iSeries: The Low-Cost Choice for Kansas County Government
November 30, 2004 Alex Woodie
It seems counterintuitive at first. Given the choice of building a solution on an iSeries server or building one on a less expensive Intel-based server, the iSeries solution costs less in the end. But that is what’s happening across the state of Kansas, where a reseller by the name of InfiniTec is keeping county governments running lean and mean, year after year, with RPG software, technical services, and iSeries hardware.
There used to be several software vendors that developed and sold iSeries-based software packages to county governments in Kansas, says Sonny Sagar, director of marketing at InfiniTec, based in Hays, Kansas. Over the years, most of these vendors have rolled out Windows applications for their county customers, allowing them to use Intel-based servers to run all or parts of their government suites, which handle the day-to-day needs for property appraisals, elections, tax collection, vehicle licensing, and the like.
While its competitors have opted for the Wintel platform, InfiniTec has remained committed to the iSeries. “We have stuck to our guns,” Sagar says. “The iSeries is our platform of choice. It’s really very simple. I don’t care what the front end is. I don’t care if they use a PC. But I know, in terms of the back end, nothing beats the iSeries.”
InfiniTec’s decision to keep the Patriot Suite in the highly optimized ILE RPG language, which today runs only on the iSeries, has paid off. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, 63 run some or all of the Patriot Suite, Sagar says. This success can be attributed to several factors, including the stability of the iSeries, InfiniTec’s capability to keep the counties’ costs low, and consistent customer service.
A Simple Three-Year Plan
Since many of the square-shaped, rural counties in Kansas have similar needs, InfiniTec has created a package of hardware, software, and services that it sells in three-year bundles, which provides continuity to the counties’ budgets and shields them from large up-front hardware and software acquisition costs.
Depending on how many citizens live in a county, InfiniTec would charge from about $250,000 to $400,000 for the bundle, which includes a new iSeries Model 800 or eServer i5 Model 520, Patriot suite licenses for an unlimited number of users, full maintenance on the iSeries, OS/400, and the Patriot suite, unlimited education, and from 150 to 250 hours of pre-billed technical services from the company, Sagar says. InfiniTec’s Intel-based competitors would charge about 15 to 20 percent more than that for an equivalent set up, Sagar says.
Once a customer has realized the benefits of the iSeries, it is easier to keep the platform in place, Sagar says. This doesn’t just speak to the high cost of replacement, but to a real understanding that the iSeries (admittedly a more expensive server than its 32-bit Intel counterparts) reduces dependency on IT staff. “We have been running our customers’ software since the late 1980s,” Sagar says. “Basically, these customers have seen how much less downtime there is on the iSeries, and how much less investment in IT people it takes to run it.”
InfiniTec’s customers confirm this. “We do not have a systems officer,” says Leann Jones, the county clerk of Nemaha County. “If we have any real problems, we call on InfiniTec. We basically rely on InfiniTec for all our information technology needs.” Joann Long, the county clerk of Bourbon County, echoes that sentiment. “In addition to not having a need for any IT staff, we’ve already reduced our need for non-IT staff from six people to four, and we’ve been getting a lot more done,” after upgrading from an older and slower AS/400 to a newer and faster iSeries model, she says.
Sagar watched as one of his customers in eastern Kansas moved some less-than-critical workloads, like e-mail, file and print serving, and a geographical information system, from the iSeries to Windows applications running on Intel. Pretty soon, they had three IT staffers managing a mini Windows server farm, he says.
Some of InfiniTec’s customers dislike the green-screen interface that is natively generated by the RPG programs, and for these customers the company is offering a Web-based interface using IBM‘s WebFacing technology. The company also sells Real Vision Software‘s OS/400-based RVI document imaging suite and helps county governments to put some applications, like the register of deeds, on the Web for self-service access by constituents.
But the bulk of InfiniTec’s business is servicing the day-to-day needs of county governments. “For a lot of our customers, we are their IT shop. They don’t have a need for an IT shop in-house,” he says. “What I tell my sales staff is, we’re in the hardware and software business, but we’re also in the peace-of-mind business.”