Marcam Steps up AS/400 Efforts

For most of its 18-year history, Marcam Solutions’ fortunes have been tied to MAPICS, first as a developer of MAPICS add-on products when the MRP package was still part of IBM, then as the developer of MAPICS itself after acquiring it from IBM.

But after spinning off MAPICS, a discrete manufacturing solution, into a separate company last year, Marcam has stood on its own with its Prism ERP solution for process manufacturing. Though it has added non-AS/400 products to its solution set, Prism remains Marcam’s bread and butter, generating between 85 percent and 90 percent of the company’s license revenues.

“We’ve always been in the AS/400 market and we’re going to continue that tradition,” says Susan LaPlante-Dube, director of product marketing at Newton, Mass.- based Marcam. “Marcam has had a long-standing relationship with the AS/400. The AS/400 is a significant piece of our solutions going forward. Whether our customers run RPG-Prism or the new client/server product, we want to ensure and support the viability of the AS/400 as well as our installed base.”

That plan includes Marcam’s latest Prism initiatives – modernizing the application interface and integrating technologies from its non-AS/400 products with Prism.

Marcam has incorporated Seagull Software’s GUI/400 client development tool into Prism to enhance Prism’s Visual WorkPlace capabilities. The enhancements, which were available earlier this month, give Prism users a GUI client instead of the traditional green-screen environment.

Users can choose to stick with the green screen or move to the GUI depending on their needs.

“We’re giving users another option,” says LaPlante-Dube. “The more keyboard, function-key oriented power users who find that the green screen is the most productive environment can stay with that. While users who would be more comfortable in a GUI environment with a Web browser look and feel can have that."

LaPlante-Dube expects many of the manufacturing facilities to be a mixed deployment. "They could give their customer service department a GUI and their shop floor green screens, or vice-versa,” she says.

Next June, Marcam will completely embrace client/server, when it’s due to release an AS/400 version of its Protean product, which is now available on Unix and Windows NT. Protean will run on AS/400e Series machines.

LaPlante-Dube says Protean on the AS/400 will be targeted at new customers rather than existing Prism customers. However, the company continues its efforts to extend Protean technologies to Prism. Marcam recently offered its Protean financials applications to Prism customers, joining the Protean planning applications as Protean offerings Prism customers in heterogeneous three-tier environments can leverage.

The Protean applications run on an NT server and integrate with the AS/400-based Prism Production, Logistics and Maintenance applications.

Jim Shepherd, VP of research at Boston-based AMR Research, says integrating Prism applications with Protean was the “likeliest scenario” Marcam customers will follow.

“[Customers] can keep all or most of their Prism product and begin to implement pieces of Protean to extend beyond the function of Prism. They’ll have a mix of native AS/400 Prism applications and object-based Protean applications,” Shepherd says.

Marcam’s solutions are used in process industries like food & beverage, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. LaPlante-Dube describes the typical Marcam customer as being in the “upper end of the middle market,” with revenues from $300 to $500 million a year.

Shepherd says management decisions in recent years have caused Marcam to lose ground in that market. AMR now ranks Marcam ninth among all AS/400 ERP vendors.

“They were unchallenged as the leader in process MRP or ERP and kind of defined that space,” Shepherd says. “But they’ve fallen a long way from the visibility and momentum perspective. I feel better about their organization and prospects than I have in several years, but they still have a long way to go.”

Delays in bringing Protean to market set the downward spiral in motion that led to the sell-off of MAPICS last year, according to Shepherd.

“They made the decision to go with an object-based development environment – Protean. But object technology was not ready yet for such a large commitment. Protean cost more and took longer than anticipated and killed the momentum Prism had in the marketplace. It started a downward spiral that resulted in several years of money-losing quarters and negative growth that led to them selling off MAPICS.

Still, Shepherd says Marcam remains “well known and well respected” in the AS/400 market, which will help them when they introduce the AS/400 version of Protean next June.

“If AS/400 customers want to buy next generation software and not use proprietary software anymore, Protean is a very good process manufacturing solution for them.”