Gibson & Beebe: accountant on the software trail

Gibson & Beebe: accountant on the software trail

Unlikely partners, former "Big Six" chartered accountant Roger Gibson and software developer Perry Beebe, have pooled their strengths to build a thriving accounting and business software dealership - the eponymously christened Gibson & Beebe.

The Brisbane-based reseller came into being in 1991 when the two partners decided to merge their separate respective reseller and applications development and implementation companies. The combined operation is now celebrating its sixth year in the game, with 12 staff and customers as far afield as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

It is one of Systems Union's two Queensland-based Sun Centres, and the Sun Systems accounting package has been its flagship product for the past three years. The company turned over $1.5 million last year, with major customers including Australian Freight Services and a recent win with the Queensland Coal Trust.

Gibson & Beebe also sells the Australian developed Nexus accountancy system, which is geared towards the warehousing, inventory and light manufacturing industries, and Platinum CBA, which is viewed by the company as a largely legacy product.

Renowned for their constitutional inability to wholeheartedly recommend one course of action, there is an old bean counter joke that happiness is a one-armed accountant who cannot use the phrase 'on the other hand'.

And while Gibson may not fit the typical bean-counter profile, he certainly subscribes to the view that customers need to be offered a couple of suitable choices.

"Because of the background I had as a chartered accountant, it's drilled into you that you must put efforts into doing the right thing by your customer, so I was mindful that I had to have a range of options," he says.

"We still embrace that thinking today. We think that's a very important role.

"I know that the early training I had in customer satisfaction has undoubtedly shaped my thinking. Beebe, from a non-accounting background, shares the same ideals though, or we wouldn't have joined forces . . .We like to think that in this day and age professionalism and ethics are still a very important part of our business."

In for a penny . . .

Arriving at its current positioning as a narrow-focused reseller has been a journey of discovery for Gibson & Beebe, which at one time had designs on the broad-based dealer arena.

"I think that in this day and age, sticking to your knitting is fairly critical. At one time we were trying to be all things to all people, we had a PC training department, we were supplying PCs, configuring them, we were really trying to be a one-stop-shop for people," says Gibson. "That might have worked five or six years ago but not these days. As systems became more sophisticated, user expectations increased and we came back and looked at what our core business was - that core business is really the supply, implementation and support of computerised systems."

"It was really a case of seeing where the headaches were and what was really stopping us from really doing what we were in business for," adds Beebe.

So in the interests of good business, training and hardware supply were jettisoned in 1994 in favour of working with Sunrise Computer Systems, one of Queensland's largest broad-based dealers, and other specialist partners.

"Either we were going to do it properly or not do it at all. We would have had to put a lot more resources into it and once again that's not where Roger's and my skills really lie," says Beebe.

"You see it in all aspects of business today - specialisation," explains Gibson. "It's doing the best possible thing you can by your customers. It makes it awfully difficult if you're doing things that are outside your chosen range of expertise."

These days, the company frequently acts as project manager on jobs that require dealing with a variety of suppliers, in order to provide customers with just one point of call.

This repositioning in 1994 coincided with Gibson & Beebe's decision to replace Platinum CBA with SunSystems as its flagship product, after an extensive evaluation of the products on offer in the market.

"Four years ago we saw a lot of our CBA customers were hitting the top end of the product. Really, we saw massive changes happening in the marketplace. We did quite an evaluation program with the SunSystems product. We do this regularly - have a good look at what's there," says Gibson.

"We chose Sun as a premium product and the product that we saw in Queensland that was going to take Gibson and Beebe into the next decade.

"CBA's not being enhanced. We elected not to run with the other Platinum products, but we have a significant customer base with CBA and . . . we're keeping that process of supporting it."

The two partners do not rule out taking on further products on board in the future and make a policy of continually evaluating the financial systems on offer in the market. For now though, they are content with the opportunities that SunSystems presents.

Gibson & Beebe has also retained an expertise in operating systems and continues to do modification and development work for customers in this area. What Beebe describes as "a wave of Microsoft sweeping the world" has been greatly welcomed by the company, yielding plenty of work integrating SunSystems and SQL.

Mobile staff

While the majority of Gibson & Beebe's customers are in south east Queensland - Brisbane, Toowoomba, and the Gold Coast - it has managed to cash in on its proximity to the Asian market, with a number of long-standing companies including several international companies which have trading arms in the region.

Many of these customers, such as Sovereign Airlines in the Solomon Islands, come through partnerships with resellers or by word of mouth. The company does not have an offshore base and Brisbane staff travel north to work on projects as required.

Beebe describes supporting some of these far-flung customer as 'interesting'. While the reseller encourages users to establish modem communication with its office, this is impossible in many cases and staff have been forced to hone their telephone support skills.

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