In many multinational organisations, financial systems are a sprawling array of software in different versions, often from different vendors, across different geographies. As a result, accurately monitoring the influx of financial and trading data across business units is difficult, if not impossible.
Basel, Switzerland-based logistics giant Danzas is trying to overcome this problem by standardising on a single system throughout its global operations. In September 2002, the company announced it intended to roll out System21 Financials, from Canadian software company Geac, to more than 1,700 users worldwide.
For Danzas, the decision was simplified by the long ties the company has had with Geac – and before that JBA International, which Geac acquired in July 1999.
“We already used System21 in some of our countries and we had a working relationship that satisfied our needs,” says Darron Rieder, finance and controlling officer at the corporate business process and organisation department of Danzas. A company-wide System21 roll-out therefore represented the path of least resistance – and cost – for Danzas.
That, in essence, sums up Geac’s problem with its Enterprise Solutions division. While existing customers are happy to stick with these software packages, selling to new customers is proving to be more of a challenge. Rieder says that, to its credit, Geac has not tried to turn the screws on its customers by increasing licensing, support and maintenance charges. However, several rounds of cost-cutting have hit both product development and customer service.
For example, a reorganisation earlier in the year saw the sudden departure of the consultant handling Danzas’ roll-out in South America – a part of the world where Geac had little presence. That delayed the implementation by a number of weeks, according to Rieder.
Outside of financial systems, Geac has also been slow to augment the capabilities of its core enterprise applications suite, commerce.connect. Facilities such as XML support and sales force automation, among others, appeared only last year.
Furthermore, System21, which runs solely on IBM’s iSeries (formerly AS/400) platform, still remains behind in a number of areas, such as financial reporting, say analysts.
Geac’s Active Reporter module provides data warehousing capabilities into which financial data from across the world can be correlated and then analysed by senior management – a standard architecture for enterprise reporting. Yet rivals in financial systems, such as Systems Union, already provide the capabilities that enable managers to drill right down into this data so that they can trace transactions right back to the source systems that generated them.
To address these concerns surrounding its technology, Geac is planning a major new release of System21 for 2003, codenamed Aurora. Primarily, this will involve an update to System21’s code base from the ageing RPG development language to the more modern Integrated Language Environment (ILE). Both are proprietary IBM iSeries languages.
This will enable Geac to offer a product that is easier to implement because ILE is a more flexible, modular language. Most important of all, it will introduce a web-based, server-centric architecture to System21, a long overdue innovation that competitor products have offered for a considerable time. Geac’s failure to build a web-based architecture modern architecture has limited its ability to compete against its main rivals in the iSeries market, most notably JD Edwards and Intentia.
Instead, Geac’s System21 revenues have been propped up by the introduction of new modules in its commerce.connect range that have then been sold into the System21 customer base. Again, Geac relies heavily on IBM in terms of infrastructure – all modules are based on the IBM WebSphere range of infrastructure software.
That dependence on IBM has certainly helped Geac to cut its development costs – in 1999 alone, shortly after it acquired JBA, the company slashed its headcount by almost a third – and has enabled Geac to offer a wide range of additional modules across a unified platform.
What lies ahead, with the release of Aurora and a more modular architecture, is for Geac to position itself to potential new customers as a credible alternative to rivals JD Edwards and Intentia. Relying on existing customers will not support the company in the long term.