Best Software To Hold Competition At Bay Part Four: Challenges & User Recommendations


Best Software has also long opened its software to third-party developers to spur broader industry-oriented capabilities, and it has also been integrating its desktop software and Web services (e.g., by offering e-mail invoicing and electronic bill payment). As for the industry focus, Best Software's aiming at four key vertical industries -- distribution, manufacturing, non-profit and accounting - with each segment soon to have its own entry-level version of Peachtree, is logical. Peachtree for Manufacturing and Peachtree for Distribution, which are slated for release in 2003, will complement MAS 90, MAS 200 and MAS 500 products, which have more advanced levels of manufacturing automation and distribution

The downside, as a rule, is the painstaking integration effort yet to be devised for a number of remaining products in the Sage's/Best's family and to be subsequently exerted, as there is always a large time bracket from concept to actual materialization. The mitigating factor for impending integration was the fact that Best's progenitor and former Intercat had long formed the product alliance, so the integration task had not started from scratch. However, this might not be the case for the rest of the product portfolio, and as integration is never a simple feat anyway despite SalesLogix' proverbial Open CRM' initiative and a number of mid-market ERP product alliances and subsequent product integration experiences (deals with Exact Macola, Intuitive Manufacturing Systems, Made2Manage, and Expandable Software being some, as a matter of interest). A quite similar situation is with Abra HR/Payroll product that, likewise SalesLogix in the CRM market, has a prominence in the SME HR market, and has been used via many OEM or any other arrangements by a slew of vendors.

Best Software will still have to address other challenges in order to continue to thrive in this ruthless competitive environment. The competition is flying from many directions since the company competes in many diverse markets. To that end, in the traditional back-office market, the threat comes from the likes of Intuit and AccountMate in the small business accounting market, via its peers (e.g., MBS, ACCPAC, Exact Software, Epicor, and Scala to name only some), to the Tier 1 vendors storming down the market. In the pure HR/Payroll mid-market, its archrivals have long been ADP, Employease, Ultimate Software, Agresso, and Lawson, while in the pure-CRM mid-market, that would be the likes of Onyx, Pivotal, Kana, E.Piphany, and FrontRange. Not to mention that SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards will likely be faced in all the above markets as well.

Also, despite the seemingly well crafted marketing campaign, the Best Software brand is still much less-known than those of its individual products, e.g., ACT!, SalesLogix, or Peachtree. The company will, for some time to come, still likely suffer from either the "Best who?" syndrome and/or will be confused with the former Abra or FAS provider only. Additionally, the wealth of corporate names and a likely unwieldy slew of products within each of Sage's divisions and groups, presents sales and marketing confusion for the company, both internally and externally across the globe. Sage is not exactly uniformly a global company, as its product offerings differ for different markets. For instance, while the Best brand will be applicable for the North American market, Sage offers for the other international markets a disparate line of products for small business comparable to the above-mentioned Best's line (e.g., Instant Accounting for a single user, Line 50 (for up to 5 users), Line 200 (5-25 users) and Line 500 (up to 1,000 users). While Best Software's (f.k.a. Sage Software) MAS 500 manufacturing modules come from last year's purchase of ERP vendor Haitek Solutions, Line 500 comes from the Sage Group's 1999 acquisition of Tetra, a UK-based mid-market ERP vendor. These deals have consequently resulted in different ERP products offered by different units of the Sage Group. After the Tetra acquisition, The Sage Group formed Sage Enterprise Solutions, based in the UK, which offered an ERP suite initially called Sage Enterprise (renamed recently into Line 500). Therefore, the one face to the customers' motto might only be applicable within certain markets per se, e.g., North America, the UK, or France, and very unlikely across the globe.

Furthermore, while Sage has a myriad of products in its portfolio that could benefit from integration with ACT!, Abra, FAS and/or SalesLogix, the company must clearly send the message that most of these already integrate with MAS 90, MAS 200 and MAS 500 (the only exception being ACT! and MAS 500), and articulate its plans and the timeline for any still outstanding integration for between its products. Otherwise, it may face confusion and/or anxiety amongst both its current and potential customers as well as within its VARs. While the idea to enable the R&D team to gain economies of scale by leveraging the same technology foundation to build common application components as commodities that can be deployed within the entire product portfolio is tempting and promising in a very long run, it will only happen in three years time in the best case scenario, and only for Best Software's offerings in North America. The mitigating factor is the fact that, before that long-term evolution takes place, data and personalization setups will be transferable all the way up from entry-level products to enterprise-class systems, making migrations smoother.

Room for functional enhancements remains too, despite some of the products' leading positions. To that end, Best will likely have to build or acquire additional CRM functional enhancements (e.g., database-based marketing management, data mining/analytics, and support for field service) to round out a complete CRM suite. Not to mention the need to bolster MAS 500's external/field service and multilingual capabilities, well beyond only English and Spanish. The vendor has also been working on extending its web integration side as to bolster its private trade exchange (PTX) and/or collaborative role-based portal solutions strategy and delivery. The company has also only recently extended its reach in the professional service automation (PSA) area, with the above-mentioned additional project management enhancements to MAS 500 Suite that should make it competitive with the above-mentioned peers. Nevertheless, Best Software is a company that delivers products based on understanding of its customers' needs, of the competitive forces in the market, and on constant adaptability.

This is Part Four of a four-part article on Best Software.

Part One covered recent announcements.

Part Two detailed the company Strategy.

Part Three discussed the Market Impact.

User Recommendations

The current market trend is towards vendors that can provide comprehensive solutions for small and medium-sized companies with a quick ROI, and Best Software seems to be on a fair way to deliver the promises. Enterprises should nevertheless monitor the consistency between the announced strategy and the new parent company's actions in continuing to support all of the former products strategically. Interested companies should consider the added functionality from former acquisitions for an addition to their requirements list.

Best's target market, single- and multi-site and multi-national light manufacturing companies and their satellite subsidiaries with up to $250 million-a-year revenue range, should consider the company's value proposition, but avoid selecting it without looking at what the other vendors have to offer. These companies generally are rapidly growing and agile but have a limited IT budget/staff, a conformist IT strategy (a staunch Microsoft shop), and solid manufacturing, distribution, CRM and B2B e-commerce collaboration requirements.

However, enterprises that have integration needs outside of the Microsoft environment, with multiple-platform and strong scalability requirements, or need complex CRM and supplier relationship management (SRM) functions such as content management, personalization and relationship optimization, product lifecycle management (PLM), and direct materials procurement might want to look at more sophisticated offerings. Looking at industry sectors, the company covers financial, distribution, manufacturing and service sectors. Preferred manufacturing styles are make-to-order (MTO), make-to-stock (MTS), and configured products/assemble to order (ATO) in discrete and semi-batch process manufacturing processes. Where it does target vertical sectors they would include textiles, furniture, automotive, pharmaceuticals, electronics, food and steel stock holdings via third-party add-ons and resellers' functional additions.

Certainly, for SMEs that have long been using one of Sage's/Best's products for financials and/or HR/Payroll, MAS 500 should to be seen as a logical, but not necessarily the only ultimate solution. Existing customers should evaluate the specialty products add-on's and/or upward migration as a way to add value to their existing applications whether with an impending integration effort now or by waiting for the company to supply a generally available integrated solution.

While we believe that the above announced strategy blueprint should be beneficial in the long run, some outstanding integration issues, intra-company organizational alignment and discontinuation of redundant products are always to be expected. Consequently, users evaluating the above individual products should keep themselves informed, and consider generally available (GA) functionality only. The catch 22 will be to obtain the firm delivery schedule of migration strategy for all Best flagship back-office applications. Looking at industry sectors, the company covers financial, distribution, manufacturing and service sectors. Preferred manufacturing styles are make-to-order (MTO), make-to-stock (MTS), and configured products/assemble to order (ATO) in discrete and semi-batch process manufacturing processes. Where it does target vertical sectors they would include textiles, furniture, automotive, pharmaceuticals, electronics, food and steel stock holdings via third-party add-ons and resellers' functional additions.

Potential clients should conduct preliminary research on the industry expertise and reference accounts of regional offices or affiliate service providers of major products. Existing non-Sage/Best users of SalesLogix should clarify their support status and the long-term product development and migration strategy with Best management. Existing users of Best products that possibly face stabilization and/or discontinuation may benefit from querying the company's future product migration path, service & support, and/or scalability strategy. As for the newly added and/or anticipated functionality, users are advised to ask for firm assurances on the availability and future upgrades timeframes, and more detailed scope of enhanced product functionality. They should also inquire about any possible impact (or benefits) of migrating towards more advanced offering.

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