Sage gets cloudy, moves towards open source and microservices

When most people hear the name Sage, they tend to think of accounting. However, there’s a whole other side of the business that is lesser-known to many of us: Sage X3, aka Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management, which serves the needs of discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing, and distribution, offering modules covering everything from accounting and financials through supply chain management and fleet management.

Earlier this month, the company held its first ever conference dedicated to this line of enterprise resource planning (ERP) products, Sage Sessions X3.

For those uncertain of where X3 fits into the grand scheme of things at Sage, the company’s president Blair Crump explained that it typically serves organizations with 200 – 2,000 employees that have complex needs. For companies like that, it provides a lot of value; he cited a 2016 Forrester Total Economic Impact study stating that the return on investment for X3 customers is 177 per cent, with payback in just over five months.

The big move this year is towards a platform approach developing and enabling an ecosystem of products and services around X3, said Rob Sinfield, vice-president product for Sage X3. More than a dozen ecosystem partners exhibited at the event, including Canadian firms QBuild, Prophix, and True Sky.

The product roadmap, he said, includes a new technology stack that relies on open source and cloud, a focus on microservices, a modern new user interface and new end-to-end processes, all wrapped in quarterly releases (although there will be five releases this year). Sage X3 v12, released in February 2019, is a stepping stone.

“The core product is almost 30 years old,” noted Mark Fairbrother, vice-president, product development. Its rebuilding, dubbed Project Etna, is designed to bring it into our cloud first, API- and microservices-oriented world and to make it easier to integrate third party products. However, he said it will be a gradual migration and evolution, with each user role switching as a whole so users have a consistent experience while still maintaining legacy compatibility. The developer experience is also being revamped.

In Canada, said Paul Struthers, executive vice-president and managing director of Sage Canada, X3 is a major strategic focus.

“We will continue to invest value-based content and activities in key verticals that are particularly well-served by Sage X3, which includes manufacturing, particularly process manufacturing industries such as Food and Beverage, Chemical and Pharmaceutical sectors, as well as distribution,” he said in an email, adding that unlike other regions, Sage Canada sells X3 exclusively through channel partners, providing considerable resources to assist them.

“In order to support our partners, we offer online forums, events for resource sharing and networking, product and sales training, as well as enablement support and incentives,” he said. “Sage will be working as closely as ever with channel partners to deploy Sage X3 for customers and will continue to provide customers with the autonomy to make decisions on how the solution is best deployed according to their unique business needs.”

Nancy Harris, executive vice-president and managing director, North America (and Struthers’ predecessor as managing director of Sage Canada) said in an interview that X3 revenue in Canada more than doubled in the 2018 fiscal year versus the year before (from, she admitted, a fairly small base), all driven by partners, and continues to grow. She said that there’s been good success in the grower market, as well as in other process manufacturing. Next up will be food and beverage, which is big in the U.S. but underserved here.

“You’ll see us in Canada in 2020 starting to really dive into account-based marketing and target marketing around food and beverage in addition to the other sectors we’ve served up there,” she said. “We think it’s a great opportunity, and it gives us that nice coverage across the verticals we play in.”

The cannabis market is another successful vertical in Canada. “It’s been a really good opportunity for us,” Harris said. “We have partners with intellectual property that sits on top of X3 that serves that market well.”

“And,” she went on, “we’re adding more and more verticals to go after.”

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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