By anyone's standards, it's been a tumultuous 12 months for Peter Gyenes, the new chief executive (CEO) of Informix.
In fact, it's now coming up to the anniversary of when he first began negotiations to merge his former data warehouse company, Ardent Software, with database supplier, Informix.
One year on and he's running the whole show, after being hustled into the lead role at Informix and being charged with the unenviable task of turning around a supplier that is getting too used to having obituaries written about it.
"It's around about a year since I sat down with [then Informix CEO] Jean-Yves Dexmier to discuss whether it would look good if the two companies were to merge," he recalls on a flying visit to London this week to rally the Informix troops.
"We had been working together since the summer of 1998 and we knew that there had been some good successes as a result. We had to decide whether it would benefit it us both if we were to come together," he continued.
The decision to merge was taken a couple of months later and in December last year, the two announced their intention to marry their futures. As far as Gyenes is concerned, from that moment on - even though the deal had not formally closed - there was only one company and that was Informix.
Unfortunately that view does not appear to have been replicated in Menlo Park, California, where Informix has its headquarters. As a result, one of the problems that has blighted the supplier in recent months has been its failure to execute the merger of the two companies efficiently.
But it's clear that Gyenes has his own idea of where the blame lies for this. "Ardent was built on acquisitions," he explains. "There was a plan to integrate Ardent and Informix, and it just wasn't executed. There were expectations of synergies that weren't met. A lot of stuff was supposed to happen that just didn't."
"When two companies come together, sometimes you want to take over, sometimes you want to integrate. This was very much a merger and an integration. In that case, the two sides need to be welcoming of one another. It's an important aspect that the new people feel that they are welcome," Gyenes continued.
"In our case, that meant that the Ardent sales people were meant to train and support the Informix sales people. The Informix management team was meant to manage that situation, but it didn't happen. There are no excuses to be made," he added.
That failure cost Dexmier his job, however. The board of directors ousted him after the vendor's apparently recovering financials took a downward turn once more. He had been in the job for less than a year.
Gyenes took over and in a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, has appointed his own people to the top positions within the company, completing what some industry watchers have described as an invisible reverse takeover.
Refocusing the company
And the new Ardent-flavoured Informix looks set to be a very different beast to the old one. For a start, it will be more streamlined. One of Gyenes' top priorities appears to be to eliminate superfluous personnel, infrastructure and product lines.
The most visible manifestations of this policy to date have been his decision to axe 500 staff and restructure the company, cutting an unwieldy five business units down to two operating divisions.
"We needed to change the focus of the company," explained Gyenes. "So, we have a database and a solutions operation. The database operation is about providing the underlying infrastructure, while the solutions operation provides the solutions and applications to meet the needs of customers. That includes things like the Ardent products and the Informix iSell ecommerce products."
But it's likely that some of the company's existing offerings will be terminated. After 20 years, Informix has a somewhat cluttered portfolio and many of its products cost money to develop but produce little or no revenue.
Gyenes is not inclined to name names for the time being, but says that the vendor needs to assess the needs of its installed base to see which products should be stabilised or phased out.
And while he concedes that demand for conventional relational databases is all but dead, he sees plenty of opportunity for Informix's Universal Server object-relational offering because its DataBlade technology can manage unstructured data, including audio, video and text.
Gyenes is also convinced that the company has a winner with its Cloudscape mobile database offerings, which could become a valuable revenue stream if trials with a number of European mobile phone companies deliver the results expected.
Although it is still early days for that market, Cloudscape's technology was already well-respected before Informix bought it. This means it could represent genuine possibilities if the vendor can execute its strategy effectively.
The knack, and how to lose it
But that has been the problem with Informix for some time: its ability to execute. The supplier has a lot of good technology and people, but since its last disastrous adventure into the world of object-relational databases, it has apparently lost the knack of positioning itself or its offerings in a relevant or meaningful way to the rest of the market.
An example of this is its relationship with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications sector, and to market leader SAP in particular.
It is well documented that SAP has become thoroughly irritated with Oracle - its arch rival in the applications space - which provides the backend database for most of its R/3 installations. As a result, SAP has expended much time on finding alternatives.
And the main alternative was initially Informix until the company's confused database strategy during the late 1990s cost it that position in favour of IBM's DB2, Microsoft's SQL Server and even that old faithful of the database market, Software AG's Adabas.
Gyenes concedes that there is some truth in this assessment, but argues that the way back into the ERP camp may be less through the database and more though the data analysis capabilities that Ardent's technology provides.
This is an interesting argument: most ERP vendors are unable to offer tools that provide the level of analysis required by the new breed of ebusiness-enabled users. But again the question has to be, why would they turn to Informix? "We need to convince them," says Gyenes simply.
Equally intriguing is his idea that Informix should produce database-independent packages. This raises the interesting possibility of an Oracle-only customer buying the iSell ecommerce application bundle from Informix and running it on top of an Oracle database. But it could happen, insists Gyenes.
"There would be an Informix database in there, but the IT manager wouldn't recognise it was there or need to worry about it," he says. "The customer would still be an Oracle customer."
Oracle would know though, of course, and it seems more than likely that it would be unable to tolerate such an intrusion onto its turf.
Gyenes shrugs. "Larry Ellison doesn't run everything," he says. Quite who's going to tell Ellison that remains to be seen, but for the moment, Gyenes is focusing his attention on shoring up Informix's sales and marketing strategies.
The sales team will be rejigged, with some staff focusing on individual customer accounts - big Informix-centric shops in the main - and others concentrating on product areas. The latter group will be expected to support the former.
Marketing, meanwhile, will be farmed out to different localities worldwide, avoiding the folly of so-called centralised global marketing - for which read Californian-marketing - adopted by Oracle.
The end for Park life
But perhaps the biggest sign of the new world order at Informix is the closure of its Menlo Park headquarters.
The move is not, however, as radical as some of the Silicon Valley press have made out, insists Gyenes. The company will keep its offices in Palo Alto and Oakland, but corporate headquarters will move to Massachussetts, the former home of Ardent Software. And that's where the power will be.
Gyenes clearly knows he has a big job on his hands. He is ready to concede that mistakes have been made, an admission made easier by the fact that it was another management team that made them. But he insists that Informix still commands brand equity and still has a role to play.
"We are a database company with 20 years of history and thousands of customers who are happy with what we do," he argues. But he admits: "Some of them would be a lot happier if we did it better."
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