by John M. Covaleski

Cary, N.C. - Virtually unknown to the accounting profession just a year ago, business analysis software vendor Sageworks Inc. is trying to gain recognition by partnering with vendors that are very familiar to accountants.

The latest and most potentially significant partnership, which was slated to begin this month, is with Best Software. Best will use its Web site to make Sageworks’ flagship product, ProfitCents, available for sale to accounting professionals who are involved with reselling or providing consulting related to Best’s business software products.

The Best alliance follows, by several weeks, Sageworks’ similar marketing alliance with BNA Tax Management Inc., which is making ProfitCents available to users of its BNA Tax Library.

Last year, its first at proactive marketing to the profession, SageWorks developed similar alliances with tax preparation and accounting firm operations software vendors Creative Solutions and AccountantsWorld, and with CPA2Biz, the Internet portal developed by the American Institute of CPAs. Creative Solutions, based in Dexter, Mich., is a Thomson business.

The Best relationship stands out because of its potential size. While Best plans to make ProfitCents available to the 12,000 members of its Accountants Network, Sageworks chief executive officer Brian Hamilton is hopeful that it will set the stage for Best to integrate ProfitCents with some of Best’s business applications, which have a combined 1.7 million users.

“My goal is to start this relationship and then do product integration down the road,” Hamilton said, just a few days after reaching the alliance agreement. “Best has a reputation for choosing best of breed, and we are best of breed in our field.”

However, ProfitCents does not have a best-of-breed-like user count. Hamilton estimated the total number of accounting professional users of ProfitCents at around 1,500. He did not break out individual counts from any of the alliances, and those alliance members did not provide estimates or offer anyone to discuss their respective relationships.

Best gave no indication as to whether it would entertain integration with a product line that includes the Peachtree and MAS 90/200 accounting products, MIP nonprofit industry software, and FAS fixed-asset computation, among others.

The interview with Hamilton preceded Best’s formal announcement of the alliance, and Best decision-makers familiar with the deal were not available for interviews, yet.

Hamilton acknowledged that there are many other independent software vendors vying for Best’s attention, and that any integration strategy would have to pass several hurdles. “Best doesn’t do anything with just anybody - they do lots of due diligence, but we expect to leverage what we now have to bigger and better things,” he said.

Terms of the alliance were not released, but Hamilton said that Best will receive a share of the license revenue that it generates.

The marketing alliance alone is a giant step for Sageworks, which began marketing ProfitCents by licensing it to multinational banks Wells-Fargo, in San Francisco, and New York-based Citibank, which both private-label it for use by their internal operations. Prior to the accounting profession push begun last year, Sageworks also had a still-active alliance with Intuit Inc.

The Intuit alliance has not yet helped the Sageworks or ProfitCents names gain widespread recognition. Intuit private-labels ProfitCents and packages it as Expert Analysis, an add-on that is available for use with its QuickBooks accounting software. BNA private-labels ProfitCents as a tool called BNA Tax Management E-Financial Analyst.

ProfitCents is part of a year-old wave of new analysis software tools for small and midsized businesses. The systems, to varying degrees, take general ledger data, manually or imported from a business’ accounting system, to track significant changes in any of several key performance indicator areas, and benchmark a company’s financial performance against its rivals.

Similar systems are also available from Accpac International, of Pleasanton, Calif., and Australia-based AccTrak 21, SMB software developers that work with and recruit accountants as resellers and consultants. They both include their analysis tools as parts of suites with better-known applications, such as accounting.

Sageworks, excluding any integration that might occur with Best, is forced to market ProfitCents as a stand-alone product. That makes alliances critical to its future.

In their accounting profession push, Hamilton and Sageworks have touted the potential for companies and their accountants to use reports that are generated by ProfitCents as a base from which to provide consulting services.

ProfitCents is an “artificial intelligence engine” that interprets a company’s financial information through several means, including benchmarking key performance indicators against comparable data for the rest of the company’s industry, to produce written financial analysis reports comparing a company’s financial performance to similar companies in its industry. Its database covers more than 1,600 industries, Hamilton said.

Reports can be customized for a variety of functions including credit analysis, loan reviews, valuations and equity analyses. For accountants, Hamilton said that they serve to show areas where a company is weak and allow the accountant to offer services related to shoring up the weakness.

“We offer a great way for accountants to get close to their clients and to generate billable hours in the process,” he said.

Sally Glick, a marketing director with J.H. Cohn, a New York-area CPA firm user of ProfitCents, said, “The product gives us a starting point to generate good questions and lead into a meaningful dialogue with our clients.”

Best’s marketing plans for ProfitCents have not yet been divulged. BNA is marketing the technology through a separate Web site, www.profitcents.com, which is designed for its BNA Tax Library customers.

The site links users to the ProfitCents engine operated by Sageworks and walks users through the process required to generate reports. It also features text promoting the technology as an “easy-to-use” tool that can help practitioners build their practices.

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