SSA Refocus Kills Most Unix Development

Leaky application vendor SSA is sending out an SOS - and throwing software projects overboard to lighten its load.

Trying to end its money-losing ways, Chicago-based System Software Associates Inc. (SSA) this week halted development of its applications for all Unix systems except Hewlett-Packard Co.'s.

Instead, SSA is refocusing on its core AS/400 business and on a Windows NT release due out next year.

The company also is delaying work on promised object-oriented versions of its flagship manufacturing software and other applications.

And SSA's development staff was one of the departments hit hardest by a 300-worker layoff announced this week.

SSA is still the seventh-largest applications vendor, with US$299 million in license and maintenance revenue last year, according to International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts. But it slipped badly in trying to move into the Unix market and has admittedly lost users along the way.

For example, Leeson Electric Corp. switched its four manufacturing plants from SSA's green-screen software to Oracle Corp. applications two years ago. At the time, SSA's client/server software "was a demo," said Mary Fonder, chief information officer at Leeson, a maker of electric motors in Grafton, Wisconsin.

And Oracle had less trouble catching up on functionality than SSA did in altering its software to support Unix and client/server, Fonder added.

Even now, SSA executives concede that the Unix version of their Business Process Control System software doesn't scale well. An upgrade aimed at fixing that is being beta-tested now and is due out in September on HP servers.

But SSA is dropping plans to ship the upgrade on previously supported Unix systems from IBM and the former Digital Equipment Corp. A promise to add support for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Unix boxes also was scrapped.

Fort Wayne Plastics Inc. was an early adopter of SSA's Unix software and is sticking with it, even though the applications run on an IBM server.

Mike Durant, director of information services at the maker of plastic panels in Fort Wayne, Indiana, said the company hasn't felt the scaling problems and should be able to get by with SSA's current functionality for several years.

But Durant went live with the software a year later than planned because of delays at SSA, and the rollout was halted in midstream after SSA dropped support for character-based Unix terminals.

"They were a little too rosy-glassed in saying what they could do on Unix, and this is the fallout from that," he said.

SSA's restructuring and an April management shake-up were both long overdue, said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham. But for Unix and Windows NT applications, SSA is "literally in last place," he said. "They just don't have products."

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