"So what else can I automate?" Sage Intacct's Dan Miller on how finance leaders are responding to market changes

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 29, 2023
Summary:
Finance leaders at SMBs are facing strong headwinds, but savvy teams are claiming opportunities as well. Sage Intacct's Dan Miller shares what their customers are facing, including the impact of Silicon Valley Bank. No surprise: automation and AI play a key role.

Bridging the gap using business technology and automation tiny person concept. Smart and effective leadership with problem solution and tech assistance vector illustration. Businessman and gear bridge obstacle course © VectorMine - Shutterstock
(© VectorMine - Shutterstock)

It's been an eventful six months since a news-packed Sage Transform 2022, which marked a turning point for the cloud strategy for not only Sage Intacct, but Sage as a whole. There was also notable cloud manufacturing news - a new vertical for Sage Intacct, which has historically thrived in the service industries.

Meanwhile, Sage Intacct's SMB customers are facing an unsparing economy - amidst enormous AI hype. Not to mention Sage Intacct's SaaS industry customers, who are surely watching the Silicon Valley Bank implosion/rescue with high interest. About time for a catch up with Sage Intacct's Dan Miller, EVP of Sage Intacct.

Customers are asking - "So what else can I automate?"

So Mr. Miller, what are your customers telling you - and what do they need from Sage Intacct? Miller answered:

In most industries, what we're seeing is that customers are very focused on: 'So what else can I automate?' Having been in this SMB space for a number of years, one of the things that is pretty consistent is :when there's an economic slowdown, or downturn, or whatever you want to call what's going on right now, the response from the finance team is: 'How do I become more efficient?'

So how are finance teams responding?

Very frequently, that means, 'How do I automate?' What they want from us, through our partner ecosystem, as well as from our direct team is: 'Give me some counsel on what else can I do to be a more efficient organization?' They take a step back and look at how do they actually squeeze a little bit more out of what they're currently doing? And we can do that.

If they're not using planning today, how do they plan more effectively? We have an answer for that. If the way they're executing their payroll solution is not as effective as they would like, we have an answer for that. If they are not using analytics in a big way, and they want more visibility, we have an answer for that. So there's ways for us to come alongside them, and help them with further automation.

Sage's Saas industry vertical customers - how are they faring?

What about Sage Intacct's SaaS customer community? Miller didn't mince words:

Within the startup and technology world, there is a real impact. We're coming alongside customers who are scared about what's happening with SVB and Signature; we have quite a number of customers who are in that space. And at the same time, I recognize that I don't want Sage to make the situation worse. How do we come alongside customers who are struggling, but do it in a way where we're helping the customer navigate?

How could Sage avoid making the situation worse? As Miller says, things like making sure that bank feeds integrated into Sage Intacct continue to function is a big deal in such times. This is where the community Sage Intacct helped to create around these startups comes into play:

The SaaS business community, within the UK and in the US, and even more regionally in Austin, Portland, or the San Francisco Bay Area - in their communities, they talk to each other. Different groups are more panicked about what's going on, or less panicked, because they're more diversified. We have an opportunity in how we guide some of the conversations, because we're at a focal point.

News roundup - focus on Accounts Payable automation and practical AI

And what about the overall Sage Intacct news? What are the notable items since Transform? Miller started with France:

France is really the first of our European expansion. One of the questions we often get is,  'So how does this help our US and North American customers'? A lot of our customers are multi-national. As we continue to add capabilities to the product, we don't just think about a particular region... We also make sure that we're thinking about: 'How do we adapt those capabilities, so that they're designed for our customers, wherever they may be'?

One example of that? Providing tax compliance across all regions: "We're making sure that the product is really designed for automating those workflows, regardless of what region you operate in," says Miller.  Next up on the Sage Intacct news list? The growth in AI adoption:

We've continued to see significant adoption of our general ledger outlier detection. We released some new capabilities into that, which highlight a greater array of anomalies. Our AP automation solution also went to general availability with in our February 2023 release, which has the ability to do the coding that's required -  pre-filling vendor information based on past behaviors. So there's a series of capabilities that we're looking at: 'How do we automate those end-to-end workflows?'

Automating with AI should not be a point solution. Miller says their focus on finance process is where the tech comes to life:

In many cases, customers think of that automation solution as 'go look for a point solution.' We really are excited about this. We believe we can create differentiated value for our customers, because it's built into the general ledger system of record. Now we can handle from the point that you are interacting with that supplier at a contractual level, bringing them into your ecosystem, all the way through reconciliation - all of that workflow is now built into the same system.

So we can help you speed up that entire process, and remove manual steps that have existed for companies. It's hard to do reconciliation with your general ledger when you're not in the general ledger, and so we have the ability to automate those end-to-end processes.

My take

I appreciated that Miller didn't bring up the generative AI scenarios. I have no doubt, given Sage CTO Aaron Harris' tech chops, that Sage is actively looking into the application of generative AI into software processes. Vendors are full of talk about that lately, but in terms of actual functional delivery, it's early days for generative AI in the enterprise.

But it's not too early to talk about the ethical aspects of applying AI properly - including how customer data will be handled. As I've noted, enterprises have a chance to set the right tone for how AI is applied - from better data sets to more transparency over recommended actions. Miller's take?

We very much believe that we are a trusted adviser, a trusted processor of our customers' data... It's not our data; it's our customers' data. We build technology to utilize that data for the benefit of the customer. That is a very different way of thinking then some of the sensational things you hear about in the media, where people are figuring out: how do they use data for their benefit, as opposed to how to use it for the customers' benefit.

I think that the way we've constructed the license agreement at the very beginning, all the way through how we protect that data, anonymize the data, when that's appropriate, or when we're looking at building models, where it's not anonymized because it's specific, we're looking at: how do we make sure that customers give us specific rights to be able to do that on their behalf, so they can see that benefit come to fruition.

When the time is right, I look forward to seeing how Sage applies this to the generative AI technology that is raising so many flags, and so many interesting scenarios to evaluate as well.

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