Vertical Migrations

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Third-party niche applications are becoming as scalable as the accounting software packages with which they integrate.

by Richard McCausland

When Gentec International, a rapidly growing Canadian wholesale distributor, was on the lookout for better inventory control and sales analysis, it didn’t think twice about switching from Aperum’s Facts business/financial management software to PointForce’s WinSol. The reason is that both packages are supported by Radio Beacon, Gentec’s warehouse management system of choice.

Partner Insights

Since the switch, Gentec has again upgraded—this time from the standard Radio Beacon package to the top-of-the-line SQL edition. Says Margaret Adat, Gentec executive vice president and chief financial officer, “I want someone who brings me solutions to problems that I haven’t even thought of yet.”

Adaptability is pretty much a Radio Beacon hallmark. The company’s list of accounting software integration partners reads like a who’s who—Accpac Advantage and Pro Series, Best Software MAS 90/200/500 and Platinum for Windows, Microsoft Business Solutions, Exact Macola-ES, and Softline AccountMate and BusinessVision. There are the specialty distribution/accounting packages such as Facts and WinSol, and even occasional integrations with Accpac Simply Accounting and Intuit’s QuickBooks.

Radio Beacon achieves such wide-ranging linkage by offering a scalable product line that includes Lite and SQL versions, in addition to its flagship product. This has enabled the company to support product families that share source code (such as the BusinessVision 32 Limited, Small Business, Standard, and SQL Client-Server editions), as well as families that don’t. Radio Beacon is one of a mere handful of vendors that support the entire MBS accounting portfolio: Great Plains, Solomon, Navision, and Axapta.

Why all this modular capability and integration support? “As the client’s needs become more sophisticated, we must be able to respond with more functionality and scalability to grow with them,” replies president Dale Jeffries. Linking with most of the accounting packages on the market has provided a “tremendous benefit” to users—and to the vendor itself.

This flexibility also suits resellers, many of which carry more than one accounting software line and “don’t want to have to represent multiple third-party products,” according to Jeffries.

To help defray development costs, Radio Beacon works with the accounting software publishers, or with resellers that double as independent software vendors, to ensure tight product integration. Partnering with Accpac resulted in a private-labeled WMS solution. More recently, Radio Beacon is working with Toronto-based Gemini Logic and Tempe, Ariz.-based Tectura to come up with integrations to BusinessVision and Axapta.

Of course, there are those who would argue that there’s a danger in too much integration.

W. Michael Linn, a Solomon alumnus and now president of startup VerticaLogic in Findlay, Ohio, advises software developers of Microsoft-compatible solutions on how to access vertical markets and roll their solutions out to volume. He insists, “It’s critical to have a life cycle strategy because the customer has one. He’s very worried about outgrowing his solution.” Consequently, “Scalability for the ISV is a winning strategy if they can achieve it.”

However, Linn sharply distinguishes between attempting to support product families that are built on the same source code and supporting those that are not. In the case of the former, such as the Accpac Advantage Series, “If it’s feature-rich enough, [the ISV] should absolutely” support the whole, scalable line, says Linn. “That’s just an adoption path, and it absolutely makes sense to do that.”

That’s not the case with trying to support disparate product lines within a vendor’s portfolio, such as all four MBS editions. “If you’re already on a winning platform, you’re probably better off staying with that platform and putting your power behind it,” he advises.

“It is rare that ISVs can jump across platforms,” continues Linn. “The dollars are too big, the gamble is too big, to go with a horizontal [platform] strategy. ”

Addressing the integration issue, MBS industry solutions director Jeff Edwards observes, “Each of those [four accounting editions] is a unique business opportunity, which [solution developers] should look at on a case-by-case basis.” Not all are likely to be equally suitable platforms for the developer’s chosen vertical specialty, he points out. For instance, a manufacturing enhancement that is “highly valuable” with Great Plains might encounter “a significant amount of overlap” with Axapta.

For this reason, Radio Beacon is the exception, rather than the rule, of a niche specialist that integrates with all four MBS editions. Another is Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Maximum Data, whose InTouch barcoding tools integrate with the whole MBS family. But they are likely to be joined by others, not too far down the road, as MBS gravitates toward a single code base with its next-generation Windows (“Longhorn”) technology scheduled for release in 2006.

“Unsung Heroes”

In the opinion of Craig Downing, vice president of product management for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac International, software development partners are largely “unsung heroes.” He explains, “A surprising number of times they are the ‘clinchers.’ They have the resolution for the client’s pain, so they can really be the differentiator” for winning the deal.

The most successful partners, he contends, are those who “truly align themselves with the technology and packaging strategies of their vendors.” In the case of Accpac Advantage Series, that may mean “shadowing” all four code-compatible editions, spanning from the low-end Discovery version, through Small Business and Corporate, up to the high-end Enterprise package. Accpac gives them “lots of ways” to do just that—notably, by providing development kits so the third-party solutions can have a similar look and feel, like the same icons or shortcut keys.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Coss Systems, an Accpac Development Partner of the Year, can bridge the four Advantage editions with its highly modular Coss Manufacturing package. The software comprises core production functionality, advanced modules such as a scheduler and configurator, and optional modules that can collect job costing data or record time and attendance. What’s more, the package also integrates with Accpac’s source-code Pro Series and with the off-the-shelf Simply Accounting.

Because of its scalability, Coss Manufacturing can suit a 20-user shop receiving two or three purchase orders daily, as well as a hundred-user shop taking in hundreds of POs each day, says president Antonia Spitzer. She’s well aware of the benefits to the customer, as well as to Accpac, Coss’ only accounting software partner. “Once you’re locked into a vertical product, it’s very hard to switch”—both the niche package and the tightly integrated accounting component, notes Spitzer.

That, of course, entails a big responsibility for Coss. “We want to ensure the product line is always moving ahead,” says Spitzer. “As customers need more [financial] modules, we’re adding on more [manufacturing] functionality to assist them in their growth. This is why our focus is on one accounting vendor.”

Its business growing, Calframax Technologies, which produces thin-wall and industrial container molds, not only updated from Simply Accounting to Accpac Corporate Edition, it simultaneously moved from Simply Manufacturing up to Coss version 5.8. “This will give us the tool set we require in this stage of growth,” says Ray Little, president of Oldcastle, Ontario-based Calframax.

Making Room for 'Subverticals'

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