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Sage Transform - knocking down barriers is the theme, but how do finance teams change?

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 11, 2021
Sage Transform 2021 is underway, with an intentional "hybrid" event structure - and a message of breaking barriers to change. Does it resonate?

Dan Miller of Sage Intacct
(Dan Miller of Sage Intacct, by Robert Scott)

Sage Transform kicked off in Las Vegas yesterday, with one of the most deliberately hybrid events of the last year (see Phil Wainewright's day one Transform use case, How Banyan Treatment Center saved $1m after moving to Sage Intacct).

By "deliberately hybrid," I mean that Sage Intacct put some real thought into how to balance the virtual and physical experience (more on that shortly).

I am not on the ground in Vegas this week, but: two weeks ago, I had the chance to hash things out with Sage executives - and a few customers - during Sage Intacct's in-person analyst event in Healdsburg, California. Those discussions were (mostly) under NDA, though a memorable customer story was fair game: How Mob Scene went from a pandemic low point towards the continuous close - a Hollywood type of finance story.

With Transform in high gear, my two-week NDA is now lifted, and I can share my views, starting with the day one keynote. When I assess an event, I am looking for a few critical things:

  • Is there an over-arching view or mission? Does it energize, or is it too bland to matter?
  • Is there a clear roadmap for customer success?
  • Is there news to bolster that roadmap and make the customers' transformation easier?
  • How does this resonate with customers on the ground?

Day one keynote review - "Your finance team is not an island"

Early in EVP Sage Intacct Dan Miller's keynote, Sage featured its mission/mantra, or purpose if you will, "Knocking down barriers so everyone can thrive." Sage intends to back that purpose up with its own commitments - see Sage launches Sustainability Society Strategy Knocking Down Barriers tackling economic inequality and the climate crisis, announced June 24, 2021. Now, I happen to like this corporate "purpose" better than most, because it acknowledges that real barriers do exist. It's not all marketing sunshine.

But how does that tie into the work ahead for finance teams? As Miller told attendees:

We're all about knocking down barriers so that everyone can thrive. Through the conference, you're going to see examples of how we remove those barriers; how we improve the way you work.

Okay, I'll bite: how is that done? Miller continued:

We found that it is boiled down to three key elements. The first is how Sage Intacct allows you to own your time... Your time is valuable. I bet you can think of 100 things or more that you'd rather be doing than reconciling a bank account or stuffing payments into envelopes or manually recognizing revenue. Sage Intacct automation gives you that time back.

The second element? "Sage Intacct lets you grow your way." This comes down to Sage Intacct's pursuit of flexible configuration, and industry-based enhancements. The third? "Sage Intacct empowers your team." When you consider the pressure on today's finance teams, that's not as easy as it sounds. The insular reporting groups of the past aren't going to cut it. Miller:

Your finance team is not an island. High-performance organizations need to connect to collaborate to make decisions with individuals across the business across departments, business units, and external business units.

Day one keynote news - global payment processing and... a product name change

Then there is the news - and product enhancements - to support these changes. I won't get into all of that here, though several are mentioned in the Sage Transform day one press release. One news highlight? Sage Intacct announced global vendor payments, starting with the US region, to further automate payment processing (It's now available for early US adopters, via Sage Intacct's payment partner CSI).

There is product naming news (my absolute favorite kind of vendor news). Sage Intacct Budgeting and Planning is now just Sage Intacct Planning. Sage Intacct's Andre Lafayette, VP of Product, Sage Intacct Planning, gave us a light-hearted take:

It was a mouthful, and so we're going to go with less-is-more going forward. Although I will certainly make the mistake of calling it Sage Intacct Budgeting and Planning, at least a few more times.

To me, the name is far less important than the customer impact - especially when cloud ERP customers have a range of analytics/planning options to consider, including best-of-breed. But Lafayette believes in the value prop of integrated planning:

One of the key benefits that our customers see from Sage Intacct Planning is the integration between the accounting and planning functionality... That's very consistent. And honestly, analytics is built right into the accounting platform today. There's obviously a huge value in running your reports from one place, not having to deal with multiple systems to do that.

Customers put budgeting and planning to the pandemic test

"Integrated accounting and planning" sounds good in theory, but that's up for customers to judge. I'm not able to corner customers at lunch tables this year (I'm sure they are all disappointed). At the analyst event, we caught up with a few. We heard from Mob Scene (entertainment), Oxford Collection (hospitality), and Room to Read (global non-profit) - three industries that took it on the chin during the pandemic.

How did they fare? All three organizations came out in a strong position - with streamlined processes, and more financial agility (example: Oxford Collection has turned planning into a monthly exercise). During the customer panel, Oxford Collection shared how Sage Intacct Planning factored in. No surprise: Oxford Collection's hotels were heavily impacted by the pandemic. As Oxford Collection's VP of Accounting and Finance, Megan Walker told us, they went live on Sage Intacct on February 1, 2020 - just days before the pandemic hit:

Literally days before the pandemic, we implemented the software. Not only did our world fall apart, but we're doing new software too.

This was no small hit. At their lowest point, Oxford Collection's 16 hotels went down to a 9% occupancy rate. Fortunately for Oxford, the owners had a strong belief in stockpiling significant cash reserves. But that didn't mean it was easy. The timing of new financial software was tricky, but as Walker explained, it paid off:

Literally every penny that we spent mattered. Having Sage Intacct, and building the dashboards, and having our general managers in the system was night and day from what they had before. They were able to watch every single penny that they spent.

The impact on our business was significant, but like I said, it was a lifesaver having Sage Intacct, so that we could manage our numbers and be on top of it - especially for our banking partners.

For managing those loans and banking relationships, Sage Intacct Planning proved vital. No longer could planning be a yearly exercise. Walker:

Our partners in the banking industry needed those numbers for us to be able to not pull our loans. And so for me to be able to go into Sage Intacct and re-budget, that's not something we've ever done before. Once a budget's set, you don't touch it, but we had to re-budget over and over and over again that year.

Those budgets on-the-fly probably saved loan call-outs:

One of our largest banking partners said that's what saved us. It was being able to jump on those calls with them, and give them those numbers. Then they could take those numbers back to the higher-ups and say, 'This is how you know this client of ours is performing.' That's what saved us from them pulling money.

That's a trial-by-fire use case if I ever saw one. Now that the hospitality industry is making a decent comeback, our next question for Walker is: did your workflows stick? Have your finance habits changed?

We actually push a forecast into Sage Intacct every single month... I built a widget on all of our general managers' dashboards that has our actual-versus-budget-versus-forecast. So they can, at any point in time throughout the month, see 'I spent this much money; I have this much left in my budget,' or 'This is what I forecasted.'

One of the analysts asked: is that a credit to the technology, or did you just change your process? Walker:

It was absolutely the technology, hands down. We were in Excel before; it just was too cumbersome to try to do that.

My take

My event policy is to hold the bulk of the criticism until the event plays out - and Sage Transform has one more day as of this writing (you can still register for virtual). Prior to the event, I already gave Sage kudos for their hybrid event wording, and explained why: So your company is customer-centric? Then your upcoming event better be hybrid.

Now, with the event in full swing, I can see the hybrid session labeling in action. It's clear and effective:

I don't agree with the decision to hold all replays until after the event ends (at least the major keynotes should be immediately streamable), but overall, this is a solid standard for hybrid labeling. The deeper aspects of hybrid (including virtual interaction) are something I hope to test further on day two.

Speaking of day two, I'm expecting more news announcements I can't comment on till they go live. I also have views from my previous 1:1 with the day two keynoter, Sage CTO Aaron Harris, to share - but that will have to wait. For now, it's showtime.

The photo of Dan Miller is by Robert "Bob" Scott, who is not just an ace photographer, he is also an intrepid reporter on financial software.

Updated, November 11, 2021, 9:30am US PT, with a number of small tweaks for reading clarity. Audio version also added.

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