Performance ISN'T Everything

You all remember Red Brick Systems, the upstart relational database software company tucked away in the woods of Los Gatos, California--the company that made headlines with the slogan "Performance is Everything." Although you probably haven't looked at them for a couple of years, maybe it's time you take a second look. While Red Brick hasn't exactly buried its well-known slogan, the company's newly articulated strategy certainly suggests that maybe there are other criteria you ought to consider in addition to performance.

In these days of hype and superhype, Red Brick has been something of an anomaly. The company's major competitors are IBM, Microsoft and Oracle (in alphabetical order), unquestionably the three greatest marketers in the IT business. While the competition has loudly touted its products and images from any handy rooftop, Red Brick, a techy company, has been quietly peddling its wares to power users, where performance is certainly one of the most important system criteria.

For the most part, Red Brick has lived up to its slogan. Not long ago, yours truly had an opportunity to interview several of Red Brick's customers and business partners. Collectively, these folks confirmed Red Brick's promise; namely, that Red Brick's software ran rings around the competition on a number of performance challenges. Nevertheless, Red Brick has learned (the hard way) that in the computer industry technology and success rarely equate. Since it went public a couple of years ago, the company's growth rate has fallen off a bit, profits have diminished and the value of its stock has fallen precipitously. Clearly, a new strategy is called for.

Fortunately (we hope in time), management has begun to respond to the realities of the marketplace. While we haven't seen any new slogans yet, Red Brick's new strategy calls for it to be positioned as an enabler of decision support through partnerships with other players. What, you may ask, does that mean? Sound familiar? Sound like a message you've heard from a little company in Redmond, WA, and a big company in Westchester, NY? Why not? If it works for them, maybe it'll work for Red Brick.

What it means to us is "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." And that's a strategy that makes sense for a company that will never muster a marketing budget the size of IBM's, Microsoft's or Oracle's. Essentially, Red Brick wants to supply the data warehouse engine and closely associated components such that it and its partners can provide "out-of-the-box" solutions to people who want to implement decision support systems that work.

Red Brick is in a unique position to capitalize on this particular strategy, even though the strategy itself is hardly unique. The fact is that many developers, integrators, VARs and other assorted companies that sell solutions don't like doing business with the likes of a Microsoft or Oracle, which are often characterized as arrogant and even uncaring at times toward their business partners. Their partnering approach can often be characterized as "take-it-or-leave-it," and the quality of the support they provide to other than their largest partners sometimes tends to be less than excellent.

Those of you who are Red Brick's current or "wannabe" customers have no cause for alarm. The company intends to maintain its direct customer sales and service organization and will continue to provide as much direct technical support as its customers need.

Thus, Red Brick has an opportunity to carve out a sizable niche for itself if it indeed does what it takes to make its partners successful. The plan, as we understand it, is for Red Brick to work with its partners every step of the way in the implementation of a data warehouse/decision support system. In other words, to ensure that its partners have everything necessary to implement the easiest to use, most cost-effective and high-performance solutions for their customers. If Red Brick can pull this off, it just might become one of the most popular companies on the block.

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