InterForm Sees New Opportunities in IBM i Forms Management
March 22, 2011 Alex Woodie
Several years ago, the owner of InterForm A/S tasked two business partners with leading the expansion of the Danish company’s products into the United States. The company, whose suite of IBM i-based document management software is well known in Europe, is still trying to find its footing in a U.S. market that has become more open following the divestiture of IBM‘s printing unit to Ricoh.
InterForm is a fairly young company that has a rich 30-year history of developing output management solutions for the AS/400, iSeries, System i, and now IBM i servers. The company’s recent history is a little messy, owing to the events surrounding the April 2008 acquisition of Intermate A/S by Kodak. Intermate, which was also based in Denmark, was a close partner of InterForm’s, and was its master distributor. Kodak, however, was only interested in Intermate’s IPDS printing products. Following an ownership change, a new InterForm was formed that focused on sales and marketing in addition to development.
Today, InterForm develops and sells software that improves the printing and electronic distribution capabilities of IBM i servers. At the core of InterForm’s suite is InterForm400, which includes a PC-based, graphical forms design tool and an IBM i-based spool file merge utility that generates PCL and ZPL output. Surrounding InterForm400 are several modules for outputting IBM i spool file via fax, and for integrating IBM i content with Microsoft Word and Excel documents. InterForm400 also generates secure PDFs.
InterForm counts a number of prominent European companies as customers, including Porsche, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Lamborghini, Erdinger Weissbrau, and Euler Hermes, according the company’s website. The InterForm products benefited from partnerships that Intermate had with Baan and other ERP systems now owned by Infor, according to Paul Tykodi, who provides consulting and technical support services to InterForm from his office in New Hampshire.
Nearly two years ago, the owner of InterForm sought to expand the product into the North American market. Tykodi and Patrick Race, the managing director of InterForm’s primary U.K.-based business partner Space Tec, were tasked with spearheading the development of a U.S. sales channel and drumming up excitement for the software, which is marketed as ArtForm400 in the United States due to copyright restrictions, according to the InterForm website.
Today, InterForm has a handful of partners, including the recently announced reseller deal with ProData Computer Services, the Omaha, Nebraska, developer of the enormously popular DBU utility. Other partners include ASK of Lansing, Michigan; CIM Strategies of Woburn, Massachusetts; and MiNET Communications of Boise, Idaho.
Breaking into the competitive North American market can be very difficult, as Intermate is discovering. Many European IBM i software vendors have tried over the years, and few have succeeded. InterForm is struggling to develop brand recognition in North America, says Tykodi, who splits his time between InterForm and working with the Intermate IPDS software that is now sold through the Creo Color Servers unit of Kodak’s Print On-Demand Solutions Group.
One of InterForm’s most promising market-building activities is its new relationship with the folks at IBM’s lab in Rochester, Minnesota. According to Tykodi, Rochester has been very receptive to learning about the InterForm product line. The lab has even installed it and validated InterForm’s capabilities, which Tykodi hopes will lead to product recommendations from Rochester in the future.
Tykodi attributes the receptiveness to the recent sale of IBM’s printing group to Ricoh, which is now the independent InfoPrint Solutions Company. “They’re open now,” he says of Rochester. “Even if you made something well previously, they kind of had to defend their own stuff. So it was a little harder to show them what you do, or to explain how you can help their customers. Now that that’s gone, they’re very nice to work with.”
While IBM retained the Print Service Facility (PSF) utility for the IBM i and z/OS platforms (InfoPrint owns the Windows and AIX versions of PSF), the fact that IBM doesn’t have a printing division any more means that IBM must lean on third parties to solve customers’ IBM i-related printing and output management problems.
“They’re not in a position to write as much code, and do as many things for themselves as they used to,” Tykodi says. As a result, partners are brought in, “so customers can still find ways of getting all the features they’re looking for when they buy an i.”
Tykodi says the core strengths of the InterForm products are its integrated nature and its support for PDF. He says InterForm offers many of the features one looks for in a document management package, including: the capability to support all types of input, from regular SCS to AFP and IPDS; the graphical forms designer and support for conditional logic and spool file splitting capabilities; and the support for PDF, PCL, Word, Excel, e-mail, and fax output. Having these features in one suite means customers don’t have to cobble together products from different vendors, he says.
PDF is another area of strength, he says. For example, InterForm has developed a utility that allows users to print a PDF off the IFS by issuing a simple command. “There’s commands for everything,” Tykodi says. “You’d think there’s a command to print a PDF. But they haven’t invented that yet. So InterForm has that.”
Another product fact of note is this: The upcoming InterForm M2011 release will also add the capability to run the core spool file merge processing on platforms other than IBM i. That will expand the potential market for InterForm products, and could even catch the attention of multi-platform shops that prefer not to drive printers from IBM i servers.
For more information, see the InterForm website at www.interform400.com.
This article has been corrected. Intermate A/S was a distributor of InterForm’s products, not an owner. InterForm has always developed its own products, and maintained ownership. The correct website for InterForm is www.interform400.com. IT Jungle regrets the errors.