A Fresche Start For Mike Pavlak
August 7, 2017 Alex Woodie
If you’ve ever dealt with PHP on IBM i, it would be tough to avoid hearing about Mike Pavlak, who worked directly for Zend Technology, which is the PHP company. But after nine years with the firm, Pavlak is now teaming up with Fresche Solutions, where he aims to work directly with IBM i clients on a wide range of open source and modernization projects.
Pavlak has been a familiar face on the IBM i speaking circuit for just as long as PHP has been supported on the platform. His technological acumen and positive demeanor have been instrumental in helping Zend Technology (now owned by Rogue Wave Software) to spread the gospel on the benefits of running PHP on the IBM i operating system.
At Fresche Solutions, Pavlak expects to be doing many of the same things he did at Zend, including speaking at COMMON and local user groups, helping to educate people on open source options on IBM i, and working in presales and consulting engagements with clients.
The main difference in the jobs is the company signing his paycheck. While a good portion of Zend’s business was on IBM i, the platform has a smaller presence in Rogue Wave’s larger product portfolio. Fresche, on the other hand, is all about the IBM i server. For Pavlak, who describes himself as an IBM i guy first and foremost, that was something to consider.
“The opportunity for me is to really branch out and really focus in aggressively on the IBM i customer base that I love so much,” Pavlak tells IT Jungle. “The IBM i is their main thrust. They’re not limited to IBM i of course, but that’s their core competency. That’s kind of where I’ve been, and where I want to be.”
A meeting between Pavlak and Fresche executives at the recent COMMON conference in Orlando, Florida, set the ball rolling. “They had a really attractive role for me, so we pursued the discussion and, as happenstance has it, this is where we are,” Pavlak said two weeks ago as he was wrapping up work for Zend. “They want me to be part of the crew. I got a chance to meet the entire executive team. Their attitude and direction and focus is very much in line with a lot of my goals, and that’s part of the reason I joined.”
Pavlak, whose Fresche title is IT strategist, officially started his new job August 1. He won’t be making the move to Montreal, Quebec, where Fresche Solutions is headquartered. Instead, he’ll continue working from his home office in South Chicago, where he has lived all his life and where he’s raising five kids.
Fresche chief commercial officer Robert Héroux says the company is thrilled to add somebody as well-liked and respected as Pavlak to the team. “He’s a great guy,” Héroux tells IT Jungle. “For us it’s very important that the people we hire fit right with the culture of the organization.”
Fresche is undergoing significant growth at the moment. In the last year, the company has hired more than 100 full-time workers to its staff, Héroux says, giving it a total of about 350 workers. Those hiring figures are for organic growth only, and do not count the expanded headcount through recent acquisitions, including the big transaction that brought BCD Software and Quadrant Software under the fold last year. Fresche had previously acquired looksoftware in 2014 and Databorough in 2013.
Fresche has grown so quickly that it is currently remodeling its headquarters in Montreal to accommodate the new workers. Much of this growth is tied to Fresche’s bold strategy to become a one-stop shop for all IBM i customers’ needs – not just application modernization or document management needs, but any needs.
“Our clients are essentially looking for help and assistance in deciding what they should do next,” Héroux says. “They’re very active with the IBM i because it’s a very reliable and secure machine. It does the job well. But at the same time, they see some resourcing issues with the programmers leaving, retiring, and a lack of new RPG resources.”
During part of his 31-year career with IBM, Héroux helped manage the relationships that Big Blue had with some of its biggest clients. IBM obviously has the breadth to be a one-stop shop for Fortune 100 clients, and now Fresche is attempting to be the one-stop-shop for companies of any size – from mom and pops to midsize firms and even the occasional Large User Group (LUG) member, Héroux says – with the caveat, of course, that the engagements are centered on the IBM i. “I think there a very big need in the market for clients to work with a ones-stop-shop provider,” Héroux says.
If one of Fresche’s products can help the IBM i client with their needs, that’s great. If the discovery process shows that the client needs software that Fresche doesn’t have, the company will reach out to ecosystem partners who do. If the client needs professional services or even staff augmentation to help keep the lights on, then Fresche can provide that, too.
Pavlak, who worked as an IT director for an manufacturer that ran IBM i systems before joining Zend in 2006, aims to slot in as one of the multi-threat point men who will help these Fresche clients decide what the next chapter of their IBM i stories will be. “This is one of the nice things about getting involved with Fresche,” he says. “My role here is going to be to be one of the initial stewards in these discovery discussions to help to shape which way the wind is blowing for this particular customer.”
There aren’t a lot of people who would thrive in such an open-ended and technologically demanding roles that requires figuring out which tools and techniques are best for solving a range of IT challenges, while minding different technological cultures and the business side of the equation at the same time. But Pavlak is up for that challenge, even if the ultimate solution doesn’t involve the PHP language he has been involved with for so long.
“Fresche is certainly going to keep all options open,” Pavlak says. “They’re looking at open source. They’re looking at RPG. They’re looking at the tooling. One of the nice things about what Fresche has to offer is they don’t have just one solution to hit your modernization challenge. For companies that need to make a tactical move and they’ve been given the edict ‘Though shalt get off the green screen,’ they’ve got stuff for that.
“Then there’s the strategic side of life, which might be more of a mature PHP or Node.js app that’s being built with tooling or by hand or some framework,” he continues. “Fresche developers don’t just use their own tools. Sure they use things like the WebSmart PHP for example. But their professional services folks also do things in pure Zend framework. Every IBM i customer is a little different. I think the solutions out there are going to be different, because if there was one way to do it, by golly, wouldn’t somebody be doing it already?”