by John M. Covaleski

Pleasanton, Calif. - Accpac International, the developer of accounting and enterprise management software for small and midsized businesses, is suddenly paying a lot more attention to customer relationship management applications.

Six months after it brought CRM systems development skills in-house by acquiring a CRM company whose product it had been private-labeling as Accpac e-CRM, the company, based here, released a new version of that product. Version 5.5, the first CRM actually built by Accpac, includes several major enhancements, and the product itself has been renamed Accpac CRM.

Separately, Accpac this month is scheduled to start hosting its CRM products on a Web site, www.accpaccrm.com. The site is slated to host users’ CRM systems and data, and allow them to access it 24/7 via the Internet. It will also host accounting data for users whose CRM systems are integrated with Accpac’s accounting software. Full details about the site were not available at press time.

On the reseller side, Accpac’s recruitment effort has featured a recently concluded 10-city tour, which resulted in signing up 100 new partners, who, upon becoming certified, will increase Accpac’s total CRM sales force to 582.

While 90 percent of Accpac’s CRM resellers are established resellers of the company’s accounting software solutions, its new recruitment push also targets CRM sales specialists, who may not necessarily handle accounting applications, and resellers of CRM systems from rival vendors.

“The fact is that SMB demand for CRM is there now, and the market and resellers are starting to get it,” said Accpac chief executive David Hood.  “Analysts are calling this the next business hot spot, and the Gartner Group says that less than 25 percent of SMBs now have CRM.”

Accpac’s CRM line includes the core Accpac CRM product, which integrates sales force, marketing and customer care automation tools, and the Accpac CRM SalesTeam product, which is designed for businesses that want to start with sales force automation only.

Both versions are available in three editions designed for SMBs of different sizes, and both integrate with Accpac’s key accounting software products, Pro Series and Advantage.

Accpac’s most prominent accounting/enterprise software vendor rivals in CRM are Microsoft Business Solutions, which attracted major attention earlier this year when it launched a new CRM system specifically for SMBs, and Best Software, whose divisions include a CRM unit comprised of the SalesLogix and Act! products, as well as companies that Best acquired.

The most prominent SMB CRM product not directly tied to an accounting software vendor is Goldmine from Front-Range Solutions, of Colorado Springs, Colo. The vendor expanded its flagship product into accounting software last year by launching an Accounting Edition that links Goldmine to several versions of QuickBooks accounting software. More recently, it released a toolkit to help users and resellers link Goldmine to other accounting software lines.

Hood considers the main CRM competition to be Goldmine, Act! and Internet-based SalesForce.com. He doubts Microsoft’s viability because, he said, “Microsoft’s CRM is still new and immature.”

But he thanked Microsoft for generating CRM interest, noting, “They’re spending $100 million in marketing to educate clients that CRM is something they have to look at.”

However, Microsoft has already proven to be way ahead of Accpac in market acceptance. At the time it launched Microsoft CRM, the company announced that it had 850 resellers signed up to sell it and more than 100 independent software vendors committed to building applications off it. Microsoft also is already Internet-hosting its CRM through an alliance with Surebridge, a Lexington, Mass.-based service.

In competing with Microsoft, Hood said that his company’s biggest advantage is independence from Microsoft’s desktop applications. Microsoft has ballyhooed its CRM product for its native integration with its Outlook e-mail system, and has developed an Active X set of controls for CRM. The products also, obviously, run off Microsoft operating and database systems.

Accpac is touting its CRM products’ support of multiple platforms. It supports multiple e-mail systems in addition to OutLook, and runs off databases that include Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server, and on Microsoft Windows, as well as the Macintosh and Pocket PC operating systems. Accpac accounting products can also run on Linux, which sets the stage for its CRM to also move to Linux, which is Windows’ biggest rival.

“What we are offering customers and resellers is the freedom not to be locked into one vendor for too many things,” Hood said. The chief executive often touts the same message when promoting Accpac’s accounting applications.

“Whenever we sell against Microsoft, we always ask prospective customers if they feel comfortable being locked in,” said Peter Kaufman, president of Dynamic Software Solutions, an Accpac reseller in Miami. Kaufman said that he senses concern among end users that if they buy Microsoft CRM and move to an upgraded version, they may be forced to also buy upgrades for their Outlook and Active X programs.

However, that concern may not be dissuading the market at large. A month after it began shipping its CRM product, Microsoft has already reportedly had 275 orders for it. Accpac has 300 to 400 CRM installations after two years of marketing that technology.

Accpac entered CRM in early 2001 by making an application from CRM development specialist eWare Ltd, of Dublin, Ireland, available with its Advantage and Pro Series accounting lines. In December, Accpac acquired eWare after only 18 months of the private-labeling relationship.

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