Volume 15, Number 40 -- October 9, 2006

System i Vendors Merge as Help/Systems Acquires ASC

Published: October 9, 2006

by Dan Burger

Acquisitions of the magnitude of J.D. Edwards-PeopleSoft-Oracle are not the only business dealings capable of sending a rumble throughout the i5/OS community. Help/Systems, a systems automation software vendor, turned a few heads by announcing last Tuesday that it had acquired Advanced Systems Concepts (ASC), a company best known for its data access product. Both firms have established reputations for quality products and service in the System i independent software vendor ranks. Both companies are privately owned, so the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Help/Systems develops, markets, and supports automated operations software for the IBM System i and its iSeries and AS/400 predecessors, as well as for the servers that attach to them. Help/Systems' modular suite of products, known as the Robot Automated Operations Solution, automates many of the tedious and routine aspects of a system administrator's job, which results in a more smoothly running system and which prevents many common operational errors. The Robot line of 14 products performs such tasks as monitoring networks, partitions, console messages, and system logs. Other automation features include job scheduling, report distribution, backup and recovery, and tape management. It also includes products that alert operators when the system needs assistance. Help/Systems was founded in 1982.

ASC, a provider of software tools for IBM midrange systems, also logged in to the midrange market in 1982. Its flagship product, SEQUEL, is a data access and analysis tool. The company also offers other operations and programmer productivity tools, including one called RIO. The most well known is a set of cross-referencing, impact analysis, documentation and development tools called ABSTRACT.

Help/Systems has not yet determined how the product lines from the two companies will be combined. When there is product overlap as part of an acquisition, it usually means products will be phased out or merged, and either way, customers will have to adjust. In this particular case, for instance, both Help/Systems and ASC have scheduling products.

Jim Cassens, the former chief technical officer at Help/Systems, was named ASC's new president, and last week he confirmed that product duplication will not occur and that ASC customers "will be asked to convert to the Help/Systems Robot product." The number of customers this affects was not available as we went to press, however, Cassens said, "We want to make sure those customers are taken care of and that we do right by them."

Clearly, the meat and potatoes of this deal is SEQUEL. It brings Help/Systems a complementary technology that broadens the scope of its existing set of management products, with the capability to provide graphical query and reporting, executive dashboards, and other data access and analysis tasks. It also opens the doors to a customer base that, if Help/Systems demonstrates its dedication to the product and its users, may well become users of the Robot products. The amount of customer overlap between Robot customers and SEQUEL customers has not been determined yet, according to Cassens.

"We intend to invest heavily into the development of the SEQUEL product," Cassens said. "It will continue to grow with the needs of its customers, just like it always has. One thing that customers can expect in the future is integration of the various ASC products into the Robot products as well as integration the other way."

The specifics of that integration are, according to Cassens, still being hashed out. "At Help/Systems, we have always had a very tightly integrated group of products with the Robot operations automation line," he said. "We'll find those integration points within these products. You'll see additional hooks, beyond SEQUEL, into the ASC products. I can see hooks into Abstract from our scheduling product. But, again, nothing has been defined yet."

Cassens emphasized that one of his top priorities coming into ASC was to get the employees comfortable with their new environment. "People are what makes the company possible. It's always been Help/Systems' philosophy that people make the difference. The ASC employees know their industry and know their products and they really know their customers." The ASC facility in Schaumburg, Illinois, will remain. "I think we will move to the Help/Systems name over the course of time. When you look at this industry, the recognition comes from the product SEQUEL. We won't touch the SEQUEL name."

Cassens said the executives at ASC are part of the transition team and there are no plans to displace employees. "We will continue to lean on ASC executives for help in developing product direction or from a technical aspect," he said. However, he acknowledged they do not have titles or positions since the acquisition. "They will be involved in some shape or form," Cassens said.

"My role here at ASC is president and there are additional responsibilities in terms of sales and marketing. But I'm a technical guy, so I will be involved in developing the SEQUEL products. I need to understand what's involved with the ASC products and try to build a vision and a direction for the products," Cassens said.

The new CTO at Help/Systems, replacing Cassens, is Tim Woodfield, a former product manager at the Eden Prairie, Minnesota software firm. Eden Prairie is a suburb of Minneapolis. In 2006, it was selected as the tenth best place to live in the United States by Money Magazine.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Shannon O'Donnell,
Mary Lou Roberts, Victor Rozek, Kevin Vandever, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
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