Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Retail Drives Enterprise

Welcome to my first post after leaving the position of Borland’s Chief Technology Officer. Assuming I haven’t been excised from the Borland site you can get a flavor of my thoughts about the tech industry and its impact on Borland’s business at

Why is it that retail technology from Best Buy or online sites is better than what many people have at work?

This is an effect that appeared to have begun in the early 90's. Sometime in the preceding years retail technology began to drive business technology, not the other way around. If there is a canonical example of the old model it is the facsimile machine. It wasn’t until enough businesses bought these that competition drove the price down into the range of the home office user.

Personal computers followed this arc until the early 90s. In the 91-ish timeframe I met with one of the heads of Hewlett Packard’s PC group with me bemoaning the poor design style of their product which we referred to as having a “babyshit brown design center”. We told them we would buy 4000+ Intel boxes if they could come up with some other color – to which the HP manager responded “But how would the users recognize they were computers?”

Since then the major PC vendors have continued the practice of having their “business computer” which is characterized by having lower performance and old components. In exchange for this a business is supposedly buying “stability”. Simultaneously of course the vendor is selling 10x of their retail/home/gaming computers. Buying the business computer is kind of like ordering the special stew at a restaurant – which is clearly made up of this week’s left over entrée ingredients.

So if there is a lesson to be drawn from today’s world is it “Businesses are stupid and consumers are smart”?

On the one hand consumer’s are ruthless adopters of technology to enable their personal lives; Fast PC’s, iPods, nearly free inkjet scanners/printers, photo printers, Tivos, xBoxes, Ultima Online, Ebay, Amazon, Gmail, etc.. They either have the wherewithal to go get Trillian or they just run 3 or 4 different IM’s – doesn’t matter. Alternatively, “business people” burn things off the asset register, use crummy computers handed down from R&D and Sales, to Marketing to G&A. To roll out a new software package takes anywhere from 1 to 3 years to install, migrate and train the users.

Meanwhile those same people go home and on the weekend switch photo sharing services, sell their “Hammer of Thor” in one online gaming environment for enough hard currency to buy the “Cerulean Plasma Rifle” in another, sell some things on Ebay, buy some things in zSHops, transfer their address book from Cingular to T-Mobile, and compare Orbitz, Priceline and Hotwire for vacation deals – personally besting most supercomputers at the traveling salesman problem.

What’s up with that?

The ease of access to information, the accessibility of new computing, networking and storage capabilities in the consumer market, the remote control and intelligent agency of Tivo, Orb Networks, Sling etc. will drive the business systems of tomorrow. Retail technology will continue to be the pace car in setting user expectations for their business capabilities.

“Should you encounter God on your journey” (Borland blog)

As some of you may know this is my last BDN post as a Borland employee. I have completed an 8 year journey that began in May of 1997 when I left my position as Managing Director at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and started a small software company, Bedouin. That ended 16 years on the “buy side” of information technology and began an 8 year trek focusing predominantly on software development productivity. It led to the Starbase acquisition – my running of the StarTeam and CaliberRM business unit to the point that they clearly became integral to Borland’s future. After that came my tenure as CTO working to evolve both Borland’s integrated “ALM” offering and the evolution towards Software Delivery Optimization.

Enough about me, let’s talk about me. It became clear to me early this year that two things had happened. One, the back of my mind was filling up with “mad science experiments” that were clearly outside the bounds of any foreseeable Borland business model. Two, I was no longer in the minority of people in the company at large, nor R&D who understood the needs of the enterprise customer and could align their needs with our product agenda. I was an important part of the team but perhaps somewhat less critical than in prior years.

Likewise, I enjoyed the entrepreneurial experience of Bedouin and it is something I am interested in doing again. So I am off to tease mad science experiments out of the back of my mind into perhaps a few front-of-mind commercial possibilities. To keep track with these I invite you to occasionally check in at

Now let’s talk about Borland. Borland is chock full of engineering talent. We have established the Office of Chief Scientists as a voice for the engineering team that regularly connects with executive management. Here is the one thing you need to know about Borland’s Chief Scientists, they are so smart that their brains have brains. We have a head of engineering for a good part of the ALM products who is A) The best engineering manager I have ever had work for me. B) The best engineering manager I have ever heard of. C) The best engineering manager I could dream up. D) All of the above. (The answer is “D”.)

For Delphi we have Danny, Alan, Eli and others. We have a walking encyclopedia (database?, Diamond Age Ractive?, one-man hive-mind?) of software – David I. He has voluminous knowledge of the past, a canny sense of the present and deep insight to the future. We have systems engineers who make a career of walking around the planet and kicking the heck out of IBM Rational. (SIDENOTE: It is amazing – the acquisitions that Atria – Pure – Rational did – and multiple years into the IBM stewardship customers are confronted with essentially LAN-based products in an exploding world of distributed development.) Our St. Petersberg team is not “offshore, low cost programmers” – they are a legitimate R&D team contributing mightily to the state of the art in tooling for Model Driven Development and Model Driven Architecture. Which reminds me – some of the Togethersoft guys in the United States are treasures; R.S, R.G, D.M, C.K. Who’s going to beat them – Telelogic? Serena VDM? No way.

I could write initials and cute hints for pages about R&D and still not have yet gotten to the relatively new and improved marketing team now in place which is arming a better educated direct-sales force, better than ever.

My management peers? You won’t find better people. They are honest, driven people committed to the success of the company. Does the management team I have been a part of make mistakes? Of course it does – we are unfortunately all too human. Do they castigate themselves; self-critique themselves to a depth greater than any of the outside critics – certainly. What could they do better? Be more ruthless. The products are good – the team is good – the market is huge – go for it guys. Stomp the also-rans like Telelogic and Serena.

My message for the company and friends I leave behind, for the people who I hope will live on in my IM list forever …

“Should you encounter God on your journey, God will be cut."

-Hattori Hanzo, Kill Bill Volume 1