Information Builders working to create a new image for itself

Information Builders Inc. (IBI), the New York-based business intelligence software company best known for its WebFOCUS product, turns 25 next year. With it’s silver anniversary approaching, the company is trying to change its image and increase its corporate presence.

Long known as “the company who made FOCUS,” IBI is now working to make its name synonymous with i-business.

ComputerWorld Canada staff writer Poonam Khanna spoke to IBI’s president Gerry Cohen in Boston about the company’s plans for its next 25 years.

CWC: You’ve said your company wants to increase the recognition of its name. Why is that?

Cohen: Well, part of it is we’re having so much success with our Internet product, that we really see the possibilities of becoming a billion-dollar company, but it won’t happen unless we get a little more active. Remember, we went through three phases: the time-sharing business, in which we grew to be a tremendous player; the client/server world – we built a very successful client/server business…and the Internet. It’s becoming so successful, we can see we’re in another growth phase. You know these books like Crossing the Chasm. It’s a very popular book. Well, that was good for business if you’ve been in business for one year, two years, three years. Well, when you’ve been in business for 25 years, [you have] different challenges.

At the end of 25 years, you have a growth curve and then a slow down, unless something comes along and you get another growth curve. But basically we’re in another [growth curve], and it’s largely due to the Internet. People know us for a lot of our old products. We want to change that perception, so they know us for ourselves – they know us as Information Builders, not, oh, those are the guys who built FOCUS.

And, in addition, we want them to know us as the people who do i-business. So any time a customer, or anybody who could be a customer, has a problem that’s essentially an i-business type of problem, one of the candidates they can go to is Information Builders. You think, “Oh I have a data warehouse problem, fine. Let’s use data warehouses to provide Internet-level access to some information.” That’s an i-business need. So don’t say “Data warehouse vendor,” let’s say, “Let’s get an i-business vendor to take us end to end.”

The goal is to associate Information Builders as people who build and help companies in the i-business arena. I think that will grow us faster.

CWC: How do you define i-business?

Cohen: i-business is the intelligence component for e-business. e-business is the electronic things you’re going to do. You need information for anything you do. The more activities you engage in, the more you need to know. If you’re in the commerce world selling things you need to know a great deal more about where you are, where are you going, what the trends are. So what we’re trying to say is that i-business is the information intelligence content of e-business. If you’re going to do things electronically, the information side of that is very important. Companies are swamped with information and i-business is using that information to grow your business. That’s essentially what it’s all about.

CWC: The big announcement in Boston is that IBI is working on its name recognition, but how are you also changing your business strategy?

Cohen: Well, we’ve never advertised outside of trade publications. Now we’re advertising in business publications so that more people in organizations get to know who we are, and not necessarily in the IT community. We’re not advertising and publicizing so much our products, we’re sort of coalescing our products into two major categories – business intelligence and enterprise integration – to help you do i-business. So, it’s a much clearer message. If you talk to a lot of people about what does Information Builders do – 1,200 people, 12,00 different answers. Hopefully, by next February, with 1,200 people you get many fewer answers and more people will know what we do and it will be an easier process for us to sell and it will make the company grow faster.

CWC: Going forward, what’s the outlook for legacy systems?

Cohen: Although we have a little slogan that says “i-business changes everything,” there’s a contrary to that slogan which says that if you use us, you don’t have to change everything, because we can integrate with a lot of the stuff that you do have. You really don’t want to throw it all away. But what [i-business] does is change everyday thinking. IBM mainframes are not going away because they can provide tremendous processing power, but we’re on every platform. We sell more NT software than we sell mainframe software today. We’re best known for our IBM software, but in terms of the software we ship, we ship more NT software.

CWC: Once the Y2K period has passed, do you see the need for this type of product growing?

Cohen: Sure, you’ll get an explosion of these needs. There’s going to be probably also a great need for exposure and advertising, of people trying to make people aware of the new things, so we want to sort of beat the curve. So, by February, more people will know us – and I don’t have to then start competing with all the crowd. I’m sort of coming off-season, you might say.

CWC: Is it accurate to say the next big trend after enterprise resource planning is going to be customer relationship management?

Cohen: That’s just today’s term. Forget customer relationship management. Believe me, in February you’ll have another term. Now customer relationship management is a variation on a particular side of ERP. ERP concentrated originally on financials and sales and human resources, and customer relationship management is the next level. It’s this month’s buzzword. By February, they’ll find something else to replace it. I will say this: customer relationship management [is] where our integration software is so great, because there we compete on speed, getting stuff up and running. So we have lots of people who use us for customer relationship management, although we’re not necessarily selling the software directly to the users. We have individual customers who will then solve problems using our software.

CWC: You said earlier that you didn’t do that well in the desktop market. Why do you think that was?

Cohen: We had a crummy user interface on the desktop. It was primitive. It got better, and it got better, but it was too little, too late. And we lost a lot of the market to a lot of other people. But with the Internet, the tool for the desktop is the browser. We’re equal. Now with the server technology that generates what you need, we do fabulous generation, whereas the other guys are still downloading plug-ins and using the desktop stuff as best they can.

CWC: Do you think that the slogan “i-business changes everything” communicates what you want it to?

Cohen: No. I don’t like the slogan. Sometimes you give into the advertisers who say, Gerry, that’s a great slogan. See, I don’t know what it means. “Listen, isn’t it true that i-business changes everything,” [they say]?

I say, “Yeah, it’s true, but it doesn’t really say what we do.” And they say, “It’s just a slogan, the next campaign, we’ll change it.”

Okay, fine. The other answer they give is, “Suppose you’re at a trade show, and people see the slogan, ‘i-business changes everything,’ and they come over and say, ‘What does that mean, I don’t understand.’ Now you have a chance to tell them.” It’s an oddball way of looking at it. It’s not my choice. I went along with it. It is true, people ask us and we do get a chance to tell them. It has a value (in that sense).