As chief financial officer of Informix for the past two years, Jean-Yves Dexmier had a tough assignment - to get the ailing database vendor back on its fiscal feet. When he recently took over as Informix's chief executive officer and president, Dexmier was buoyed by news of a fiscal turnaround as Informix beat analyst expectations by two points, reporting second-quarter earnings of $US17.5 million, or 9 cents per share, on revenue of $206.8 million. Dexmier took some time out to speak with IDG's Elinor Mills Abreu about his plans for the future of Informix.
IDG: Do you think the financial troubles are behind Informix now? If so, what would you point to in your second-quarter results as indicative of a lasting turnaround?
Dexmier: I have to say that for a while this last quarter customers and analysts didn't ask any more questions about our financial condition. I think people recognise that we are on a solid financial footing and these days all the questions I get are "What's next?" and "What are you going to do with the company and how are you going to help people win in the [Internet-based] economy?" So I would say there really is no concerns anymore about the financial condition of the company.
If you just look at the results over the past 12 months we have posted a growth rate of 20.5 per cent year over year. We have increased profits - we have more than $US200 million in cash on hand. We have no debts. We make money every quarter. We are in an investment mode so really the problem is more to do with how we address the challenges of the Web. How are we going to help our customers win?
With the improvement in finances, will Informix be able to attract back any former users? Do you have migration programs in place to lure users back to Informix from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sybase?
The Web is really a new computing paradigm. It has really changed the rules of the game in how we do business. Solutions, infrastructure and software that was well-optimised for client/server architecture do not work anymore on the Web. What the Web has done is evened out the playing field.
This is a new market. Marketshare has not settled. And I have read that experts believe that Internet infrastructure spending next year is estimated at $240 billion worldwide, a third of which will be in software. It is huge. It is a market without limits. So the problem we have is not how to attract customers from our existing competition to Informix client/server. The question is, how do we solve the Web problems?
Companies which are traditionally database companies have been fighting over the past several years about how to displace one account at a time. This is extremely costly. This doesn't bring you a lot of margin. What is happening with the Web and with the arrival of this new market means that the game has changed now. What is important to understand now is the technological requirements of the Web and to provide a solution to the Web problems. So the way we are looking at it is to focus on bringing the right solution to Internet problems.
It looks like Informix has set its sights on the analytic and business intelligence software markets. Can you define those markets from Informix's perspective and explain your plans there?
The amount of data is growing exponentially. Before when we were trying to make business decisions using data, data warehouses and business intelligence, mostly what we did was use proprietary data. We used our existing data . . . through OLTP [online transaction processing] systems, built a data warehouse on that and built some queries and extracts to be able to make decisions.
What is happening today with the Web is that you have access to much more information. You have access to all this public information in addition to your proprietary data. I would characterise it as death by data overdose. We need to define solutions from a business intelligence problem point of view. We need to customise the solution to the problem, not try to customise the problem to the solution.
The business intelligence problems are so diversified that you cannot have one technology solution to do that. And today we are helping customers build their business intelligence solutions on Foundation 2000, which is a great engine for the Web, on Yellowstone, our new platform for very large data warehouses, and on Red Brick, which is a wonderful technology solution for data mart applications.
Technology frameworks have a history of not working. What is your strategy for success with the Foundation 2000?
Well, Foundation 2000 has been developed from the ground up for the Internet. It took a three-year effort to build it. And we have worked hard at understanding the requirements of the Web and building the right integrated platform for it. As we bring Foundation 2000 to market, we are also offering our existing customers and new people an easy migration path from a client/server architecture to a full Web architecture with Foundation 2000.
Do you know that with Foundation 2000 we have more than 40 sites in beta and that all those sites said it was working absolutely great? It even had more performance and was more reliable than our existing OLTP engines. So really we have a very mature technology. We are setting the Internet free and helping customers migrate at their pace from a client/server architecture to a Web architecture.
Do you see any holes in your current product portfolio? And how can you prevent the company from repeating the mistake of betting on one new product as was done in the past with your object/relational Universal Server database?
We are focusing on four major market opportunities: our traditional OLTP market, the Web technology foundation market, the Web solutions market and the business intelligence market. And yes, we have some technologies which we would like to bring into the company to complement our product offerings.
Our strategy is to own the core technologies in our offerings and to have strategic partnerships for the other part of it. And there are areas where I believe we will do mergers or acquisitions because this is the right way to bring technology as fast as possible to the market. I think we should expect to see some acquisitions going forward in business intelligence, in Web technology foundation or in Web solutions.
Now that you are in charge of the company, what would you say is your biggest challenge going forward?
Our biggest challenge is clearly one of execution. I think we know exactly what our market opportunities are and how we can capture them. With the Internet, which is everywhere, everything is moving at an incredible speed and those who will be successful will be those who can adapt to the change faster than the market. So the challenge is execution.