Gerald Cohen is president of Information Builders Inc., a company that he founded in 1975. Last year, the New York City-based business intelligence software maker spun off a subsidiary, iWay, to develop and sell enterprise integration middleware. Information Builders, meanwhile, retained WebFocus, the companys core business intelligence product. Last week at the Information Builders Summit 2002 user conference in Baltimore, Cohen discussed this strategy and other issues with eWEEK Executive Editor Stan Gibson and Editor-in-Chief Eric Lundquist.
eWEEK: Has the iWay spinoff strategy worked?
Cohen: Thats one decision we made thats working absolutely according to plan. We did it because we needed a separate brand identity because were in two businesses. Its hard to convince people youre in more than one business. When you said Information Builders, people thought of the old Focus product.
Were a technology factory. We used to have a product called EDA/SQL, which was data access middleware. Data access middleware has been subsumed by enterprise integration. Nobody was going to believe that we were in the enterprise integration business without rebranding.
So now, John Senor is president of iWay; the analysts put iWay software on their charts; and people do remember that iWay is about integration. So from that point of view, its working out very nicely — iWay is getting traction, its attracting partners.
Information Builders is in the real-time information delivery business; iWay is in the integration business. Thats a partnership business. And its getting brand-new sales outside of Information Builders orbit. Its gaining a certain amount of awareness in the industry.
eWEEK: So theres no thought of re-integrating iWay with Information Builders?
Cohen: No. Its taking its own route. WebFocus communicates between data and humans. iWay essentially works between two programs. Its true middleware. Were going to take data from PeopleSoft, send it to Siebel, transform it, put it in MQSeries, send it somewhere else; its business integration.
eWEEK: Which one is getting the most research and development dollars?
Cohen: iWay, by far.
eWEEK: Would you take iWay public separately and perhaps sooner than Information Builders?
Cohen: Yes. Thats a strategy. We have said when iWay reaches that level of development we would do that.
eWEEK: Does going public remain a possibility for Information Builders also?
Cohen: My answer is: You never know.
eWEEK: How would you describe your relationship with Microsoft [Corp.], particularly with regard to BizTalk?
Cohen: Over the years, weve had many different levels of relationship with Microsoft. The BizTalk one makes the most sense. They want to get into the enterprise business, and weve got the software they need to get into the enterprise. So its a natural fit between us.
Also, they dont have a consulting operation and a sales operation. They have partners. Theres very little channel conflict.
eWEEK: You mentioned in your speech that you are phasing out Java support because of Microsoft.
Cohen: On the desktop.
eWEEK: Does that mean you caved?
Cohen: If Microsoft really supported Java on the desktop, we probably would have left the applets there. But the applets were always a pain in the neck. They took too long to come down [from the server].
eWEEK: But Microsoft didnt say to you that youre using too much Java?
Cohen: Oh no.
Suns not the One
Suns not the One
eWEEK: What about Sun [Microsystems Inc.]s Sun One initiative and the Liberty Alliance Project? Do they have any relevance for you?
Cohen: The truth is, we havent made any contact with Sun, for some reason. Maybe its their fault. Weve got relationships with almost everybody else.
eWEEK: How about IBM and IBM Web Services?
Cohen: We have a very nice relationship with IBM and IBM Global Services. We have many reseller deals going on with them. We were very early in Web services, somewhat pushed by Microsoft. BizTalk has a very nice interface to Web Services, so we got into publishing information assets. Well take a CICS screen and make a Web service out of it and put it in the repository. Very early, we got into using Web services to publish these non-obvious asset interfaces. And now were doing it for things other than the Microsoft repository [i.e. IBM].
eWEEK: Whats the significance of Web services to Information Builders and iWay?
Cohen: Will Web services change the world? It has the biggest potential of anything that has come along in the last several years. Having a common API for Web services and less expensive communications [via the Internet] opens up a class of applications weve never had before.
One example would be micro-credit applications. You get on a bus and you put your identity card in. It would be a smart card, but with different types of systems at the other end.
Thats possible now with Web services. Im not going to predict it will happen. Ill predict its possible.
Were at the early stages of Web services. Most technologies have about a seven-year life cycle. I think we are only in the first year or so of Web services.
eWEEK: Is there anything you might correct or improve about Microsoft .Net?
Cohen: Yeah, Id like to see it come out [laughter].
eWEEK: Youve already adopted some .Net standards, such as SOAP and .Net, into iWay.
Cohen: I think SOAP 1.2 is one of the nice improvements. I think .Net is going to get a constituency. It may take a little time, but I think it has a real chance.
eWEEK: Do you trust Microsoft to wield its influence fairly in Web services?
Cohen: Yes, because they dont have it alone. Web services is a consortium. You have IBM and Sun. What will happen is that there will be specializing and privatizing. That happens with every standard. The first version that comes out is an agreed-upon standard. Maybe it goes to a second version. But after that, vendors specialize and take it in their own directions, and that could happen here.
eWEEK: In other words, Microsoft could declare it part of the operating system at some point?
Cohen: They could specialize in some way, like they were doing with Java. What they were doing with Java was putting their own extensions on it.
Listen, IBM owns EBXML. Thats the No. 1 XML standard — at least they own the patent to it. If they want to exercise control, they could.
eWEEK: Some people say you may want to offer packaged analytic applications like CRM or supply chain analytics, along the lines of what Cognos and Business Objects are doing. Will you also go down that path?
Cohen: No. You can assure them that were not.
Cohen: We dont have the expertise for that. Were not in that business. Its a specialty business. We do have partners who will take our products and build applications and you can buy them from our partners, but thats not our business.
Rather than getting into the heavy analytics, were getting much more heavily into what were calling information delivery.
Were not interested in the analytical part for the few, but in the benefits for the masses. You can get that kind of analysis with client/server; you dont need the Internet. The two companies you mentioned are essentially client/server companies.
What were doing is trying to distribute information to thousands of people, outside the organization. Were seeing that companies that are distributing information to their partners and suppliers are, in general, leading their industries. Our goal is to help those guys distribute information.
Weve only been able to do this for six years, because of the Internet — cheap communication, easy-to-use browsers and the standards-based Internet. Talk to the customers They are thinking about sharing information with partners and suppliers. That to us is where the market is going.
Filling in the gaps
Filling in the gaps
eWEEK: Could you elaborate on some of your new product directions?
Cohen: In the WebFocus area were concentrating on filling in the gaps to make real-time information delivery a scalable, robust, easy-to-manage and useful activity.
In real-time information delivery, that server cant go down. That response time always has to be good, and it has to be manageable. There are lots of new initiatives in these areas.
eWEEK: To summarize: What can we look for from WebFocus this year?
Cohen: WebFocus is coming out with a brand-new development tool making it very easy to develop complete Web applications. Were also introducing a dashboard, call it a portal if you want.
eWEEK: What significant rollouts can we expect on the iWay front this year?
Cohen: iWays going to complete its suite of products. Well have complete integration with Biztalk, [IBMs] Websphere and BEA. Well have data access and data integration with these guys.
This year were doing SWIFT and HIPAA integration also. All the financial institutions are being redone for flow-through processing, and the health organizations have a mandate to implement HIPAA.
eWEEK: In terms of Web services, iWay will be supporting them, but will WebFocus also support them?
Cohen: Web services seems to be mostly about middleware, although we do have a WebFocus initiative [for Web services] also. Its sort of a visionary thing. It requires a search engine.
Let me give you an example. You go into a search engine like Google and put in copper prices. Lets say Google searches UDDI repositories. And we have a series of Web services that will run the report as soon as you click it. You click on the copper price, and then we go and run a report right off the price quote.
I can only provide the Web service; Google has to search the repository.
eWEEK: You mentioned partnerships as being key. Lets take SAP. SAP works closely with a competitor of yours, Crystal Decisions. Is that just co-opetition as usual?
Cohen: SAP has had some vendors theyve co-operated with over the years. None of them have come out very well, Ill tell you that. Look at all the partnerships that are no longer partnerships. Commerce One was a partner, Web Methods was a partner, and there were others.
To SAPs credit, they do have a nice certification program. In the business warehouse area, were one of only two certified vendors. From that point of view, were doing fine. They must have 2,000 certified partners. All I would like from SAP is neutrality.
eWEEK: Are you getting that?
Cohen: What you get with Crystal is like five free reports, if that doesnt work you have to go buy it. So its not a huge amount of competition for us. What we do with SAP so far exceeds what anyone else can do that we dont have a problem.
eWEEK: Is New York still a good place to run a software company?
Cohen: The best. You dont need factory space. You need office space.
eWEEK: But N.Y. office space is expensive.
Cohen: Not any more. Since 9/11 and the recession the vacancy rate has gone up tremendously. You can get very good real estate in New York City today. Theres a lot of empty space. Besides, software doesnt need huge amounts of space. Its an intellectual business you just need of people working in front of a keyboard.
eWEEK: Do you ever use offshore programmers?
Cohen: We have used some for the iWay business. We couldnt do it all ourselves; we were just too busy. Its a problem. We wish we could do it all in the United States, but we cant always.
eWEEK: Do you see the IT spending downturn ending this year?
Cohen: No. I dont see any reason why its going to pick up in the second half of this year. Thats just happy-think.
eWEEK: You founded the company back in the 70s. Do you have any transition plans, to hand over the reins at some point?
Cohen: You can see a little of that already. Im not president of the iWay group. The other guy [John Senor] is president. Thats already a functioning operation that could go off on its own. The transition plan is already afoot, you might say.