At the Sage Summit last week, the British firm insisted it was moving with the times and keeping up with the latest technology, unveiling Pegg - its AI-based accounting assistant, which is operated by voice commands. Further to this, its UK boss Alan Laing put partners of the company at the top of the agenda, announcing that the new Sage Partner Programme is coming in October - something partners have been waiting to hear for years, he admitted.
Sitting down with CRN to discuss the UK partner business in more detail, its head of partner channel Michael De Jongh said the channel is becoming increasingly relevant to the business.
Can you provide an overview of where the UK partner channel is at the moment, and what's been happening over recent months and years?
Traditionally, the partner business within Sage has been really successful. There is a much richer partner contribution to revenues in somewhere like the US compared with the UK, so there is a massive opportunity in the UK for partners to thrive with our growing business. The added complexity is we have multiple - over 30 - partner programmes all around the world. Some were based on geographies, some were based on different market segments. So the amazing news for the UK is that [in accordance with] the October timeframe, the Sage Partner Programme officially launches.
How do Sage partners make money from the partner programme - is it a basic resale programme, or are their unique quirks to it?
It's a traditional metals partner programme, Bronze up to Gold. But the top tiers of the programme are incentivised over and above the margins set for new customer acquisition as well as cloud products. We believe - based on IDC research - that by 2020, everyone will be focused on cloud, so we want to encourage our partners to get there quickly, therefore we're encouraging them and giving them more towards the cloud stack to do that.
When encouraging partners to move towards the cloud, are financial incentives enough? How much do you focus on the cultural move to cloud, and is there a challenge in encouraging your partners to do so?
That's a great question. Don't get me wrong, revenue margin splits are hugely important. You're absolutely right - it's about the knowledge share as well. One of the main pillars for us is to build knowledge and make sure that when they move into cloud, [they think] what does that mean? We're going to give partners some really cool tools to do that. The transition from on-prem to subscription revenue - and the move away from perpetual licensing - is not something generally P&L would tolerate from one day to the next. So you have to transition, and we will help them on that journey.
In his keynote, Sage's UK boss Alan Laing said the new partner programme has been delayed while the company gets everything ready. Can you expand on this, and how have partners reacted to the wait?
I don't think it's a delay, but it's a fair point. I think we've talked about the Sage Partner Programme for a long time, but never put a firm stake in the ground [on the date]. So I think when he refers to a delay, [he means] we need to put a stake in the ground and say 'this is when it is going to be delivered'. That's what happening.
Is there a sense of urgency from partners to get the new programme up and running?
I think generally the feedback from partners - which we take very seriously - is positive. They understand the complexity of the current multi-programme [set-up]. Overall the feedback has been positive.
Pegg was demoed on stage today. Can partners take advantage of this emerging technology at the moment, and what's the demand like from the channel for this type of product?
Partners can absolutely take advantage of it straight away. The beauty of things like Pegg - which were demonstrated on the bot side - and new AI technology is that it is integrated at source into the products. So as soon as we shift it over to the partner side, it's already 'out of the box' - it's ready straight away. It means that from a productivity perspective, they are enabling customers straight from the word go.
You've talked a lot about the importance of partners to Sage. Has this always been the case, and how has the company developed its partner channel?
Partners have always been core to what we stand for at Sage. We can't do this by ourselves. I think terms like 'open ecosystem' are becoming hugely more important as we concentrate more on cloud technology. Peripheral services over and above accounting - frankly, every business builder is going to need an accounting tool - are absolutely vital. We're not a services company, we are a technology company, so partners are at the heart of everything we do.
As a British firm, how do you feel about the impact of Brexit on your home market, and across the globe?
My candid view is that Sage stands for compliance. I think our partners have trust in us as a brand to take us through that compliance issue with pending Brexit. There are obviously nuances we are going to have to take forward with our partners, but overall, if anything, it's an opportunity.
Do you think Sage benefits from a "Buy British" attitude in the UK market, especially when most tech firms come from the UK?
I think we do benefit. We are hugely powerful as exporters. As our UK business grows and thrives for export, then that's a massive opportunity for it. It's swings and roundabouts.
Finally, what are your key messages to your partner channel?
Watch this space - there is a lot more to come. The partner landscape is changing and we have to be cognisant of that. We have to take our partners on that journey, and we have to go out and recruit best-of-breed, born-in-the-cloud partners. [In the past] no one would have believed we would stand on stage and talk about innovative partners like Salesforce and Microsoft in the same breath as Sage. Now we're seen as vital partners with those guys. There is more to come - more innovation and more partnering as a result.
CRN's Nima Green caught up with Chris Labrey for a quick Q&A at CRN's recent European Channel Leadership Forum
We caught up with the Atea chief exec at CRN's European Channel Leadership Forum in London
Andy Gillett has been appointed GM for the UK and Ireland
UK is one of two countries to see rollout of vendor's newest subscription service