Canadian Comdex exhibitors tackle Web services challenge

LAS VEGAS, NEV. – While hundreds of IT companies vie for attention on the show floor of Comdex Fall 2001, an expatriate Canadian taxi driver is circling the city looking for anyone who will listen to his billion-dollar idea.

Harry Truong will be making a lot of stops at the Las Vegas Convention Center this week, where long lines of weary IT managers and resellers wait for cabs to take them to and from their hotels. Once they’re inside, Truong will likely tell his passengers about his dream: to design cars powered by electricity.

He’s already got business cards printed for the venture, Electric Motorcars Corp., and in a briefcase lying on the seat beside him he proudly shows off a page with the EMotorcar logo. A former system engineer who hails from Montreal, Truong said his project is closer to fruition than many people would believe. “If I had the backing, I could build the car today,” he said, though he plans to offer the reference design as a platform that major manufacturers would use to build vehicles under the own name. “I’d like to get back to Canada, though — maybe Aurora, or Orillia, somewhere like that.”

Though he takes a more unorthodox route in marketing his firm, Truong is joined at this year’s show by a bevy of other Canadian companies seeking similar attention. In most cases, however, the local firms are focused on what looks to be the major theme at this year’s show: the emerging Web services market.

Microsoft Corp. chief software architect Bill Gates got the ball rolling Sunday night when he touted Web services in his opening keynote speech. These are essentially just new ways of manipulating data through Internet-connected servers, but Gates said they promise some of the greatest opportunities in the so-called Digital Decade he believes the industry is heading towards.

“We’re going to see twice the productivity among knowledge workers in this new era than we saw in the last,” he predicted, adding, “We have to move beyond the shallow approaches we’ve taken to digital commerce up until now. And Web services using XML will allow us to do that.”

It was a message that resonated with several Canadian exhibitors, including G+A Electramedia, a Toronto-based software firm that is introducing a subscription-based authentication system called Access Armour. For $10 per person a month, the company will host its customers’ access information and issue software tokens that offer a new password each time a user logs on to their system.

“Static passwords are an antiquated relic that people are holding onto like death,” said Paul Chato, the company’s president. “Microsoft’s Web site was broken into because someone found out the passwords for just a few individuals. What we’re offering is something that was only in the domain of the network administrator, taking it to the rest of the organization.”

Ottawa-based NetCentric, meanwhile, was founded about six years ago but it is making its first public appearance at Comdex Fall, seeking not end users but application service providers (ASPs). The company Monday launched a suite of tools for Java developers and ASPs called IntuitiveJ. These include IntuitiveJ-Generator, designed to create Java applications in one-tenth the time required through existing tools, and IntuitiveJ-ARM, which measures application performance so that ASPs can live up to the guarantees they make in their service contracts. IntuitiveJ-Application Manager, meanwhile, was created to help organize and authorize enterprise environments.

“We’re seeing a big movement to centralize applications on a server to assign rights and services,” said Rustum Tharani, a NetCentric business development executive. “This is a way for them to get there.”

Vendors said Web services are poised for growth in part because they open up productivity and workflow improvements to a wide variety of users. For example Databeacon, also in Ottawa, launched Version 5.2 of its flagship business intelligence and analysis software with a PageEnhancer API aimed at what vice-president of marketing Nathan Rudyk called the “casual business user.” PageEnhancer provides ways of controlling the presentation of online data along with capabilities to add more interactivity. Users could click on an image in a report to select a particular graph style, for instance, or filter information through a drop-down list.

“We’re after the data that needs to be actioned,” Rudyk said. “We’re not talking about deep data – this could be weekly sales figures. There are lots of brokers, sales managers that would like to be able to do more with it, even if they’re not a business analyst that needs that capability.” Rudnyk said the company is attracting customers who are frustrated with the static ways they typically view mission-critical information. Some of these companies choose a more sophisticated business intelligence solution, he said, but the difficulty of the user interfaces in some of these products means that in some cases 40 per cent of the licences are not even used. Databeacon is selling by the CPU, not the seat.

Tharani said Web services may come of age now that the disappointment over the ASP model has died down. “The cost was pretty high, and the bandwidth wasn’t there,” he said. Chato agreed. “It depends on the application,” he said. “If the order of magnitude of what you want to do is so high that the cost is really high, (subscription-based services) are a real possibility for many of these companies.”

Tomorrow: Experts examine IT outsourcing; EDS launches its security strategy

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