Software AG is attempting to reinvent itself by targeting its new Bolero Java-based development environment and Odyssey object/relational database at the electronic commerce market.
The German software supplier has traditionally sold its existing core products, the Adabas database and Natural fourth generation language (4GL), into the conservative IBM mainframe base, but is now trying to break into new markets after years of stagnant growth.
As a result, it will launch an eight-month worldwide marketing and advertising campaign in May to try to improve its image and clarify its new technology and brand name.
But to mark a final break with its conservative past, the company also hopes to go public on the Nasdaq and German stock exchanges during the first half of next year. It wants to generate capital to help it grow by acquisition and to build up the third party channels it needs to sell its new products.
Erwin Koenigs, Software AG's chairman and chief executive, said: "As part of our three-year plan, last year we achieved a financial turnaround. A more important step this year is technical innovation. We're entering new markets and going after new customers with Bolero. The last step is going public in 1999 and getting the resources for high growth from the stock market."
Bolero - which stands for Business-Oriented Language Environment - is written in 100% Pure Java and is targeted at users and ISVs wanting to build applications for the business-to-business ecommerce market.
Software AG will also position the shrinkwrapped product as a means of integrating legacy applictions with new Web-based packages, and also integrating mainframe applications with Windows NT-based packages. As a result, it will formally launch the offering under the tag line of 'We integrate IT' at the Cebit show in Hanover next month.
Helmut Wilke, a member of Software AG's executive board, explained: "This is the biggest software initiative in the 1990s for Software AG and we're betting a major part of the growth of the company on Bolero. It will be sold to existing and new customers, and works with Adabas and Natural, but also other environments. It's a standalone product, so it will address new accounts head-on."
Bolero, which is due to ship in October, has taken a year to write from the ground up by a newly hired team of 50 development staff - out of a total team of 400 - and runs on Windows NT only, although applications can be deployed on any operating system that includes a Java Virtual Machine (JVM).
The Bolero language itself, although written in Java, is proprietary and includes extensions for persistence or database access, transactions and internationalisation, areas, according to Software AG, that Java itself is weak in.
Other supplementary features include long transactions, which enable users to model business processes and take compensatory action if things go wrong. Users can also choose DCom, Java Beans or Javasoft's Remote Method Invocation (RMI) protocol as the means of enabling Bolero components to talk to each other or to third party Java applets, Beans or COM components.
Developers store the Bolero sourcecode in an internally developed team-based repository, and retrieve it at runtime for compilation into Java byte code. The byte code runs on a JVM with the help of Java execution classes based on version 1.2 of the Java Developers' Kit, but the additional functionality is dealt with by a separate Bolero application server. This also runs on top of the JVM.
However, Bolero will not include IIOP support until version 2.0, scheduled to ship by March next year, although this functionality may appear in an interim release if demand warrants it.
In the meantime, users can hook into the Corba world using Software AG's DCom-based EntireX middleware, which also enables them to wrap their existing legacy applications to enable them to communicate with Bolero packages.
But Software AG has not decided yet whether to make the Bolero repository a standalone one or not, although it will beef up the services it offers in future releases. It also intends to use it to integrate future members of the Bolero family, but will not retrofit its existing products because it would cost too much for little return from a sales point of view.
Bolero will cost $5,000 per developer seat and include a deployment fee of roughly the same for the application server, depending on the platform it runs on. The company is also considering submitting the product to the Object Management Group (OMG) as a potential standard for Java-based team development, but has neither informed Sun of the move or has any intentions of doing so, something that could cause conflict between the two vendors.
The next stage in Software AG's technological reinvention of itself will come in the shape of Project Odyssey, which will be positioned as an ecommerce database. The product, which is due to ship early next year, has also been written from scratch by a team of 30 that is soon to be increased to 52.
The object/relational database will include support for unstructured data such as video, graphics, audio and text and Koenigs hopes the offerng will propel it into a strong position in a market that has yet to take off.
"According to analysts, there will be no clear leaders in this field for three to five years and there is a chance for new players to come in as they did in the move from hierarchical to relational databases," he said. "Products from the established players won't work as well as ours because they don't process binary large objects well and you can't do it properly unless you rewrite the database to be large binary field-oriented."
To make its task easier, the company is looking at acquiring small to medium-sized technology companies and vertical market players. It is already in discussions with a couple of potential candidates, which have both a US and European presence, but is likely to strike a cooperation deal first to see how the relationship works.
Such a purchase is unlikely to take place before flotation, however, something that Koenings hopes will happen in the first half of next year, if the firm's financial performance is good enough.
The aim is to raise enough capital for the acquisitions and also to build up the necessary infrastructure and channels to market to ensure double digit growth. Examples of potential purchases include organisations selling application templates, particularly in vertical markets such as finance, telecomms and manufacturing, where Software AG intends to focus its attention in future.
As for new channels to market, the firm plans to make a several pronged attack. It will build on its direct sales team to service large accounts, but is also setting up account teams to sell exclusively to new customers.
A team of four staff has already been set up in Germany and the UK respectively to sell the company's EntireX middleware, which started shipping in November, and they will also sell Bolero when it becomes available in October.
Elsewhere, the UK and Germany has hired new channel management staff and plans to start recruiting a Var channel to sell the firm's Adabas D workgroup database, which will no longer be sold direct. Bolero will follow Adabas D into this channel when it ships, and Software AG will also attempt to recruit systems integrators to push the product and ensure sales are not held back by the firm's own lack of services based personnel.
Finally, the company is setting up a four-person Swat team at its German headquarters to try and woo such leading ISVs as SAP into taking on or endorsing Bolero. The team will come up with special incentives and will tailor the marketing messages for this community, but will also target small up-and-coming organisations with a special interest in either Java or ecommerce.
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