By Graeme Burton
Bob Ney, founder and CEO of enterprise application integration vendor Bridge Pointe Software, has presided over ten start-ups, six of which have made it through to an initial public offering. Prior to that, Ney held executive positions with mainframe maker Amdahl Corp and the database companies Ingres and Oracle Corp. But not everything has been successful. Ney’s curriculum vitae also includes spells at Usoft Corp, Unisys Corp’ failed attempt to build a world-beating software division, and Natural Language, a company that sought to bring artificial intelligence technology to the desktop PC. In both cases, he was called in to sort out a financial mess, but despite Ney’s best efforts, Natural Language was closed down and USoft was sold for a knock-down price. Ney, therefore, realizes better than most entrepreneurs that building a new software company, however good its technology, is not easy. Not only does Bridge Pointe face stiff competition from an array of well-resourced start-ups in the enterprise application integration market, including Active Software Inc, Constellar Corp, CrossWorldsSoftware Inc and Iona Technologies Ltd, but also from a host of established vendors, such as BEA Systems Inc, Candle Corp and Software AG. Bridge Pointe says its angle is its simplicity and ease of deployment. Full implementation should take little more than two months, says Ney. Using Bridge Pointe’s BE4 product, the end user can access data held in a variety of disparate applications, all from a single screen. But unlike most other solutions, that data cannot be changed in real time. In this way, Bridge Pointe avoids the complicated cross-application transactional process integration that has so bogged down the efforts of some other vendors.
CrossWorlds, Vitria and others [are] trying to connect enterprise application front-ends, tightly couple each one, and do transactions between them. I thought about that for a while and realized that that’s almost impossible, says Ney, what we do [with BE4] is take certain pieces of information off [the user’s] application and we do a query against our application engine. It then tells the user that we also have that information in Siebel’s sales force automation system, the Vantive customer support package and in the accounting system, he says. BE4 has taken approximately two years to develop, and the full package should be complete and available from June 1999. It is currently being implemented in a number of showpiece sites, including United Parcel Service, Johnson & Johnson and PeopleSoft. However, it currently only works in environments running Microsoft Windows NT. Versions for various flavors of the Unix operating system, starting with the freeware version of Unix Linux and IBM’s AIX, will follow shortly, promises Ney. But Ney faces a number of formidable hurdles if he is going to take the company on from there. For a start, he will have to convince many world-weary potential customers, skeptical of the unfulfilled claims of many middleware vendors, to try his more modest approach. Furthermore, given the growing number of vendors in the sector, users might prefer to wait until a smaller pack of clear leaders emerges. With products as intricate as enterprise application integration, users are wise to be cautious before committing to a particular vendor. In the past, Ney has frequently been employed by companies at the behest of venture capital backers, in a bid to protect their investments or execute a quick exit. That is perhaps why Ney has so far eschewed venture capital for Bridge Pointe and has instead primarily secured loan funding from local Californian merchant banks. Clearly he does not want to lose control of his company in the same way that, for example, the founders of Ingres did when Ney was installed to take it to an initial public offering (IPO). Having been involved with so many start-ups, Ney does not harbour unrealistic expectations of turning Bridge Pointe into the next Microsoft or Oracle. Instead, Ney is brutally pragmatic and admits that he would like to sell. I believe that we are going to be an M&A [merger and acquisition] in the next 12 months. We are not going to go for an IPO. We have already been hit with several M&A requests, he says. By then, Ney will no doubt be looking out for his next opportunity.