Canadians can take advantage of past mistakes

“Every company on Earth knows that they have to get onto the Internet. It’s a matter of life and death. You have to make the decision. If you don’t move, you’ll die. If you move, you may still die.”

In a bid to bolster their position in the world of e-business, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Informix Software Inc. and Calian Ltd. of Kanata, Ont., have formed a partnership to open an Informix Centre of Excellence in Canada.

The move comes in the face of recently released studies which have found that Canada is a little behind in embracing the new electronic business model. ComputerWorld Canada products editor Poonam Khanna had a chance to meet with Informix CEO and president Jean-Yves Dexmier and Calian’s president and CEO Larry O’Brien about the state of Canada’s e-business readiness.

CWC: How is Canada doing in terms transforming businesses into e-businesses?

O’Brien: Although we have some important goals from a government point of view in terms of adopting e-business and the use of the ‘net to run our government, from the industrial perspective I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve been a little bit behind in the pick up of some of these technologies. And some people might think that that’s a threat or a problem, but I think it’s a really interesting opportunity to be a few months or six months behind the other major players, because now when we start down this path, we can pick up the best, most robust, most capable technology. One of the reasons we’re very, very excited, or Calian’s excited to be chosen by Informix to be a Centre of Excellence technology provider, is our belief that Informix technology is literally leading edge – technology that’s capable of creating Web sites that can withstand the barrage of 100 million hits a day. We have that technology now. So, yes, we’re a little bit behind I think, but good old Canadian know-how is going to come to bear here.

If you’re a company and you’ve invested $25 million in e-commerce technology, you’re using technology that’s four, five, six years old. Nowadays you can get the same technology, the same performance for so much less money. You can get exceptionally greater performance.

CWC: How are centres like the one you’re creating going to help Canada?

Dexmier: When you talk about where is Canada today, I can tell you that Canada is behind the United Kingdom, but not that far behind. On the Internet, every solution has to be optimized, personalized, customized for the customer. The role of this kind of access is to use this technology that is proven today and leverage this to build customized solutions for each of the Canadian companies.

CWC: Large-scale IT implementations have been known to fail because employees haven’t bought into it. Are the centres going to offer help not only with the technology implementation, but with bringing employees on board?

O’Brien: In our implementation we have a change-management tactic focusing on just that, the soft side of the transformation, because without the people embracing these changes, without people contributing to the process, it won’t work. It is more than just implementing technology, and we’re pretty well positioned to do that.

CWC: Software such as this can help companies gather more information on customers, and that can benefit the company in terms of being able to serve their customers on a more individualized basis. But does this raise concerns about privacy?

Dexmier: Yes, there is always the fear that people can gather information about one particular area or one particular subject and pool the information together and suddenly you get this picture. But only if the information is free and public. Never give out [private] information because it is the death of the market

CWC: As broadband access becomes more common, a lot of the information companies will be gathering and sending over the Internet will be in multimedia form. What are Informix’s plans to deal with rich media?

Dexmier: A few years ago, we were the guys who said the Internet was all about visuals – that data would not be traditional streams of characters and numbers, but would be complemented by video, graphics, audio tracks, etc. So we built a new set of technologies…which we called object relational technology, which manipulates information in those complex formats. So, we had the vision fairly early that the Internet would be all about visual kinds of communication.

CWC: Some traditional bricks and mortar companies have had disastrous experiences in their rush to adapt e-commerce solutions. Are companies better off taking their time and planning more carefully, or is time-to-market the most important factor?

Dexmier: Every company on Earth knows that they have to get onto the Internet. It’s a matter of life and death. You have to make the decision. If you don’t move, you’ll die. If you move, you may still die. The advantages in Canada today are that it can leverage earlier phases that already happened in the Internet economy. We have seen some technologies don’t work and other technologies work. So what is happening here is the market has had time to find out what technologies are worth improving. It’s safer now.