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SSA Global to fuse product lines

The business software maker discusses plans to consolidate a patchwork of manufacturing applications it's collected through a series of recent mergers.

Business software maker SSA Global discussed plans Tuesday to consolidate a patchwork of manufacturing applications it's collected through a series of recent mergers.

The Chicago-based company's goal is to merge about a dozen overlapping software programs into two main product lines, said Cory Eaves, SSA vice president of solutions management and research. One product line would consist of applications that run on the Unix operating system, including software gained from the this year's acquisition of Baan. The other product line will encompass business systems that run on IBM's iSeries or AS/400 machines, Eaves said.

The company, which is privately held, expects the product revamp to take two to four years to complete, Eaves said. In the end, he added, the total number of products it sells will shrink. For instance, SSA will combine a set of manufacturing applications it bought from Computer Associates last year--called InterBiz MK--with a set of comparable applications from Baan, he said.

In the interim, SSA will sell maintenance and support services "indefinitely" for most of the older versions of its software, Eaves said. But it will encourage customers to move to the newer versions with tools and services that "protect their existing investments in SSA Global products," according to a company statement.

The company may eventually raise the price of maintenance for certain aging products but has no immediate plans to do so, Eaves said. In some cases, SSA may discontinue support for products that run on hardware that's no longer on the market, he added.

The reason for the product makeover, Eaves said, is to cut costs and focus the company's research and development efforts. "There's no need for us to support 12 different general ledger systems or 12 different accounting systems," he said. "It just doesn't make sense; it's not economical for us."

Merging software programs is, generally, "extremely difficult," said Louis Columbus, an AMR Research analyst. "It's never as easy as it sounds," he said. "There will be very, very tough decisions."

SSA said it would continue to focus on "enterprise resource planning" systems, a type of software designed to help manufacturing companies process orders, finances, inventory and other key business functions. The company also intends to preserve and improve applications geared toward financial monitoring, sales and marketing, engineering and inventory planning, as well as toward human resources.

Additionally, SSA said it's committed to incorporating Java and other popular software development technologies into its products. It's also adding features designed for customers in particular industries, such as health care, and developing tools designed to link its software to other business systems, the company said.

SSA competes with SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft in the business-management applications market. The company said it books $610 million in sales annually to more than 16,000 customers.