Information Builders Inc took the opportunity of its Focus World 89 conference in Cannes last month to stress its commitment to the European market, as well as outlining its future product strategy. Gerry Cohen, the company’s president, explained that he sees the West European market as Information Builders’ fastest growing area, and emphasised the ways in which the company is preparing for the Single European Market. At present Information Builders has subsidiaries operating in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Madrid and Barcelona and works closely with distributors such as Datus, Cybernetics International, Inforan, Software Technology and Roland Berger & Partners. Information Builders’ direct European sales for 1989 produced UKP25m in turnover and are expected to grow to a local turnover of more than UKP35m in 1990.
The company is prepared to put its money where its mouth is by making a very public demonstration of how dear the European market is to it by unveiling a European Business Centre of expertise to be co-ordinated from Wembley, London and which will be opened in early 1990. The Centre will support Information Builders’ European subsidiaries and distributors, as well as ensuring that European requirements are incorporated in the company’s general product developments. This last objective should be made easier by the opening of a European Development Centre in Paris as part of the company’s French subsidiary. Its location here fits nicely with the announcement of a development and marketing partnership with with Bull HN (CI No 1,286) to create versions of Focus 4GL/DBMS to run on Bull’s DPS7 and DPS8 mainframes, running under the GCOS7 and GCOS8 operating systems. The partnership also includes creating interfaces to the Bull UFAS and IDS II database systems, along with porting Focus for Unix to the DPX 2000 machines running the Spix/Unix operating systems. Moving further into the European Unix market, Information Builders also announced the immediate availability of Focus for Unix on Siemens MX300 and said it will release a version for Olivetti’s LSX 3020 machines in November. These new versions are compatible with Focus 5.5 for Unix, DEC VAX/VMS, Wang VS, MS-DOS, OS/2 and local area networks. The company has 100,000 copies of Focus running on personal computers worldwide, with 5,000 copies installed on mainframes and mid-range computers.
Despite Information Builders’ public support of Unix, especially in the European context, the one impression that strikes you when talking about the computer industry with Gerry Cohen is how antipathetic he is to open systems. Information Builders is a $155m turnover independent software company and it is sceptical of both Unix and SAA (the latter described as the most open closed architecture in the world because it tackles every thing but is tied to four operating systems). At the end of the conference, however, SAA was clearly emerging (from the bias in presentations) as the Focus user’s best bet for the future. Cohen’s official utterance on the choice between the two was that they offer two paths and you choose which one you prefer. Such bland platitudes aside, however, Cohen, personally is no supporter of open systems. He suggested that as far as the workstation user was concerned, which operating system was running the software was immaterial. He argued that it was the front end graphics that sold workstations and that it was no more than coincidence that Unix was often the operating system behind such graphics. He added that, in his experience, big corporate customers were not moving over to Unix, rather they were moving to workstations. He believes that DEC’s VAX running VMS has the advantage over Unix, and thinks that IBM’s upgrade RT workstation may also make a big dent in the Unix market. Nevertheless, Information Builders wants to be in all environments – hence the Unix announcements. Of course, the company has to believe to a certain extent that there is no future for open systems, since it stakes its reputation and a large pro
portion of its income on the ability of Focus to access heterogenous environments. Consequently, truly open systems would knock its technology advantage over smaller software houses. For the next decade at least, however, Information Builders has little to worry about, since the near future portends to be the era of distributed systems across a wide variety of operating systems. Paving slabs
To this end the company made a strategic announcement in Cannes, saying that it is currently redesigning the architecture of its fourth generation language, making it server-based and object-oriented for the distributed system environment. The paving slabs for a Focus-user’s path to distributed systems will come from an Information Builders downsizing strategy under which the company’s communications technology FOCNET, and its Application Control Environment (ACE) will be enhanced at the personal computer end. In this way the database will reside on the mainframe, but will be available to workstation or personal computer users, who will be able to handle the same size of application as developers using Focus on the mainframe. In the first phase of this strategy Information Builders will come out with products offering data server-based co-operative processing capabilities between PC/Focus and the mainframe using LU2 and LU6.2 communication protocols. In other words, the company is clearly hoping that its strong personal computer base will grow up into mainframe Focus users and won’t be picked off by Oracle and Relational Technology. One method of pushing this approach is to bundle your product with a mainframe, and, sure enough Information Builders is, as an option, to sell its first phase co-operative processing products early in 1990 connected to IBM 9370s acting as servers. Acknowledging the problems that IBM is having to make the 9370 a credible machine (CI No 1,283), Cohen, grinning, said that Information Builders may sell other vendors’products at a later stage.