Fresche Bullish On ‘Factory’ Approach As IBM i Market Improves
June 5, 2019 Alex Woodie
Factories offer a level of repeatability, predictability, and efficiency that make the manufacture of goods simpler, less risky, and more profitable than it would otherwise be. Now the folks at Fresche Solutions are taking a factory-based approach to a markedly different endeavor: the modernization of IBM i applications. The early returns from Fresche indicate some optimism may be in order.
Last week at the POWERUp conference in Anaheim, California, Fresche Solutions CEO Andy Kulakowski and his team spoke at length with IT Jungle about its new factory approach to selling modernization software and services, as well as the recent successes of its three business units and recent changes in the market for IBM i software.
Fresche says it’s built a “transformation factory” to help clients modernize their legacy IBM i applications. It’s not a factory in the traditional, Ford-esque sense. Instead, this factory makes use of various Fresche tools for understanding how legacy applications are built (X-Analysis) and then generating modern Web-based interfaces to them (Presto, Newlook, WebSmart).
What really makes the approach tick is extensive use of professional services personnel to man the tools and ultimately deliver a solution. Fresche employs about 100 people in its transformation business unit (the other similarly sized units are software point solutions and application support, with another 100 supporting all three units), which is the driving force behind the factory.
“In some ways the word ‘factory’ might describe our approach of industrializing the journey,” Kulakowski says, “so we can be very quick, very efficient, very predictable, and especially where we can consistently deliver quality.”
Having a repeatable process is core to the factory approach, says Fresche CTO Brendan Kay, who previously worked at looksoftware.
“Digital re-invention is a very personal journey for every company, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “But there are definite common steps and common requirements amongst all of it. So what we try to do is leverage our very large customer base . . . and turn that experience into a modernization factory that we can take to make transformation and modernization much more accessible.”
Thanks to acquisitions of BCD Software, Quadrant Software, looksoftware, and Databorough, Fresche has a customer base that exceeds 20,000 organizations, which is a substantial portion of the entire IBM i market (and probably an even higher percentage of “active” IBM i shops). Fresche has extensive experience developing Web, mobile, and API interfaces for thousands of IBM i customers and their applications, and it’s leaning on that experience to inform its general approach for the transformation factory.
“Reinventing the wheel every time is not a very productive way to go,” Kay says. “We talk about mass customization. Every solution still has to be customized, but it has to be done in such a way where you’re only focused on the bits that have to different, and not re-learning all the bits that are fundamentally similar.
“That has been a really significant focus for us,” the Australia native continues. “It’s been one of the areas where we have been growing our staffing levels. That has been one of the areas we’ve really focused on because we see that as being an unmet need. There’s no one in the market who is helping companies move forward in an accessible way.”
Fresche increasingly is competing against the global systems integrators (Accenture, Deloitte, etc.) for the digital transformation business of bigger companies, and winning, according to Kulakowski. The victories, he says, can be attributed to Fresche’s factory approach.
“Obviously their value proposition is very different than ours in that the SIs are far more services-driven, they’re body shop-driven, so they’re selling rewrite projects, which are by nature very risky and very costly,” Kulakowski says. “And so any time we’re engaged with a potential client who might be experimenting with a proof of concept with a rewrite versus our approach, we just kill them.”
Instead of rewriting or starting from scratch, Fresche emphasizes its capability to take what an IBM i shop already has in terms of its application footprint, and then build out from there. The Montreal, Quebec-based company says this factory-based approach is akin to “Google Translate” for modernization.
“We are extremely fanatical about this community to the point where we feel that our mission is to protect the decades of investment that has been made into the platform and to leverage that, not to throw it away and put it in the garbage,” Kulakowski says. Our mission is “to leverage the core mission-critical systems that have had decades of investment and to leverage them into the modern paradigm.”
Fresche can take two fundamentally different approaches to modernization: One that essentially starts from the top and works down, and another that starts at the bottom and works up. Depending on the customer and where they are on their transformation journey, one of these approaches will be a better fit, Kay says.
“We can start at the high level and show people the value, the vision, and that sort of thing, then get people to align their activities around that,” Kay says. “That very much is what’s been led by the transformation factory and the IBM Watson learning that we’re doing. But the other approach is you can get people to change their practices, and then those practices lead to learning, which leads to progress as well. And that’s where our tooling and our products become really important. When we look at all the enhancements we have around our product, they’re geared toward people starting to think about modernization and transformation as well.”
In addition to recycling RPG code, Fresche’s transformation factory can help IT professionals in IBM i shops find new skills and abilities, and jumpstart their careers too. Understanding how this human factor plays into the modernization decisions at IBM i shops is easy to overlook, especially in a field obsessed with new technology, but Fresche is demonstrating remarkable aptitude for connecting the dots where other companies may not.
“So we recycle applications. And we recycle people,” Kulakowski says. “We don’t believe you look at those skills and walk them out the door. With the environment that IBM has provided, with the tools they have provided, complemented with what’s been done in the ecosystem and where we’ve invested, it’s very possible and a very easy and natural journey to recycle those people and reskill them. We have that experience in our own companies in Fresche and we feel very confident we can accomplish the same with the community.”
This factory approach appears to be paying dividends already for Fresche. The company, which received a $60 million infusion a year ago, grew its revenues by 14 percent in fiscal 2019, which ended March 31, according to Kulakowski. Without an acquisition in the past 12 months, those revenue figures represent organic growth, he points out.
With the acquisitions of BCD/Quadrant and looksoftware behind it, Fresche has finally capitalized on the upselling and cross-selling potentials of a company with 20,000 customers, says Marcel Sarrasin, vice president of corporate marketing and business development
“Any acquisition takes a good year to sort out,” Sarrasin says. “Two years ago it seemed like there was a stall. People weren’t buying, but they also weren’t going to somebody else. I don’t know if it was the presidential election, but it seemed like we were in a hold pattern of some sort.”
By all accounts, it would seem that Fresche has begun hitting on all cylinders. With IBM racking up six straight quarters of revenue growth for the IBM i business, and the economy continuing to grow, it would appear that Fresche is taking advantage of its opportunities.
“I don’t know whether to describe it as more optimism, but there is more action in the IBM i community and market now than there was three to four years ago,” Kay says. “People are getting to the point that doing something is better than doing nothing.”
“We feel some momentum and we’re very much enjoying the dynamics of the market as well,” Kulakowski says. “Our partners that we work with are happy. Our bankers are happy. Our employs are happy. And it appears that our clients are extremely happy with us. And all those things make Andy Kulakowski a pretty happy guy.”