IBM, Best Software Customize for SMBs

Two developers look to head off Microsoft's interest in the market.

IBM and Best Software Inc. are making more moves toward small and midsize businesses with scaled-down, less expensive applications.

IBM last week introduced WebSphere Portal-Express, a scaled-down version of its Enterprise Portal that is designed for simple deployment and usage. This is the first of several software products that the Armonk, N.Y., company is expected to roll out this quarter for SMBs.

WebSphere Portal-Express enables the creation of internal and external Web sites for employee, partner and supplier communications. It can be deployed on a single server and offers capabilities for portal personalization, campaign management, single sign-on across applications, as well as authentication, authorization and communication among portals.

Users can customize a page layout, add new content or functions, add a new user, or change the portals interface within about five clicks of a mouse, IBM officials said.

Portlets, which enable various pieces of portal functionality and connectivity, are reusable with the enterprise version of WebSphere.

Pricing was scaled down for the enterprise version to $77 per user and $30,000 per processor per extranet.

A sister product, WebSphere Portal- Express Plus, includes instant messaging, online chat, group calendaring, task management, document libraries, and document sharing and revision capabilities.

Separately, Best Software last week unveiled an integration of its Act contact management application with Peachtree accounting software as well as versions of Peachtree geared for manufacturers and distributors. The company, at an event here, also introduced a branding campaign that organizes all small-business software from London-based The Sage Group plc. under the Best Software name for distribution in North America. Best Software, of Irvine, Calif., is a unit of Sage, the United Kingdoms largest software company.

Best Software, which claims 1.6 million SMB users in North America, said that early next year it will open a center in Atlanta to aid customers moving from Peachtree to the companys MAS business automation software. It will discount the software and offer zero percent financing.

Both IBM and Best Software are in a battle with Microsoft Corp., which sells small-business software through its Great Plains and Navision software units.

Jim Moore, vice president of finance and IT/IS at Cambridge Valley Machining Co., in Cambridge, N.Y., is a Microsoft Great Plains customer whos interested in implementing a portal but is not quite ready to purchase software. Even if IBM does come in with a less expensive offering, Moore said he might be hesitant to look outside of Microsoft.

"Its very difficult to bring in a product like that—its two different database products [to integrate]," Moore said. "I havent found anything that satisfies our end in terms of security and price points that gives us value for what we would pay for it."