Best Software, part of the billion-dollar London-based software company Sage Group Plc, has been changing the face of its Accpac line for some time now - literally.

First, Susan Sheridan stepped down for medical reasons last year, and gave up her post as general manager of Best's Accpac unit to Donnat Lettman.

Lettman however, recently announced that he, too, will be stepping down at the end of May, for personal reasons. His departure leaves the post open for Craig Downing, who was formerly vice president of product management at Accpac.

Adding to the revolving door in the executive suite, Himanshu Palsule has been reassigned from senior vice president and general manager of Best Software's specialized business unit to senior vice president and general manager of the accounting solutions unit, or ACS.

Palsule is overseeing the move of Accpac from being an independent unit within the Best mid-market division to being folded into ACS - the umbrella that houses the MAS product line.

"The change really is a continuation of the journey we have embarked on," said Palsule, who has been with Best since 1997. "When we bought Accpac, it was always our intention to move it over - we wanted them to fit under one umbrella."

The current infrastructure was essentially created in 2003, when Sage's U.S. portfolio went from six product divisions to two - small business and mid-market.

Since that reshuffle, all products are placed in one of the two divisions. Coinciding with the creation of these two divisions came the birth of the ACS, customer relationship management, nonprofit and other units that fall under the company's mid-market banner.

"Bringing Accpac under mid-market makes a lot of sense," said Lisa Kianoff, CPA, CITP and principal of L. Kianoff & Associates Inc., a reseller of business management systems. "There is a similarity of needs. What Best is trying to do is bring continuity from an operations standpoint."

Last year, Best Software bought Accpac from New York-based Computer Associates for $110 million. Accpac's Simply Accounting, their small business solution line, was split from the rest of the Accpac products and put under the small business division at Best, where it remains.

"It's not that any one product is getting taken out of the portfolio; each product has a strategic place in the market," explained Palsule. "Accpac brings what MAS doesn't have - database dependence - whereas MAS supports SQL Server. Stack all the products together and you see there is synergy in coexistence."

An example of the synergy Best is seeking by merging Accpac operations with MAS and other mid-market software management lies within the partner programs. Accpac's partner channel has been separate from the rest of Best's ACS software, mostly MAS's, said Palsule. However, Accpac's shift to ACS now brings a more cohesive partner program opportunity.

Many partner programs have been set up separately for ACS systems and for Accpac, like the Best Sales Academy and boot camps for software partners, Palsule said. Now Accpac partners will be able to take advantage of such mid-market programs and vice-versa.

"Best Software always makes sure partners are well-trained," said Judy Thornell, president of Baytek, a channel partner of Best. "There is a good network there, [from which] you can get to know more of your peers. I am always excited to see their changes."

But there could be one downside, according to Kianoff.

In markets where Accpac and MAS compete head to head, it may be difficult to show some differentiation between the two products now that training, support and marketing will all fall under the same system.

She explained that a similar situation occurred when Great Plains acquired Solomon.

"I couldn't go into a sale saying that Great Plains' Web site was better, because it was the same Web site. So you lose that differentiator," she explained.

More trials for partners are underway this year with the re-branding of Best Software's name back to Sage.

After three years of using the Best Software name in North America after it lost a court battle to use the Sage brand, Best is returning to its parent company's moniker in an effort to bring uniform recognition.

Best's partners are not worried about the marketing aspects of rebranding, according to Kianoff, but are going to have to spend extra money to get rid of their Best-branded materials by a March 2006 deadline.

"We will make sure our client base knows about the Sage name change so that when correspondence comes, they will know it is for them," said Kianoff. "Most of the products have always had their own name recognition rather than the Best company name. Our issue is more about reprinting literature, the cost of marketing and collateral we have."

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