Published in IT Jungle by Robert Gast
It's good to see that IBM is making a cogent effort to expand the IBM i ecosystem, a promise that IBM's top brass intended to fulfill when it first launched the Initiative for Innovation and the revised iSeries Developer Roadmap. The Initiative for Innovation has been a much-needed investment in the iSeries applications and tools vendors and the developer roadmap opened the doors to development strategies that included more than WebSphere, Java, and the WebFacing tool.
Why is expanding the portfolio of ISVs and third-party software solutions important to the IBM i ecosystem? Growth is vital to the platform's long-term survival, and diversity in the area of solutions draws users into the market. Reliability, scalability, total cost of ownership (TCO), and other virtues of IBM i hardware may be secondary to buyers when settling on a new computing environment.
Still, reports of growth in certain non-IBM i server venues prompts some vendors to develop and sell products that also cater to users of Windows or Linux systems.
It's fair to say the IBM i ISV community has been reinvigorated by IBM's strategic moves to increase its involvement in building the ecosystem. One vendor that has parlayed the Initiative for Innovation into its own higher level of innovation is Business Computer Design, better known as BCD. Credit Eric Figura, BCD's director of sales and marketing, for getting onboard with IBM's ISV initiative and making the most of it.
When IBM introduced the IBM i Initiative for Innovation and the IBM i Developer Roadmap, BCD became much more tightly woven into the ISV fabric and was one of 60 partner companies IBM included in the initial launch. At the same time, BCD unveiled a similar initiative of its own in an effort to expand its partner channel. Part of the offer made to new business partners included free software licenses, which they could use in the modernization of their own products or use in a professional services framework.
Figura is often one of the most vocal champions of the IBMs midrange platform, however, he was not always a fan of the way Big Blue marketed the midrange systems or built relationships with ISVs.
What changed? Notably, in the past two years Figura became far more amiable towards the IBM i marketing and system pricing model. He also likes how IBM has reached out to the ISV community. "IBM now better understands the dynamics of this space and has positioned itself to retain clients, partners, and work at increasing market share," he says.
BCD is one of a number of ISVs that have flourished. A few of the others on this list include Coglin Mill, Harris Data, Vormitagg Associates and CMS Software.
During the past four years, Figura says, BCD revenues have more than doubled, with 95 percent of sales driven by the IBM i platform. He attributes the growth, in part, to a new partner program BCD launched in early 2005, which in turn has boosted sales of BCD's software solutions. Being on the iSeries Developer Roadmap, having IBM's blessing after attaining ServerProven status, and having key iSeries executives voice their support for BCD products have all contributed to the BCD partner program success, Figura says. And much of the cooperation BCD gets from IBM stems from the Initiative for Innovation.
"It has been a year and a half since we announced our enhanced partner program and our business partners have generated new business for themselves and have made a strong contribution to BCD's bottom line," Figura says, adding that revenue from new business partner activities has been significant to the point that BCD has added additional staff to manage its partner network.
BCD's partnership program has been good for new partners and for their clients. New channel partners receive software, training, marketing materials, a partner portal and other forms of support, at no charge. "Partners can select individual BCD solutions or the entire BCD suite that includes $60,000 in free software, documentation, training, unlimited technical support, 24/7 access to our dealer portal, and the online knowledgebase. The only cost is the annual software maintenance fee for individual products, or we cap the fee at $7,500 for the entire suite," Figura says.
BCD has relations with more than 100 U.S. and global partners. In the past four months, BCD partners have generated 38 newly signed software license agreements from a list of companies that include Motion Water Sports, HOM Furniture, King Koil, Europa Metalli, and Fiege Logistics Italy.
As evidence of the importance of the ecosystem model and the way opportunity spreads out like the roots of a tree, BCD's business partners are developing their own solutions to fill niche requirements in the marketplace. This is exactly the way the iSeries Initiative was supposed to play out. The result is that applications get modernized and new applications get developed. And the important thing is that these applications run on the iSeries and help maintain the ecosystem.
Nathan Quinones is manager of operations at Custom Systems Corporation, in Sparta, New Jersey. CSC has been an authorized BCD partner since 1999, and is also a Certified WebSmart Developer. According to Quinones, the relationship with BCD has created new opportunities for the manufacturing software consultancy. "Essentially, we've developed an entire software package with WebSmart called Enterprise Access (EAX), which has been very successful."
EAX addresses the browser-based application needs of CSC's ERP customers, and facilitates order placement, order status inquiry, inventory checks by part number, prices, and open accounts receivable, among other things, Quinones says. "Although the EAX architecture is structured in the way it controls access to data, it is quite flexible in the sense that it can be applied to other applications where controlled internet access is required," he says.
Quinones adds that EAX has created enough opportunity for his company to warrant an entire division dedicated to it.
Developers at iSeries Payroll, HR, and Time and Attendance software house Optimum Solutions, use WebSmart in the development and maintenance of an employee self service add-on product. Optimum Solutions is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and its payroll systems are used to process 10 million paychecks annually. The WebSmart-developed Optimum ESS system allows employees to use a secured browser-based interface to access their personal information, which is resident in Optimum Human Resources and Optimum Payroll. "One of the first things new prospects ask us is whether we have ESS or not," says sales manager Scott Henderson.
Henderson says top-tier companies are the ones that most often require ESS capabilities. "The module we developed with WebSmart has really opened lots of doors for us," he says.
Pacific Software in Hillsboro, Oregon, sells advanced computing solutions to the forest industry, as well as general financial accounting applications. As an IBM business partner they also provide IBM i servers to support these applications.
"We are a pure iSeries shop," says James Herr, an employee with Pacific Software, adding that lots of his customers want to serve up legacy DB2/400 data though a browser user interface. "Portals and executive dashboards are very big right now and we have found that WebSmart and Nexus are tools that improve system usability and allow our customers to attain their objectives very quickly. One customer recently bought WebSmart and within a month had Web applications and a portal up and running. It's exactly what they were looking for."
Herr Says that his clients like the fact that they don't have to buy additional hardware or upgrade their system to use WebSmart. "It's all done on their existing iSeries machine. Our customers see that as a big plus. Whenever we go up against WebSphere we win because it's easier and the customer doesn't have to buy new hardware."
WebSmart and Catapult are now also distributed by IBM with shipments of i5/OS on IBM's Try and Buy CD. "We have seen keen interest, downloads, and new business through this program with IBM," Figura says.
"Business partners, consultants, and ISVs can find many new opportunities by modernizing IBM i applications with the variety of leading edge technology offered by BCD and expand the business proposition of the IBM i," Figura says. "BCD offers a chance for partners with traditional RPG backgrounds and others to use our solutions license-free and innovate by modernizing their own applications and those of their current and future clients. This approach has been very successful for all involved with BCD and the IBM i."
Robert Gast is a regular contributor to Four Hundred Stuff and has reported on technology and business since 1986. He is the managing partner of Chicago area-based Evant Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org