Maximum Availability Shakes Up Business Plan
June 5, 2007 Alex Woodie
It can be a very tough business competing in the global i5/OS high availability software market. One company that’s learned some lessons is Maximum Availability, which launched its *noMAX product around the turn of the millennium. While the New Zealand company initially intended to wage an air war by relying on the Internet to sell, service, and support its product, it’s increasingly finding that nothing beats boots on the ground. The company’s vice president of marketing and sales, Andrew Mansfield, recently discussed the company’s changes with IT Jungle.
Maximum Availability never fully expected to rely on its Web site to be the be-all, end-all for sales and support activities. Since it started building a U.S. customer base in 2000, the company has realized the importance of partnerships, most notably with IBM‘s corporate office, which has not always welcomed the upstart software company with open arms.
But there’s no denying that the Web played a huge role in Maximum Availability early business strategy. Like almost every small company, Maximum Availability was constrained in its financial resources and couldn’t afford to open an office in every country where it wished to do business. The geographic realities of being an international company based in New Zealand, which is thousands of miles from practically anywhere except the east coast of Australia, further drove the company to a more virtual business model.
That business model relied heavily on the Web, and driving small and mid size businesses (SMBs) to www.maximumavailability.com, where they could learn about the product and view WebEx demos. When they were ready to take the next step, the SMBs could download trial versions of *noMAX and install it on their iSeries servers. Maximum Availability aimed to develop software that was easy to use, but when users had a question, they would often receive answers over the Internet or over the phone. Many *noMAX installations and configuration were done remotely by Maximum Availability consultants halfway around the world.
While Maximum Availability stressed the importance of remote Web-based support in its early days, it also strived to build an international network of consultants and resellers. By 2005, the company had 25 resellers operating in 17 countries. These partners were critical in attracting and supporting customers who prefer the “warm body” approach to service and support, as opposed to the virtual approach that Maximum Availability had counted on to drive scale.
As Maximum Availability enters the next stage of its existence as an i5/OS high availability company, it appears to be relying less and less on the virtual support aspects in favor of finding dedicated and competent business partners that can represent the company in sales and support roles around the world.
The man that Maximum Availability is counting on to execute this shift is Mansfield, a Kiwi who moved his family back to New Zealand from Australia to take the position in 2005. Mansfield appears well qualified for the role, having had a front seat on the dot-com roller coaster during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was called upon to build support organizations for much larger companies and within compressed timeframes. Most recently, Mansfield worked in the Australian PR and marketing department of IT services giant EDS.
During the recent COMMON conference in Anaheim, California, Mansfield discussed his plans for transforming Maximum Availability. That means avoiding a “top-heavy” go to market strategy, “oxygenating” the channel with new partners and incentives, building a tighter relationship with IBM (in particular with Steve Finnes, the manager in charge of high availability business partner programs at Rochester), and continuing to develop the product. It’s getting the fundamentals right,” Mansfield says. “The business plan had to change.”
Perhaps the most important element needed to drive *noMAX sales and increase customer satisfaction is building a network of qualified professionals, he says. To that end, Maximum Availability is devising certification programs for sales and technical support personnel. The programs are designed to reward people who have successfully completed multi-day training programs. The company held sales and technical training courses for the latest release of *noMAX in the U.S., Europe, and Australasia in March and April.
Maximum Availability no longer touts its products as being capable of being installed and fully configured in a matter of hours. The reality of high availability software is that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and each implementation must be tailored to the particular customer. Just the same, Mansfield sees no reason why the initial sales phase, including demos, trials, and pilots, should take longer than 10 days. The full implementation shouldn’t take a whole lot longer than that–the days of multi-month implementations are over, Mansfield says.
While Mansfield strives to develop better business partners, he’s also looking for more business partners. The good news in this regard is Maximum Availability’s network is growing. In the last 12 months, the company has grown its business partner program in the U.S. by 50 percent. New partners include Joe Hillis in Dallas and Heather Jones in Irvine.
While it improves its customer-facing sales and support organization, Maximum Availability is also striving to develop new functionality into its *noMAX product line to compete in an increasingly tough market. A new release of *noMAX is expected by the end of the year, according to Mansfield. Key product elements the company is working on include boosting the product’s GUI, adding more autonomics, and heightening integration with SAP environments. “It’s a challenge getting the roadmap out the door,” he says.
While it’s still a tough market, it’s a good time to be a high availability software vendor, Mansfield says. Major factors in this assessment have to do with the acceptance of remote journaling as a replication mechanism and the relative affordability of hardware that the System i Express Models 515 and 525 have brought, not to mention the Capacity Backup (CBU) On-Demand offering from IBM, which drops the price of an HA solution even more. In some ways, it’s as if the planets have aligned for high availability, he says.
Today, Maximum Availability says there are 300 sites around the world running its software. That roughly corresponds with 150 customers, considering that most users will replicate between two boxes, but there are some users that will run the software across three or more sites, and some that run the software on a single LPAR box. The company is still accelerating its growth, as it had more new customers in the last 12 months than in any previous 12-month period, Mansfield says.
While there are challenges, Mansfield is optimistic that the culture is changing at Maximum Availability, and that its business partners are on track with the changes. “I think they are getting the message,” he says. “It just takes a while for it to permeate.”