The Curse of the Multi-Product Line

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Multiple product lines aren’t supposed to be a good thing. Sustaining them raises costs by requiring multiple research and development teams. Supporting them requires help-desk personnel with different training.

 

So it’s intriguing that most major accounting software companies have two or more lines.

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Most of this is the result of mergers and acquisitions. The problem is that few of the acquired lines have any family resemblance. Acquiring companies may be able to buy new users, but they can’t readily switch them to a new product in a short time.

 

Multiple lines also create problems for resellers who may face competing resellers whose products are now under common ownership, as happened to Great Plains and Solomon resellers. Even more difficult is the uncertainty of where multiple product lines fit, and how committed companies are to any one line.

 

Navision resellers are scratching their heads over what to make of Navision’s Attain (formerly Navision Financials) and Axapta, acquired through the merger with Damgaard. Two years ago, Accpac acquired SBT Accounting Systems and planned to cross-train its VARs on the SBT while SBT VARs would train on the Accpac Advantage line. Instead, it ended up with a revolt of SBT VARs.

 

Active IQ, which purchased Red Wing and Champion, has been trying to figure out what to call the operations and how to deal with the unrelated lines from the two companies South African-based Softline may have a little easier job of it. At least the BusinessVision and AccountMate lines it now owns have different price points that let resellers separate them more clearly.

 

Microsoft Great Plains, as mentioned, has Dynamics and Solomon, and oh yes, eEnterpise. The company has articulated its positioning. Dynamics is supposed to move downstream, eEnterprise upstream, while Solomon expands to fill the middle. More clearly, the company has stated it is rewriting all products for the Microsoft .Net platform, and that there will be a line with different flavors, but a common interface, probably a common engine, separated by functionality. But that will take time to implement.

 

Best Software seems to have complicated its problem for the interim. Best has been masterful in acquiring disparate lines and continuing to market to installed bases, even with such antiquated products as DacEasy. If you can make money while keeping investment low, it’s a good strategy.

 

But things have gotten even more complicated. Best had the MAS 90 and MAS 200 lines, the Best Enterprise Suite, and then last year it acquired Platinum for Windows from Epicor (at least Epicor now has a simplified product line). Then in February, it extended the Best Enterprise Suite via the Small Business Edition, aimed at companies with $1 million to $25 million in annual revenue. Best says SBE is for companies that will grow fast and the lines won’t overlap. But I have to wonder.

 

The MAS line is based on ProvideX, an ISAM file format that is really a mainframe legacy. Best Enterprise Suite is a more modern architecture that utilizes Microsoft SQL Server. Best has an installed base in the MAS family that it can profit from for years. But you have to think the suite is the strategic line, just as you have to believe that Great Plains’ continuing use of database engines from Pervasive Software will eventually give way to an all-SQL Server strategy.  

 

Robert Scott - Editor

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