This From the Top interview is with Sam Mikhail, Vice President of Sales with ACOM
Image What is the current focus of your company's business?

Mikhail: For some time,we have focused on leveraging Internet and associated technologies to create automated electronic trading partner solutions that are technologically and financially accessible to the midsize enterprise market. So our objective with EZConnect EDI-XML has been to develop Tier One e-business capability and make it available affordably to the Tier Two market, especially in the manufacturing and distribution sectors.

Also, since electronic transactions between trading partners still involve documents (whether they are in EDI, XML or flat file format), these documents can be fed directly into our EZContentManager document management layer, where they are automatically converted to PDF format, auto-indexed and stored electronically for easy access by front line management, operating personnel, or other authorized persons.

Image How has this focus changed in the last 2 years?

Mikhail: Several elements stand out: one is the increasing relevance of the XML language; another is the emerging importance of web-based communications protocols; and there is the still-growing influence of web-based computing.

Less obvious from a pure EDI perspective is the increasing importance of integrating with document management systems to meet compliance requirements, and handle the sheer volume of documents being produced. Technology has made document management approachable to midsize organizations, and we’ve placed a high priority on insuring EZConnect integrates tightly with our suite of core document management products, as well as to those of other providers.

Image What are your current initiatives?

Mikhail: Our current initiatives involve extending the value our customers can derive through the three primary elements mentioned above. We see XML as a complement rather than a replacement for ANSI X.12 EDI. Leveraging it makes e-business processes easier to afford, easier to implement and easier to use.

XML is a strong underlying transaction medium and has been fundamental to our recent rewrite of EZConnect for the Microsoft .NET Framework, which adds greatly to its power and flexibility. Moreover, mid-market firms often are disadvantaged in terms of technology resources, and to address this problem, we have created a simple, easy-to-use interface that serves as a powerful, thin-client operations dashboard that masks the underlying technology.

Supplementing either of the synchronous electronic document exchange technologies with client-based WebForms makes great sense, since it allows low-tech suppliers the opportunity to compete for business almost on the same terms as their well-funded, technology-rich rivals.

Finally, we place great emphasis on the Internet as a cost-effective alternative to traditional value-added networks, since such issues as standards and security are well in hand.

Image How has the market for EDI changed with the impact of the Internet?

Mikhail: The Internet has introduced significant cost advantages as a near-universal, powerful communications medium, along with a great deal of application flexibility. For example, Internet-based protocols such as AS2 offer levels of capability as might be found in a traditional value-added network. The fact that Wal-Mart and others have made AS2 virtually indispensable to their B2B e-business initiatives, testifies to not only to its reliability and security, but also to the fact that through the Internet, B2B e-business opportunities are now more affordable, as well as almost universally available.

I might also mention that we have included the Internet in our concept planning from the very beginning. Not long after we introduced EZConnect, we realized that many companies that wanted to participate in the e-business phenomenon were not candidates for a full-blown, real-time e-business solution. In response, we created EZWebForms, an asynchronous solution that can extend any company’s e-business initiative to 100 percent of its potential trading partners.

Image What are the greatest challenges for your customers?

Mikhail: There are several, many of which relate to the broad conditions confronting business at large. Primary among these is the matter of cost containment. This applies to initial solution purchase costs, to implementation and communications costs, to personnel costs and to overall operation, integration and maintenance.

Image How are you helping your customers address these challenges?

Mikhail: In several ways. In our product concept, we have sought to combine a best practices approach with an appreciation for the real-world needs of our mid-market customers. In doing so, we have arrived at a streamlined solution, which our customers tell us rivals in capability what they might have achieved with a system ten times more expensive and far more difficult to install and use.

Buzzword time, let’s talk about scalability. The solution must be scalable, not just scalable to their operating requirements, but which also scales to their budgets and operating resources. Many organizations we see have been caught in a squeeze between choosing a high-end, million-dollar system – totally out of reach for many or most – and settling for a cheap solution that lacks power and flexibility and can create as many problems as it solves.

We placed a high emphasis on XML, which is easier to learn, implement and use, addresses some issues of technology resources; use of the Internet as the transaction medium virtually eliminates communications costs while establishing a 24/7/365 resource; the availability of EZWebForms limits technology requirements to merely an Internet connection and a browser.

Finally, customers upgrading to the new .NET version (which they can do free of charge under maintenance), find that operations are faster and easier, and that extending their B2B initiatives to include additional transaction sets is so easy as to be almost intuitive.

Image Who should pay for testing?

Mikhail: Testing should be a cooperative effort and really involves shared responsibilities between the supplier and the customer. The details ought to be covered at the contractual stage and normally depend on a variety of factors, including the trading partner relationship itself and the types of transactions to be employed. Of course, there are different types and levels of tests and this too plays into the issue.

Image How do you categorize 'good' testing versus 'bad' or useless testing?

Mikhail: If you don’t have a clear understanding of your objectives, any testing is wasteful and often downright useless. Here again, much depends on the supplier-customer relationship; clear understandings must be established and maintained from the very start. At this stage, the objectives and techniques can be clearly defined, costs projected, and problems anticipated and eliminated before they have a chance to emerge.

In optird technologies, we keep testing requirements to a minimum. When you leverage factors like the Internet, XML and SQL, you also leverage the testing that has gone into their own conceptualization and development. So I say that “good” testing is that which goes toward a clear objective; “bad” testing is undirected and confused; and “useless” testing is that which has no clear purpose and thus, little or no value.




Sam Mikhail is Vice President of Sales. He joined ACOM in 1993 as a sales account executive, rapidly progressing to regional manager, and subsequently holding positions as director of sales in several of the company’s divisions. Currently he manages sales for both the Microsoft Windows and the System i Divisions. Mr. Mikhail is a graduate of Long Beach State University, where he earned a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems.
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