Unit4 buys Assistance PSA to mine Dynamics ecosystem

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright April 4, 2017
ERP vendor Unit4 is buying leading PSA vendor Assistance Software, whose cloud-native, CRM-led product is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform

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European ERP vendor Unit4 today announced the acquisition of Assistance Software, which provides a cloud-based professional services automation (PSA) suite built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform. Both companies are headquartered in the Netherlands.

Unit4 already has its own PSA solution, which integrates to its ERP products and was relaunched last year as a mobile-first and cloud-first solution, hosted on Microsoft Azure but also available on-premise where customers prefer to run their own instance. That product remains available, but the newly acquired PSA Suite will be the flagship offering going forward.

Claiming more than 600 clients in Europe and North America and with around 25 employees, Assistance brings a big boost to Unit4's presence in the PSA market. Its PSA Suite is rated the most-used PSA solution on the Microsoft platform and is ranked second overall to PSA global market leader NetSuite OpenAir by SPI Research, with 11% global market share. Its customer base includes big names such as geoscience survey company Fugro, business consultancies Eiffel, Grant Thornton and RSM, and telecoms giant KPN.

Customer engagement

The Assistance product's native integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM means that it leads strongly on lead management and customer engagement. Unit4 says this means existing customers of its own current PSA product can add it as a "front end." Other functionality in the Assistance product includes analytics support for project proposals and budgeting, a visual resource planning workbench, advanced expense management, and various billing and accounting capabilities.

Its Microsoft platform credentials means that it works well with Microsoft's own Dynamics 365 ERP products. It can also be implemented alongside other vendor's ERP solutions, including Unit4 Business World, for which Microsoft Azure is already the preferred cloud platform.

The Assistance solution includes pre-built content that targets specific verticals within the professional services market. This complements Unit4's own industry focus, says CEO Stephan Sieber in a press statement today:

With Unit4’s PSA Suite our customers will benefit from an industry tailored PSA solution, designed with the latest technology to simplify user experience and maximise productivity ...

Today’s news completes our visionary PS product portfolio.

Assistance has a strong presence in the Microsoft Dynamics 365 ecosystem, with more than 250 certified partners for the PSA Suite.

Different platforms

By bolstering Unit4's presence in the PSA market, the acquisition may bring the company into direct competition with its own joint venture spin-off, FinancialForce, whose Salesforce-native PSA product has 6% market share according to SPI. But Unit4 chief product officer Jeremy Roche — who founded FinancialForce and was its CEO until earlier this year — believes the different platform strategies of the two companies will help them differentiate in the market. Earlier today he told diginomica via email:

FinancialForce is built on the Salesforce platform and embraces the Salesforce Sales and Service Clouds. Unit4 has chosen Microsoft Azure as the strategic cloud platform for its ERP solutions for service organisations and with today’s addition of Assistance Software it further increases the breadth of its solutions in the PSA space. Unit4’s new PSA Suite runs on the Dynamics 365 platform and can optionally embed Dymanics CRM into the heart of the PSA solution.

So through this acquisition and its investment in FinancialForce Unit4 has two world leading PSA solutions embedding market leading CRM solutions from Salesforce and Microsoft.

Unit4 CEO Stephan Sieber told diginomica after his appointment last year that the group will seek to make acquisitions to augment its "innovation and growth." Last summer, private equity-backed Unit4 acquired corporate performance management and BI vendor prevero. In June 2015, it acquired US-based student management solution provider, Three Rivers Systems.

My take

Today's acquisition puts last year's relaunch of Unit4's homegrown PSA solution into perspective. Although Unit4 does have a strong presence in the professional services market, it has not had the kind of presence that FinancialForce has been able to develop nor the popularity that the Assistance product enjoys.

It also adds a new dimension to January's appointment of former FinancialForce CEO Jeremy Roche to the role of chief product officer. His experience of the cloud-native PSA market will be invaluable in ensuring the success of this acquisition and the continued growth of the PSA Suite.

Acquiring a strong footprint in the Microsoft Dynamics 365 ecosystem is also a useful strategic move. One of Unit4's weak points has been the lack of an effective channel. Adding a 250-strong partner base gives it an opportunity to rectify that weakness.

Customers of Unit4's current PSA offering may be left scratching their heads, though. The vendor will have to do a good job of explaining what exactly the implications of this acquisition are, and ensure that any impact on the future product roadmap is benign.