Best Software prepares to prove itself in N.A. market

ORLANDO, Fla. – Best Software Inc. says it will deliver 20 versions of its major product lines across small business, mid market and small enterprise market segments by late summer.

Company CEO Ron Verni made the announcements

to 3,000 business partners at Thursday’s keynote, which kicked off this year’s Insights 2004 conference.

In the small business category, Best will release Peachtree 2005, which includes Peachtree First Accounting, Peachtree Accounting, Peachtree Complete Accounting and Peachtree Premium Accounting. The line also includes vertical market versions for accountants, manufacturers and distributors. Best will also release Timeslips 2005, which will offer features such as improved timesheet entry, backdated A/R reports and payment by invoice number.

In the mid-market space, Best announced Accpac Pro Series 7.3, which provides more than 200 new features and enhancements across the 20 Accpac Pro Series modules, including advanced data drill down and filtering capabilities, user definable key field lengths and credit card processing. Best will also launch BusinessVision 32 Version 7, which includes a revamped interface, tighter integration with the CustomPak customization module and cross module inquiry support. Other updates in this category include FAS Suite 2004.2, MIP Fundraising Rainbow 3.1 designed specifically for United Way chapters and Platinum for Windows by Best and BatchMaster PFW Version 5.3, which will run on the Linux platform.

For small enterprises, Best announced the release of SalesLogix 6.2, which will deliver a new customer service client that integrates with its sales, marketing and support automation solutions.

In other product news, Best launched “”Best Suites”” to help it serve the industry-specific needs of six key vertical industries: accounting, construction, distribution, manufacturing, nonprofit and real estate. Customers start with a core accounting package and can select additional applications such as CRM and HR, depending on their business needs and as their business grows.

“”You’ll be able to build once, sell many times,”” said Verni, emphasizing the value for partners.

Best Software Integration Framework and Best Software Common Desktop integrate the Best Suites product portfolios. Integration Framework, which is based on Microsoft .Net and XML standards, provides a common protocol that integrates Best Software front- and back-office applications and third-party solutions. Common Desktop allows users to access applications from a single point of entry.

These initiatives will be rolled out over the next two years as Best implements Common Desktop and Integration Framework into its products.

Into Great Plains territory

Facing stiff competition in the mid-market space from Microsoft’s Great Plains division, Verni believes these product announcements will give partners a viable solution to offer their customers.

“”We have applications available today to cross the segments to do what you need to do,”” he said, referring to Great Plains’s forthcoming software update, code-named Project Green, which is scheduled to release version 1.0 in 2007. “”Project Green will not be competitive until version 2 or 3 in 2010,”” he said.

While Accpac International Inc., which was acquired by Best in December 2003, and Intuit account for 40 per cent of the SMB accounting/finance applications market for 2003 according to International Data Corp., Best also faces threats from enterprise apps vendors like SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft.

Warren Shiau, software analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto, said Best wants to move from small and medium business into the mid-market while the Fortune 500 vendors are looking to move down-market.

“”Eventually if the big guys keep trying to move downwards and the Intuits and Accpacs try to move upwards, they’re going to meet somewhere and start encountering each other’s competition,”” said Shiau. He added that SAP has a small business product targeted at Intuit and Accpac customers but doesn’t have a channel strategy for it yet. “”Nevertheless, they’ve drawn their line in the sand by introducing a product.””

This year’s conference marks the first for several new partners, including Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac International Inc.

Best, which is the U.S. entity of UK-based The Sage Group plc, has completed four acquisitions in the past year including Timberline, which serves the construction and real estate markets, and, most recently, Accpac, giving it a total of 40 product offerings. (Best acquired Accpac from Computer Associates International Inc. for US $110 million in cash in December 2003. The acquisition was completed in March.)

From 1998 to 2003, Best’s compound annual growth rate was up 45 per cent. “”We’re on track for $1 billion in 2004,”” Verni said.

While Best has a small development and sales office in Canada and also acquired Softline, whose subsidiaries include BusinessVision based in Mississauga, Ont., the Accpac deal allows Best to enter the Canadian marketplace on a larger scale.

Best now has 13,600 partners and four million customers worldwide. Verni stressed that Best is 100 per cent a channel company. “”We’re fully committed to you,”” he said.

Calling all channel partners

Best also now has 146,000 new organic customers and 900,000 by acquisition.

“”With your help that number of customers is going to grow every day, week month,”” said Verni. “”We serve SMBs and that’s all we do. We’re focused on a segment of the market and we meet those needs.””

To demonstrate its commitment to the channel, Taylor Macdonald, senior vice-president of business partners at Best, introduced several partner initiatives and programs that build on its Partner Advantage Program, which was announced at last year’s conference.

Best announced it will invest US $1 million to launch Partners for Growth program, scheduled to start in September. The money will go towards a pilot program for 100 partners, who will each receive $10,000 each for hiring a sales executive.

The company also announced several initiatives to increase revenue opportunities for its 966 Small Business Certified Consultants for ACT!, Peachtree, Timeslips and DacEasy. These include promoting new customer acquisition through cash incentives, additional opportunities to register referral leads and gain credit for closed referral leads, and lower costs for key business products and services.

Partners are excited about Best’s level of commitment to the channel.

Annette Balgord, principal Mississauga, Ont.-based Balgord Software Solutions, which has been an Accpac solution provider for 12 years said Best’s biggest strength is its channel.

“”Microsoft’s channel is not supported well,”” she said. “”Version 1.0 (Project Green) is going to hinder them.””

While Balgord said Best’s acquisition of Accpac was initially a bit of a surprise, she’s “”extremely enthusiastic”” about it now.

“”The whole image is helping us develop our businesses. We’re going to be able to sell more products. We didn’t have a not-for-profit solution before the MIP line.””

Insights 2004 wrapped up Sunday.

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