Riding the mobility wave

Riding the mobility wave

TREVOR CLARKE talks to Sybase director channels and alliances, Stephen Dolan, about the business intelligence vendor’s innovation agenda and solid results in the face of the economic downturn.

    Sybase produces business intelligence software focused on mobility. The company was founded in 1984 in the US by Mark Hoffman and Bob Epstein. In 1988, Sybase launched a client/server relational database, providing the Human Genome Project with licenses for the first generation of client/ server relational databases. Sybase acquired AvantGo in 2003, followed by ISDD, Avaki and Extended Systems in 2005. It purchased Mobile 365 in 2006 to set up a new division for mobile messaging services.

Q. Sybase posted record results for its fi rst quarter of this year. What do you attribute this result to?

Stephen Dolan (SD): When you look at the results, a couple of things stand out. Part of the result is fi nancial and part is technology. From a fi nancial point of view, and here I will personalise this comment to John Chen, who has been running the company for a number of years. He has a very conservative attitude to the way he runs the business and particularly the fi nancials. John really does keep a very close eye on how the books look, he keeps a close eye on expense and he is quick to adjust the business and the way it runs to accommodate his perspective on what is happening out there. We put nearly $US100 million in the bank and that is a function of how John runs things. He has an ability to take the revenue and turn it into cash at a rapid rate. Last year, we put around $300 million in the bank. Clearly, we haven’t taken any sort of hit in terms of our ability to keep control of expense.

The second thing is the database revenue growth. Databases are very sticky things, they are fundamental to the way businesses run their IT infrastructure. I don’t believe they are subject to the swings and roundabouts of fortune as a lot of other technologies – they are not very discretionary. It is part of the plumbing – whatever else you might do with your IT infrastructure, you don’t tinker very much with the plumbing.

Q. The ROI factor is a big part of conversations at the moment and people are delaying spending – is mobility affected too?

SD: I absolutely believe mobility has definitely moved out of the cool sector of the market if I can use that phrase, and now moved into the corporate sector of the market. The fundamental fact is people are not tied to their desks anymore.

Their expectation is if they are carrying a laptop, it is wirelessly connected. Of if they are carrying a smartphone, they have corporate email on it. If they are a field service or field salesperson, they have access to their service ticket history or their CRM data. And you build productivity and ROI arguments around how behaviour changes because of that availability of technology.

Q. What is the next innovation step for Sybase?

SD: There are two big issues we are going to start talking a lot more about. One is building applications in a device-independent fashion. Right now, one of the big challenges for IT, particularly from a development perspective, is the application development technologies are very device specific. If I build an app for a BlackBerry, can I port it easily to a .NET Windows device? The answer is no. It is actually quite a challenge. So you really need to talk to a vendor that is independent of those underlying development technologies who can bring infrastructure to market that is device independent. That is where Sybase has a big part to play. We have been device, platform, and even database agnostic for quite a while and mobility databases will synchronise data as happily back to Oracle and SQL server as back to our own databases. In fact, the bulk of our mobility technology is doing just that.

The second challenge is further innovating the way we use our inbox. We now use the inbox as a very powerful paradigm for our workflow. We talk about the ‘CrackBerry’ phenomenon but the reality is the inbox is a very good way for people to manage the tasks and activities they are responsible for. Increasingly, applications are using the inbox to say to folks there is a task for you to do. Say you get an email from the expense claim system asking you to log in and approve someone’s expense claim. It’s fantastic, we love that, except now I have to go from my mobile device back to my browser, back to wherever the interface is and do another log in. If that is how we are using email, then surely it makes sense to attach to that email the task itself. So if I am asking you to do an expense claim approval, why don’t I give you the expense claim itself? Package it up in a nice little attachment to the email that has the data I need to see, a user interface to look at that data, a little bit of logic to interact with the data and an ability to approve or not approve and have that go back to the application. Suddenly, the productivity cycle accelerates again.

Again we can build a very good ROI around that technology innovation, around the productivity gains that are available to us, around staff satisfaction – it is that sort of phenomenon that I think we are going to see drive another round of investment in mobility technologies. ---P--- Q. Tell me about what you are doing with the channel.

SD: The fundamental point is that channel programs need to be competitive in the market place. For us, it really is about being easy for our partners to do business with, about more rapidly enabling them to bring these technologies to market and leverage them in their own business model to the benefit of their customers. And for those partners themselves to get a competitive advantage out of that. Whether it is mobility, analytics or databases on mobile devices, I think we are in a good place to work with a lot of folks around some of these innovations.

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