Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed throughout eastern to midwestern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. During the winter, a few remain in the Gulf states and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but most winter in Mexico, Central America and on Caribbean islands. The migration of these hummingbirds to their winter habitat requires an amazing 18 to 20 hour non-stop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico - quite remarkable since the average ruby-throated hummingbird weighs only 1/8 of an ounce, about as much as a penny. The hummingbird's ability to hover in flight enables it to seek out floral nectar or pluck spiders from their webs. The regular flight speed of a hummingbird is 30 miles per hour; however, speeds of 50 to 63 miles per hour are not uncommon.
With wings poised for flight, Hummingbird Communications was founded in 1984 by Fred Sorkin, chairman and CEO, and Barry Litwin. Litwin, executive vice president of research and development at Hummingbird, possesses an obvious enthusiasm for the company, its entrepreneurial heritage and its products. Dressed in his "patented" black shirt and black slacks, sporting a full beard and mustache, Litwin's appearance is in stark contrast to Jim Tobin's casual, but corporate, demeanor. Tobin, Hummingbird's president and chief operating officer, is a relative newcomer to the organization. He arrived in July from Canada's telecom powerhouse, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), where he was executive vice president responsible for Internet businesses and applications.
Seemingly polar opposites, the differences of these two executives quickly fade into cohesive agreement as they share their thoughts, experiences and future plans for the company's products, employees and customers.
"For the first few years, we were essentially a consulting house, working for large multinationals doing pure research and development. In 1989 we restructured the company and began producing products under the Hummingbird name. We became one of the leading connectivity companies in the world, and we hold the lion's share of that market today - probably around 70 percent," Litwin explains.
In 1998, Hummingbird began another reorganization effort. "We decided that we wanted to address other portions of the software arena as well, getting more involved with the end-user application space. Our acquisition of Andyne Computing Limited represented our first entrance into the business intelligence/decision support arena," states Litwin. "There has been a shift from Hummingbird being an enterprise connectivity provider to becoming a total enterprise solution provider. We've been working on that strategy, furthering that goal through other acquisitions - Leonard's Logic, Context and PC DOCS Group. Since we have been in the connectivity space at the enterprise level for a long time, we have many sites with tens of thousands of users. Until fairly recently, most of the end-user application marketplace has been all departmental. It is only through the Web and over the last few years that technologies such as business intelligence and document management have had the hope of becoming pervasive throughout the enterprise. One of the things we bring to the table for decision support and business intelligence applications is our expertise and the fact that we have proven that we can deliver solutions at the enterprise level - for thousands of users as opposed to 50 or 100 people."
The goal of Hummingbird to be the leader in enterprise information portals is driven, in part, by their comprehensive product offerings that integrate into their overall portal architecture. Hummingbird's products in the business intelligence space include Genio Suite which is a broker-based transformation engine for data exchange and information sharing across enterprise decisional and operational systems; BI/Suite which is a fully integrated, scalable business intelligence solution that provides enterprise-strength query, reporting and OLAP functionality for both PC and Web-based users; and Financial Frameworks which is a flexible, packaged, plug-and-play solution that provides an integrated, easily accessible repository for the strategic information needs of financial service institutions. The acquisition of PC DOCS Group brings portal technology for unstructured data also under Hummingbird's wings.
"We are doing a lot of work," Litwin states, "to make our portal a very strong product offering, including a company-wide emphasis on using our own products to Web-enable our company. There is a twofold advantage in doing this. We are able to cultivate our corporate knowledge, make better informed decisions and streamline our processes - all the things our customers expect from a solution of this type. The other advantage is that when our customers say they understand the capabilities of our product but don't understand how it works, we can pull out a laptop and show them how we are utilizing our own technology at Hummingbird. They can see firsthand, the real sophistication and integration of the Hummingbird products, as well as the different agent technologies that we have employed to unleash the power of the portal technology."
"Hummingbird is pursuing unique product, market positioning and organizational directions to support our claim that we sell the first true enterprise information portal," states Tobin. "The power of our vision is that we will bring together all enterprise and e-business information, whatever its source. Our customers will be able to get all the information they need in the right context, enabling them to make faster, better business decisions."
"Hummingbird has a strong history of helping CIOs achieve the dream of getting any data, anywhere and managing an entire user population easily. All of the things that have been at the core of Hummingbird's traditional success in connectivity become relevant when portals move from being available only for individual power users to being available across the enterprise. We actually think it can deal a knockout blow because we have the enterprise-wide credibility that our heritage represents," continues Tobin. Certainly, given the number of vendors introducing EIP offerings lately, finding and demonstrating such differentiation will be key to success.
"I think," interjects Litwin, "that it is really important to point out that everybody involved in developing portal technology at Hummingbird has a strong desire to use the product. It is rare for a lot of us that have been around for a long time to actually get to use the products that we develop. A lot of our connectivity products are enormously successful, but I personally don't use them in my day-to-day life. I use a wide variety of systems within the company to get information I need to do my daily job, but I definitely don't want to have to know about how these systems work. In this age of information overload, I just want to be able to sit at a browser and easily see whatever information I need. I think that is part of the driving force behind the development team - the concrete desire to actually use our product to make our work faster, easier and better." His passion for this is evident, and any visitor is bound to see in Litwin's language and demeanor that the creativity he applied in developing the leading UNIX-to-NT connectivity solutions is now fully directed at winning the race for portal supremacy.
While many vendors present their portals as an aggregation point, Hummingbird goes beyond that. "Our portal is much more than just aggregation," explains Tobin "It is active and truly comprehensive in terms of covering unstructured and structured data, but it is also highly contextualized. It has relevance that shifts as your activities do over time - it learns from you. It also allows you to interact, not only with the information but with other users so that an enterprise can collectively perform better. Enterprises are now breaking down their walls for e-commerce, for customer relationship management and for supply chain automation. Without effective portal technology, you have no hope of actually making the most of these external relationships. If you can bring the data together in your own enterprise environment and manage that information without discriminating whether you've got structured or unstructured data, then it opens many, many more ways to work with external partners or to conduct e-commerce. The portal is very active and very open in our environment," states Tobin.
For Litwin, the opportunity has a more personal edge. He adds, "I want to emphasize that single point of access means that I won't have to waste a large portion of my day looking for information that has relevance to my job or throwing away three-quarters to nine-tenths of what I receive because it has nothing to do with what I am doing. But what is also very crucial is that we have to understand that people have systems in place. For that reason, when we deliver a solution to an organization, it's absolutely imperative that we fit into their infrastructure. We have committed to being able to support all of these infrastructure technologies. We can walk into any of the large, global organizations and say, 'Don't worry, we are just going to use whatever you have.' We have committed to having a common, unified log-on resource for all components that plug under the portal, and we have extended that into the real world as well so you can actually log on to your Lotus environment and your mainframe and not have to login twice. We're going to carry that forward as far as we can."
"The beauty of that," adds Tobin, "is that the single log-on provides a solution so that the user feels in control and the CIO feels completely confident in scaling this solution because all of the protection is built in. The CIO can be confident that the system is not going to collapse on itself and that information won't be distributed to the wrong people at the wrong time. It's a solution that enables a company to retain the existing infrastructure and to fully embrace everything the Web can provide - both inside the enterprise and on an inter-enterprise basis."
"One of the key products that form Hummingbird's overall portal architecture is Genio, which we think is the number one universal data exchange solution on the market today. In fact, its product road map fits into the portal, but it also has its own evolutionary requirements outside of the portal as well. That's our approach in every product that we make today - to make our products very open. We cannot force the world to be a Hummingbird world, although we'd like it to be," states Tobin.
"Businesses, today," adds Litwin, "are realizing that meta data and data exchange are actually the first things to consider when streamlining their data infrastructures to get ready for the millennium. Since Genio was developed in Paris, it doesn't get the attention it would if it had been developed in Silicon Valley. We believe Genio is simply a superior product with both its rich feature set and its unique capabilities for meta data and data exchange."
"I think one of Hummingbird's major advantages is the decision very early on by Fred and Barry - it's now in the genetic makeup of Hummingbird ? to see themselves as a global company. This company is truly global in the sense of its workforce, its markets and its approach to technology," says Tobin. "We understand the challenges of managing a global corporation and of deploying a global strategy for our customers."
"Because we have such a strong heritage of thinking globally, we easily address the regional differences presented by global deployment," Litwin states. "Our connectivity products actually already have all of the things to handle the global realities of being multinational built in. That's something most software products today don't automatically have in place."
Hummingbird is aptly living up to its namesake. But unlike the hummingbird that may hover repeatedly over the same flower or spider web, Hummingbird, the company, is taking flight to develop solutions that provide access to business-critical information, structured and unstructured data. The wind from their wings will blow many competitors away!
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