In a matter of just a few months last year, business management software supplier Progressive Solutions was the subject of two corporate acquisitions. While there was an equity finger in every pie on the table, the renamed Epicor Software is keen to point to the business-as-usual sign over the door and to press home the new owner’s pedigree in nurturing existing products.

US-based Epicor Software Corporation has given the former Progressive Solutions in Runcorn a lead role in pushing forward a new division in its specialist area of distribution, using Progressive’s flagship bisTrack system.

"Epicor has never sunset any products; they protect, extend and converge," said Arthur Duffy, formerly managing director of Progressive Solutions UK and now Epicor’s regional director of distribution.

"Where they are coming from is to extend the life of the product and give it a way forward," he said. "What we are bringing to the table is to create a distribution division to take a number of products across to bisTrack, which is strong in timber and building materials, which might be extended to other markets."

Epicor acquisition
Progressive Solutions was bought by Solarsoft Business Systems last June before it was then swallowed up by Epicor in September. Solarsoft was the privately held UK-based mid-market ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendor with customers such as Staverton Building Supplies.

It acquired Progressive Solutions in a deal for its North American-based parent to expand its own lumber and timber business. The target was Progressive’s lumberTrack for sawmills and lumber yards, and bisTrack for merchants and timber processing. Progressive Solutions had been in the UK for 12 years and has eight lumberTrack customers here, and around 120 customers of bisTrack, amounting to some 6,000 users.

Within three months, however, Solarsoft itself was acquired by Epicor, which has 20,000 customers in 150 countries. The deal, for a reported US$155m, pushed Epicor towards a US$1bn-a-year business. Epicor said the acquisition would strengthen its presence in Europe and reach new industry markets such as building materials, while boosting its cloud-based ERP software as a service (SaaS), hosting and managed services offering.

Epicor ERP, formerly Epicor 9, is a full resource planning system with manufacturing and has a global reach in mid and large tier systems.

"It has been very successful," said Mr Duffy. "It’s got a great footprint in a variety of market sectors. What we are bringing to the table is success in vertical markets with a pedigree product. There’s no shortage of general distribution products, but there is a shortage of specialists and that is in timber and building materials."

The speciality was developed initially from lumberTrack. When it was brought to the UK in 2001, aimed at large organisations, it was realised that the system needed a front end for merchants and timber processing. UK company Software Aspects was acquired a year later and its expertise led to Progressive’s relaunched bisTrack. The product has no nationals, but a key customer is Bradfords with 30 branches, and 14 of the top 40 independent merchants use the software.

"BisTrack will go forward as a product and we will continue its development and developing more market share," said Mr Duffy.

Software development
"It’s too early to say what the future will be, but we come back to that protect, extend and converge. In terms of constantly developing the software it is more and more difficult to sustain technical development at the speed at which you need to react. But Epicor can do it where smaller companies can’t."

The former Progressive Solutions operation will remain in Cheshire, where it employs 34 people, and it is likely the former Solarsoft headquarters in Basingstoke will close and move operations to Epicor’s main UK office in Bracknell.

Meanwhile, business has continued to thrive since the takeovers. Meyer Timber has gone live with a 150-plus user bisTrack system and sister company Panelco is also going live with a large system. Recent new business includes John Brash, Brooks Timber and Building (Ireland), Brooks Bros, Parker Kislingbury and International Plywood.

Personal involvement
"We have always been proactive about our customers and that hasn’t changed since June [the Solarsoft acquisition]," said Mr Duffy. "I am still very much personally involved. I now look after the bisTrack user base and take on board the Solarsoft DWS division and will make a roadmap for going forward.

"Our operation has not changed that much and while we are still waiting to see all the implications, if there are any changes our product will grow. We are out to get more customers."

For the future, Mr Duffy sees the issues facing the industry as many others in the software sector do. He believes that timber traders, traditionally heavily reliant on construction, have to be smarter in areas of their business such as purchasing, stock and transport. The solution is more complex, he said.

"In my view most people have looked at their business through a rear view mirror, looking backwards at what has gone. Today you have to take that information and use it in moving forward."