Do You Have The Right Tools For Tomorrow's Imaging Applications?
Industry experts say that using an SDK (software developer kit) is the best way for a VAR to adapt to new imaging technologies and compete in a soft economy.
Document imaging technologies are like PCs. Just when you finish setting up a new one, a better one comes along. Chances are that anyone working with documents is struggling with the decision to incorporate color images, JPEG 2000, JBIG, and/or 2-D bar codes. How can VARs continue to keep their client sites up-to-date and still avoid expensive overhauls or, worse yet, telling a customer that his six-month-old system that was state-of-the-art last year is now obsolete? According to some industry experts, the way to combine the latest technology, lowest cost, and quickest time to market may be SDKs (software developer kits or "toolkits").
"The ability to embrace new technologies is the biggest reason a VAR would want to use a toolkit," says Peter Quirk, VP of product development for AccuSoft Corp. (Northborough, MA). "It's the simplest way to protect investments that have already been made by end users as they integrate the latest image-enabling or compression technologies." An SDK offers VARs routines or utilities that can be integrated with existing hardware and software to extend functionality.
A toolkit can also be used to protect legacy investments when adding new hardware or software to a system. "Toolkits are invaluable when migrating data from a back end system to a repository or a new front end solution to a legacy application," says Mike Cohn, director of marketing for Pixel Translations (San Jose, CA). "A toolkit from an established vendor can provide a VAR with 100 years of programming experience at a very reasonable cost."
The ability to use a toolkit effectively may be a way for VARs to weather the current economic conditions, according to Joe Budelli, VP of business development for ABBYY Software House (Fremont, CA). "If we look at the nature of customers VARs sell to, those customers are looking for cost reduction, automation, and efficiencies. Toolkits offer a way to go back to core customers and offer better ways to serve them, increasing productivity at a lower cost."
Jack Berlin, president of Pegasus Imaging, Inc. (Tampa, FL) believes that toolkits can also help VARs respond to the increased demand for distributed applications. As more companies adopt a decentralized business model, there is increasing reliance on the ubiquitous Web browser for enterprise applications. "Since the introduction of IE (Internet Explorer) 5, we've seen effective use of Active X and VARs doing more with applets [small applications] off the browser. Toolkits make it easy to build Web pages and drop applets into IE. VARs can add scan components or bar code reading with Active X cabinet files instead of huge interfaces."
Use SDKs To Create A Company Asset
A profitable customized solution created with an SDK doesn't have to be enormous and can become a unique specialty product VARs can sell over and over. "It's not about building a massive application," says Cohn. "Many of our VARs have taken the language and built something that addresses a specific problem among a niche group of their customers, including those that can't afford half million dollar solutions. Then they can build an asset on that initial toolkit investment." Cohn points out VARs who can create this kind of solution are less dependent on vendors.
Customization Improves Service
"Traditionally what has separated the successful VARs from the box movers is service," asserts Budelli. "Stand-alone is likely to be cheaper in complex solutions, and customers can go online or to a computer store for those solutions. For some resellers, a good economy let them move boxes and lag on service. Now they need to go back to their roots. If we think of all the high tech companies that have failed, the ones that are still strong - like IBM or HP - got there because of customization and service."
Budelli says recent developments can be used by VARs to create a front end "shell," complete with logo and support information, for several integrated applications. "Many customers choose a stand-alone product because of the nature of their business, but they would like to integrate that application and its functions to a third-party software," contends Budelli. "One of our VARs recently used this kind of solution to take three different products necessary for a complete workflow and integrate them together to work as one product. This allowed him to avoid having to train users on three products and alter the user interface to make it less intimidating."
Toolkits Are An Investment, Not An Expense
All four industry experts agree that the biggest mistake they see VARs making in their market is basing their toolkit purchases on cost. This can include lowest overall cost or the largest number of functions for the same cost. Successful toolkit implementations involve having the exact tool for the job, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. "My father always said, 'if you don't have time to do it right, you'll always have time to do it over,'" warns Berlin. "Look at the number of people who installed imaging solutions that now don't work with XP."
Using a cheaper solution also carries other risks. Budelli points out that many small or startup companies offer their products cheap because they are struggling. The potential danger that the company that owns your code could go out of business is a huge risk. It's reasonable to look at a supplier's experience, the environments in which a product has been tested, and the amount spent on development. The costs of compensating for bad code or poor documentation will quickly offset any revenue/savings a VAR might realize as a result of using an SDK.
"Our biggest frustration is that people don't always equate investment in people time to what they're getting," says Berlin. "If my toolkit can save you a week of development time, that's a bargain. I've never met a company that had enough developers and they don't come cheap. They should look at a toolkit vendor as a partner who will provide the tools and technology to cut manpower, rather than as an expense."
Both Budelli and Berlin recommend looking for toolkits that allow VARs to have free trial downloads. The advantages are two-fold. Building a prototype without any up-front cost assures a VAR that a solution is the right one. That prototype gives the VAR a tangible, customized sales tool to show a potential customer. Berlin's advice on downloading trial software: "Test it, pound on it, try it before you buy it. If a vendor tells you they want the money before they provide you with any information, run the other way. The reason they do that is that they know they might not get your money. If a vendor won't do that, your first question should be 'why not?'"