A computer is a complex device that stores and processes data according to instructions given to it by an equally complex variable program. This type of information processing system is now used in many applications, from home calculators to space shuttles. The first commercial computers were largely used by governments to process military and scientific data. As the technology became more widely available, business applications followed. The company ASK Computers was a pioneer in producing software for business and manufacturing uses, and is known for its ManMan enterprise resource planning (ERP) program. Founded in 1974 and led by founder Sandra Kurtzig, ASK had 91 offices around the world at its peak before being acquired by Computer Associates.
The firm started out developing various application programs that could be used for specific tasks, such as payroll and accounting. These application programs were called modules and were sold separately from the underlying programming code. In 1979, the company forged ahead with its most significant product, which it called ManMan, an ERP program that ran on Hewlett-Packard minicomputers. The software allowed manufacturers to plan their materials purchases and production schedules on a scale that had previously only been possible with very large mainframe computers. The program initially cost a five-figure sum, but it was available on a time-sharing basis for small companies.
With ManMan’s rapid take-off, ASK grew quickly, and in 1981 it was able to sell its stock for the first time. The proceeds from the sale helped finance expansion, and within two years the company had a market-leading position in the area of information systems for manufacturers. This success enabled it to increase its research and development budget to devote more time to new products, a move that reflected Kurtzig’s continuing commitment to maintaining the company’s entrepreneurial spirit.
However, in the next few years ASK’s fortunes began to decline as its customers reduced their expenditures. In addition, the family began selling off substantial blocks of their shareholdings in the company, a move that was later cited as an example of a conflict of interest by a shareholder. Kurtzig also stepped away from the company’s day-to-day operations.
In an attempt to re-energize ASK, its managing board invited Kurtzig to resume an active role in the company’s management, and she agreed. She made a number of changes, such as simplifying the programs so that they could be run on different types of computers, including those manufactured by IBM. She also increased ASK’s marketing efforts in order to reach a wider audience.
Despite these moves, ASK was losing ground to competitors in the field of manufacturing and business applications. In an effort to reverse this trend, the company purchased Ingres Corporation in 1990. In addition to adding a database software system, this purchase diversified ASK’s portfolio. The resulting merged ASK and Ingres group had yearly revenues of $400 million.