BackWeb makes a push in Canada

Last month ComputerWorld Canada contributor Cindy Steinman had the opportunity to speak with Eli Barkat, the president and CEO of BackWeb Technologies, based in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and San Jose, Calif. Although the company has offices worldwide, the development of the company’s push technology for e-businesses is done in Canada.

BackWeb was started in 1995 by Barkat, who also co-founded firewall company CheckPoint Software Technologies Ltd. He talked about the advantages of having the development arm of the company here, as well as where the Internet industry is heading.

CWC: How has the market changed since you began BackWeb in 1995?

BARKAT: When I started back in 1995, it was really pretty much the beginning of the Internet time. Everybody started talking about the value of the Internet in simple terms of allowing people to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time. It is always what it was, and always what it will be – first it was called the Internet, and now it’s called e-business. It’s different names for the same concept.

In 1995…the only thing people could do was deliver information – not the right information, and not to the right people. Everybody put up a Web site, and people had browsers, and very quickly after the excitement it kind of went down a bit. It was clear that now you need to start arranging it so it’s the right information…and that people can find it.

I think what you’ve seen in the last two years is the market move to the next level which is (delivering information) to the right people, and then you’ve seen a whole new wave of success stories around personalization.

I think where everyone’s stuck right now is in the last component of getting it at the right time, where there’s so much information overload, and so many different portals we need to go to and our e-mail boxes are so filled up.

It’s just impossible for end users to stay in touch with information they need and for the business to keep their end users up to date on information that’s critical to them. And I think that’s where the Internet is pretty much stuck these days and where the largest friction and frustration is. And, as a matter of fact, this is exactly where push fits in.

CWC: The development arm of BackWeb is in Canada. Why is that?

BARKAT: BackWeb is an Israeli company, and when we first started we built the development centre in Israel. Folks in Israel are really the ones who developed the underlying infrastructure, and two years after we started, it was clear to us that we needed to take the company to the next level -people don’t want to buy infrastructures, they want to buy applications and solutions. We were looking for the fastest way to get there and we did a build vs. buy decision. In our buy search we ran into a company called Lanacom (a Toronto-based push technology developer). They had about nine or 10 engineers at the time.

Now they’re about three times the size they were, and they develop basically all the applications on top of the infrastructure that we built, and as of last quarter it was over 50 per cent of our revenue.

I think after learning and hiring people around here (Toronto) for the last two years, I actually think the talent in Toronto is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. You need to do a better job of making the world aware of the huge amount of talent that’s around here…it’s just amazing.

CWC: Are there any big differences between the North American market and the rest of the world?

BARKAT: I think that’s a very interesting question. When you really get to the details, you find out that at the end of the day the differences are much smaller than what one would think. What British Telecom’s needs are…are not that different than what AT&T needs here. You take a bank in Europe and a bank here – they’re not that different, and really the major differences are in the way they buy products and in the way they do business, and in the culture of how they do business.

That is why the approach we’ve taken throughout BackWeb is we hire general managers and country managers within the local areas that we sell. They really understand and know that, and they do the bridging between what we have and how it needs to be presented to their particular customers. Then you find out that it’s a lot more common than you thought when you started.

CWC: Does that mean there are different strategies from country to country for marketing specific products? Is that necessary?

BARKAT: Some countries present things in a more conservative way, some companies present things in a more upbeat (way). Some cultures like to understand the vision before they understand the product, and in some countries they want to understand the product before they understand the vision.

When you stop thinking of Germany as an extension of Dallas, then you’ll do fine. It’s not just a sales office. It’s a little more than that, and you have to hire the people that understand that and know how to bridge that gap between what you have and how it needs to be presented.

CWC: What is BackWeb’s strategy for Canada, and what are your future plans worldwide?

BARKAT: We see Canada as a very important territory for us, if for no other reason than because we have our most important development centres in Canada. When you run a company, it’s all about the people you have and how to make them happy and successful. If you live in Toronto, you want to see customers in that area, not only to hear about customers that are farther away. So we have a development centre here but other than that, of course, we have a business establishment in our offices too, which is busy selling to the Canadian market.