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SSA leans on software system

The new release is just one strategy SSA is hoping will kick off a financial turnaround for the coming fiscal year.

Systems Software Associates is hoping to rise from the dead just in time for Halloween when its next fiscal year begins.

The Chicago-based software firm is preparing to release next month the latest version of its BPCS enterprise resource planning software system with the hope it will kick off a financial turnaround for the coming fiscal year beginning November 1. It is just one strategy SSA is hoping will bring it back to profitability and drive it to 15 percent growth the next year.

SSA spent the past year trying to reanimate its business after a near-death experience from pouring all its resources into rebuilding, from the ground up, its software system with a completely new architecture. The thought behind the strategy at the time was that it would let SSA leapfrog its competition from a technological standpoint. Instead, it was nearly a fatal blow.

But now, with a string of profit-losing quarters behind it, a new chief at the helm, and a product line ready for market that runs on not only the AS/400 but Unix machines and soon Windows NT, the "new SSA" is ready to hit the streets and win deals. At least, that is the message the SSA marketing machine is trying to deliver to customers and Wall Street analysts. SSA executives met with the financial community yesterday to try to ease fears the company was taking its last breaths.

"We missed some of the real sweet years," said Bob Hoyt, SSA's vice president of operations. "Certainly, we are recovering very quickly. We are back on track with the releases. We have more platforms than ever before and our strategy is to develop core functionality for our six vertical markets and integrate packages for those verticals" of electronics, automotive, food and beverage, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and general manufacturing.

SSA is banking its future on its semantic messaging gateways that will act as customized bridges or "adapters" between SSA's software and partner products. One of the first adapters is for hooking SSA's BPCS product to Irving, Texas-based i2 Technologies' supply chain planning and scheduling product.

SSA is also working to build adapters to competitors' ERP products with the idea that many customers will have multiple vendors' products running their businesses. For example, a manufacturing firm may use BPCS to run its plants, SAP's R/3 system to manage its corporate financials and PeopleSoft's product to manage its human resources department.

"We can provide the binding technology to link to those other packages," Hoyt said. "This is what our clients are asking us to do. They are saying, 'Jeez Bob! Don't fight SAP, link to them.'"

The financial community seems to be taking notice. John Demirjian, analyst at Bishop Investments, said as long as SSA can execute its plans, it should be on track to 15 percent to 20 percent growth in 1999 and 50 cents share return.

Still, there is one thing that SSA has to overcome, and that's the ghost of years past. Telling potential clients that you are back and here for the long haul is one thing. Proving it is another, especially when that client may be putting his own career on the line choosing your product.

"This is a company that squandered opportunities," said Joshua Greenbaum, analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, California. "One of the first things they need to do is prove the value of their product. They need to convince people that BPCS is better for certain solutions and more compatible and lower cost because right now you have to wonder if taking on these three time losers is going to cost you your job. They need to talk about implementation time, and total cost of ownership, and return on investment and really prove it."

SSA is hoping it can do just that. The company is betting that with a variety of platforms, a new regime in place, and a new sales force primed for action it will look like a new company and not simply the Bride of Frankenstein: still flawed but a bit better put together.