What do you do if you're running an IT consultancy and the rates you can charge are being squeezed? After running Australian company JASCO Consulting for almost a decade, Jason McClintock decided that the path to future success was to shift the company's focus to software rather than just services.
McClintock, who is JASCO's chairman and CEO, said that decision "has paid off in spades" and the company has grown from nine to 50 people in the four years since making the change. The company's employees have benefited from the shift towards software, he said, as it allows them to focus on delivering without having to worry about billable hours.
He was inspired by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria to develop an interactive voice response system that could generate alerts to a large number of people. That led to the creation of messageLinx, software that integrates line of business applications with Microsoft Lync 2010 so that business events can trigger communication functions.
McClintock has continued to fund the development of FireLinx, a messageLinx-based system to deliver emergency messages for the Community Fireguard Groups in north-eastern Melbourne.
"We are talking with the various fire authorities and the Fire [Services] Commissioner" about deploying the system more widely, he said.
The company's latest product is 2SQL, which automatically converts Microsoft Access databases to SQL Server or Azure SQL. JASCO acquired the rights to 2SQL from ConvertU2 Technologies last November, and its creator, Steve Koop, is still involved on the technical side. The company developed additional processes around the conversion to make it enterprise grade before launching JASCO 2SQL in late June.
The product has already been picked up by existing partners Fujitsu (which is using it globally), nSynergy (a Melbourne-based SharePoint consultancy) and Kiandra IT (a Melbourne-based, Microsoft-centric consultancy that is on the Victorian Government eServices Panel and the WA Government's ICT services panel). To avoid perceptions that JASCO's continuing consultancy business is competing with its software partners, the product side of McClintock's company is being re-branded as OneNimbus in around a week.
"We're seeing huge Access conversion issues," said McClintock. "Government departments are a great target" for 2SQL as some of them have 15,000 or more Access databases.
There are multiple reasons for wanting to move databases away from Access. One is that the size of the database may have grown beyond Access' practical limitations. There are also several reasons why databases are better stored on servers, such as access by multiple people, integration with other systems such as business intelligence and compliance considerations.
JASCO uses Microsoft's Northwind sample database from Office 97 to demonstrate 2SQL's potential. According to McClintock, it would take a skilled consultant 200 to 240 hours to convert it to SQL Server, at a cost of anything from $12,000 to $25,000. 2SQL can do the job completely automatically in less than 10 minutes, and costs less than $3000. The resulting database looks exactly the same to the user, so there's no need for retraining.
McClintock stressed that this is where JASCO's part in the project ends, leaving its partners to do the rest, such as redeveloping the front-end to meet current requirements.
The deployment of Windows 7, Office 2010, Lync and SharePoint in many organisations drives demand for 2SQL, he explained. Where an old Access database is in use, there is "a 99 per cent chance it's not going to work correctly", he said. And in any case, a lot of Access projects really should have been done in SQL Server from the outset.
JASCO is now looking for additional partners in Australia and will soon be establishing overseas channels.
The company is currently working on a market awareness program in the UK, which is scheduled for October with the aim of establishing a partner channel in that market. The expectation is that this will extend to the rest of Western Europe. 2SQL was designed to be internationalised, and JASCO is already in discussions with Microsoft about possible routes into Western Europe. The UK experience will be applied to the US market during 2012, McClintock said.
On the technical side, he said an Excel to SQL migration tool is high on the company's roadmap, "but is a huge technical challenge" because spreadsheets are less structured.
To avoid perceptions that JASCO's continuing consultancy business is competing with its software partners, the product side of McClintock's company is being re-branded as OneCumulus.