SMA Aims To Grow IBM i Automation Biz In The U.S.
March 9, 2015 Alex Woodie
Despite being based in Texas, SMA Solutions and its systems automation software for IBM i are not particularly well-known in the United States. However, the company has enjoyed success recently in the European IBM i market, and now SMA’s owner and CEO, Michael Taylor, has tasked his European managers with accelerating growth in IBM i market stateside this year.
Taylor admits that he would rather spend money on R&D and customer support, as opposed to investing in marketing. “The average iSeries reader is going to say, who the heck is SMA? They’ve got no clue,” Taylor tells IT Jungle. “We don’t spend a lot of time on marketing as you can see.”
SMA has been a bit reluctant to talk about itself, which is a common trait among technologists. But the privately held firm shows no hesitation walking the walk when it comes to building tools to help administrators and operators manage large collections of servers and applications. The company has been developing systems management tools and job schedulers for decades, and counts organizations like Carnival Cruise Lines, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Defense, Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, Dollar General, and Pacific Services Credit Union as customers.
Calling On OpCon
OpCon, SMA’s main product, was originally developed in the early 1980s as a job scheduler for the Unisys OS2200 EXEC operating system. Over the years, SMA has widened its reach into every major operating platform, including IBM i, z/OS, Unix, Linux, and Windows. The software today runs on Windows Server and SQL Server, and uses native agents deployed to the systems it’s tasked with managing.
While OpCon is generally categorized as a cross-platform job scheduler, it actually does a whole lot more, including message and spool file monitoring; resource monitoring and capacity planning; managing VMs and LPARs; executing complex workflows and file transfers; DR and HA readiness testing; and many other capabilities.
Taylor describes OpCon as “that smartest person you have in IT” and says that it is not just another cross-platform job scheduler. “It’s an automation tool. It’s a monitoring tool. But it’s really more of what I call an intellectual property repository,” he says. “If you take your smartest iSeries individual, and say ‘here’s this automation tool’ he’s able to leverage OpCon to react and run his environment.”
IBM i professionals are known for being jack-of-all-trades in their organizations. They’re programmers and administrators one day, and wearing a business analyst’s hat the next. IBM i pros are very valuable to their organizations, not just for their technical aptitude, but because of the deep and broad knowledge they have about how the organization runs. They are the bridges between the business assets on the one side, and the hardware and software that automate the processes that surround those assets.
That’s what SMA developed OpCon to do–to basically replicate the technical stuff that IT professionals do on a daily basis, thereby freeing that person to help the company grow in other ways.
“It really empowers a person to do more and to have a bigger impact on the organization,” Taylor says. “You pay people for their intellectual property, their knowledge. As you grow as a business, it’s hard to, as I say, ‘duplicate’ an individual. It takes many years. OpCon can really enable them to do that with iSeries. You can take great iSeries individuals and use them in other areas of new development within your company, and not just leave them in a rut, so to speak.”
OpCon can help capture an IT professional’s knowledge, and replicate some of the operational work they previously handled manually. As Taylor explains, an organization may have an IBM i pro who’s great at managing the databases, but who is now moving up into the ERP system.
“You’ve got to manage that iSeries the way they’ve always done, but you don’t want to keep that person back,” Taylor says. “So that person tells OpCon, ‘here’s what I want you to do when this happens or that happens,’ or ‘here’s what I want you to notify me of.’ It really is that most exceptional individual you have in your organization.”
Taylor knows all about freeing up IBM i professionals. He programmed AS/400s back in the 1980s, and today is the sole owner of SMA Solutions, which is headquartered near Houston. “I love that system,” Taylor says in a Texas drawl. “What it is today is a workhorse and I want to continue to see this workhorse continuing to be what it is.”
Tailoring Business Growth
Taylor looks at the competitive landscape in the IT and business process automation space, including bigger providers like BMC, CA, and IBM as well as some of the smaller ones that focus on IBM i, and feels good about where SMA is.
Having a single product with native agents for target platforms gives SMA an advantage over other providers that have separate products for each platform. “Generali in Italy is one of top 50 largest organizations in the world, and they had every one of our competitors,” Taylor says. “And we were the only one that could go in there and enable them to see all their environments from one single pane of glass. That to me is what’s exciting. It was hard, but the big boys couldn’t do it.”
SMA had a very good year in 2014 serving the IBM i market in Europe, Taylor says. The company had particular success serving the financial services and fashion industries from offices in Milan, Italy and The Netherlands. A partnership with Infor was instrumental in achieving that success. Many of the European clothing companies run Infor’s M3 suite, which SMA is quite familiar with, along with SAP R/3, which is widely used across Europe.
For 2015, SMA is looking to replicate that success in the United States. To that end, Taylor has tasked the manager of the Milan office, Jose De Silva, with driving success in the US market this year.
Taylor says he’s excited about the “massive growth potential” that the United States poses for SMA’s IBM i solutions. “We’ve never focused on it, and that’s why I’m getting Jose to help in the United States,” he says. “Our SMA Europe contingent is helping the USA and really understanding the iSeries marketplace, because they’re starved for a provider like us, where the solution absolutely works. This is not a cheap solution. This is a real business solution that can help them grow, free people up, and leverage their assets.”
Instead of focusing on direct sales, SMA plans to tap into the business partner community and hopefully find systems integrators who can help the company break into individual accounts.