Sybase UK TECHSelect 2005, London
By DaveLevy on Nov 16, 2005
I popped over to the Sybase UK TechSelect conference. Its been a while since I met up with the Sybase and User Group people. I'll always remember one of the opening presos made by one of Sybase's VPs in the early '90s. It sounded like Harry Enfield's "loadsa money", "here's our results - you see all this money - it was yours but now its ours!" - "How much does it cost? Loads - if your asking that question, your too poor to have one". Most businesses, including Sybase, have learned that you need more humility when speaking about company results. So Simon Cattlin, Sybase UK's recently appointed MD gave an interesting and different presentation; he felt his personal newness made the traditional MD's approach inappropriate, but he shared some of his thoughts about why he joined Sybase and the research he'd undertaken while making his mind up.
The crack was made that Gartner had been predicting Sybase's demise for so long and been wrong that they'd given up. It has a strong cash position and a stock price (NYSE:SY) that any Sun stock holder can envy, but while they have a strong but ageing brand for engineering excellence, it is my view that too many people see them as just the fourth database company. You can thrive as second or third place, its hard as fourth. They also have a weakening developer position, the purchase of Powerbuilder in the '90s gave them an opportunity but today the choice is between Java & .net. As ever they remain strong players in the investment banking technology supply chain. Their attempts to diversify have been of intermediate success, very strong in the embedded database market, but their portal remains a niche product used primarily by "Sybase" shops. They really need to understand that while companies can influence markets, its like steering an oil tanker, a little today has big paybacks only in years, and ignoring the current direction and momentum is doomed to failure. Time commoditises intellectual property (be it incorporated into product or people), successful companies need to embrace and accelerate this change.
A user group though is best defined by its user presentations and John Coleman of Mott Macdonald, a Glasgow based management & engineering consultancy delivered a talk about three of the applications that they've developed as part of their transportation division's consultancy. The first, they call "Floating Vehicle" which records the location of its tagged vehicles using GPS/GSM technology. I first came across this last year. The application used GIS add-ons to attempt to utilise the "wisdom of crowds", to understand good routes, to know if temporary bottlenecks have occurred i.e. to understand normal, standard or deviant behaviour. This was a technical preso, so there was no conversation about who owns the information, or how to monetise it. These questions became even more acute, when a similar aggregation story was shown. In this case the data collection process is via the motorway police control offices and the tax payer pays for both the time and materials for the collection. I am happy to share my motorway intelligence in exchange, and have from time to time rung the AA to notify them of events, but I expect this to be shared back for free, and I do not expect to pay a fee to obtain information that I have payed for with my taxes. (Well, when I say I don't expect, I mean that I object to it. )
During the break I bumped into Sarah Bell of Sea Bass Software. She offered me an express catchup. Last time I bumped into them, they were a Sybase Consultancy house but more recently they have expanded their capability and are allying with Eproductive to offer two applications as an ASP. It's an interesting diversion and an adoption of the software-as-a-service model. Good for them.
One of Sybase's top engineers (Pete Thallman) then delivered a presentation on performance monitoring, reminding me with the openness and ease with Sybase frequently talk about their products strength and weaknesses, and their own ability to respond to them.
The meeting closed with a bad tempered spat about price and proactive maintenance. These are both very complex issues and in the case of proactive maintenance, some of the user contributors seem to lack any understanding of the liabilities and effort they need to put into successful proactive maintenance programs. The UK user group remains a collective of people that use Sybase's technology, rarely the enterprise architects that evaluate, buy and deploy these technologies. To my mind the debate showed an immaturity in the audience and a rudeness to the senior engineers who had turned up to participate in the panel.
In all a good day, nice to catch up with old friends in Sybase, the User group and their ecosystem.
This article has been backdated, to the time it was written.