FMS Solutions Finds mrc’s m-Power a Good Fit
February 17, 2009 Alex Woodie
When FMS Solutions set out to find a Web-based reporting tool to support its customers in the grocery and supermarket industry, the application service provider (ASP) had a few key requirements. First and most importantly, FMS needed a tool that didn’t charge by the seat, which would get prohibitively expensive. It also needed support for System i and Windows databases, and it needed to be easy enough for its customers to use. The company found an answer to all of these needs with the m-Power product from mrc.
From its headquarters near Baltimore, Maryland, FMS Solutions provides financial management solutions to about 1,800 independent retail grocers and supermarkets across the country. As an ASP, the company provides its customers with decision support tools that allow them to make better use of their store data and operational reports. The company works with its customers to establish performance measures and benchmarks that they can use to become more profitable.
The company’s revenues have doubled over the last three years, which has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, customers have been so satisfied with FMS that they’ve recommended it to others, which is the type of word-of-mouth reputation that great companies are built on. On the other hand, the primary reporting tools that FMS provides for its clients were not up to the challenge posed by the growth.
According to Tim Laycock, FMS’ vice president of information technology, the main problems with the old reporting tools were cost, flexibility, and appearance.
The cost was too high because they were charged by their vendors (well-known System i ISVs) on a per-seat basis, which FMS had to pass on to its customers. The tools were Windows-based, and required users to log in through a VPN. And if a user needed an update, FMS would have to mail them the disks. Lastly, the reporting tools featured greenscreen interfaces, which did not mesh with customers’ expectations for an easy, graphical experience.
“The bottom line is that the world is going to the Web,” Laycock says.
The Search for a Solution
Laycock and his team fanned out across the Web and began looking for the new reporting tool that would become the basis for FMS’ interaction with its customers. The group looked at nine different products, nearly all of which charged on a per-seat basis.
“That did not suit our business model,” Laycock says. “I wanted a solution that was completely Web-enabled so I did not have to worry about ‘seat licensing,’ and so I could know year-to-year, or server-to-server, what my costs would be. Other products had seat-based licensing, which I could not afford being an ASP, or I did not want to deal with.”
Most System i reporting tools still use archaic per-seat licensing, Laycock says. “This is a huge problem in today’s marketplace. There are many organizations in the ASP model where per-seat is out of the question. When I looked at certain products, the cost of pushing it out to our clients would have been upwards of $200,000. Being a small organization, that was not feasible.”
m-Power from mrc was the only product that met all of Laycock’s requirements–that it was Web enabled with zero install; that it had server-based licensing, and that it was easy to use. It was also about one-tenth of the cost of some of the other proposals put forth by System i tool vendors.
“Irregardless of that, mrc simply impressed me,” Laycock says. “It looked, as is, like a professional tool that we can roll out to clients knowing that they will enjoy using the product and can get results quickly. That’s what it’s about–getting your clients to their data at the lowest cost and least time. mrc delivers that.”
m-Power Goes Live
FMS runs the Java-based m-Power solution on an Intel server running Windows Server 2003, with Tomcat 6 as the Web server. The server, which has a whopping 16 GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, also plays host to other applications. Reports developed in m-Power’s Web environment hit the company’s iSeries and Windows servers for data. “The product itself needs little,” Laycock says. “I’ve watched the server run very cleanly, with no crashes.”
Laycock and his crew wrote about 70 canned reports for their customers within the first three months, a number that has now increased to about 140. Developing reports in m-Power is quite easy, Laycock reports. “We have users who are green-screen-only users. I mean hard core green screen users!” Laycock says. “After a few hours of training, they were pushing reports out and actually enjoying it! It’s not what I think or my (very talented) IT staff think. It’s the users’ reaction to a new tool [that counts]. They loved it, and that was impressive, to say the least.”
FMS is even utilizing the mobile computing capabilities of m-Power. “We can even render MRC reports on smart phones, iPods and Blackberrys,” Laycock says. “How cool is that?”
FMS has big plans for m-Power. So far, it has concentrated on reporting. But the company is also developing a client portal with the tool, and will soon outfit it with various m-Power-based applications, such as an executive dashboard and more financial reporting capabilities. “We fully expect over the next year to explore all of its potential,” Laycock says. “As an IT group, we are very excited about the potential.”