We three CEOs

NEW YORK — Despite a two-year slump in sales and a recognition that the rebound is likely to be slow, three Canadian companies at CIBC’s Enterprise and EBusiness Software Conference say they are

holding their own.

Platform Computing Inc., Open Text Corp. and Cognos Inc. were just a few of the firms that discussed their attempts to reduce costs and ride out the storm. Those that survive, the optimists said, will be stronger and will face fewer competitors. “”We recognized that it’s a tough economy early on,”” said Open Text CFO Alan Hoverd. “”Obviously companies are trying to control the things that they can control.””

Platform Powers the Grid

Robert Gordon, the CEO of Toronto-based Platform Computing Inc. said that a strong backlog of orders positions it for growth after a flat fiscal 2002, which ended last week. The company, Gordon said, is beginning to gain recognition as a result of publicity generated by IBM’s embrace of grid computing last year.

Grid computing aims to increase IT department productivity by harnessing the CPUs of under-utilized or idle servers and even individual PCs.

“”Everybody who boots up an application has access to probably the most powerful supercomputer ever, depending on the company,”” Gordon said.

The main challenge to grid computing is prioritizing tasks by creating rules enabling the desired applications to gain access to CPU power first, Gordon said. A second challenge is getting a handle on the organization’s assets. Grid computing is proportionately more effective as more of an enterprise’s CPUs participate. However, many IT departments simply don’t know what equipment has seeped into the organization over the years. Since grid computing requires software on each participating machine, those lost PCs and servers are off the grid.

The hardest part, however, is that grid computing represents a sea of change in how an IT department operates: The IT department becomes something of a service provider operation. “”Our biggest competitor is change management,”” Gordon said.

Open Text Fosters Collaboration

Waterloo, Ontario-based Open Text Corp. writes software that allows people to collaborate over the Internet. CEO Thomas Jenkins said the company — which Tuesday announced a deal with Britannia Airways for a cable crew briefing system based on Livelink— attributes its success to the prudence of using collaborative tools.

The past year has brought the largest layoff of knowledge workers in the history of the still-young field. This, said Jenkins, was a wake-up call that work should be done efficiently. Secondly, the baby boomer generation is approaching retirement age and will take much company intelligence with them when they leave. This is pushing companies to create as complete a repository of their knowledge as possible. Finally, the Internet and other mobile technologies means that corporate intelligence is increasingly diffuse. It is only sensible, then, to make remote collaboration as efficient as possible, he said.

While Jenkins didn’t suggest that personal meetings can be entirely replaced, the company is aiming to replace repetitive (i.e., weekly) physical meetings with Web-based versions. This is the thinking behind the company’s newest product, MeetingZone, which is now in pilots. The target, Jenkins said, is for Meeting Zone to replace the predecessor product, Livelink. The economy makes it difficult to say when this will happen. “”It’s a crapshoot going forward,”” he said.

A key strategy, Jenkins said, will be to tailor the software to vertical markets. The advantage, he said, is that about 98 per cent of the code is generic. The remaining two per cent mostly focuses on industry-specific nomenclature. Despite the modesty of the changes, the customization enables the $100 cost per seat the company typically charges for generic product to be tripled or quadrupled. The initial verticals are financial services, pharmaceuticals, government, construction, program management, oil and gas and media.

Cognos Syncs Execs, Workers

Cognos, meanwhile, told the conference it had signed a deal for a financial planning, budgeting, forecasting and consolidation software with Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Wednesday.

The company does about 66 per cent of its business in North America, 28 per cent in Europe and six per cent in Asia. Business, said CEO Ron Zambonini, has stabilized, though not improved, in North America. “”Five quarters ago it was a shock,”” he said. “”It was like someone turned the lights out.”” Now, he said, companies are buying—but the level of scrutiny of each sale is extremely high.

Cognos’ goal, Zambonini said, is to align company’s strategic goals—the aims that are developed by CEOs and other upper echelon executives—with the actual things that happen at all levels on an everyday basis. The company does this by a complex system of reporting which can produce a report card—called knowledge performance indicators—for every worker indicating how closely he or she is fulfilling company goals.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

New York correspondent Carl Weinschenk most recently covered the Supercomm conference for ITBusiness.ca

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