Can a small application development specialist with big ambitions beat SAP at its own game?
Linwood Pearce, CEO of Template Software, is either an inspired visionary or he’s wildly deluded. We are going up against SAP, Baan and PeopleSoft, he says. For a fledgling business application supplier, putting the three biggest names in integrated business software on its hit list is an ambitious but credible strategy. But Template Software is not – it is a $13.5 million provider of reusable software templates, visual tools and associated services, designed to help companies deploy customized applications. In other words, it is a software development specialist. Pearce believes, however, that the speed and price at which tailored applications can be built using his products brings a new slant to the build/ buy debate. Template competes in the traditional application development space (against Forte and Dynasty) and against the established packaged application vendors. Using Template, says Pearce, customers generally only have to write 10% of their code, and, on fixed price contracts where Template does the development work, the company normally bids half the cost and half the time of its competitors. Key to his claims is Template’s library of more than one million lines of reusable object code, organized into layered templates. At the base of all its applications is a foundation template, comprised of components for building the core structure of a distributed enterprise application. This typically provides up to 75% of the code needed for a complete application, says Template. On top of this are cross-industry templates which add workflow and systems management functionality, typically making up between 10 and 30% of the finished application code. Finally, the company is developing a series of industry specific templates, adding tailored functionality for industries such as telecommunications, finance, manufacturing and transport. This layer, says Pearce, will add a further 5% to 15% of the application code. Template argues that, because the percentage of fresh programming in a template-based application is so low, mission-critical, enterprise applications built using its products generally take six to 12 months to deliver, similar to the time required to implement SAP’s R/3 integrated business suite. And says Pearce, unlike other custom-developed applications, the majority of the Template code will have been rigorously tested. 70% to 80% of the application is being tested by 300 people daily, he says.
So far, Template’s products have received positive reviews and, according to analysts, the company has a one to two year lead over its application development competitors. Template’s strategy, however, is not unique. Taligent, the joint IBM, Apple and Hewlett-Packard initiative, was working on a similar scheme until it was folded last year. But Pearce says that there are distinct differences between Template and Taligent, which make the Template toolset much easier and more cost-effective to use. Taligent didn’t get a lot of re-use – it didn’t focus on visual development tools. You have to package re-use in such a way that users don’t have to know each object, he says. According to Pearce, 180 Template-based systems are in operation and the company’s client base includes impressive names such as North West Airlines and United Health Care. But most of these applications are in specialized fields, such as airline maintenance, where off-the-shelf products are limited. And even this market is set to get markedly more competitive, as enterprise application vendors, including Oracle and PeopleSoft, begin to deliver their own industry specific offerings.