Users aren’t interested in dealing with a vendor unless it’s number one, so

Andrew J. “Flip” Filipowski, president and CEO of Platinum Technology Inc., wants to take his company to the top, and as quickly as possible.

Customers will often lie, Filipowski said, and say they are fully in support of a range of vendors.

“It’s the big lie in our business…[customers] would like the second (vendor) to survive without getting any business. Because they don’t want to be the one to deal with number two, they only want to meet with the number one. They just want number two to keep number one honest. But they don’t want to do business with them.”

Platinum has always been focused on growth; the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based firm has acquired so many companies that it’s become one of their business hallmarks. In 1998, Platinum earned revenues of US$968.2 million, making Platinum the world’s ninth largest software company. It’s Filipowski’s goal to put Platinum in the top five by next year, mainly through continued acquisitions.

But it hasn’t been entirely clear sailing. Last month, Filipowski put a six-month moratorium on acquisitions, saying that it’s time to let employees catch their breath.

“We had a shortfall in our services business in the fourth quarter,” he said, “and we certainly want to send a message to our own folks that what we are going to do is make sure that it was put together and running well, and that (later) we would return to our on-going strategy.”

Nonetheless, acquisitions are an integral part of Platinum’s strategy, and Filipowski has developed ground rules along the way. First, never look beyond 24 months, let the start-ups worry about the long term vision. And acquire only companies that have already gone through what he calls “the mortality phase,” companies that have survived the point-product wars.

“The object is to complete the suite by acquiring the five, 10, 15 products that we need to form the security suite or system management suite…we provide the integration and the common look and feel, and then we embellish that knowledge transfer, training and consulting to make it into a real, full fledged solution.”

Does Filipowski think that the steady stream of acquisitions has had a negative effect on his company’s culture? Not at all: “I think we have a very interesting, very enthusiastic blend, and we try not to get people who wouldn’t fit.”

Currently, Platinum has its eyes on “serious enterprise” security. Filipowski’s most recent acquisition, before the moratorium, was Israel-based MEMCO Software Ltd., which specializes in access control and single sign-on capabilities, areas that traditional security vendors have neglected, Filipowski said.

He admits that security is a broad topic, and says no one company has all the solutions; instead, he envisions Platinum and a host of other vendors racing to get enough pieces together to offer users a full security suite.

What else is on Filipowski’s mind? 3D data visualization, for one. He said today’s users have gone beyond demanding easy to use business applications; instead, they want the IT experience to be fun. Companies that can provide their users with an engaging, graphics-rich and intuitive experience will be the ones that succeed.

“I think [IT shops] are going to be dealing with a population that got weaned on Mario 64, they’re going to want stimulation,” he said.

3D images also have the benefit of conveying more information with less text, and giving the viewer an immediate grasp of the bigger picture.

Filipowski is also upbeat about the effects of the year 2000 problem on Platinum’s sales. While ERP vendors may endure what he calls a “nuclear winter,” software companies in general will see little to no dampening of their sales. Post-Y2K sales may even be a time of surging revenue, he predicted.

“The budget deferral process also deferred a lot of user requests in the area of data warehousing and decision support. And that backlog got bigger and bigger. And also CIOs aren’t stupid enough to relinquish all of their budgets. They’re just moving them back to handling this big backlog.”

In the end, Filipowski likes to put Platinum’s accomplishments in perspective. “We consider out products very important, and very much things we cherish. But they are akin to Beanie Babies and pet rocks – they come and go,” he said.

“But what is eternal is the ability to do business with our customers, so we really formulate around making sure we identify the markets, accumulate the suites…and then deliver those suites into the global market.”

Platinum at a glance

Based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Platinum Technology Inc. specializes in IT infrastructure and management services, including database management, application development, systems management, data warehouse management and decision support applications.

The company has also been successful with its year 2000 tools, and is making deeper forays into the security management area.

For the year ended Dec. 31, 1998, Platinum’s revenues increased 31 per cent to US$968.2 million from US$738.9 million for 1997.

Platinum’s president and CEO, Andrew J. “Flip” Filipowski, has a reputation as an outspoken, candid IT personality.

On customers: “Our customers, like all other customers, like to lie about a lot of things…frankly, they always act as if they would only like that one choice; they always end up accumulating all their revenue with an IBM or a Microsoft.”

On products: “We consider out products very important, and very much things we cherish. But they are akin to Beanie Babies and pet rocks – they come and go.”

On the industry: “You pick up survivors in the point product war. Nobody wins in a point product war — there is no winner. There’s only the survivors who get bought up, and only suites survive.”