Unisys Corp’s Brisbane, California-based USoft subsidiary will try to get its business back into shape with a Web add-on for its application development tool USoft Developer. WebRuler adds a Web front end to existing USoft applications. Its party trick is to let end users open cascading windows in a Web application – just like you would do in Microsoft Word. This feature will let a clerk open an order entry Window, at the same time as another window with a list of items in stock. WebRuler supports Java applets, and can check that users have filled in fields in the right way, before it shoots off HTML to the server. WebRuler will ship in April. A second release will incorporate San Mateo, California-based Visigenic Software Inc’s VisiBroker for Java object request broker. The purpose of this is to get a USoft application talking to non-USoft applications that are CORBA Common Object Request Broker Architcture compliant. The company has now, thankfully, turned its back on its old marketing slogan ‘USoft the Server/Client company’, which was a ham-fisted way of saying you could develop a thin client/fat server application with USoft Developer. The new catchprase that staff will sport on their business cards is ‘USoft the business rules automation company.’ USoft claims ‘business rules-driven’ applications are the natural successor to object-oriented applications, which were too complex and too difficult to maintain. With Developer, a graphical development environment, programmers point and click to create a set of operations that reflect a company’s business. The operations – the business logic – are stored centrally in USoft’s proprietary repository. Because logic is centralised, USoft claims it is easier to maintain than object-oriented applications – in object applications it is up to the programmer to remember which operations affect which objects, and so take into account the knock-on effect of tweaking a rule attached to one object. USoft says its application keeps track of which record uses which business rule, freeing the programmer from having to work out the knock-on effect.
Any kind of customers
What USoft still lacks – and knows it lacks – is high profile, household name customers in Europe, and any kind of customer in the US, where the company has not had much success at all. Over the last year, its customer wins include a German engineering union, IG Metal, a Dutch insurance company Cava Data, and the US’s Burlington Industries, a construction and engineering conglomerate. USoft plans to use its trump card, which is speed of development, to target industries that have constantly changing business rules, such as the insurance and financial investment industries. It wants to establish a beach-head on Wall Street, and is currently on trial at Merrill Lynch. USoft expects to be profitable worldwide by the end of March, which is when its first financial quarter ends. Last year it was profitable in its native Holland, broke even in the UK, and was in the red in France. One reason for its lack of success outside Holland over the last two years has been parent company Unisys’s ill-informed sales force, which recommended the tool to inappropriate customers, and produced no leads. But now, according to USoft, Unisys’ mainframe sales staff have got a better handle on what accounts it should recommend USoft to. Also, the US operation, with its main base in Brisbane, just outside San Francisco, has stopped trying to sell the tool as a shrink-wrapped tool, and realized you can’t just throw it at a Visual Basic developer who is used to building pretty screens – you need to explain to people that the screens are automatically generated by the rules in the repository – so you need to start by defining business logic. Worldwide USoft has 278 staff, of whom 60 are engineers. There are sales outposts in Houston, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts. The company says Unisys plans to float off USoft once it achieves a run of profitable quarters.