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ASK Computers

In the computer world, ASK Computers is best remembered for its manufacturing software and for its founder, Sandra Kurtzig. The company, at its peak, had 91 offices around the world and annual revenues of nearly $1 billion. Its most significant achievement was a program for use on a Hewlett-Packard mini-computer that allowed small manufacturing companies to plan such aspects of their business as the purchase of materials and production schedules in ways that previously could be done only on large mainframe computers.

The ASK program, called ManMan (abbreviated from the term for manufacturing management), was a breakthrough in information systems development. It permitted businesses to control the operation of their entire factories on a level that was once available only to large, multi-million dollar corporations with their own in-house technology staffs. Smaller manufacturers could plan their own material purchases and production schedules with the help of ManMan and a variety of other application programs developed by ASK for such functions as budgeting, payroll and sales analysis.

As a result of the success of the program, ASK began to expand rapidly in the 1970s. The firm diversified by developing other applications that could be run on the same hardware as ManMan and by selling a more general computer workstation product. But it was the success of ManMan that gave ASK its strongest market position.

By the fall of 1984, ASK was able to sell a version of its original program for about one-third its previous price. The drop in the cost of Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) minicomputers, for which ManMan was written, made this possible. ASK also sought to protect its market share with smaller companies and emergent middle-range manufacturers by offering the program on a time-sharing basis.

In addition to focusing research and development resources on upgrading existing products, ASK reorganized its corporate structure and hired managers with backgrounds in running larger businesses. As ASK passed out of its entrepreneurial stage, its sales and earnings declined.

In 1987, ASK merged with the database software maker Ingres Corporation. This combination brought in additional revenues and allowed the company to invest in more sophisticated computer systems.

During the 1990s, ASK expanded further with two important acquisitions. In 1993, the ASK group had 91 offices in 15 countries. The company was acquired in 1994 by Computer Associates for approximately $1 billion.

As ASK Computers grew, it had to adjust its business strategies as the computer industry evolved and customers demanded more sophisticated capabilities from their systems. The company responded by developing new products to support the needs of these customers, and by acquiring hardware manufacturers that could provide the necessary computing power. This approach enabled ASK to develop a comprehensive suite of information system products that would run on different kinds of hardware. It also allowed ASK to offer a wide range of computer products and services that were compatible with one another. As a result, ASK became one of the most diverse and well-rounded producers of information systems in the world.

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