MAS 90 Inquiry: The Most Dangerous Kind

Last night just as I was going to bed I received an unexpected email from a user of Sage ERP MAS 90 version 3.xx.

It wasn’t from someone who I know – though that’s not all that unusual. We’re in the age of “self serve” where a Google search and an email solves nearly all problems – for free.

I’ll have to admit I’ve fallen for this trick once or twice in the past.

Here’s how the situation typically evolves.

A user of MAS90 software emails out of the blue stating that all they need is MAS90 software. No service. No advance discussions.  They’ll manage everything themselves.

Customers don’t know it. Some VARS don’t either. But there are several huge problems with this request – which is why I refuse to sell a box of software with no services.

There are many VARS under increasing pressure to meet software publisher sales goals or win an award who make the sale. And for a very short while they think that they “got lucky” to make such an “easy” sale.

In my experience these sales to strangers who have self–diagnosed their needs are the most dangerous. Though the stranger states that they need no assistance with installing, converting or configuring their software — the actual experience is quite different.

Here’s how it rolled last night — and my thoughts.

If you’re a Sage ERP consultant reading this – there’s an excellent chance you also received a copy of this. Most of these inquiries are email blasts sent to the first 10 or 20 consultants that the customer can find on the Internet. Never fool yourself into thinking that an inquiry such as this has singled only your company out for assistance (Tip: The last line of the request virtually guarantees that I’m not the first to have received this — the sender knew enough from prior quotes to ask that we not submit a price including any services).

Hello,

I have been using Mas90 for at least 20 years. I have a very old copy – I think it is version 3.2 maybe which was on a bunch of 3 1/4 floppy drives. I am considering getting up to date. Is the latest version going to be easier or harder to use? Our version looks like it is a DOS program but they do call it Mas90 for Windows.

I currently have the following modules:

A/R
Inventory management
Sales Order
GL
Library Master
Explorer

Can you quote me on the updated versions of these modules?

My IT person can install everything.

Thank you,

And Here’s My Response

No sorry. There are many other VARS on Google who likely will.

To Which The Reply Was

Hello,

Sorry I thought you sold the products. Can you recommend a good vendor?

The guy who I did business with years ago is long gone.

Thank you,

Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve received this type of “sell me and I’ll have my IT guy install it”. Often people coming in from the Internet (defined as someone you have no prior relationship with other than they found you in a Google search) have a similar theory on upgrading.

The theory? If my IT person can install MS Office — they can install Sage ERP MAS 90.

What happens if you actually sell them a box of ERP software for their IT person to install:

  • The IT person usually has no idea how to install  and configure it (“Can you write down a detailed step by step set of install instructions?”)
  • There will be extreme confusion on why it installs differently than MS Office (“MS Office runs just fine on a peer to peer Lantastic network – you mean MAS90 doesn’t”)
  • Nobody will know how to transfer and convert the data (“You mean you sold me software and now I have to pay to convert data, upgrade forms or update my third party applications that I forgot to tell you about?”)
  • When the IT person becomes frustrated “MAS 90 is the most arcane system – it sucks – why won’t it run on Linux super build 2010 like Microsoft Office does?”
  • Finally, the email will arrive “We want our money back – what you sold us and promised would work didn’t.
  • Then you’ll get the call from the software publisher (“Hey Wayne, it’s Billy Bob here at Sage the Customer Account Manager – did you sell…”)
  • Are you starting to see why the last VAR this person used went out of business or is nowhere to be found?

My Response To All Customers Seeking ERP Software Sales Without Service or The Use of a VAR

Hi xxxx,

Sorry I don’t have anyone that I recommend for these types of sales. I’d take another look in Google (assuming you haven’t already found someone).

The reason that we don’t make these types of sales is based on prior experiences.

Years ago we did sell just a box of software with no service.

What we found is that in many cases there were issues with the people putting the software in (compatible hardware, OS, etc) and we were then requested to supply free support — or in many cases install and configure it for free.

We find the vast majority of IT resources overestimate their capabilities and if a software package doesn’t install in the exact manner that Microsoft Office does — there’s no end to the trash talk about the ERP system.

And, yes, in nearly all cases the people swore that they wouldn’t need support and we wouldn’t be required to supply any and their IT staff would install it in 10 minutes. Most offered to put that statement in writing.

All they wanted was the software. No service. No advance discussion if what they were buying was still appropriate. No concerns about whether the older computers they were using would still operate the latest version of Sage ERP MAS 90.

Rather than argue the merits of whether MAS90 should or shouldn’t be self-installed we find it easier to stay out of the game. Long term it’s an unprofitable sale  because:

  1. The sale is usually discounted (after the price is sent 98% of the time the next question is “how much can you discount this”)
  2. When the software can’t be self-installed the consultant who sold it is expected to step up and do it (for free)
  3. IT resources overstate their capabilities and walk away if the install is more than 5 minutes
  4. If the software cannot be correctly configured/used then the consultant (that’s us in this case) is expected to refund the money which can often be a few thousand dollars (The software publisher lists all sales as final so they won’t refund the VAR).
  5. About 99% of inquiries are nothing more than requests for third bids that can be taken to an existing consultant to undercut a price by a few dollars.

I hope this provides some background about why we don’t sell software outright without some services and knowledge of the company that we’re assisting.

These reasons may also have played a part in why the prior VAR you’d used is now out of business.

Best of luck in your search

Thanks,

And so it continues…

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Comments

  1. Been there!
    And when you want to charge for installation, “Your service sulk.”, I will complain to Sage about your bad service.

  2. Hallelujah Wayne!

  3. I actually received several emails on this from the person asking for the price (which based on experience I’d say is 95% only a request for a bid that they can use with a preferred provider).

    In it they went on to say how experienced their IT person was, that they’d always worked through every issue, etc.

    Problem is that the version of MAS being replaced was 3.2. One of the earlier versions around.

    And technology has changed so much that I’d be willing to bet that the upgrade won’t go as smoothly as they predict.

    To their credit in the final email they stated that:

    “I am just trying to get the cost and product knowledge ”

    As my friend Ed Kless say’s — knowledge is what we sell…
    Which

  4. MAS 90 is the most arcane and byzantine software that I’ve ever had the misfortune of using.

    The elitist attitude of MAS 90 retailers doesn’t help. Wayne Schultz is a perfect example of what I am talking about; just read his blog post about assumptions he makes about IT people. Anyone who is not a member of the Sage Software VAR Club is automatically an idiot who couldn’t possibly understand how to install the software.

    For the record, I am an IT person. But I also have significant programming experience; I’ve been programming computers for over 15 years.

    I have so many grievances with the program that I could write a novel about it. The problem is that the people that use MAS 90 or any ERP aren’t the people that buy it. The people that buy it are the higher ups in the company. They don’t have to deal with the software; they just get underlings to do it for them. So Sage has no profit motivation to care about the user. In fact, making the program byzantine and as unusable as possible is a plus because it means more support dollars.

    MAS 90 breaks every usability and interface design guideline in the book. Perhaps the Sage developers should study the interface hall of shame (http://homepage.mac.com/bradster/iarchitect/shame.htm). Old but still relevant.

    For example, just now, I had to help a user who managed to inadvertently re-size a number of the text box controls in sales order entry. Text boxes should not be re-sizable, they aren’t in any other program and it’s contrary to the standard and expected behavior of a Windows application. One of the fundamental concepts in designing a workable user interface is the rule of least surprise; that the computer should always do the least surprising thing. Having text boxes move around because someone thought it would be a cool feature obviously does not follow this rule (and quite frankly, there shouldn’t be a need to resize them because they should already be of an adequate size to fit the data needed.) There are other fun things as well such as tabs that are disabled but don’t appear as such (such as the tab for web services and OBDC), the debug console appearing behind window controls, the inability of Sage software to comprehend the concept of error handling (try catch statements work wonders; much better than just spitting out random error codes that are of no use to anyone who doesn’t understand programming), and a dependency on Crystal Reports (I could write an entire novel on what is wrong with Crystal Reports; seriously, who decided that when concatenating strings that any null string should render the entire output null? Combining the three address fields takes much longer and much more effort than it should because of this.)

    I’m constantly having a recurring bug where serialized items are not put back in inventory if a sales order is cancelled in the middle of entry and the serial has already been added to the lines. Perhaps this is fixed in 4.4, I would hope that after years that a bug this serious would be fixed (and yes, it was confirmed as a bug by our reseller). I certainly shouldn’t have to go and manually edit data files to keep fixing this issue. If the Sage developers had heard of such concepts as referential integrity and atomicity then this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. Then again, MAS 90 is still using flat file ISAM tables (and I still don’t think that using a file server instead of a proper client-server architecture is workable, especially given the overhead of the SMB protocol; the SMB protocol was not designed for this kind of use and MAS200 is more of a ripoff than MAS90).

    The best part is, access to the SDK is restricted to an elite club. So if I want to add new functionality to MAS90, I have to pay an outrageous hourly fee (several times what the average programmer makes) or become a Master Developer and fork over 5 figures+ a year.

    We’re in the process of converting everything over to OpenERP. It may not have as many built in “features” but I have the freedom to change and add to it.