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January 07, 2020

So many owners = so much value

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Editor's Note: While the MPE/iX MANMAN customers mull over their 2020 options, it's useful to look at the history of an application being orphaned by its creator. Cortlandt Wilson, a consultant on ERP systems, wrote this early-years history of how MANMAN's ecosystem evolved. The bottom line is proof that value in an application like MANMAN is baked-in — or it wouldn't have survived so much change.

Over the years MANMAN has experienced highs and lows. At one time the software's creator, ASK Computing, was a media darling — a successful high-tech company founded and run by a woman, Sandy Kurtzig. The MANMAN product has a good reputation in the mid-sized manufacturing systems market. The company, however, unsuccessfully tried to follow up its success with a next generation solution based on a new technology infrastructure.

When I was with ASK in the late 1980s, on several occasions I heard the president and co founder of ASK say that “we are an applications company, not a software tool company.” Unfortunately, the companies on top of the ERP market all developed their own technology infrastructure. The search for a new technology infrastructure led ASK to purchase Ingres for its relational DBMS and tools.

ASK finally purchased a infrastructure and the basic application software for a ERP system from a then little-known Dutch company named Baan. As part of the sales agreement ASK modified significant amounts of the functionality and called the application MANMAN/X. Strained by development costs and weak sales, the company floundered.

By 1994, ASK was facing a severe cash crisis. Looking for a financial angel or a buyer, the board of directors finally recommended a buyout offer from Computer Associates. Many ASK employees, however, responded to the takeover by resigning.

Industry analysts’ concerns about CA’s “ferocious reputation” and the loss of experienced staff highlighted the takeover of ASK. Many MANMAN customers expressed skepticism about CA’s ability to maintain the product, and the quality of support noticeably dropped. 

By 1996, CA concluded that application software and services shouldn’t be managed like software tools and utilities. CA spun off its manufacturing products into an independent business unit to be named the MK Group (MK for Manufacturing Knowledge). MANMAN/X was renamed MK to reflect its marketing role as the flagship product.

Note: Wilson reported from a user group meeting of CAMUS in the late 1990s that the MK Group began to prove stable and was responding better to customer needs. There's inherent value in MANMAN that the repeated transfers of ownership have scarcely erased. By this summer, sites using the ERP package will have right of use for a product that has endured three changes of ownership. The software went from ASK Computer Systems to Computer Associates to SSA Global to Infor. The final owner of MANMAN, Infor, kept up support for nearly 14 years.

Photo by Takafumi Yamashita on Unsplash

04:28 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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