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Accounting Software: Microsoft Moves In

Midrange vendors have seen a lot of consolidation, but the latest deal is undoubtedly the biggest.

Cracking the Code: Open Systems

“Single source is our theme,” says CEO Michael Bertini, and he means it in more ways than one. Open Systems has long made a selling point of the availability of its source code, which lets VARs and other partners, or customers themselves, modify the software. And, like other vendors, Open Systems is adding a variety of functions to its core product line in an effort to become a one-stop shop for clients. Manufacturing applications are under development, as are CRM, Web-based shopping, supply-chain management, and automated help desk applications. “We’re developing all the products internally because we want to make sure we have the price point and features for the midmarket,” says Bertini. “We’re avoiding the creep into the higher end.” That creep, he believes, is a price that customers sometimes pay for their vendors’ success. “As our competitors go public,” he says, “they tend to move upmarket, going after the bigger dollars. Their smaller clients in the midmarket get left behind.”

Something for Everyone: Sage Software

Thanks to a spate of acquisitions in the last three years, Sage is solidly positioned in second place, behind Great Plains. Its product line now includes its own software as well as products from Best Software and Peachtree Software. One rationale behind the buying spree was to be able to offer different products to different market segments. Peachtree, Sage DacEasy, and Sage BusinessWorks are aimed at small businesses of up to 50 employees, while Sage MAS 90 and client/server-based Sage MAS 200 are targeted at midsize businesses with up to 500 employees. Sage Enterprise Suite, formerly Acuity, is designed for larger businesses of 500 employees or more.

David Butler, Sage Software’s chief operating officer, sees a fundamental shift in the buying proposition these days. “During the period 1997 to ’99, there was a boom in the industry because of Y2K,” he says. “Now people are buying because they find a strategic advantage in changing systems.” Since companies don’t, as a rule, like to change systems, vendors have to make a compelling case for why a customer should leave one product for another.

For Sage, that means stressing integration. Last year, the company announced a significant upgrade to the MAS 90 product line that included integration with products from Interact Commerce Corp. (makers of ACT and SalesLogix) and an expanded business-to-business self-service module, as well as a new business-to-consumer module. Web-enabled services were added to existing workflow functionality, and an “executive insight dashboard” was added to give a real-time view of the company’s operations. This year, Sage plans to expand the insight concept by creating a full browser-based navigation system that will surround it. As with other companies in this market, Sage will also add an interface for the Palm Pilot personal digital assistant (for time and expense tracking), and it plans to roll out a sales-order-inquiry function through either a dockable or a wireless Palm. “Instead of buying a $5,000 laptop,” notes Butler, “our customers can buy a $500 Palm device and have full lookup capabilities.”

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