Move from the end to the beginning. Not of the line, not of the story, but of the alphabet. It was the 1998 merger of VMARK Software, Unidata and O2 Technology that precipitated the adoption of a new corporate name ­ Ardent Software ­ and enabled the merged entity to be near the beginning of every alphabetical listing of software vendors. It is, however, a totally different movement that has propelled Ardent Software to its current status as one of the leading software companies in the world, employing more than 600 professionals worldwide in 68 offices in 52 countries through direct sales and distribution channels. A data management software company, Ardent provides solutions for enterprise-level data warehousing and information management application requirements. "About three years ago," explains Peter Gyenes, president and CEO of Ardent Software, "we identified a need within the business intelligence segment for a comprehensive set of tools that would streamline the design and development of enterprise-scale data warehouses. At the time, the extraction, transformation and loading of data was a complex, time-consuming task; our challenge has been to automate that process so it is simple, reliable, repeatable and relatively easy to evolve when data sources, targets and schemas change."

"Over the past 15 years, VMARK had developed the core competencies that enabled us to come to market relatively quickly with DataStage ­ our integrated solution for building and maintaining data marts and data warehouses. Those competencies included the capacity to integrate legacy data with contemporary data sources, migrating our customers to more modern environments," emphasizes Gyenes.

"Our recent acquisition of Prism Solutions has enabled us to extend our data warehouse tools offerings," says Gyenes. "Specifically the acquisition strengthens our tool set in the area of mainframe extraction and transformation. DataStage is a terrific tool for extracting and transforming large volumes of complex data, but it is not the tool to use if the data warehouse resides on the same mainframe as source data or if transformation tasks are being completed on the same mainframe as source data. Our Prism products are the tools to use in these cases."

"A pioneer in the world of data warehousing, Prism's accomplishments and their added value have been primarily in a different area than ours. We saw the opportunity to combine forces to offer customers an integrated set of capabilities that provides an end-to-end solution to the problem of creating data warehouses ­ the ability to move the data from wherever it is to wherever customers want it to be, regardless of the environment," states Gyenes.

Quickly and effectively responding to customers' needs has enabled Ardent to be successful through the years. It is a business model, originated by the founders of VMARK, that has been adapted to address each new technology cycle. Gyenes explains, "VMARK's founders realized that if they could take the software platform that was the foundation of the applications off of the proprietary mini-computer and put it onto open systems, it would open a whole new market. Knowing that their applications were the best from a functionality point of view, they knew they had to move away from a proprietary platform in order to provide a solution for a broader customer base. That's what led to the founding of VMARK, initially as a database company. VMARK's mission was to provide a database and application development environment optimized for value-added resellers in a wide range of vertical markets to develop and deploy their applications. The data model around this database, which today we call an extended relational data model, has all of the attributes of a relational database, but it also has some extended attributes which basically result in an application that is very scalable, very expandable and has a relatively low cost of ownership compared to traditional relational database-type applications. As a result, there is now a network of these value-added resellers, approximately 1,000 of them all around the world. We have more than 60,000 customers and 2.2 million users in a very wide range of applications and vertical markets. Examples of applications in this country that run on software based on our technology include most of the automobile dealers in North America who buy systems from Reynolds & Reynolds, many libraries around the world ­ including the New York Public Library ­ and many of the HMO claims processing applications in this country."

"We've been able to grow over the years because we assess and respond quickly to customers' requirements. As our products evolve, we have been able to preserve the data model which is the essence of the applications as we move our customers from a host-based environment, to a client/server environment and now to the Web ­ from a non-graphical kind of character-based user interface to a GUI/Windows user interface, from all the different flavors of UNIX to the now popular UNIX standards and to Windows NT. The reason that this part of our business has been so strong and self-sustaining is that we enable our customers to use very powerful applications that are completely contemporary in terms of platform, environment and user interface," states Gyenes.

Gyenes is acutely aware of the fact that customers today can fill their requirements from a number of different sources. Consequently, Ardent strives to differentiate itself from the competition in a number of ways. "We encourage prospective customers to thoroughly investigate us. They don't need our permission to talk to any of our customers. Our key differentiator is our approach to the concept of value. We always strive to do what's right for the customers ­ we have a very high level of integrity. We don't promise something to a customer that we may not be able to deliver. On top of that, we have excellent products. That combination enables us to do more than 'sell' products. We form strong partnerships with our customers that don't end when the product is delivered," Gyenes emphasizes. "The demand today is not for individual bits and pieces of products that must be put together, but rather for a set of integrated capabilities that provide an end-to-end solution. Our family of database systems and warehouse development tools addresses the spectrum of data management issues, including all aspects of the mapping, modeling, manipulation and movement of data."

Gyenes indicates that Ardent is well-positioned to make a significant contribution in the area of meta data management. "There are many reasons to move data, and data movement generates a substantial amount of meta data ­ data about data. Once you get into the mode of moving data around, you're generating a substantial amount of meta data which comes from a lot of different places. In order for the environment of data warehousing or the environment of applications that depend upon data being integrated from disparate sources to work well, all the meta data that is created has to be managed and has to provide useful information to the users. Ardent's patented meta data technology enables complete and accurate meta data sharing among tools in a data warehouse environment. It's really leap-frog technology with respect to the management of meta data and its ability to enable customers to integrate a wide range of tools that, in the absence of Ardent's technology, are completely incompatible with one another on the meta data level. With our MetaBroker approach, which provides meta data form and content, tool users can exploit the full value of meta data, thereby enhancing the value of the data warehouse and the ability to make sound business decisions," Gyenes says.

Making sound business decisions is obviously an integral part of Gyenes' role at Ardent. "My management style is consensus-oriented and informal, but serious and focused. It's also oriented to moving things forward. I view myself as a micromanager, and I tell everybody that I think every manager should be a micromanager. As a manager, you must know what's going on, and I don't see how you can have an impact if you don't know what's happening. To me that means micromanagement, although my approach is atypical. I feel you have to be a leader and a facilitator ­ you have impact, but you're not in people's way."

Ardent's plans for the future include a continued focus on simplifying the complexity of enterprise IT architectures, sharing technologies across its product lines to address a broader range of customer needs and developing data management platforms for the next millennium that will enable central management of global enterprise data.

Under Gyenes' direction, Ardent Software continues to expand its presence in the marketplace. He states, "The capabilities that we have are really headed toward providing infrastructure capability into an enterprise environment which is going to go beyond data warehousing to enterprise integration. The business imperative is that enterprises have to be integrated ­ within themselves, with their suppliers and with their customers. This requires a huge amount of data management and data movement technology. As we see our offerings unfolding, we will be providing these kinds of solutions. We're moving ahead on that path."

Building a Successful Data Warehouse

Building a new data warehouse? Peter Fiore, vice president and general manager of Ardent Software's data warehouse business unit, provides these tips to enable IT professionals to build an open warehouse for growing businesses.

1. Design your warehouse to meet the needs of your business. A warehouse architecture based on a clear understanding of your company's critical success factors will ultimately yield the information you need to succeed.

2. Outsource. There are a number of consulting companies specializing in data warehousing that can be hired on a contract basis to assist in building your data warehouse.

3. Invest in easy-to-use tools and components that your in-house IT team can manage after the warehouse is built.

4. Investigate meta data. Meta data, or "the data about data," is crucial to an efficient warehouse. Among other things, meta data provides information on the origin and transformation history of warehouse data.

5. Implement tools that are flexible and scalable when building or updating your warehouse. The right tools will allow you to extend your data management system to add new users and integrate data from additional sources with as little complication as possible.

6. Design your data warehouse so business users have direct access to the information they need. The less involvement your IT department has in everyday queries, the better.

7. Invest in tools and components that support multiple platforms. This will allow you to deploy the same applications on UNIX, NT and other platforms throughout your company.

8. Look at the number of people who will be using the warehouse and how that number could expand. Make sure your software will support different databases and different platforms and possible add-ons such as management and security features to protect your customers' privacy.

9. Provide executives with the data mining and query tools they need to leverage business information in their decision-making processes.

10. Build on what you have. Expanding? No money to do so? Often you can build on top of existing systems, incorporating legacy storage systems and components in a new warehouse.

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