Sybase CEO Says the Future Is Mobile

Q&A: CEO John Chen says Sybase's unwired enterprise strategy is key, but the company won't de-emphasize the database business.


If Sybase were a language, TechWave would probably translate to "mobile." The mobility concerns of enterprises are certainly one of the main focuses of this years TechWave conference in Las Vegas. Sybase CEO John Chen said the companys plans for the unwired enterprise dont mean it is de-emphasizing the database. He took a break from the conference to talk with eWEEK Staff Writer Brian Prince Aug. 7 about the companys past, present and future.

You mentioned in your keynote about some of the skepticism the company encountered initially when Sybase first decided to pursue its mobility strategy. What made you want to stick with it?

Well, interestingly enough, I always tell people this, first of all you stick with it because you believe in it, and I will tell you why we did, well come back to it. The second reason for sticking with it, and honestly speaking, some six years ago when we were trying to establish some value-add to the market and establish some leadership positions, all the obvious ones at the time were taken and were not in.

You take a look at your capability, you take a look at what your customer most likely would want but doesnt know enough to ask. Thats a very important part.

Once we started, essentially [it was] not too hard to stick with it … because we were able to make money off it relatively soon. … We do well. Why not stick with it? The market will come to you. And one thing led to another and the market is coming, and its coming hard, fast and furious. Consequently we now have a good position to be the most complete, the biggest and the leader of this today.

Is that the fastest-growing segment of your business?

That is the fastest. Its hard to judge it the wrong way. Database last year grew very fast. As I pointed out, I think we grew 16 percent in licenses year over year. Thats way over—thats probably double the average of the industry. But in all fairness, it was because of the huge pent-up demand of the public release, which is ASE [Adaptive Server Enterprise] 15.

So last year was kind of like the huge year to benefit from that. So from that perspective, no, [the mobile segment] was not. But if you map out more of a consistent basis, mobile middleware [growth] is probably going to be somewhere between 10 to 20 percent on average.

The messaging business is definitely growing 20 percent-plus. So those are our fastest-growing [businesses].

Looking ahead, what types of technology is Sybase looking to acquire to advance its unwired enterprise strategy?

I wouldnt be able to comment on acquiring. Let me focus on what kind of technology do we need, whether we build it or buy it, collaborate [on] it or partner [for] it. I mean, theres a whole bunch of ways to get technology. Not every one you have to buy.

Whatever it takes to move mobile applications along. See, one of the problems is today there are a lot of phones, there [is] a lot of bandwidth, there are a lot of people who are comfortable with it, but theres not a lot of business killer apps. I mean, wallpaper, ring tone, consumer stuff—and theres no money in consumer stuff. Theres a lot of volume; theres not a lot of profit.

So anything that moves along creating more mobile apps for business [is interesting to Sybase]. You need to subdivide in verticals—there are financial, health care, transportation, logistics people, government sector, a whole bunch of them. So what we are looking to do is really enrich a development platform.

In our case now, what were focusing [on] is a development environment that actually leads people through to develop a mobile-based app, or mobilize an app. For lack of better words, call it application enablement. We need those technologies; we have a lot of those. We need to put it together in a coherent and logical manner.

Because different types of businesses need applications to do different types of things, how do you address that?

Thats a very interesting question. Let me break the question down the following way: Do I have to get into applications before I address any vertical needs? We believe not. Now, why wouldnt I want to get in applications? I dont want to get into applications because I have a lot of partners that build their applications…on our platform. And I dont like to compete with my partners, or at least feel that that could happen. At least that is the current mode of operation. Now, if the market isnt growing fast enough for us, for another year or two, I may do that. I mean, I am not going to rule it out. But the best I can, I will try very hard not to get Sybase into mobile apps.

[Thats] not a guarantee, not a promise, its a statement of direction. Because … rather than competing with [Sybases partners], I want to be complementary to them.

Is there a de-emphasis on the database for Sybase?

No, no. If thats what comes across to you today, we failed in how we programmed this thing. A huge part of my business is still database, about 70 percent. Again, it was the part that grew the most and, by the way, it was the part that was most profitable that allowed us to invest into mobile, mobile and mobile. So we have never lost sight of that fact.


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