In 1891 Sir Hugh Munro published "Tables of Heights Over 3,000 Feet" in the first volume of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal. Since that time, adventurous individuals have participated in Munro-bagging climbing any or all of the 284 Munros in Scotland. All except one of these can be ascended without any mountaineering skills or equipment. John Nicholson, vice president of Compaq's Database and Business Intelligence Business Unit, Enterprise Solutions Division, calls himself a hill walker rather than a Munro-bagger. Having walked 125 of the 284 Scottish Munros, Nicholson claims great personal satisfaction on his achievement to date as he continues his quest to climb every Munro.
Another notable achievement that also impacted Nicholson's life occurred 17 months ago when Compaq Computer Corporation announced the acquisition of Digital Equipment Corporation the largest acquisition in the history of the computer industry.
"There are still a lot of people who hold traditional views of Compaq. They are not aware that the 'new Compaq' is a solutions-oriented company with a strong and clear commitment to the business intelligence marketplace," says Nicholson. Having acquired Tandem in 1997 and Digital in 1998, Compaq is now the second largest computer company in the world and the leading developer of enterprise computing solutions.
Nicholson joined Compaq as part of the Digital acquisition. Most of Nicholson's eleven years with Digital were spent in the United Kingdom, but in 1995 Nicholson moved to the United States to lead Digital's worldwide channel business development. "As soon as the acquisition was finalized, I took over the Database and Business Intelligence Business Unit which is an engineering and marketing-focused business unit," explains Nicholson. "I think one of the nice surprises for everybody when Compaq acquired Tandem and then subsequently acquired Digital was the lack of overlap in where our technology was being used by customers the three companies were all operating in different segments of the business. Our biggest challenge, which is also our biggest opportunity, is getting out into the marketplace and making sure people know the breadth and depth of Compaq's solutions capability."
The blending of the three companies human resources as well as technical resources has enabled the "new Compaq" to differentiate itself from its competitors. "The sheer scale of the offerings that we have is just one differentiator," explains Nicholson. "Our customers range from individual consumers to international organizations requiring the largest systems that can be put together with our clustering, and our solutions range from the provision of the simplest technology to the delivery of complex systems integration. But if you look at us compared to the competition, it's the capacity and capability of the people in the organization that make the difference. You can have a hundred conversations a week with people in different parts of Compaq, and while they're all addressing different pieces of the marketplace and all have different areas of expertise, they have one thing in common: a focus on solutions. It's marvelous. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to the delivery of solutions."
"We touch so many prospective customers that have differing needs and levels of technological understanding. Some customers know exactly what they want and want to buy it in a certain way. At the other end of the spectrum are customers who can articulate their business problems or their business visions but have no idea how technology can be applied to help them meet those ends. We can address the complete range," states Nicholson. "Compaq's mission in business intelligence is to be the leader in providing industry-standard solutions. We want to be an agent of change. That's pretty much what differentiates us from the competition," he adds.
Nicholson's unit focuses on delivering database and business intelligence (BI) solutions, and Nicholson describes the goal of the unit saying, "The value proposition that we take is that we want to deliver solutions that ensure our customers a fast route to success, with less risk and lowest total cost." He adds, "I've never met a customer yet that didn't want those things. My experience with customers is that they want to buy solutions to identified problems or business needs. They do not want to buy something that adds complexity. And I think the technology industry in general has too often been guilty of that. The price that people have to pay day in and day out to operate solutions based on technology is, in our view, too high. We have to reduce that burden."
That effort is reflected in Compaq's partnering strategy. "We have this fundamental belief that partnering is the right way to go and that you do benefit by sharing what you have not keeping it to yourself. We have strong partner relationships with market leaders such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAS Institute resulting in leading solutions for business intelligence," says Nicholson. "We're pretty clear about our engagement and leverage with partners. We do not want to be in a position where we compete with our partners. We want to leverage their strengths. We believe one of the most powerful things that we can do is to share the knowledge that we have with our partners to help customers get better solutions. In contrast to the solutions providers who do everything end-to-end and pull the knowledge close to themselves, we believe the ultimate power is empowering our channel and business partners."
With the cooperation of their partners, Nicholson's unit has concentrated on simplifying the provision of business intelligence solutions while reducing risk and speeding deployment. For example, Compaq offers pre-packaged AlphaServer systems in business intelligence to provide a hardware/software platform that is pre-tested and ready to run. Nicholson explains, "Alpha Warehouse One is pre-packaged and pre-tested with Oracle8 up to a one terabyte data warehouse. If the customer wishes, we'll pre-load Oracle on the system. We like to give the customer the choice. We also provide a choice of entry points for building data warehouses and data marts. Users can choose a full one- terabyte solution or start with entry-level "Builder" configurations and upgrade to Alpha Warehouse One. On the data mining side, we have Alpha Warehouse Miner with SAS Institute. It's exactly the same principle pre-tested and pre-configured so our customers can be assured of an integrated installation. The Alpha Warehouse family can also be configured as custom solutions to meet any business need."
Compaq customers gain additional benefit from services provided by the company. Nicholson explains one aspect of Compaq's service offerings saying, "Our International Competency Center in database and business intelligence has three state-of-the-art labs so that customers or partners can pre-test an environment. In the last 12 months, there have been hundreds of customer and partner visitors, and we project that visits to the site will double this year. That facility, which is now being replicated in competency centers in Europe and Japan, is a key to our commitment to our customers to reduce the risk associated with installing large, complex systems."
"The Advanced Data Mining Center (ADMC) is a Compaq resource designed to help customers experience the value of data mining and data mining tools by operating on their own data in a controlled and secure environment. The ADMC experts show customers how to manage their own data mining capabilities through transfer of knowledge and technologies, offering as little or as much support as required," Nicholson says.
"Our Web-based solution called ActiveAnswers (www.compaq.com/activeanswers) is a unique, on-line knowledge repository and virtual solution community for channel partners, solution providers and what we call self-integrators customers who want to do it themselves. Two examples of the types of things that we post are everything anybody would ever need to know about Microsoft SQL Server and implementing Oracle's NT Data Mart Suite. It's all on our site even down to configurators and sizers. Our Alpha Warehouse family, our International Competency Center, our Advanced Data Mining Center and ActiveAnswers are specific examples of how we have taken very different and effective approaches to providing quality solutions for our customers," Nicholson comments.
Describing himself as a people-oriented person, Nicholson says, "What I get the most pleasure from is the opportunity to work with customers, partners and staff. It's a privilege to do that, and it's really great fun. Can you imagine what life would be like if you didn't have those sorts of interactions? Another thing that has delighted me a great deal is the opportunity to work with new colleagues. I think that when you're with a company for a while, you tend to get locked into your own way of looking at things. These new colleagues have wonderful, different ways of looking at things. It's like a breath of fresh air!"
Nicholson is also delighted with Compaq's commitment to helping its local and national communities. "Compaq recently donated about $340,000 of computer equipment to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which was a long-term Digital-supported project. In the time that we've been working with the Center, it has helped approximately 43,000 children."
Looking to the future, Nicholson states, "The significant investment we are making in Intel-based platforms will continue as part of Compaq's traditional business. But we also believe that with the move toward the benefits that 64- bit computing can deliver in the marketplace, our own Alpha architecture has significant opportunities. We're clearly committed to Windows NT but equally committed to UNIX and to interoperability between the two. We are also committed to our OpenVMS and NSK for NonStop Himalaya systems."
"Our Tru64 UNIX is the most NT-friendly UNIX in the marketplace," Nicholson emphasizes, "and we provide industry-leading NT-UNIX interoperability. All of the market studies indicate that almost every enterprise is going to have NT or UNIX and 90 percent are going to have both. So don't we owe it to customers to make sure that their systems can work together? I think that's where vendors who perhaps don't have the same enlightened view of interoperability fall down. The world does not accept taking a rigid, dogmatic approach to one or the other. The world operates best when we can get things to function together."
Recognizing that requirement for effective and innovative business intelligence solutions exists worldwide, Nicholson states, "I think it's incumbent on any company that wants to operate globally to realize that one size does not fit all. The challenge for me, individually and corporately, is to make sure that the building blocks of value that we provide are able to be reassembled into something that looks right, feels right and provides competitive advantage for a customer in the British market, the French market, the German market, in Singapore and in Australia as well as in North America."
Nicholson can attest that accomplishing the task of climbing every Munro in Scotland is an endeavor that requires planning and a substantial commitment of time and energy. Similarly, Compaq's climb to the summit of the "New World of Computing" has been accomplished through innovative business intelligence solutions that address the full range of customer needs.
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