Info Builders touts ‘extended enterprise’ apps

Gerry Cohen has been CEO of New York-based Information Builders Inc. for the past 27 years. Once a developer of fourth-generation languages for mainframes, Information Builders now focuses on Web-based information delivery products, data analysis software and integration tools, the latter through its iWay Software subsidiary. Recently, Cohen spoke with Computerworld about his company and new technologies such as Web services.

So how’s business these days? On Dec. 31, I’ll know for sure how to answer that. There’s a lot of cliffhangers out there this year, and how we do depends pretty much on our fourth quarter. But it’s been a tough grind this year. We’re selling a ton of stuff, but we’re working harder to sell it.

Are you optimistic about IT spending improving in 2003? I do think the IT economy is going to improve over the next two years. I just don’t see a huge economic driver out there now to pull us into the next technology boom, where all of a sudden, everybody says, “Oh, we gotta buy something!”

Not long ago, you launched a big wireless initiative. Are you seeing demand for business intelligence software on handhelds and BlackBerries? No, unfortunately, we don’t see much wireless interest at all, and we had really quite an extensive initiative. It was painful just trying to sell that stuff. We’ve basically put it all on the shelf. But I’m going to make a prediction that we are going to see a lot more fixed wireless. In other words, in places where you could have had a wire but you don’t. The idea of wiring office buildings is going to disappear, for example.

What’s your view of the business intelligence market? Well, I hate the term business intelligence, I gotta tell ya. I think it pigeonholes us into something that’s too small. What really interests me are the new applications that go outside the organization and deliver information to customers, suppliers, dealers. Those apps are terrific, and the ROI can be spectacular. But these extended enterprise applications also require a certain class of facilities. You need scalability and reliability; the server has to be up all the time.

Where do Web services play in all this? Can they deliver on the promise of easing integration between systems? Yes, for the smaller, lower-volume messaging work, which is probably 90 percent or more of the market, Web services really simplify things dramatically. You’re not going to get 10,000 transactions a second through Web services. But when you’re integrating disparate things, there’s nothing better than Web services to “commonize” the interface. All the new things we’re doing have a Web services component.

Integrating applications is a perennial torment for large IT departments. Are you saying Web services might make that less painful? I’ll tell you this: If you look at three years ago, for every dollar your organization spent in software, you had to spend US$4 in integration. Today, any of the vendors or integrators will tell you that it’s much closer to a 1-1 ratio. That’s a huge reduction.