Actional: People Power
Actional has taken on many roles over the years: Originally a maker of software adapters, which connect disparate pieces of infrastructure software, the company shifted its focus to Web services management efforts in 2003. Then, it acquired a Web services security software maker, Westbridge Technology, in 2004. Earlier this year, Actional found itself being acquired by Progress Software, an application infrastructure software provider, for $32 million.
Despite these changes, customers say two key things have remained constant: the performance of Actional's tools to manage Web services—applications designed to interoperate with others over a network—as well as the company's personnel, most notably its chief technology officer, Dan Foody.
People make a big difference, but performance speaks for itself, says Janet Park, director of architecture and systems integration for Starwood Hotels. And Actional's SOAPstation, which controls and monitors security of message flow and traffic policies in Web services, lived up to her expectations—and Actional's promises.
In 2002, Starwood, parent of the Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis hotel chains, began building a service-oriented architecture to create applications that could centralize inventory, rates and availability data for Internet customers, replacing an aging mainframe-based system.
By 2005, Park and her team realized they needed the ability to monitor and manage traffic across their different Web-based offerings, which range from a customer-complaint system for guests to a virtual tour and online booking service. They looked at other pure-play vendors like AmberPoint and SOA Software, but the team chose Actional because it was the fastest, with overhead, or delay, times of less than 10 milliseconds, Park says.
"The performance was one of the attributes they talked about as a differentiator," Park says. "They delivered what they claimed."
For other customers, the product is only as good as the people backing it.
Buck Stuart, chief architect for Great American Insurance, the Cincinnati-based property and casualty insurance arm of American Financial Group, first met Foody in 2005 at a conference. He was so impressed by Foody's presentation on Web services management that he invited Foody to speak to his company's executive team about Actional's vision.
"There are people who can talk at a very technical level, and others who can talk at a high level with executives, but there aren't many who can do both," Stuart says, noting that Foody has the ability to do both.
Early this year, Stuart's firm began developing Web services to create insurance policies, with Actional tools providing rules and monitoring for what types of policies can be written in different states. The overall effort, he says, is already cutting time-to-market on new services by 75%.
When Christopher Crowhurst evaluated Web services management tools in early 2004 for Thomson Prometric, which provides electronic testing and certification services for the private and public sectors, he says vendor offerings were practically identical.
Crowhurst, chief architect for Prometric's parent, Thomson Learning, says he liked Foody and his team from the beginning, believing they were selling not just a product, but a long-term relationship. Actional's team, according to Crowhurst, was attentive to his questions, responding quickly and thoroughly instead of glossing over specifics. And after winning the business, Actional's support staff constantly consulted Thomson on new products, he adds.
"It was just the type of situation where technology wasn't the differentiator," Crowhurst says. "But the people were."