Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Products I Sell are the Best, Trust Me

CPA Technology Advisor's 2006 review of high-end accounting systems was published late last month. The review includes analysis of Intacct, Sage – Accpac, Dynamics GP, Sage – MAS500, and SouthWare.

The solutions were evaluated across these categories:
Usability/User Experience & Security
Support, Training & HelpOverall Assessment

Accpac and MAS500 got perfect 5.0 scores, followed by Dynamics GP with 4.5 and SouthWare and Inacct both with 4.0.

The review was written by David Cieslak and Bob Gaby and appears in the December 2006 edition of the magazine. Cieslak and Gaby, both CPAs, are experienced veterans of the business applications market. Any time I see Cieslak's name, an alphabet soup of certifications and titles follows (CPA, CITP, GSEC, GIAC, etc). Gaby has similarly impressive credentials. Credentials aside, I'm not sure these guys were the best candidates to write the review as they have a vested interest in the outcome.

I'll say for the record that I've had some correspondence with Cieslak in the past (phone calls, emails, etc), and believe he is a person of integrity. Even so, given the authors' close ties to the products involved, this review is not difficult to discredit.

In addition to the link to the review itself, I'd submit the following links for your consideration.

The Partner Bios page for Arxis Technology Inc – Not only are Cieslak and Gaby co-authors of the review, they are also the two principals of Arxis Technology.

The products page for Arxis Technology – Arxis Technology represents both Accpac and MAS500, the two products with perfect 5.0 scores, but does not represent Dynamics GP, SouthWare, or Intacct. If these are the top five high-end accounting systems (a very debatable point), a company that represents two of them must find itself in frequent, head-to-head competition against the other three.

An interesting article from WebCPA.com – Given that Accpac got perfect 5.0 scores across the board, it's worth noting that Cieslak is chairman of the Sage Accpac Business Partner Advisory Council. Read the overall assessment at the end of the Accpac section of the review. It would make Sage's Accpac marketing team blush.

An Arxis press release about Sage's Million Dollar Club – In October of 2006 Cieslak and Gaby's company was named to Sage's Million Dollar Club for having surpassed one million dollars in annual software sales with Sage. If you sell a million dollars worth of one vendor's products, you're probably pretty happy with those products. You may be sincere in your belief they are the best, but you should not for a moment try claiming with a straight face that you can be completely objective in writing this type of review.

It is good press for Sage, who put out a nauseating press release that read "Sage Software Flagship Enterprise Resource Planning Systems Beat All Comers with Perfect 5-Star Overall Assessments." I guess they thought that had a better ring to it than saying We're excited to announce that one of our top resellers that did more than $1 million in business with us last year likes the products they sell better than the products they compete against, but that would have had an inconvenient element of truth to it.

One last thing...the review purports to take into consideration feedback on the products from a survey of the membership of the Information Technology Alliance (ITA). ITA's membership includes CPAs, EAs, CIOs, CTOs, value-added resellers, specialty technology consultants and the developers of technology products and services. I called and spoke with the Executive Director of ITA who informed me that ITA currently has 84 members. If I look at the survey results as shared on the CPA Technology Advisor website I see a pattern in the numbers that tells me they probably had 14 respondents.

That kind of response rate equates to a margin of error of +/- 24%. Consider if political polls had a 24% margin of error. At +/- 24% yours truly is in a statistical dead heat with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination or with John McCain for the Republican nomination. I trail the front runners Clinton and Guliani by as little as 10 points and 7 points respectively. I'm currently sitting at 0% in both polls (or as high as 24% in both). That kind or margin of error would make the polls absolutely meaningless. It certainly makes the ITA input into the software review meaningless. So we are left with a CPA Technology review apparently based entirely on the opinions of a firm that generates a great deal of its business on two of the five products reviewed. Is anyone still surprised at how it turned out?


  1. Excellent job eviscerating these clowns. This is a disgrace. I rather suspect we'll be seeing more of this in 2007. So it's up to the likes of thee and me to keep 'em in line.

  2. Thank you for exposing this travesty. As a SouthWare dealer, I was surprised that this publication would allow the products to be reviewed by a reseller of one or more of them.
    Following is an excerpt of my email to my representative at Southware upon reading the review, and the bios of the reviewers:

    Dear ____, I assume your reaction to the CPA Technology Advisor review was similar to mine. Did I read this correctly? Was SouthWare really reviewed by two people who resell Sage, and gave their own products 5 stars each? I appreciate your positive take on the good statements that were made about SouthWare, but by giving Southware 4 stars, that's another way of saying we tied for last place with Intaact On Demand.
    I'm not surprised they rated their own products higher than the competition. Even if they conducted the review with best intentions, it's inherently unfair, as they are not as familiar with SouthWare as with the software they resell. I'm sure my review of MAS 500 wouldn't be very favorable if I didn't even give someone a chance to show me how it worked.
    One statement from the review that about knocked me out of my chair was "The company noted that the Tab key can be used to advance to the next field and that Shift+Tab can be utilized to move to a prior field in most entry screens." These "experts" had to go to SouthWare to find this out? I'm glad they at least had someone there to show them how to turn the computer on.
    The reviewer's statement "In my opinion, the SouthWare interface needs to be retired and reworked if the product is going to remain competitive with other mid-market accounting systems over the next few years." shows his ignorance of the product.

    SouthWare's interface has undergone great improvements in recent revisions, and one customer of mine was able to cost-justify upgrading based on the time saving features of the new interface alone.
    Thanks again for your well-written response to this "review" of the high-end accounting systems. I guess it's time for me to write my own review of these systems. Hmmm....I wonder who will come out on top?
    -John Boston
    Account Executive
    Advanced Systems Group

  3. I would love see see SouthWare create an article based on the comments from Mr. Howlett and place it in all the appropriate magazines.

    Joanne Picukaric
    VP Marketing and Development
    complete computer support, inc.
    West Palm Beach, Florida

  4. John -
    Thanks for the comment, though given the current readership of my lonely little blog I hardly think I've exposed this travesty to the level it should be.

    I found it interesting that both Southware and Dynamics GP were particularly dinged in the area of user interface and usability. I think there is greater meaning there in terms of how Accpac and MAS500 compete against those two products.

    You are right on the money regarding the more public and vocal response this kind of things needs.

    It wasn't too long ago that SAP was claiming its custoemrs were 32% more profitable, then Necleus Research put out there study showing SAP custoemrs were in fact 20% less profitable than their peers. Haven't seen those SAP ads in a while.

    Just wish someone with a voice as loud as Necleus Research would pick this up. Compared to my writings here, having someone like Dennis comment is a huge step in the right direction.

    Now where is CRN, Accounting Technology, VAR Business, et al?