If Ecclesiastes is right, and there really isn’t anything new under the Sun, then a fine example of that phenomenon can perhaps be seen with the April re-emergence of Marlow, UK based data exchange company Software One Ltd as newfangled metadata maven One Meaning, Inc. For this tale is quintessentially one of how good ideas in the software industry never really ever go away – though they may never actually make their inventors any money at any one given time. With Software One, a company founded in 1989, that idea was metadata, that is, data about data; and while the vehicle for commercially realizing the benefits of that notion was Computer Aided Systems Engineering (CASE) first time around in the early part of the decade, now the company really feels its hour of glory has come with the modern trend to Warehouse that Data. When Andrew Mercer, previously of MSA and Comshare, set up Software One with his wife, the market gap he spotted was between data definitions and repository formats of the major CASE tools of the day, and soon his company was offering Exchange, now capable of moving metadata from some 30 different environments into a common data model for translation/export to others (think of it as a hub with 30 spokes).
By Gary Flood
A rake of CASE tool vendors soon saw that linking up with an independent offering such as this was an ideal way of selling their own products while allaying customer insecurity about lock-in. John Spiers, now VP of Strategic Planning for One Meaning, was previously at Oracle’s UK subsidiary, was on hand to ink the deal between Oracle and Software One five years back. He now notes that the problem with Exchange was that while a sensible product, it was never a particularly sexy one: It was a bit like insurance – it did Oracle a lot of good having it in the portfolio but that didn’t translate into a lot of people either really buying it or using it. Though Exchange has, over eight years, built up a loyal customer base of some 400, the fact that the 45-staff strong company claims its sales last year at a very ho-hum $2.5m. Though CASE is no longer the Church of Whats Happening Now, it is worth noting that not only are there still many development shops out there with CASE software which is still in use, and for which Software One/One Meaning still sells product, the basic needs it tried to address have not gone away. To listen to Spiers, they may even have gotten worse. The questions it asked haven’t been answered and corporations have the same problems. The old idea was to use CASE to build what we then called an enterprise data model which would hold a picture of the company’s operational data structure in order to get a more holistic view of the company and its customers. No-one ever actually managed to build an enterprise model in the 1980s and 1990s, so people gave up, but thats because it was just too hard, not because they didnt need one. And now the new idea is to use cleansed data gathered from everyday operational systems to build what we now call a Data Warehouse – in order to get a more holistic view of the company and its customers. Marlow itself grew out of an aborted early attempt by Sybase Inc to get into Warehousing before its financial woes started two years ago, but after Sybase withdrew funding for further development Mercer saw the potential of applying metadata rigor to the emerging Warehouse trend. Common to both projects is the need to rationalize what may be 20 or more operational/legacy system definitions of, say, ‘customer,’ into one central repository.
Big Man on Campus