SalesLogix and ACT! Officially Branded As Best Software

SalesLogix and ACT! Officially Branded As Best Software
P.J. Jakovljevic - July 29, 2002

Event Summary

At the beginning of July, Best Software, one of the leading business management products and services providers for small and mid-size organizations, announced that Interact Commerce Corporation's popular ACT! contact management and SalesLogix customer relationship management (CRM) solutions will join Best Software thereby creating its CRM Division. The company believes the move should further strengthen its position as a leading provider of front-office/back-office business management solutions for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs). Interact Commerce Corporation and Best Software were operating as sister organizations in the US under their the UK-based parent company, The Sage Group plc (LSE: SGE.L), one of the leading worldwide suppliers of business management solutions and services for small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). The new division joins Best's four existing Mid-Market, Small Business, Specialty Products and Nonprofit/Government Divisions.

Interact Commerce Corporation was acquired by The Sage Group plc in May 2001 (see The Mid-Market Is Consolidating, Lo And Behold) to deliver its market-leading products, ACT! and SalesLogix , to Sage's installed base of nearly three million users worldwide and specifically to Best Software's over 1.6 million users in the U.S (excluding Interact). SalesLogix is one of the small business and mid-market CRM leading products with more than 4,000 customers and ACT! is possibly the best-selling contact manager with over four million individuals and 12,000 corporate accounts worldwide. Integration is currently available between SalesLogix and Best's MAS 90, MAS 200, and Best Enterprise Suite solutions, as well as between ACT! and Peachtree Accounting, MAS 90, and MAS 200. ACT! and SalesLogix will also continue to offer their customers back-office integration with other key enterprise applications providers.

In related news, Pat Sullivan, formerly CEO of Interact Commerce, will continue working with Best Software and Sage Group plc. in an advisory role as Vice Chairman offering insights on new technologies, trends, and the competitive landscape for the CRM marketplace. Management of Best's new CRM Division is shared by Greg Head and Tim Fargo, who will continue as general managers for ACT! and SalesLogix, respectively. Both will report directly to Best Software CEO Ron Verni.

This is Part One of a two-part Analysis of the impact of this announcement on Best Software and the CRM market. Part Two will discuss the challenges presented and make User Recommendations.

Market Impact

As the ongoing mid-market battle intensifies, Best Software seems to have decided to become a more vocal mid-market powerhouse, rather than a sort of a best-kept secret in the market. Given that Sage's global revenue level of more than $700 million comes close to the J.D. Edwards' revenue, and far exceeds those of Geac, Baan, Microsoft Great Plains and Lawson Software, and that the company has an impressive broad product portfolio, one is to wonder why Best Software's mind share has not been commensurate with its stature. Whatever the reasons might have been to date, going forward, the market should witness Best Software being one of the bigger hurdles the likes of Microsoft and SAP face in their conquest of the market segment.

SME customers continue to increasingly realize the importance of seamless integration between front-office and back-office applications, and to consequently look for one strategic vendor (i.e., one throat to choke') to fulfill and be solely accountable for the vast majority of their business application needs, particularly in the lower end of the segment. The formal addition of Interact's SalesLogix CRM package and its well-liked ACT! contact manager application to the Best's existing product array should indeed render Best Software an enterprise application vendor with a wide-range footprint covering, inter alia, ERP, CRM, HR/payroll, fixed asset management, manufacturing & distribution, time tracking, budgeting, project accounting, and general financials/accounting software packages.

Given Microsoft's impending Navision acquisition digestion and its own CRM product delivery work in progress including its very recent announcement that Crystal Decisions would provide reporting, analysis, and information delivery for Microsoft CRM (see Microsoft 'The Great' Poised To Conquer Mid-Market, Once and Again and Microsoft Throws .NET At SMEs, With CRM As Bait) as well as SAP's still ongoing value proposition creation for SMEs (see SAP Tries Another, Bifurcated Tack At A Small Guy), this announcement could possibly position Best as currently one of the rare vendors with this breadth of available functionality.

The formidable slew of products comes as a result of multiple years of the parent Sage Group's effort to rake up a pile of software products through a bevy of acquisitions, although many with a common thread. Companies such as Best Software, Interact Commerce and Peachtree Software, all had strong brand recognitions in their respective target niches and a market presence in the SME market in which Sage had long specialized as well. Other prudent recent acquisitions were Best Software Mid-Market Division's (a.k.a. Sage Software) purchase last year of ERP vendor Haitek Solutions, and 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 called Sage Enterprise targeted primarily for the UK market.

Best Software's Mid-Market division, based in Irvine, CA, offers enterprise systems for small-to-medium manufacturers and distributors. Sage's decision to group its plethora of enterprise-level applications in North America under the Best brand, although a virtue created out of necessity (due to the brand name conflict lawsuit's verdict), gets high marks given the company's potential to deliver highly-integrated components, many of them with almost best-of-breed credentials. Individually, Interact and Best have long respectively been delivering attractive front-office/back-office solutions for small and mid-size organizations. Offering all of these products now under the Best Software brand has a potential to provide customers with integrated CRM, accounting, and business management solutions they need to compete in today's ever-changing and competitive environment. For more than two decades, Best has strived to deliver easy-to-use, scalable and customizable applications through its portfolio of renowned brands, including Abra, MAS 90/200, FAS, Micro Information Products (MIP) NonProfit Series, Peachtree, Timeslips, Platinum for Windows, and, from now on, ACT! and SalesLogix, among many others.

Product and Service Scope

As for product and service scope, Best Enterprise Suite (formerly marketed as Acuity by Best's Mid-Market Division) is an integrated, SME-focused, international ERP package with multi-currency capabilities, targeted at companies above $25 million in annual revenue and with over 100 employees. It is web-enabled, with browser access to the entire functionality, via Terminal Services, business alerts, and workflow management. The package combines e-commerce, distribution, manufacturing, and accounting functions, and integrates with SalesLogix CRM. It features strong financials and project accounting functionality, and solid manufacturing (including a product configurator, engineering change management (ECM), materials requirement planning (MRP), and advanced planning & scheduling (APS)) and distribution (with robust inventory replenishment capabilities).

The company has recently bolstered the manufacturing capabilities of the solution. Among the recent enhancements is a visual, rule-based drag and drop' scheduling board that electronically simulates the magnetic white board (Gannt Chart) found in many production scheduling offices. Another is an alert system that tracks key activities and measurements, and notifies the responsible individuals via e-mail or pager when something needs their attention.

The next product release promises migration tools that facilitate moving data from the older system, and in particular tools to move data from MAS 90 and MAS 200. Moreover, Best Enterprise Suite blends its financial and accounting products with Abra HR/Payroll, FAS Fixed Asset Management and analytics offerings from Best's Specialty Products Division. Also, project accounting, a number of pre-built integration hooks to popular third-party applications, extensive drill down' and drill around' navigational capabilities, and authentic customization tools (particularly the intuitive screen customization tool, used by ordinary' users, and with the ability to track/preserve changes for seamless future product upgrades), represent another set of attractive features.

Supported platforms are Windows NT/2000/XP and Microsoft SQL Server databases. The product is being developed from the ground up for Microsoft SQL Server, and is also developed in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), making the transition to .NET straightforward. Likewise many of its counterparts, Best Software is also envisioning Microsoft .NET technology as a means of achieving "connected business events across companies". A number of embedded Web services are already available to that end.

Best Software further offers multiple flavors of enterprise systems to accommodate varying needs across the range of company sizes. These include MAS 90, which is targeted at medium-sized companies with 10 to 500 employees, and features over 25 accounting, light manufacturing, distribution, and e-commerce modules. MAS 200 offers the same features as MAS 90, but handles higher transaction volumes, and supports multiple databases, including Microsoft SQL Server.

Smaller companies with up to 50 employees are covered by BusinessWorks, which, with 11 integrated modules and strong reporting tools, was devised to bridge the gap between entry-level products and MAS 90. Sage has long taken steps to adopt a migration strategy, as it has been offering its own life cycle path (i.e., Peachtree to MAS90/200 to the Best Enterprise suite); look for the similar migration path from ACT! contact management application to SalexLogix more comprehensive and customizable CRM suite. The company has also long opened its software to third-party developers to spur broader industry-oriented capabilities. It has also been integrating its desktop software and Web services (e.g., by offering e-mail invoicing and electronic bill payment).

Other stalwart HR/payroll products include Abra Suite for smaller organizations and Abra Enterprise for mid-market users, which together have a large user base of approximately 15,000 customers in different vertical markets. Its hosted/application service provider (ASP) version of Abra Enterprise, a scalable, web-native product first introduced as CustomHRMS in 1998 and relaunched as Abra Online in late 2002, does not target any one particular market although it has been entrenched in the services, higher education and high-tech manufacturing, sectors. Abra Suite consists of modules for training, attendance, recruiting, web-enabled employee self-service (ESS) and alerts, human resources (HR) administration, an organizational chart, and payroll. Both Abra Enterprise/Online are composed of HR management, payroll, and roles-based self-service functions.

This concludes Part One of a two-part analysis of Best Software. Part Two discusses the challenges faced by Best Software and makes User Recommendations.

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