Business One team at SAP.

luisLuis: Thank you Laurie, and great to catch up. I’ve been with SAP for 9 years, in the enterprise division as well as the partner organization. For the past 6 years, I ran SAP’s European partner organization. Throughout my career I have been involved with the ERP market. I started my career in providing ERP solutions for small wholesale food distributors, working with solutions like Peachtree, QuickBooks. Then I moved into selling HP3000 servers pre-loaded with business management software. So I’ve been involved in helping small business find new ways better ways to run the business and be more successful throughout my career.

Laurie: It sounds like you have a well-rounded history and in terms of small business solutions, which brings me to my next question. Many people think of SAP primarily as a big company a big company that sells sophisticated, high-end business solutions to other big companies. So what’s SAP’s role in small business?

Luis: Great question. Ben Horowitz, a venture capitalist that I admire a lot, was also a CEO of a start-up that became very successful in the dot-com crisis. He describes innovation as a really good idea that initially looks like a bad idea. This because any good idea that looks good off the bat is probably not innovative, as it s likely that many people are already doing it. For example manufacturing a car is a good idea because people need cars, but everybody knows it.

Laurie: So unless you’re like Tesla it’s not necessarily a new idea.

Luis:  Exactly. 10 years ago people thought the idea of making a high performance car that runs 100% on electricity was such bad idea was no one was doing it. But then Tesla did it. Likewise, Business One, which is designed for small businesses, doesn’t appear to be a fit for SAP. But actually, we can leverage many SAP strengths, including industry knowledge and best practices, such as order to cash, and package it for small business. That’s what makes Business One such a novel and successful product. We instill and capture expertise from SAP’s big business ERP to help our smaller business customers be more competitive.

Laurie: Ok, explain a bit of the Business One history for us.

Luis: Business One has about 50,000 customers. The solution has been available for the last 15 years, and we are accelerating growth, adding close to 1500 new customers every quarter. Every day, about 15 new companies in the world choose Business One to manage the business.

Laurie: Why do you think growth is accelerating now?

diversityLuis: I’ve been with Business One for just about four months, and I see two great takeaways to date. Number one is that Business One can be run in the customer’s own facilities, as well as in the cloud. Businesses like having this choice. The second reason, and perhaps more important, it is that more customers are choosing Business One because of the in-depth industry functionality that has been developed by our partner ecosystem.

Laurie: So is the focus for Business One to differentiate with industry specific versions or customizations?

Luis: That is 100% correct. And let’s talk a little bit about customer size segmentation too. We divide the Business One market into three distinct segments: companies with less than 50 employees, those with between 50-200 employees, and ones with 200 to 1,000 employees. The first, businesses with less than 50 employees will usually be running QuickBooks, as a standard off the shelf solution. In the 50 to 200 employee category, companies are probably using Microsoft Dynamics, Sage or another solution that they’ve customized to some extent, but they don’t have the critical mass to afford systems integrators to meet all of their requirements. Business One really fits the bill here, because we have over 600 micro-vertical customizations.

Laurie: So Business One has become a software development platform?

Luis: Yes, standard accounting, standard invoicing, management, sales, taxes, and other functionality is in there, and the ISV can build specific micro-vertical functionality on top of it–say for photo copier dealers or microbreweries, which have very different requirements. And in that 50-200 employee segment, that’s exactly what they need, a full solution to manage unique requirements, off the shelf. They can derive more value from a complete micro-vertical solution with Business One as the foundation.

Laurie: And having it available in the cloud probably helps a lot too.

Luis: Yes, in the US, over 85% of all new Business One customers are choosing cloud deployments. Many sign a contract a perpetual license from SAP for financial reasons, because most will stick with an ERP solution for a long time. It is much better, just like its better to own the house than renting the house–the math says you should buy not rent. But they are having partners run and manage Business One for them in the cloud. Say you are a microbrewery in Chicago. You don’t worry about servers, disasters or backups; you eliminate the traditional headaches associated with IT infrastructure. So even though many buy a perpetual license, all the infrastructure and management is in the cloud.

This post is the first of a three-part series. In the second, we’ll examine key triggers and requirements that drive small businesses to move from entry-level accounting solutions to SAP Business One. In the third, we’ll explore SAP’s Business One strategy and goals for the future. 

As The Cloud Turns: Dell’s 1-5-10 Cloud Roundtable

The roots of cloud computing date back to the late 1990s, but the “cloud” continues to evolve—as does the conversation about its impact on technology and business. So I welcomed the opportunity to moderate a discussion of cloud past, present and future at Dell’s recent 1-5-10 Cloud roundtable in Washington DC. Dell’s 1-5-10 series is designed to engage Dell customers, executives and influencers in discussions exploring the implications of major tech trends over the one, five and ten years

Top Takeaways

  • IMG_2915The cloud means different things to different people–but “game changer” is the common thread. We kicked off the roundtable by asking participants to describe cloud in three words or less. Customers chose descriptors such as cost-effective, flexible, reliable and mobile. For instance, Edima Elingewinga, Executive Director, Information Technology at the United Nations Foundation, used mobile as a key descriptor, noting that “Cloud facilitates communication all around the world. That is critical, and that is what drove us to the cloud.” Meanwhile, Dell execs used terms such as digital services enablement, future-ready, and scalable to describe the cloud. However the group was in consensus that the cloud is a game-changer for businesses, government and non-profits.
  • us government sealFederal government adoption of cloud has slowed since the Cloud First policy was established. Cloud First is an initiative launched in 2011 by then US CIO Vivek Kundra. The policy mandated that government agencies had to evaluate a cloud computing option first, and had to have a strong rationale on why they could not use cloud before they could purchase traditional on-premises solutions. As Dell Director of Product, Cloud Management Systems James Urquhart noted, “If you look at this from 2010-2013, you’d have to argue that the federal government as a whole was ahead of the enterprise” with a top-down approach and mandate. But, despite early advocacy and some marquee cloud deals, federal adoption has been more sluggish than many had anticipated, as noted in a 2014 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), CLOUD COMPUTING : Additional Opportunities and Savings Need to Be Pursued. David Lancaster, Dell Federal marketing executive, believes that this is due in part to different agencies having different requirements for different types of clouds—which makes the sourcing process complex and time-consuming. “The federal government is more concerned about private cloud because of security,” added Dr. Lon D. Gowen, chief technologist and special advisor to the CIO at USAID. According the GAO report, legacy migration concerns, cultural barriers and skills deficits also put a drag on adoption.
  • The silver lining in Cloud First is that it sparked adoption in the private sector. Government endorsement of Cloud First paved the way for the private sector to become more bullish on cloud adoption. As Edina Elinewinga, commented, “If the government can trust the cloud, we can trust the cloud.” As a result, private sector adoption is now outpacing that of the federal government.
  • cloud question markCloud computing decisions are becoming more strategic and complex. Whether in business or government, cloud conversations are evolving into discussions of how cloud computing can provide strategic business benefits. As Executive Director and General Manager of Dell Cloud Services Jeremy Ford commented, “The cloud is an enabler, not the point of the discussion. The more organizations view it as an enabler, the more successful they’ll be.” Dell Vice President and General Manager for Engineered Solutions and Cloud Jim Ganthier observed that the conversation is shifting away from “either/or” private or public cloud to one of an “and” conversation in an increasingly hybrid cloud computing world. As Dr. Phil Yang, director of the NSF Spatiotemporal Innovation Center stated, “Choosing the right cloud is like match making, you need to think of it like uber legos.” Participants agreed that most organizations will choose to utilize both public and private clouds, depending on a requirements, constraints and other considerations.
  • Cloud is changing the role of IT. As the cloud conversation shifts to business enablement, IT is increasingly expected to serve as a strategic advisor to the business. Edina Elinewinga said that she has become more of a technology broker in her role now. In addition, IT must assume responsibility for developing a coherent strategy to guide organizations in how to use and integrate different types of cloud deployment models and providers.
  • Cloud will become the fabric of our lives. Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive cloud growth over the next 10 years, affecting every aspect of cloud decision-making—from infrastructure and management to strategy requirements. “Big data and IoT are examples of usage models that wouldn’t have been practical or enabled without the cloud,” observed Jeremy Ford. “In about 10 years, everything will be part of the cloud, and we won’t use the word cloud to describe what we are using,” according to Dr. Phil Yang. And Jim Ganthier predicts that “We won’t be talking about “the cloud” in the future. It will be all about the data generated and how we use it.”
  • digital securityPrivacy and security concerns will continue to be top of mind cloud concerns–and power issues will enter the discussion. Privacy and security issues will intensify as more devices, more data comes into play. Edina Elinewinga noted that she is focused on how to keep the work environment and data secure as more and more UN Foundation employees bring different technologies and applications into work. As cloud computing becomes more ubiquitous, power issues will also arise. Dr. Lon D. Gowen predicted, that we’ll need “power over the airwaves to enable future generations of cloud computing.

Summary and Perspective

The cloud conversation is increasingly centered on business problem solving, enablement and innovation. And, big data and IoT are likely to fuel exponential growth in cloud adoption and use cases beyond what most of us can even imagine today.

However, as cloud computing becomes a ubiquitous solution for more problems, cloud alternatives and issues are also becoming more numerous, nuanced. Cloud choices will also become more inter-dependent and related. As complexity and choice expands, brokerage services will become essential in helping most organizations navigate the cloud landscape.

As business reliance on the cloud grows, IT and business decision-makers must align to meet business requirements and optimize long-term security, agility and flexibility with cloud solutions. Both groups will also need guidance and education to build a common foundation from which they can engage to optimize their cloud investments.

SMB Spotlight: Empowering A Billion Women by 2020 Teams Up With Xero

canstockphoto13589024Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today, I’m talking to Ingrid Vanderveldt, CEO of a new venture called Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW2020) and with Russ Fujioka, the U.S. President of Xero, which provides cloud-based financial solutions for small businesses.

Ingrid and Russ, I’m really excited to talk to you about how you guys are teaming up on this initiative of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020.

Ingrid, can you just start by telling me a little about what EBW2020 is and why you started it?

Ingrid: Sure, and I’m so glad Russ is here, too, because I cannot imagine doing the venture without Russ and without Xero.

EBW2020 is about actually empowering a billion women on a global basis worldwide over the next few years, by providing them tools, technology, and resources to empower their success as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

To do that we focus on three areas. One is mentorship, because we found that lack of mentorship is the number one reason why women don’t start, grow, or scale their ventures. Financial literacy is number two, and number three is technology support.

These three pieces together are sometimes the most intimidating pieces of starting, growing, and scaling a business. We want to demystify that entire process, make it super easy, and provide support for women globally to tackle these three areas.

xeroIt ties into Xero on the financial side. We want and encourage women to get on the Xero platform. We’ve selected Xero because, frankly, Xero is the easiest, simplest. They call themselves beautiful accounting software, but it truly is a very easy way for any business owner to gain control and clarity and simplicity over their finances.

And when you team women up with that capability along with support, together we can help strategize on how can you use your financial literacy to empower your growth.

Laurie: In addition to Xero, what other components are in EBW2020?

Ingrid: It entails three things. One is the mentor-matching platform, where we team women business owners coming into the EBW2020 platform with a mentor by industry, by revenue numbers. So, for example, we’d team a woman making $50,000 a year with a woman in $150,000-$250,000 a year category. That’s all free.

Then, we start moving them into our business-in-a-box solutions. Step number one here is get on the Xero platform so together we can examine and strategize over their finances.

We also have a $100 million fund that we provide financing to enable women to grow and thrive.

Laurie: So the Xero piece provides financial visibility and automates a lot of manual tasks.

Ingrid: Exactly. I’ll never forget a meeting I had with Russ last summer, when he started showing me some new things that were coming out at Xero a year ago, which are now out. And I was, like, oh my gosh, this is a dream come true.

Laurie: Yes, Russ, can you give us a little background on how you got together with Ingrid on this?

Russ: Ingrid and I met back in our Dell days, over four years ago when she was Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence. I was coming out of the venture community and we had a lot in common in the companies that we had worked with and were enabling.

When I came to Xero, I called Ingrid to see what she was up to and talk to her about what Xero was doing. And you know, the mission of Xero was very complementary. Xero is also really focused on helping small businesses to thrive and survive.

In particular, I was talking to her about what we call “beyond accounting” capabilities. Because after we had built our robust platform for small business accounting, we started to integrate lots of tools and an insights engine. We call it big data for small business. Our first foray into that is our business performance dashboard.

Xerocon2

L to R: Cristina Garza, Accounting Prose, Russ Fujioka, Ingrid Vanderveldt

I was talking to Ingrid about this, the ability for small businesses and their advisers to look at key indicators so that they can continually monitor their business and help build financial acumen to be successful. That resonated with Ingrid in the sense that it could help women entrepreneurs easily gain financial acumen.

From the beginning, Xero always touted that no small business should be in business without a trusted financial adviser. Our platform is built from the ground up in the cloud to support a two-way view, for the small business and their financial adviser. Or, as we are seeing, also sometimes their funding agents, bringing a lot of transparency into the financials of their business.

So when I first came into Xero, I think Ingrid was pretty psyched about what we were doing, because I think Xero was architected this in with these needs in mind. So it was serendipitous that we had the meeting, and then it resonated really well for what she wanted to enable within her efforts.

Ingrid: Can I add something? Having full transparency is really a big deal. The main reason I went to Dell as Entrepreneur in Residence was to prove out the concept that through technology we could create an instant global platform and, for me personally, pilot that hypothesis towards the goal of empowering a billion women by 2020.

Going back to what I originally said about our three pillars of mentorship, financial literacy, and technology/scalability, I knew how to solve the mentoring issue. But while I was at Dell, I hadn’t figured out how do we could quickly and easily give women financial confidence.

Back at Dell, I started funding a development team to build out what I call Etch-a-Sketch on top of QuickBooks. When Russ called me and he said, you just have to see what we’re doing at Xero, I got goosebumps, literally I almost started crying because I was so happy. It is dream come true for how easy and simple it makes helping entrepreneurs get confident about their finances.

And to see finances and money not as something to be scared of or intimidated by, but instead, something they can understand and can really fuel success.

This is going to revolutionize small business on a worldwide basis, it’s just that good.

Laurie: Just to clarify one thing. To initially sign up before you start using the business-in-a-box and the Xero component, to just sign up and start getting some of your tips and things like that, Ingrid, that part of it is free. Correct?

Ingrid: Yep, that first level is free, and there are three levels of membership.  The community just went live a couple of months ago, but there are over 8,000 people in it and we’re about to add 2,000 from Iceland. So it’s growing very quickly.

Laurie: Last but not least, the third component, the philanthropic part of EBW2020. What does that involve?

Ingrid: EBW2020 has two arms. One is our for-profit, which is what we’ve talked about. Then there’s the not-for-profit, our EBW foundation, which is focused on the exact same things but it takes it a step further.

For example, a woman in Uganda, if we can give her a working cell phone, get her tapped into the EBW a community, find her a mentor, and start teaching them about financial literacy?

So on the foundation side, we start at a different level than where we start with women who are coming from more developed countries.

Laurie: That’s great to know, and I just want to thank both of you, Ingrid and Russ, for joining me to share this information, which I think a lot of people will find very valuable. Best wishes for meeting your goals, and thanks again.

Charting a Course in the ERP Clouds

cloud question markFor many SMBs, limited IT resources and budgets are the norm. This makes keeping pace with technology requirements an uphill battle.

Over the past several years, cloud-based solutions have helped SMBs put technology solutions to work with less cost and complexity, and more flexibility, than traditional on-premise deployments. The technology underlying cloud ERP solutions provides SMBs with agility, efficiency and financial benefits. For instance, cloud solutions:

  • Capitalize on virtualization and load-balancing technology. Applications are more easily deployed, managed, and even scaled across multiple servers and database resources as demand and growth changes
  • Provide access to software, server, storage and other computing resources that you provision—and users access—over the Internet or a private network via browser, so you don’t need to deal with client upgrades.
  • Store data resources in the cloud instead of on individual devices, easing management and security concerns.
  • Typically take a layered security approach, which includes encryption, key management, strong access controls, and security intelligence to further increase data security.

This translates into big advantages for businesses. For instance, one of the biggest benefits cloud solutions provide is on the mobile front. Users can easily self-provision and use cloud applications from a web browser, through Apple and Android mobile devices, or Windows, Mac or Linux desktop platforms—without expensive, complex VPN and remote access software. This makes it easier for businesses to support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs.

Slide1These kinds of benefits have convinced many SMBs to adopt cloud solutions in areas such as CRM and collaboration. As they realize benefits in these areas, they are increasingly likely to consider the cloud for core business functions, such as accounting, financials, and ERP. As indicated on Figure 1, only 14% of SMBs currently use cloud Accounting/ERP solution. However, among those planning to purchase or upgrade, 20% plan to select cloud Accounting/ERP. 14% are not sure, and likely to consider both options.

However, clouds come in different shapes and sizes, including public (software-as-a-service or SaaS) private clouds and hybrid clouds. Adding to the confusion, the lines between different cloud models are blurring. Finally, the list of vendors offering cloud financials and ERP solutions for SMBs is growing.

So how can you determine which cloud ERP approach is right for your business? .

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.19.54 AMSponsored by Acumatica, SMB Group’s free ebook, Clearing the SMB Clouds will help you understand the cloud variants that you’re most likely to encounter when evaluating ERP solutions and deployment alternatives, the tradeoffs between them, and critical security questions. The ebook provides guidance to help you determine which model will best match your company’s strategy, workloads, performance and security needs, and how to assess cloud ERP providers, partners, and solution capabilities.

The bottom line is that the business models, goals and requirements of SMBs are as diverse as the cloud ERP choices available–there is no “one size fits all” cloud ERP choice that’s right for all SMBs. While cloud ERP solutions offer SMBs the means to streamline operations, adapt, and grow in today’s fast-paced business environment, it’s important to do your homework to figure out which solution will be the best fit for your business.

The Cloud Comes Full Circle: Sage and Salesforce Team Up For Sage Life

White Clouds in Blue SkyIf you had any doubt that the cloud has become mainstream, yesterday’s announcement that Sage and Salesforce have inked a global partnership to bring Sage small business accounting and payroll solutions onto the Salesforce 1 Platform should erase them.

The partnership brings together opposite ends of the software universe. It pairs Salesforce, pioneer and poster child for the cloud, with Sage, which has arguably been one of the slowest software vendors to embrace cloud computing. While Marc Benioff’s Salesforce posted 26% revenue growth in it’s recently close fourth quarter, Sage posted growth of 6.2%. Not to mention the rumors of Salesforce potential value as a $50B to $60B acquisition target to a still unidentified bidder.

Sage Life is aptly named, as the partnership offers Sage the potential to breath new life into a its product lineup with a cloud solution better tuned to the needs of today’s small businesses. Sage Life provides unified accounting, financials and payroll in a cloud based, customizable solution. The solution is mobile ready, and can be used on any device, from smartphones to smart watches and from tablets to the desktop. The real time, unified data view and social functionality enable collaboration between employees, customers, partners and other constituents.

Coupled with Sage’s strong understanding of small businesses, the partnership infuses Sage with a credible foundation to attract new customers to its fold, which has been a notoriously difficult feat for the vendor to achieve over the past several years. By providing a modern, integrated small business solution that also integrates with Salesforce CRM, Sage is aiming to solve the integration challenges that so many small businesses struggle with (Figure 1). As indicated, roughly 40% of small busnesses (1-100 employees) have not done any business application integration. And, among those who have, 71% use unwieldly, unscalable custom coding or manual methods to accomplish the task.

Figure 1: Level and Type of Business Application Integration Used By Small BusinessesSlide1

The relationship is complementary to Salesforce’s investment in and partnership with FinancialForce, which is also built on the Salesforce 1 Platform, but is geared towards midsize businesses. Sage provides Salesforce with a similar, integrated front and back office story for small buisnesses—and perhaps a possible investment opportunity as well.

Already a leader in corporate philanthropy, Sage has also joined Pledge 1%, perhaps cementing a stronger bond. Based on a Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model, Pledge 1% encourages individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, and employee time to their communities.

Perspective

In the tech world, the initial announcement is all too often the climax of the partnership. While it’s too early to tell if this one will blossom beyond the honeymoon phase, it’s certainly in Sage’s best interest to make the relationship work, as it’s future growth will be heavily dependent on this new offering. Meanwhile, Salesforce, which has arguably become less in tune with small business as it has moved up into the large enterprise space, stands to benefit from Sage’s small business knowledge and customer base.

Discussing 2015 SMB Tech Trends, Part 1: Cloud is the New IT Infrastructure for SMBs

Recently, I had the pleasure of kicking off the new year as a guest on Act Local Marketing for Small Business with host Kalynn Amadio. Each week, Kalynn shares information and actionable tips to help inspire and motivate small and medium businesses (SMBs) reach their business goals.  On this episode, Kalynn and I discussed SMB Group’s 2015 Top Technology Trends for SMBs and what they mean to the marketing and running of your business. The first of a five-part series, this post summarizes our discussion of “Cloud is the new IT infrastructure for SMBs.”

White Clouds in Blue SkyKalynn: Welcome, this is Kalynn Amadio and you are listening to ACT LOCAL Marketing for Small Business, and I want to introduce you to a previous guest of the show. I can tell you that Laurie’s previous podcasts were some of the most downloaded in this show’s history. Laurie, I’ll have to look up how many downloads you have altogether, I haven’t done that in a long time, it’s always fun.

Laurie: Hi Kalynn, great to talk to you again too.

Kalynn: I’ll tell you, I mentioned that the couple of other interviews you’ve done with me, because Laurie always looks into her crystal ball and tells us what is on the horizon, what can we be thinking about, and people must really like this Laurie because they download those two podcasts that have predictions more so than many of the other interviews that I’ve done over the years, so kudos to you.

Laurie: Thank you Kalynn, that’s great to hear. We try to put these technology trends into a language that us mere mortals that are not necessarily technologists can understand and relate to in terms of our businesses.

Kalynn: It’s important to have some smarty-pants people like you looking at all this stuff and making it understandable for the rest of us. Now you have a report that’s going to be coming out soon that are the small and medium SMB groups, Top Ten Small and Medium Business Technology Trends for 2015. We won’t have time to go through all ten of them but I have cherry picked half of them that I’m hoping that we will get through because several of them will impact local businesses, small businesses, a lot of the baby boomers that I deal with and marketing related things. The first one I want to ask you about is the cloud, right? A lot of businesses still get confused about what that means. I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to explain what the cloud actually is, but tell us about the cloud as the new IT infrastructure for small to mid-size businesses.

Laurie: Okay, fantastic. Our first prediction, as a matter of fact, is that cloud is the new infrastructure for SMBs.   What we’ve seen over the years, and believe it or not, this concept of cloud computing has been around since really the late 1990s, but it kind of got off to a rocky start for a lot of reasons that we don’t really need to go into in detail. Suffice it to say that maybe in the beginning the concept was a little ahead of its time in terms of the available technology and network bandwidth and things like that. We’ve basically seen cloud really take off in the last few years, especially since the recession. Interestingly what we’re finding is the cloud is definitely enabling a lot of smaller companies that no way no how could they have ever been able to implement a lot of different technology solutions on their own. The cloud is kind of leveling the playing field because they don’t have to have in-house technology expertise to deploy these solutions. We’re really seeing in our research more and more small businesses believe very strongly that technology solutions help them improve their business outcomes or run their businesses better. The cloud has really been a way for these guys to get those solutions that can really help them fulfill their business goals without having a lot of IT staff.

Kalynn: When you talk about cloud IT solutions, give us some household names.

Laurie: There are a million of them. You now have QuickBooks Online, Intuit QuickBooks Online, which has now I think probably 750 or 800,000 customers are running QuickBooks online. That’s something obviously kind of a household name for small businesses. Also vendors like Salesforce.com, InfusionSoft, or ReachLocal, which has a great marketing automation solution for local businesses. There are lots of them virtually in every solution category. Most of us are already using cloud-based email solutions for using Gmail or Office 365 or something like that. Really almost every single category of applications is now available in the cloud. What we see in our last survey that we did in 2014 earlier this year is that 92% of SMBs are now using at least one cloud business solution which is the kinds I just mentioned, like accounting, marketing and sales and things like that. 87%, almost as many, are using at least one cloud infrastructure solution. That could be for security, or backup, or file sharing like DropBox and Box.net, and things like that. We really see small and medium businesses it is already mainstream for them, but a lot of them are only using maybe one or two. I think as these businesses really see the benefits of automating parts of their businesses with technology and have a good experience with cloud solutions we’re going to see that cloud expansion rise even further. There really aren’t a lot of barriers to adopting a cloud-based solution.

Kalynn: Right, and it really saves you in your budget because you don’t have to maintain any of this infrastructure or these types of software yourself. They’re so helpful.

Laurie: It’s really helpful. One of the big sticking points for cloud is that while it reduces a lot of the technology barriers, it hasn’t helped a lot of small businesses in terms of reducing business expertise barriers. In other words, you may have a very successful business but you yourself may not be an accounting expert or a marketing expert, or whatever, but we’re starting to see especially in what I would call some of the newer cloud solutions more expertise built-in and more kinds of hand holding services provided, and a big emphasis on user experience, creating a user experience that makes it much easier for people that aren’t subject matter experts to understand how they can most effectively use the solution in their business for better marketing, accounting, or whatever.

You can listen to the complete podcast discussion here

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