by John M. Covaleski

Pensacola, Fla. - Best Software expects to get a lot closer to the accounting industry with its purchase of CPASoftware.

"The accounting industry is highly penetrated, so you have to look at where you can add value to the market," said Nina Smith, Best’s chief marketing officer, who is overseeing CPASoftware’s assimilation into Best. "This acquisition will help us bring that value."

The acquisition, for undisclosed terms, is also part of Best’s much grander strategy to develop common platforms for all of the approximately 20,000 accounting professionals, who provide reselling or consulting services on its products.

Best is primarily known as the developer of horizontal business software applications designed for all types of businesses. As a result, CPASoftware dramatically expands its presence in software designed for accountants.

CPASoftware, based here, develops a line of "Visual" products that includes tax preparation and client write-up systems and practice management software designed for accountants and other service professionals, such as lawyers and consultants. Best’s products include the Peachtree, MAS 90 and Best Enterprise accounting and management software lines, MIP nonprofit industry software, Abra payroll and FAS fixed asset software. It also develops Timeslips time and billing software used by accountants and lawyers.

Best’s more immediate plans call for including CPASoftware in a new business group that will be dedicated to the 3,000 accounting professionals in the vendor’s main product consultant programs - the "strategic accountant alliances" for MAS 90 and Best Enterprise, and Peachtree’s AccountCare program. Accountants in the consultant programs are trained to recommend whether clients should use the products, but they do not sell or implement the solutions. Best has separate reselling/ implementation programs for most of its products.

"We’ve had all these programs that sell through accountants and now we have products to sell to accountants, so it makes sense to bring them together," Smith said. "The CPASoftware deal makes even more sense because they already know how to sell to accountants, and so they bring more credibility to our focus here."

Best also plans to market CPA Software products to its full force of 20,000 accounting professionals. That would be a major boost to CPASoftware, which, according to Accounting Today’s Top 100 Products report, had 15,000 end users at the start of 2002.

Smith expects 20-25 percent of Best accountant partners will "look at" CPASoftware products, but she did not speculate how many will buy.

The key to the purchase decision deal appears to be Best’s use of CPASoftware to magnify its focus on accountants. Smith said. "We are making it easier for accountants because now if they come to Best Software to be a recommender they can do that, and if they also want to buy software for their practice, they can do that, too."

Resellers of Best’s accounting lines and its FAS and Abra products are not part of the initial program that includes CPASoftware, but Best is developing other systems for all of its accountant partners. "Our strategy is to continue to build bridges across all our programs that affect accounting professionals and to have common processes, marketing support and materials and incentive programs and other such items," said company spokes-man Brian Muys.

As an example, Muys cited Best’s recent appointment of Taylor Macdonald to the newly created position of senior vice president of business partners responsible for designing systems that maximize all Best partner channels across all U.S. products, and to create standardized best practice instructions for the channel members.

Macdonald, a CPA and among the first accountants to succeed in technology consulting, had been associated only with Best’s Middle-Market division.

Best’s accounting strategy sounds similar to rival vendor Intuit’s new "Accounting Solutions" group, which combines its accountant/consultant programs, which include QuickBooks Advisors, with that vendor’s professional products group that develops Lacerte and Pro Series tax preparation software. However, the Intuit group represents some 185,000 accounting professionals, which dwarfs Best’s size.

Still, accounting technology industry observers are hailing Best’s approach to the industry. "If Best is looking to win the hearts and minds of accountants and get them to the point that it’s easier to sell through them, this is a real good move," said Tom C. Davis, a Valdosta, Ga.-based technology consultant to accountants.

"Best’s acquisition is a really good thing for CPA Software as they were one of the last remaining independent CPA-specific software vendors with any stature," said Roman H. Kepczyk, president of the InfoTech Partners North America, which also advises accountants on technology issues. "They have a very strong user base and are arguably the most usable practice management application among the major accounting market vendors."

Best’s initial focus with CPASoftware will apparently be on marketing and reaching out to accountants, rather than on product development. For example, CPASoftware chief executive and founder Mark Fenimore is reporting to Smith, a marketing person, and most of Smith’s conversation about the deal focused on the outreach to accountants.

However, Smith noted that CPASoftware’s client write-up application may be the subject of additional development by Best and that the vendor may develop links that integrate the application with some of its accounting products.

"We will look at our whole portfolio to see where the write-up program fits," she said.

When asked if Best will continue to support the CPASoftware line, she replied, "We did not buy it to get rid of it."

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