Once upon a time, independent DBMS vendors were the darlings of the investment world, an anathema to entrenched flat filers and evangelists for relational technology which, one must admit, has certainly changed a lot of things in cyberland over the last decade. To say that 1998 has not been kind to these independents is a bit like warning the Titanic of approaching ice. And, standing in the wings is our friend from Redmond ­ ready, willing and able to pour salt into wounds. One of the leading independent DBMS vendors, Sybase, has just begun the process of reinventing itself. Its first step in this direction was to reorganize the company into four new business units, a move announced just a few weeks ago. They are: Enterprise Solutions, Mobile/Embedded Computing, Internet Applications and Business Intelligence ­ the latter being the raison d'etre of this column! Note that not one of the new business units says anything about database management, although if one looks under the covers, one will find it as a common thread.

The implications of this new strategy for Sybase, its customers, prospects and shareholders is extraordinarily significant. Sybase is undergoing nothing less than the process of transforming itself from a company that specializes in technology infrastructure to a solutions vendor. Over the past eighteen months or so, the word "solutions" has been tattooed on the foreheads and nether parts of nine out of ten IT salespersons. Nonetheless, that tack hasn't worked very well for most companies who are trying it. It's hard to reform old ITers.

Sybase is betting its future on its ability to pull off the "solution sell." The company will retain its existing sales force, which will focus on the existing customer base and large enterprises, but will use marketing partners to reach the rest of the population. Sybase's ability to supply decision support from any place that data is resident is inherent to its new strategy. That means that data residing in databases managed by competitors' systems is fair game! Egad! John Chen (Sybase's new CEO) may soon become Larry Ellison's closest personal friend!!!

The Business Intelligence Division will be organized around vertical industry sectors. Eight key sectors have been identified so far. The first four, ready to go as this is being written, are retail banking, insurance, commercial banking and telecommunications. The next four, which will be implemented later, are distribution, manufacturing, retail and healthcare.

Sybase's concept is to create "templates" for each of these industry sectors. Each template contains data models for applications specific to an industry that are based on a common technology framework. For example, data models for risk management and customer relationship management might be constructed for the banking sector, while fraud detection and traffic analysis would be appropriate for the telecom sector. Sybase's objective is to have these models provide 80 percent of the solution, recognizing that some customization will have to be done for each specific customer environment.

One of the cornerstones of Sybase's plan of attack is to make it possible to integrate models across industry sectors, given the common technology base. For example, if an insurance company acquires a healthcare firm, then the models for both segments can be integrated because the technology framework is common to both.

Sybase will, of course, attempt to get whatever leverage it can out of its current stable of data warehousing products which bear the umbrella designation Warehouse Studio. This package of infrastructure software currently includes Adaptive Server IQ, PowerStage, Meta Data Manager, English Wizard or English Language Query, Warehouse Architect and Warehouse Control Center. These and others to come will provide the foundation technology for constructing the templates and models for the vertical market solutions.

Sybase has joined the growing number of IT vendors that have come to realize that it is increasingly difficult to make money on infrastructure and are moving up the food chain seeking the higher value-added opportunities that arise in a rapidly expanding market environment. Such a change requires vision coupled with the guts needed to back up the vision. I wish them well.

The trend signaled by Sybase's transformation is producing a win/win situation for organizations that are primed to take advantage of business intelligence. The range of practical choices is expanding rapidly; costs are decreasing ­ at least on a per user basis; the quality and robustness of the alternatives is improving; and the time it takes to get to operational status is decreasing. In short, better solutions for more end users at less cost. Our forecast for a $113 billion database solutions market by 2002 may turn out to be conservative!

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