Think You Can’t Write Apps? These Companies Prove Otherwise.
By Rochelle Garner, Barbara Darrow, and Paula Rooney
What makes these 10 solution providers worth knowing? Their experiences with application development, customization and integration might inspire others to build new lines of business.
Explore Consulting, for example, has developed a lucrative practice integrating and writing applications around software delivered as a service over the Internet. Blytheco has leveraged its application-writing expertise into millions of dollars in sales for the accounting software it resells. Development InfoStructure, or DevIS, combines its understanding of the public sector with expertise in open-source software to serve the needs of a global community. And 70-employee Tier1 Innovation competes effectively against the biggest systems integrators in the world with its know-how for building a services-oriented architecture (SOA).
In almost every case, application development represents only a portion of these efforts. Yet thanks to their software acumen, all have either created entirely new revenue streams or enhanced the desirability of their existing lines of business. With any luck, their stories will ignite a creative spark that leads other solution providers to explore new opportunities they hadn’t previously considered. If that’s not worth knowing, then what is?
Ascentium’s claim to fame is its expertise in infrastructure technology, application development and integration, and data reporting. That expertise prompted Koster Finance to choose the Microsoft Gold Certified Partner over other solution providers to move the Las Vegas-based company from its legacy Visual FoxPro/QuickBooks implementation to a new custom application. Ascentium developed a loan origination and tracking application using Visual Studio (especially C#), SQL Server and Great Plains accounting software. Ascentium touts its quick implementation of reporting applications, usually in 30 to 90 days. The company, which has a second office in Spokane, Wash., also partners with Mondosoft on data reporting.
Back Bay Technologies
Back Bay Technologies prides itself on deep domain expertise in applications for fast-paced capital markets and insurance companies. It is an expert on J2EE custom development and is also a Microsoft Certified Partner that can spec out .Net infrastructures. On the Java side of the aisle, Back Bay is a member of the Sun Microsystems National iForce Partner Advisory Council and a BEA Systems Star Partner. It also partners with IBM, Oracle and Sonic Solutions.
That neutrality helps Back Bay use technology to craft specific business solutions to real customer problems. The company acts as a trusted advisor to many buy-side capital markets firms. On the lighter side, it also designed and maintains the popular Remy Report Web site. That is the site for Boston Red Sox play-by-play guy Jerry Remy.
Laguna Hills, Calif.
Best Software’s “reseller of the year” for seven straight years, Blytheco is also among the top developers of add-on solutions for Sage’s (now officially The Sage Group’s) MAS accounting line. In an intriguing twist, Blytheco got its start developing solutions for Sage’s accounting applications when it won a “cease and desist” order filed by MAS’s original publisher, State of the Art, which had inadvertently released its source code. As a settlement, State of the Art started its Master Developer Program, which Best has continued.
“A $3,000 modification differentiates us from others and gets us a $200,000 sale,” said Blytheco CEO Steve Blythe. “So while customization may represent only 10 percent of our revenue, it’s directly responsible for a significant amount of our sales.”
A Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Citigate Hudson focuses on the hot business of business intelligence, specifically building solutions that leverage Microsoft’s server software. What’s more, CTO Andrew Brust is a Microsoft Regional Director—an honorific title granted to fewer than 150 developers worldwide—and a well-known specialist in SQL Server and Visual Studio who writes and lectures frequently about Microsoft development technologies. That expertise has given Citigate Hudson an edge in an uncertain market.
“Offshoring has forced many of us in the development world to rethink our role and, to be frank, our value,” Brust said. “I’ve concentrated on building a close relationship with Microsoft and acquiring expertise and business understanding of its products that goes well beyond what’s available off the shelf.”
Computer Decisions International
Farmington Hills, Mich.
Computer Decisions International (CDI) has been offering SAP’s Business One small-business suite for two years. Last month, the reseller released Microshop, a Business One extension that seamlessly adds just about any capability a light manufacturer could use—and that other SAP partners worldwide can sell.
CDI President Daniel Carr said the company has already sold seven Microshop systems, which was written by the equivalent of four full-time employees working over six months. “Now, I have a global community and ecosystem [of other resellers] I can attack on a single code set, on a $50,000 investment in the toolkit and marketing. So my ability to go global has become explosive,” he said.
Development InfoStructure, or DevIS, uses its expertise to build applications that cross government boundaries without compromising data or safety. A value-added reseller to the government, DevIS created a custom reporting and visa-tracking system for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department. The browser-based solution is all open-sourced. The desktop version uses open-source connectors to get data from the field. DevIS also offers a secure application hosting site, which now runs an application that started out as a client/server system running inside the State Department.
“We had to run [the application] at every single federal agency, all with their own firewalls and rules,” said DevIS Vice President Martin Hudson. “They required us to hit Oracle inside, but as it turned out, they couldn’t support it, and they outsourced the server to us, too.”
Explore Consulting is unusual in the systems integrator world. The company staked its claim on customizing, integrating and writing add-on solutions for on-demand software from NetSuite. In fact, business is booming for the 21-person integration firm, with revenue from Explore’s NetSuite practice growing 170 percent in the last year.
Now, the company is readying its first mobile application—allowing realtime order entry from a handheld device—based on the NetSuite code. Customers are showing so much interest in Explore’s PDA application, that the company now expects to double its revenue growth rate, to 300 percent, by this time next year, said Explore President Steve Jones. “I see customizing software-as-a-service becoming a big market,” he said. “For a company like ours, customization is everything. And we’ve been booming.”
On its home page, Interknowlogy describes its people as “experts in .Net tools, servers and platforms.” This is not an overstatement. The custom application development company is so good, in fact, that Microsoft often hires its key developers to augment the vendor’s own product development teams. A Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, the firm’s management serves on several Microsoft partner advisory councils (PACs), including eBusiness, .Net and even the U.S. sales group.
Rodney Guzman, vice president of technology at Interknowlogy, is among roughly 30 developers on the Microsoft Architect Council and is recognized as one of the best software architects in the world.
Interknowlogy CEO Tim Huckaby is a Microsoft Regional Director whose expertise in .Net Smart Client development is hosted on MSDN, Microsoft’s Developer Network. Now that .Net is taking off, “‘I rarely have to explain what I do now,” Huckaby said.
Last year, Marlabs ranked as the fastest growing application developer in CRN’s Fast Growth survey. The secret to that success: A focus on building applications in some of the hottest areas of technology, including health care and business intelligence.
“Health care is an industry where customers are lagging behind in technology, and they have a culture that’s not looking purely at technology, but also at life and death and health,” said Siby Vadakekkara, Marlabs’ president and CEO.
With 70 employees, systems integrator Tier1 Innovation shows that the largest firms don’t have a lock on SOA expertise. That’s because consulting and integration companies of all sizes, including IBM Global Services, Accenture and BearingPoint, are still defining what it takes to design and build an SOA. Tier1, however, is known for its SOA templates and development efforts.
“We have some intellectual property the big guys don’t have,” said Tier1 President Mark Johnston.
Tier1 is “well ahead of most of the market,” according to analyst firm Zapthink.
Copyright 2004 CMP Media LLC.