PSGi Unveils Customer Support Lifeline for Aged IBM i ERP Systems
Published: March 20, 2012
by Alex Woodie
Companies that find it increasingly difficult to get good help for their old, unsupported, or heavily customized IBM i-based ERP systems may be interested in a new offering recently unveiled by Precision Solutions Group (PSGi). The company is expanding its existing technical support business, which covers the PRMS, PRISM, and JDE World systems, to include just about any manufacturing- or distribution-focused ERP system that runs on the IBM i platform.
The rise in popularity of the third-party maintenance business is directly tied to the lack of value that customers perceive they get from ERP vendors. Third-party support providers like Rimini Street have made a comfortable living luring customers away from big ERP vendors like Oracle and SAP by convincing them that they're not getting their money's worth from annual maintenance fees. In many cases, it doesn't take much convincing when years of dissatisfaction with an ERP vendor has the customer ready to bolt.
Larry Dube, the president of PSGi, has seen this play out repeatedly since co-founding the company in 2003. "We saw that vendors were not spending a whole lot of time with the legacy systems that are out there, that the bulk of their large, core customers are still using," he tells IT Jungle. "It's very expensive for them to move anywhere else. Part of our goal is extending the lives of these products for these companies, so they can get the ROI they need."
Initially, PSGi was focused on providing support for PRISM, the IBM i-based ERP system originally developed by Marcam. Dube and his co-founders, Ed Kelly and Terrie Tadsen, all spent time working at Marcam or Baan Process Solutions, which owned PRISM before it was eventually acquired by Infor. PSGi subsequently rolled out support for two other popular RPG-based ERP systems that run on the IBM i platform, PRMS and JD Edwards World.
The Walpole, Massachusetts, company attracted about 40 customers, who relied on the company to provide all types of support services, ranging from level-one technical support to break-fix support, from custom development to training or project management. These customers had other products that run on the IBM i platform, and they asked PSGi if it could support those products, too. "We thought, it's such an easy transition to start supporting those products," Dube says. "It's a natural fit."
So in February, PSGi announced that it would provide support services for any IBM i-based ERP application that's used for manufacturing or distribution. The products are all similar enough that PSGi is confident it can apply its expertise from decades of working in PRISM, PRMS, and JDE World environments to the new applications.
One of the first new ERP systems that PSGi was asked to support was IMREX, an RPG-based distribution-focused system developed in the 1980s by a U.K.-based company called Imrex Computer Systems. The original developer was bought in 1995 through a leveraged buyout and renamed Renaissance Software, which was subsequently bought in 2000 by a company called Vertex Interactive. Vertex was subsequently acquired in 2005 by a company that became Cape Systems Group, which is still an ongoing entity and specializing in pallet management and supply chain software.
PSGi is open to supporting any of the older "legacy" ERP systems out there like IMREX. The only qualifications are that the ERP system must be IBM i-based, and it must be in the manufacturing and distribution business. Possible products that PSGi could offer support subscriptions include BPCS, MAPICS, MAC-PAC, QAD, Ross Systems, Lawson, and many others.
Dube sees the support service being especially useful in situations where a customer's ERP system is so old or heavily modified that basic support services from the original vendor (if they're still around) is next to worthless.
"In many cases, the products we support and supply expertise for don't look like the original products, they've been modified in these accounts for so long," he says. "As the product ages and the customers mature, what they can get from the vendor is getting smaller and smaller. So we can come in and have a lot more flexibility in how we provide those services and truly become an extension of that customer's staff, as opposed to being someone who might throw some fixes over the wall once in a while."
The highly customized nature of its customers' ERP systems leads PSGi to a much more hands-on approach to customer support than third-party support companies, like Rimini, which typically offer a menu of support products and services, such as yearly tax updates, that customers can choose from. (That's not to take anything away from Rimini, which has been very successful with this model and is actually looking to go public soon.)
"It's closer to a one-off business model," Dube says. "We don't want to be a factory line of services just pumping out things that we can share across the customer base. At the same time, we're looking at an update right now that can help our customers with lot-track-and-trace issues, so that is something that we will share across the customer base."
While highly customized ERP systems can be a source of complication for customers, the differences rarely pose much of a barrier for PSGi, Dube says. "Customers and prospects think their environment is quite unique to everyone else's, but it's really not," he says. "Some of the terminology changes and the infrastructure and the standards used around products are different. But with our understanding of the domain we're in, and our understanding of the architecture of the products they run, we can get up and running on a project pretty quickly."
PSGi's support personnel are focused on certain areas, such as industrial engineering or PRISM support. When the company is asked to support a product it doesn't have much expertise in, like IMREX, then it will pull a staff member who has experience with a "closely related application" and give them time to get up to speed on the new system.
The list of abandoned or neglected ERP systems is a long one. While some systems have been "dead" for years, others are still being supported by a vendor. In some cases, PSGi will supplement what a customer can continue getting from Infor or its original vendor. After all, Infor still supports PRISM and PRMS, and Oracle still supports JD Edwards World. But while Infor has pledged never to sunset a product, it's made it clear that PRISM and PRMS are not going to receive much in the way of new development; only products that have been dubbed "Infor 10" products, such as the old MAPICS, BPCS, System 21, and Application-Plus, will receive the best new features, such as Web service-enablement and access to the ION middleware.
In any event, with all of the old ERP systems out there still running on old System i, iSeries, AS/400, S/38, and S/36 hardware, there is plenty of room for vendors like PSGi to keep that code ship-shape for as long as possible before the customer decides to ship it off to the ERP graveyard.
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