VAI Evolving Products to Meet Customers’ Future Needs
October 14, 2008 Alex Woodie
With all of the consolidation that’s hit the i5/OS ERP software market in recent years, there’s one name that hasn’t been called: Vormittag Associates Inc., or VAI as it’s now known. But it’s not for lack of effort by the consolidators, according to Bob Vormittag, the founder and CEO of the New York software company, who says he still turns down offers to sell the company. Instead of taking the quick buck, Vormittag has found that listening to customers and meeting their needs is more satisfying–not to mention profitable as well.
During VAI’s user conference last month in Las Vegas, Nevada, Vormittag and several other top executives sat down with IT Jungle to talk about the past, present, and the future of VAI. As it turns out, this company has aspirations that exceed its humble beginnings as a developer of ERP applications for the S/38.
Asked how VAI, which turned 30 this year, has remained an independent company following the raucous period of consolidation the industry has just experienced, Vormittag responded that it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the consolidators.
“They came with bags of money, suitcases of money. And they still continue to call. I have a call on my voice mail right now,” Vormittag says. “Interestingly, if you look at a list of our competitors, they were all acquired. We’re the only one left. I must be an idiot.”
If Vormittag has any mental failings,, it’s a desire to continue building, with the same set of values, the company he founded in 1978. Instead of selling the company for a seven or eight digit windfall, Vormittag opts to stay in the business of developing software, supporting customers, building a reseller channel, and employing people.
It’s a telling fact that more than half of VAI’s workers have been with the company for more than 10 years. Those ranks include Vormittag’s own children, Bob Vormittag Jr., who started out on the help desk back in 1995, and Lisa Vormittag-Graffagnino, who also joined the company in 1995 and today is its chief financial officer.
Vormittag has a passion for the job and a passion for technology, says Joe Scioscia, who’s been with VAI for 19 years and is currently its vice president of sales. “From a statement of direction and a vision standpoint, Bob is the main guy. He drives a lot of where he wants to see the company go,” he says. “He enjoys what he’s doing. And we are very profitable. That’s another good reason why you don’t necessarily have to take the bag of money.”
S2K 5.0 and WebSphere Portal
VAI recently delivered the first new version of S2K, its RPG-based ERP suite, in several years. S2K 5.0, which you can read more about here, marks an important milestone for the S2K product and VAI as a company.
The biggest change in S2K 5.0 is the integration with IBM’s WebSphere Portal, and the reliance S2K has on the Java-based portal framework to help deliver many current functions–such as the interfaces for the Web and mobile devices, the customer and supplier relationship management systems, and the executive information system.
And while VAI has utilized a range of programming languages and technologies over the years–including ILE RPG, Seagull Software‘s JWalk user interface technology, and LANSA‘s Web development tools, among others–much of the development work VAI has planned for future releases is tied closely to Java and the WebSphere Portal.
Delivering new capabilities as standards-based Java portlets makes sense, Vormittag says. “A lot of the Java-based development that we plan on doing will be done through the [WebSphere] Portal framework,” he says. “That seems to be the direction that things are taking. There’s a lot more that we need to do. We’re just really getting started with the level that we want to go with it.”
The goal is to power the entire population of users, not just the sales force, warehouse workers, or accountants, but the executives who need information, too, Vormittag says. “Really the sky’s the limit as far as being able to provide the information they need,” he says. “We’ve developed a collection of portlets throughout the year that are available in a managed content, flexible format that allows each user to select their own portlets. I think that’s going to be the future of enterprise computing as we see it, the availability of the any-time, any-place access to data.”
A Java Future?
Java will play a big role in executing Vormittag’s vision of the future of ERP. “Java is very key from the standpoint of Web development,” Vormittag says. “Anything that’s Web related, Java is really the native language now.” For example, the new iPhone interface in S2K 5.0 was adapted from a Java Web portlet. “We were able to take Java code and reformat it to run on the iPhone,” Vormittag says, “and we can do the same exact thing for any other handheld device.”
Java also has a future in programming back office business processes, where RPG dominates today. VAI recently used Java to develop a new pallet-building program for S2K for Food, a variant of the main S2K product developed specifically for the food and beverage industry. “We’re marrying the RPG with the Java, not just on the Web, but on the back office side too, where we see it as a nice complement to what we’re doing,” says Scioscia.
Vormittag is bullish on Java, and foresees the possibility that one day VAI offers a version of S2K in Java, instead of just RPG, which would allow it to run on operating systems other than the System i.
“I think the language of choice may be Java in the future,” he says. “We’ve been talking with some of our affiliates at IBM about a long-term plan to convert all of our RPG [to Java]. We really have a very loyal System i installed base out there right now, and we’ve also had lots of success with it. [But] I think it’s going to be something that we offer in the future. I think it may come one day that we have an alterative enterprise system converted over to Java. That may be a long-term plan that we have.” rnVAI is investigating various tools that convert RPG into Java. “We’d probably work with IBM in concert with that,” Vormittag says. “But I see it as a long-term plan. I think that we’ll continue to offer our V5.0 and upgrade it, and each year we’ll have a laundry list of things to add to it. [But] I do think at some point that it will be cross-platform.”
A migration to Java is a possibility in VAI’s medium- and long-term plans, five years and out. But in the near term, the company has many other plans in place to build its business.
One of the most promising plans is expanding into Latin America. With S2K 5.0, the company now offers Spanish as an optional language in its warehouse management system. Soon, the entire ERP package will be offered in Spanish, according to Vormittag, who sees the potential to expand to the south. “There’s an opportunity for System i [in Latin America],” Vormittag says. “It’s doing very well down there. That may be our first entrée into our global campaign.”
While many competitors are scaling back their plans and putting their i OS applications into maintenance mode, VAI is looking to grow its product and its sales reach into new markets. The company is currently working on a pharmaceutical version of S2K, to go along with versions for the retail, food and beverage, and metal industries.
“We really have a longer term goal to grow the company, Vormittag says. “And over the next five years, we see some significant opportunities to do just that.”