Gary Austin has been named president and chief operating officer of Peerless Systems Inc., the Richardson, Texas-based software firm.

He replaces Hal Stringer, who retired earlier this year.

Mr. Austin has set his sights on improving operations and customer service at Peerless, which specializes in providing core accounting and data processing systems to community banks nationwide.

For two years, Peerless has ranked among the top 50 fastest growing technology firms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to Chicago-based Andersen Consulting.

Peerless was formed in 1989 through a management buyout of the turnkey systems division of Electronic Data Systems Inc. of Plano, Texas.

Peerless began with a base of 235 users of its Inform and Peerless21 core accounting and information processing systems. The customer list has since grown to more than 400.

Mr. Austin, 49, studied business and accounting at Arkansas State University and the University of Tennessee.

Mr. Austin, who was senior vice president in charge of operations for the last five years, said

His primary goal for the company will be to establish "premier customer services."

That's a goal, he said, company officials may have not have emphasized enough in the past two years.

"We are currently in the process of operational changes to be more customer focused," Mr. Austin said.

"We've consolidated multiple management positions into only two positions to put more focus on the customer support and service side."

Paige Chadwick, Peerless' vice president of marketing, has known Mr. Austin since 1990.

She said Mr. Austin will bring to the company a better approach to dealing with customers.

"Peerless has always served their customers well, but maybe not as well as we could have in the last two years," Ms. Chadwick said.

After a corporate "self-examination," Mr. Austin said Peerless realized that it could do better.

"We have always maintained that there was no perfection, but over the past year or so we have concentrated more on our service to the customer," he said.

Mr. Austin also plans to change the functions performed by the sales staff.

Now, employees juggle working on both new accounts and existing customers. Mr. Austin plans to separate those functions.

And, noticing a trend in the will continue to grow in the future as technological costs come down, while performance and ease of use rise.

He claimed that more than half of the community banks are already using in-house systems for their data processing needs.

"Over the past few years, the marketplace was about evenly split between in-house systems and service bureaus," Mr. Austin said. "There will always be a market for both, but as costs come down, more people will select the in-house option."

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