Info a constant need but delivery changes: Cohen

In the 25 years since he co-founded Information Builders Inc (IBI), Gerry Cohen has witnessed multiple generations of computing and massive changes in the information technology industry. But one thing hasn't changed, he says: people continue to have a "constant need for information". Only the way in which it's delivered is different. Computerworld's Thomas Hoffman sat down with Cohen at the company's annual user conference to talk about some of the changes he has seen and about how Information Builders expects to play a role in the world of ubiquitous computing, including its forthcoming rollout of new enterprise integration software.

CW: Your company has been rooted in New York for the past 25 years. How much of a challenge is it to keep your people from being snapped up by dotcoms and other Silicon Alley start-ups?

Cohen: It works both ways. We've lost some people to the dotcoms, but we've gained some, too. It's probably a net loss (in staffing) this year, but it works out in the end.

CW: Given IBI's strengths in middleware and data management tools, what role do you see the company playing in helping to support your customers' wireless computing requirements?

Cohen: There's a constant need for information. The only thing that's changed is how it's being delivered. The PC is no longer the only way to get information. We have products out now that'll send information by paper or e-mail or wireless devices. You need middleware to get access to that legacy data, and I think we're very well positioned to provide that to customers.

CW: Tell us about Integration Works (a new set of software integration products that IBI plans to launch on June 20).

Cohen: It's really a re-branding of a lot of different products. People tend to think of middleware too narrowly. People say we compete with IBM because they're also in middleware. That's dopey. Here's an example of some of the things our new products will be able to do. Say a company wants to pull out a customer credit rating and send it to someone in one of its business units. Our software can get that data from a [mainframe] database and put it in XML [for someone to access over the Internet].

CW: Give us another example of some of the new functionality that Integration Works will deliver.

Cohen: We're talking about where you put your business logic. We've developed a Java engine where customers can use their own JavaBeans, and we can provide end-to-end integration (enabling users to access legacy data from corporate mainframes with their handheld devices).

CW: So where do you see Information Builders five years from now?

Cohen: Five years from now? That's like 20 cyberyears! I don't know. We'd like to be a more visible company . . . we'd like to get more respect. We've got customers doing really important things with our products. For example, Focus (a 4GL) is used to cut 80 per cent of the US government's pay cheques. There are a lot of levels where people are not aware of us.

CW: How come your company has never gone public?

Cohen: Everything you do is subject to public scrutiny. We still may go public. You never know.

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