The three C's of Sage Summit 2016

Sage Summit 2016 has come to a close, with the company pulling out all the stops for its annual customer, partner and prospect event in Chicago last week.

As well as a host of celebrity talks from Richard Branson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zooey Deschanel and the stars of ABC's Shark Tank, we were given the low down on several areas of the company's strategic plans and even treated to an impromptu Brexit pep talk from Conservative MP and new Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox.

So, it was an action-packed few days and I thought that the best way to sum Sage Summit up would be through the three C's: Cloud, Charity and Community.

Cloud

One of the problems Sage has come up against in recent times is being viewed as somewhat of a legacy company, as new, young, agile startups continue to emerge, empowered by the modern digital world.

So, a transformation has been essential and the cloud is where it really wants to be. "The marketplace is evolving at breakneck speed, accelerated my mobile, social, big data and cloud, said CEO Stephen Kelly. "Customers are buying services, not servers. They’re looking to use SaaS to replace older systems. By 2020, 60-70 per cent of all software services and technology spend will be cloud based. Technology disruption has dictated that Sage reinvents its business to embrace and lead the cloud."

However, this ongoing transition currently has Sage occupying somewhat of a grey area. The company is promoting the cloud, but its "no forced migration, no end of life" policy means customers are under no pressure to adopt it - unlike with some other cloud vendors - meaning a balancing act will have to take place.

Kelly spoke of Sage's "clear vision: To create the world's leading cloud accounting ecosystem" and, whilst the transition is still an ongoing one, it will have to work quickly to lead that pack, rather than be stuck playing catch-up.

Charity

Technology companies generally have very admirable records when it comes to philanthropy, but I've never seen anyone else give it as much airtime as Sage did last week.

I don't know whether it was just a one-off or part of a general long-term strategy, but the high priority placed on charity work was interesting and rather refreshing. The Sage Foundation - launched by Kelly at Sage Summit 2015 - was the main focus, described by President of Sage North America Marc Scheipe as "the beating heart of our company."

In line with this were the themes of 'The Giving Economy' and being a socially responsible business, which the Sage employees appear to have embraced wholeheartedly. On Tuesday, Kelly awarded a a $50,000 grant to Chicago-based charity Brave Initiatives, as well as announcing new, long-term Sage Foundation initiatives including a $1M open grant tender, a worldwide community-led fundraising challenge and a global online mentoring platform

But the biggest cheers were reserved for the work it is doing with the Invictus Games, the international sports event for wounded military veterans started by Prince Harry in 2014. Scheipe hosted a Q&A with four former military personnel who have all been involved with the Invictus Games, to discuss how sport has helped them integrate back into society. It really was very inspiring and the emotional response from the crowd spoke volumes about its importance.

“Business is at its most powerful when it also gives back,” said Marc, a former military man himself. “I encourage you to seize your opportunity to give back. Show your people your soul, invite them to contribute and the rest will follow.”

Community...of partners

OK, so this one isn't strictly a 'C', but it still works. The first day of Sage Summit was dedicated to the company's ecosystem of partners - consisting of over 2,000 companies from 33 countries and every continent except Antarctica - and Sage was quick to get on the charm offensive in the opening keynote.

Alan Laing, EVP of Partners & Alliance, opened the wooing session, emphasising how “Sage is truly serious about partners” and focused on building “the best partner network in the industry.”

He then handed the baton over to CEO Stephen Kelly, who said: "I am so personally committed and passionate about Sage and its partner ecosystem. Working with partners has always been in my blood. If there’s one thing that you can take away from this week, I hope it is that we at Sage are serious and committed to you, our partners. We’re a partner-centric organisation and you know that we’ve always been a partner-centric organisation”

This partner focus was shown through the launch of a new Partner Program - which consolidates 54 previously separate systems into one central platform - as well as strategic product partnerships with the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft.

Sage has also promised to make itself easier for partners to work with, improve its overall brand awareness and increase partner revenue from 38 to 45 per cent.