Sybase chief touts mobile push

ARN: How can Sybase maintain its edge in the remote and embedded database market as Microsoft's Access becomes effectively free to end users and developers?

Chen: I don't think Microsoft are the proper people to fear. We will maintain market leadership by getting into as many embedded database businesses as possible - in terms of e-commerce applications on handhelds, FedEx apps, maximising route management in trucks, utility metre readings and vending machines. It won't be something that end users or developers choose, our database will be already embedded in apps.

Microsoft is very focused at the end user, individual developer type of environment. We are more at the embedded apps level. If Microsoft had the technology, they wouldn't endorse Sybase in Win CE. I wish we had Microsoft's marketing muscle - they can sell something as perfume although it doesn't smell good.

I created a special division for our mobile and embedded business, so we could concentrate on adding more applications. We lucked out. We don't have to rely on gaining revenue [from the division], we'll gradually become dominant and everyone else drops off. It's about time Sybase had some luck.

We're watching IBM very closely. They have the ability to stay with the business and add applications to it, but they've not made a big push.

I appreciate the lead time they're giving us.

SAP's R/3 applications still can't run natively on Sybase databases. Why not? Is it an issue that will eventually be resolved?

R/3 doesn't work on our server database, but is working perfectly on our mobile database. It's no longer an issue of a 'we don't like you, you don't like us' relationship with SAP. Gradually the bad blood has become more pragmatic. At their end, it's a case of 'why add another database?' At our end, it's that we don't need their apps; they're old; they're passŽ. If you're starting a new business today, the last thing you'd do is invest in ERP apps. Our EIP (enterprise information portal) is leapfrogging to portal applications, not traditional client/server apps.

So, what will your EIP strategy, code-named Open Door, be all about? What's to say that portals aren't the new push technology - a bandwagon everyone's jumping on, but ultimately one that will just fade away within a year or two?

Open Door is a combination of services and product. Not that we're trying to get into their business, but it's almost closer to an SI [systems integration] business, at least in terms of the EIP platform. Next year, our strategy is to create specialty practices around the world, delivering frameworks with the products so that they're much easier to deploy.

'Portal' is a particularly bad word. It's so generalised that no one knows what the hell it means. Unfortunately for the short haul, in order to describe a new generation of methodology you have to use more recognisable terms. A so-called portal aggregates and integrates apps from the past like legacy and client/server apps to the Web tier and permits a more personalised approach to facilitate Web business-to-business and business-to-consumer apps.

The portal itself isn't going to make any money. Everyone and his brother-in-law will have one. If you really want to make money, you have to have vertical expertise. Most insurance companies want to go into mutual funds, there are no intermediaries on the Web any more. Virtual banks mean all the bank vice presidents have nothing to do, so they need to move up the food chain and use the relationships they have with the customer to sell more stuff. They need an information system that ties the customer's transactional history, personal status, etc. Net banks and telecom fraud detection are probably the next area to make money in. The stock market valuations of basic portal companies are coming down.

So, this ties into your investment and partnership with financial services company Demica PLC. Are your investments in applications enough or are there likely to be more to come?

They're not sufficient, they're not even close. I'm working on a few things right now. You'll continue to see Sybase fill in its Web-based financial solutions offerings.

One clue to our strategy is the appointment of Leo Hindery to our board of directors. [Appointed to the Sybase board last month, Hindery is president and CEO of AT&T Broadband & Internet Services.] He is the first board member I have recruited.

Obviously, we're very interested in telecoms - look at our portals and mobile and embedded databases and the fact that we're hiring people with Cisco backgrounds. Financials are really great, but we need to expand. [The financial industry has long been Sybase's major business focus.]The next obvious feature is telecom, beyond that will be healthcare which is also gathering some steam. Financials and healthcare are not replicable around the world, but telecom is different; carriers round the world have the same needs and methodology. Leo will help me go in the right direction.

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