On the sidelines of the Sage Summit in Johannesburg, Glesni Holland caught up with CEO Stephen Kelly, to find out how the company is embedding a range of new technologies into its products to enhance its customers’ experience.
You clearly want Sage to be seen as more than just an accountancy firm. How are you using technology to enhance this ambition?
Accountancy is the core of every business. Ultimately, we envisage our customers being able to move money in and out of their businesses in a completely frictionless and totally automated manner. We are currently building technology that allows businesses to deploy the best solutions to carry out that movement of money. We’re also very minded to exploit and leverage embedded technology, such as AI and machine learning, to really enhance the quality of the insights that we’re providing our customers. The interface of choice for the current workforce of millennials is Facebook Messenger, which is why our chatbot (Pegg) sits on this interface and uses it to drive transactions into your accounting engine.
We, as consumers, have had the luxury of this technology in smartphones now for the last 10 years, and we believe that it is inevitable for all of our business customers to adopt this technology and ultimately run their business from the palm of their hand. Our overall aim is for businesses to have a better experience with Sage software than they do in their consumer life when they’re using alternative apps, such as WhatsApp, FaceTime or Facebook.
How will the integration of AI into enterprise software benefit business operations?
I talk a lot about this word ‘frictionless’, but it’s mainly around allowing AI to drive the transactions end-to-end, as well as having the learning capabilities to ultimately give better prompts to business leaders to gain better insights and make better decisions. Pegg starts learning behaviours, so for example if you have a collection of customers that you collect payments from, it can start to understand how certain customers like to pay – be it through debit card or credit card – some might even like an old fashioned cheque. It’s having that intelligence embedded in the application which is learning not only through business processes, but also through the preferences and personality of the customer or supplier. This ensures that the movement of money happens in the right way, through the right channel and with the right preferences.
How do you think the progression of ERP in the cloud is going?
From a MEA regional perspective, South Africa and Dubai are way ahead of the rest in terms of cloud adoption in the ERP space. The market is absolutely on fire, and some of our biggest business partners attached to X3 – our cloud ERP solution – have really positive outlooks. We have very high demand within our existing customers and our prospective customers for this solution. With the latest version, we allow customers to have the choice between on-premise and the cloud.
X3 is marketed as ‘not your typical ERP solution.’ What differentiates it from others in the market?
The speed of implementation is a particular differentiator. It takes about 3 months, whereas some of the other companies in the ERP space can be 9-12 months – some even 36 months – so the time to value is really critical. The reason that we’re able to implement it so much quicker is that the typical SAP and Oracle solutions in the market take a very customised approach, and enable you to start building your own solution from day one. With X3, I wouldn’t say it’s stock standard. It’s very customisable in terms of parameters and add-ons, but in essence, the system exists from the very beginning, so that enables us to implement it at a quicker rate.
The total cost of ownership is also dramatically lower. X3 is on the market for approximately 40 percent of the price in comparison to our competitors, and customers are still getting around 70 percent of the features. From a value-for-money perspective, it makes a lot of sense. We like to say that it’s a third of the price and double as good, but as an ex-salesman, I appreciate that there is a government health warning with saying that.
What are you hoping to have achieved by the end of 2017 in the Middle East and Africa region from a technology perspective?
There will be so much more to come around mobile-first and cloud solutions. The message that we want to get across to our customers is that Sage will look after you, and transition you to the newest technology at a pace you are comfortable with. We have a whole graft of product innovations and launches this year in the region, as we’ve demonstrated here, from Pegg, Sage One, X3 Cloud and Sage Live which is coming in July – which was recently noted as being the most innovative product of the year by Salesforce. By the end of this year, when you scan the horizon of the MEA region, we want Sage to be crowned the vendor with the most innovative cloud solutions for both start-ups and enterprises.