"There's a wave that's coming at us that I think if you're not aware of as a reseller, then goodbye, because it's going to change the whole landscape of what we do." That wave, according to Dan Downs, general manager of AMS Communications, is the headlong convergence of voice, video and data into business networks. It is this wave that Downs hopes AMS Communications will ride into its next stage of its growth.
"The convergence of voice, video and data is going to present many opportunities," said Downs. "It's going to be very customer driven, and the more progressive customers are already pushing that. They realise that computers and communications are virtually one and the same. They are pushing a lot of it to the IT managers, who are now also responsible for telecommunications. And the IT managers are getting smart and saying if they can put all of this together they can save money."
Downs believes AMS Communications is well placed to take advantage of this opportunity. The company itself is only a recent entity, having emerged from a reorganisation of the AMS parent company to form two separate divisions. AMS Direct is the product supply arm of the company, and the core of AMS when it was founded ten years ago. AMS Communications is the systems integration arm, a response to customers asking to start tying their disparate IT products together. Hence, at its creation AMS Communications already employed over 100 people, with the strength to take on projects in the $200,000 to $2 million range.
"We got involved in network integration about three or four years ago. We're finding success with the second tier of the company, where they don't have a big IT staff. They have limited IT resources, but they know they need IT, they know that they've got competitive pressure, and they need somebody to come in and give them professional advice."
Downs is proud that AMS Communications also has a strong focus beyond the traditional Sydney-Melbourne corridor.
As the business has grown, Downs realised the ad hoc approach AMS had taken to SI was not going to take it forward. "We were trying hard, but we didn't have any methodology, we didn't have any focus that we followed, and every job was a new beginning. But when you come to do network integration and complex systems across multiple operating systems, you need a degree of complexity that requires a methodology and a process."
This need led to the creation two years ago of AMS's team-service methodology. "We wanted to have the ability to sign off with a customer at every stage. For instance, right at the start you have a planning stage before you even do any work. In the old days it was the kind of stuff we were giving away - we'd do a site audit, project definition workshop, disaster recovery plan and that sort of thing. And they'd sign off on that - it's a discreet bit of work and it's finished. If they want to they can use it themselves or go to somebody else, or hopefully they can continue with us.
"So you go through the stages of the methodology, and each has a sign off. It's very much a collaborative approach that develops the interaction between our consultant and the customer. When we follow the methodology we stay out of trouble."
As well as the methodology, Downs feels that the evolution and growth of AMS over the past ten years has become an asset in itself. "We don't have the legacy of the dinosaurs. They don't seem to be able to get down into this space - it's too hard, it's too costly, they don't have the mind-set for it. And really they just want to stay with the outsourcing and big mainframe integration projects."
While AMS Communications may stay out of the mainframe arena, Downs says it applies the same disciplines to the client/server world. "That's exactly what MIS managers want. They don't have the glass houses, they don't have everything centralised, but they still want the disciplines. So what we represent for them is those kinds of disciplines, but we don't charge them what ISSC will charge. We charge a rate commensurate with the level of their investment in hardware.
"So it does require a more nimble dynamic company than you find with the big boys, who have invested millions in their methodologies and their infrastructure. And I think that again that is where we're different, we've grown with the industry rather than coming from a mainframe mentality. Because I think what you get is not only legacy products but a legacy way of thinking that restricts your ability to be flexible."
Downs believes applying this focus to smaller projects will see AMS Communications well placed to take advantage of the convergence of media. "If you look at it from a business model perspective, in AMS Direct you're harvesting in a mature business, in AMS Communications you're investing for future."