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Looking after ‘the little guy’

CEO Stephen Kelly commends SMEs for turning the tides of economies in recession and pans out Sage’s plans to boost the sector.

NEW ORLEANS – Business ownership is firmly attached to great sacrifice, said Sage CEO Stephen Kelly, as he shared his personal experiences at the Global Sage Summit in Louisiana on Tuesday. Kelly, who has been at the helm of Sage for eight months to date, commended SMEs for job creation and for aiding economic recovery in the US. 

“Around the world SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy,” he told a conference hall of considerable size – nothing short of appropriate for an event of such scale. Kelly’s opening sentiments served as a primer for what was to come, a presentation on the way forward for the global software group.

Sage, he said, planned to make significant investment into driving the development of the SME sector by empowering businesses with smart solutions, adopting strategic partnerships and by supporting entrepreneurship within disadvantaged communities to boost development where talent was in abundance but support lacking.

He said that the SME category had been vastly underrepresented and that SMEs had long been operating in a restrictive environment, riddled with red tape and bureaucracy. 

“Entrepreneurs invest their life savings into their businesses and we feel a sense of responsibility as the technology partner of the ‘little guys’. That is why we are here today,” Kelly said.

Navigating change

Following his announcement, Kelly was joined by Dr Deepak Chopra, author of Seven spiritual laws of success, and US Statesman General Colin Powell. The three figures spoke about the staggering pace at which change was taking place.

“The economy is becoming globally interconnected,” Chopra said. “If China fails, we will be affected.” He said that with the advancement of technology, businesses would be global, no matter how small the enterprise. “We will see a global economy emerging, which is totally interdependent.”

Powell said that SMEs must become more efficient or they will no longer have a spot as a contender in the marketplace. He too made mention of how SMEs pulled economies out of recession and that “the right investments must be made to keep the economy going.” He said that a lot more needs to be done with respect to infrastructure and Wi-Fi systems.

Disruptive technologies

An increasing number of millennials entering the workforce had created a demand for “a new approach”, Kelly said.

He said that the industry had been plagued by a long tradition of invasive and disruptive technologies, which had caused implications for companies. “We are looking at the destruction of complexity and the simplification of offerings. We are positioning Sage as the champion of SMEs. We want to work with them and understand their business. Our industry has to mature…technology must work for the customer,” Kelly explained.

But business owners had to be the masters and use technology selectively, he said. “SMEs must remain in control and focus on what is relevant to their business.”

Mobile-first, cloud-first world

Sage will focus on core applications to increase its value offerings to SMEs. “Our roadmap is addressing demands of businesses who run from mobile devices,” Kelly said.

“We are living in a connected world, where there is a convergence, enabling people run their business from their phone and this is changing the game in the SME space. Businesses are leaning into new technologies to transform themselves.”

Tuesday at the summit marked the launch of Sage X3 in the cloud, previously known as Sage ERP X3, which integrates business processes into one system, as well as Sage Live, formerly known as Sage Life, a real-time integrated accounting solution.

Aiding SA’s ‘entrepreneurial spark’

Kelly noted that Sage is making a significant investment into the development of non-profit organisations located within poorer areas.

The Sage Foundation, to be launched on October 1, was founded by Kelly and will be chaired by South African Ivan Epstein, CEO of Sage AAMEA. Epstein, a well-respected entrepreneur who started Softline in 1988, which was acquired by Sage in 2003, spoke exclusively with Moneyweb on Tuesday about the premise on which the foundation was built.

“It has been created based on a model of 2+2+2: donating 2% of employee time each year (five days), 2% of free cash flow and two of Sage’s smart and latest technology products to both existing and non-existing Sage customers,” Epstein explained.

Sage serves customers in rural communities in Pretoria and Johannesburg, “and we have to take responsibility for this deprivation,” Kelly said. “The cost of running a charity cuts into about 20-30% of funds received, and we aim to strip out costs so that donations can be allocated more usefully.”

Other products that are purchased by non-profit customers will be bought at a discounted rate and profits received will be fed into the foundation, with the aim of it becoming self-fulfilling, Epstein said.

“SMEs are the biggest contributors to employment and if there was a greater growth of SMEs it would alleviate the burden of unemployment facing us in SA.”

The foundation will operate in Asia, North America, Europe and Africa.

Epstein added that employee wellbeing will be encouraged through initiative. “The millennial generation wants to work for companies who give back to communities. Sage employees will all be involved and that’s our big differentiator. People who work at Sage will feel good, not just about the customer, but about themselves and self-confidence will subsequently improve.”

Future of Sage 

Kelly was asked at the end of a media briefing following the keynote what analysts could understand better about the company. He said: “The current world and the future world and the vision we have for reimagining business is hugely exciting. I came to Sage to build something sustainable; the right solutions for customers. Investors can choose to invest with us or they can take their money elsewhere. We’re concerned with executing the right way and doing the right things for customers.”

*This writer attended the summit as a guest of Sage

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