The decision of TaxWise to expand its product line by private labeling other companies' products raises the issue of just how compelling product suites are?

TaxWise is offering its own version of the BNA Tax Planner and is giving its tax preparation users access to some of CCH's research material. It had been providing a write-up package through an alliance with PC Software, and now has trial balance and fixed asset products in its line.

The company's customers, TaxWise says, want a broad product.

There has always been a dispute over whether customers wanted suites in the sense of products that operate together or simply the ability to have a one-stop shop--the famous "one throat to choke" concept.

But the evidence has been building for some time that product families that work together are becoming a more compelling purchase. Companies that can provide a cohesive product strategy that combines the benefits of integration and a single source of supply are going to have the upper hand. Shall we say, the "sort-of" suite suppliers will have the lower hand?

If you try to talk about incomplete suites, the offended vendor usually responds with, "Well, our applications work together" and "We really have a complete line."  So we'll let the market vote on what's a suite and what's not through its purchases. At the minimum, however, a true suite will cover all the tax and accounting needs of public firms. They will work together. They will have common a common look and feel across all applications--and maybe even give the user a choice of looks and feels with which the user is comfortable.

There's always been this debate over best-of-breed versus single-source supplier. Should customers buy the best products, even if that means multiple suppliers.

Throughout the history of technology in the last 20 years, users have repeatedly opted for lesser products that work together, that have friendlier interfaces, and that are easier to learn, over the products with superior technology.

Time and time again, users buy products that are good enough, not the best, if they meet these other needs. And they buy them from as few vendors as possible.

Call them suites. Call it one-stop shopping. It works.

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