Solomon Stands the Test of Time Despite Changing Masters Part Two: Market Impact

Market Impact

Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon, formerly Solomon IV and Microsoft Great Plains Solomon IV, is a prominent business management and e-business suite of applications for small and mid-market companies. Most recently, in summer 2003, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) announced the availability of Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon 5.5, which includes several new features and enhancements in the product's Foundation Series, Financial Series, Project Series, and Service Series of modules.

Clearly, the MBS Solomon product has had more than an interesting voyage since its inception. Its former proprietor, privately held Solomon Software, Inc., which was founded in 1980, with headquarters in Findlay, OH, had experienced a steady growth throughout the 1990s, with estimated revenues of $60 million and over 400 employees in its last fiscal year as an independent entity, 1999. Our estimate is that MBS Solomon nowadays also contributes over 10 percent of total MBS' revenues of ~$550 million.

From a founder-driven company of over 20 years ago, with a traditional focus on accounting software, former Solomon Software had evolved to a vendor run by professional corporate management and that eventually offered a much broader and deeper product portfolio prior to being acquired in 2000. Solomon designed, marketed, and supported its flagship product Solomon IV, a financial and business management system for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which it introduced in 1994 as a suite of over fifty standard modules, running solely on Microsoft SQL Server and Windows NT/2000 platforms.

Focused on the low end of the mid-market (the enterprises with up to $250 million in revenues), Solomon had also achieved a worldwide base of more than 25,000 customers in 400 different industries in more than 100 countries exclusively through its extensive network of independent sales and support organizations—value added resellers (VARs). The company also had over twenty affiliate offices worldwide and derived approximately 25 percent of its revenue from the international market. Further, in 1998, Solomon opened four regional Solomon Technology Centers (STCs) in North America to support its distributors. These centers provided applications and installation support for its indirect channel in order to provide efficient service and support for customers and some economies of scale for distributors at the same time.

Especially during the last few years of its independent operation, Solomon had accelerated the release of new functionality and attempted to create a new market perception of not being only a best-of-breed accounting software provider. Since 1997, Solomon had also acquired a number of independent developers and launched partnerships with a number of ISVs, which today amount to close to 150 and which have significantly broadened its product line. During 1998 and 1999, the company released its distribution, manufacturing, service, project management, and e-business product components.

The last product release before the Great Plains acquisition, Solomon IV release 4.21 in 1999, introduced some landmark features, that have remained its differentiators till nowadays, such as Solomon Desktop (a portal application providing 100 percent Internet access anytime, anywhere), Service Series (featuring Field Service, Service Dispatch, Equipment Maintenance, Service Contracts and other modules), E-Commerce Gateway EDI Edition, Advance Shipment Management, and Web Order (a B2B e-commerce component). As a result, the product now comprises the following series of modules: Foundation, Financial, Project, Service, Distribution, Manufacturing, and E-Business.

This is Part Two of a four-part note.

Part One detailed the recent product enhancements.

Part Three will discuss product differentiators.

Part Four will present the challenges and make user recommendations.

New Functionality Accelerated

Still, due to its quite belated expansion into the ERP world (let alone extended-ERP), the vendor had suffered the reputation of a best-of-breed accounting software provider only. While former Solomon had accelerated its delivery schedule of new functionality, it was also hard pressed with tight "time-to-market" constraints and limited resources at the time. The following intended functionality delivery schedule in 2000 would have been a tall order for even much more resource abundant competitors, given that some of these have seen the daylight only within the above-mentioned releases within Great Plains and MBS, well after 2000—repetitive build and MRP modules within the Manufacturing Series (yet to be released natively); replenishing, commissions, and shipments modules within the Distribution Series; employee utilization and time and billing within the Project Series; additional e-business functionality like eVoucher; and Solomon Object Model within the System Tools suite.

However, given that all is well that ends well, MBS Solomon, due to its distinct differentiators (e.g., project management, advanced distribution, and field service capabilities, the product flexibility, having integrated but modular applications, powerful reporting capabilities, multi-company accounting features, etc.) and weaknesses (e.g., rudimentary manufacturing functionality), has been blessed in disguise with possibly the most distinct niche and the least overlap (gray area) with the other MBS ERP products (i.e., MBS Great Plains, MBS Navision, and MBS Axapta). Indeed, MBS Solomon remains the choice for organizations that seek flexible financial systems, integrated with distribution, project, or service operations. The strongest customer base thus comes from construction—special trade contractors, wholesale distribution—durable goods, business services, engineering, accounting, research, and management service organizations.

CRM Strategy

Although the product has suffered CRM strategy vacillations as a result of changing owners and their differing CRM ideas at the time, it should eventually benefit from the next release of Microsoft CRM, version 1.2, which is slated for the end of 2003, and which will supposedly support nine languages in total, will feature stronger reporting capabilities based on Crystal Decisions' Crystal Enterprise 9 product and improved setup and development capabilities. The integration will supposedly be provided for the MBS Solomon 5.0 and 5.5 releases.

Prior to opting for the in-house CRM product integration following up on its release in January 2003 (see Microsoft Convergence 2003 portrayed an Enterprise Solutions crossroad!), Solomon was going to be integrated with SalesLogix in 2000 (see Yet Another ERP/CRM Partnership), and subsequently with a mid-market CRM product that was called Microsoft Great Plains Siebel Front Office (see Winner Takes All - Siebel Ousts SalesLogix From Solomon's Deal) during the "time of love" between Siebel Systems and Microsoft Great Plains. At some stage, Great Plains was also toying with an idea of enhancing Solomon IV SCM capabilities with a partnership with Logility (see Great Plains Supply Chain Series To Be Powered By Logility), which has meanwhile fallen by the wayside due to the vendors' different target markets (i.e., larger Logility's customers versus Solomon's focus on SMEs) and given Solomon's customers' needs could often be well met with Solomon's meanwhile enhanced native distribution capabilities.

This concludes Part Two of a four-part note.

Part One detailed the recent product enhancements.

Part Three will discuss product differentiators.

Part Four will present the challenges and make user recommendations.

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