First report from TechWave 2008

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

TechWave 2008 in Las Vegas, John Chen (who has served as chairman, chief executive officer and president of Sybase, Inc and probably made it what it is today) questioned why, given its good revenue results and technology successes, it didn’t have greater market share and more press coverage? I suspect because both these results aren’t really consistent with being the sort of company that spends more than average on R&D and on getting innovative technologies to work properly. There are companies who seem to be more interested in getting sensational stories into the press than in ensuring that the technology behinds them works as promised!

Of course, Sybase does have its fans, especially in the Financial Services sector—and this could be a problem, given that sector’s panic following its novel discovery that lending money to people who are unlikely to be able to pay it back has its problems. Sybase does get some 20% of its revenue from the financial sector and John has upset people by using words like “vibrant” about Sybase’s prospects—luckily its latest results bear out his optimism (or, as he said, he’d be talking to the SEC regulators instead of to TechWave). He claims that Sybase hasn’t seen a downturn—yet. So the optimism isn’t entirely unqualified.

But Sybase does have other irons in the fire—it seems to be betting on the “unwired enterprise”, which it started getting into about 7 years ago. It not only sells technology for this platform, it seems to be involved in MMS message delivery as an active player. In essence, it sees a population of around 3.5 billion mobile subscribers (out of a global population of some 6.5 billion) as a huge opportunity for the delivery of electronic commerce—which conventional, employee-focused, transaction-oriented systems won’t be able to exploit, because of the scalability and latency issues endemic to these “legacy” environments. We’ll have to see.

Just running through the TechWave announcements:

  • Afaria 6.0 brings a new server architecture for highly-secure data synchronization and mobile device management functions to Sybase’s Information Anywhere® Suite
  • The Sybase Analytic Appliance is now available. It combines Sybase IQ with Sybase PowerDesigner, IBM Power Systems hardware and MicroStrategy BI—those relationships are interesting.
  • PowerBuilder 11.5 is available—no, the 4 GL isn’t dead—and PowerBuilder has been reader-selected for a Visual Studio Magazine “Readers Choice Merit Award” in the category of Software Design, Frameworks and Modelling Tools. I got the impression that this evidence of popular recognition was a pleasant surprise to some of the PowerBuilder people at TechWave (PowerBuilder is profitable and has very loyal users, but 4GLs seem to be out of fashion generally).
  • SQL Anywhere® version 11 is now available and Web Edition allowing developers free SQL Anywhere Server database deployment was unveiled. The Web Edition appears to be free of any annoying restrictions. And, if you like database benchmarks, SQL Anywhere version 11 on Dell PowerEdge has delivered its first audited TPC-C result at a cost of $0.85 per transaction, whatever that means in practice.
  • Finally, and probably most significantly, Sybase has underlined its commitment to “unwiring the enterprise” with the Sybase Unwired Platform for adding mobile communications to enterprise applications. According to Mr Chen: “We have been successfully executing on our Unwired Enterprise strategy for several years and its growing adoption is underscored by our record results in 2007 and the first half of 2008. With enterprises’ customers and employees demanding real-time, free-formed access to information, the vision of the Unwired Enterprise is continuing to become a reality”.

But back to the “entertainment”—and while TechWave was reasonably fun, it was blissfully free of loud noises and blinkin’ lights aimed at 12 year old script kiddies (good for Sybase). Geoffrey Moore, of “crossing the chasm” fame and MD of TCG Advisors, was bought in to lead a discussion panel and he generally supported the TechWave message (as you’d expect, but I suspect he can afford to say what he believes): “the systems of record are nearly done” and “the economy that gave you all your livings is going away” (or, at least, going to Asia) were the burdens of his message. His advice was to become involved in building technology on top of the existing “systems of record” to make businesses radically more productive (and he distinguished this from conventional “productivity applications” which make clerks more productive at producing electronic paper).

I find it hard to argue with that but I found Anne Skare Nielsen, “Future Navigator” (the motivational speaker on Day 2) even more motivating. She talked a bit about knowing what we don’t know and the tendency of our vision of the future to be a caricature of the present—which mostly proves to be entirely wrong. Apparently, the director of Blade Runner put a lot of effort in 1980 to making sure that the film would include in its backgrounds companies guaranteed to still be around in his 2019 dystopia. By the time the film came out, all the ones chosen—Pan Am, Atari, Bell—were dead.

She specialises in nice analogies—she’s a biologist by training and claims that scruffy penguins get all the sex because the “alpha males” are too tired after a day of strutting their stuff on the ice. So, that’s motivational for some of us.

She focussed on the importance of intangibles to innovation, of “meaning” and relationships. As she put it (more or less), there’s no tree inside a tree seed—a seed is the idea of a tree, which conjures up a tree by changing materials in its environment into a tree. If we get the “meaning”, the semantics, of our vision right, the rest will follow. And we need to think about “quality fit”—the “aaarhhh” factor which comes with the click of a power cord into the back of a Mac (apparently – i wouldn’t know, different world). And we can’t change other people but we can make ourselves into an agent for change and change what goes on between people and help other people to change themselves…