A lot of aspersions have been cast in these pages (CI No 1,917) and elsewhere about the troubles that appear to be bubbling away in the Ask Companies. President and founder of Ask Computer Systems Inc, Sandra Kurtzig, was recently in the UK and put time aside to lay some of these poltergeists to rest. […]
A lot of aspersions have been cast in these pages (CI No 1,917) and elsewhere about the troubles that appear to be bubbling away in the Ask Companies. President and founder of Ask Computer Systems Inc, Sandra Kurtzig, was recently in the UK and put time aside to lay some of these poltergeists to rest. But first let us remind ourselves why Ask bought Ingres in the first place. Ask had a mature product set, and was buying Ingres at the beginning of the lifecycle of several new products – Windows4GL, Ingres 6.4 and Ingres/Vision. The Ask products helped fund the growth of Ingres over the past 18 months and Ask now expects to lean on Ingres while bringing its Unix products to market.
Secondly Ask was not an international company: prior to the acquisition of Ingres 85% of its business came from the US. Now 55% of its business is in the US and and 45% is derived from international markets. Thirdly Ask perceived the database and tools markets to be high growth markets which Ms Kurtzig is convinced they still are – she attributes the poor performances of many database vendors over the past 18 months to shoddy business practices. Fourthly, she was convinced, and still is, that Ingres has some of the best engineers in the business despite the flight of Marty Sprinzen with key Windows4GL developers shortly after the merger was accomplished (CI No 1,623). And lastly $110m looked a good price for the company at the time and remains so in retrospect as the database company’s share price had dropped. The Hewlett-Packard Co-Electronic Data Systems Corp backing gave Ask $75m to play with but the most the company ended up borrowing was $42m and at the end of the current quarter Ask expects debt to be no more than $2m and possibly nothing. When Ms Kurtzig acquired Ingres, it was running business with 212 days outstanding for payments, whereas Ask was running a very tight operation with a 25 day average turnround for payment. The Ask Companies now average a 97 day turnround – evidence that a stronger business hand is in control. This all looks healthy enough financially and the deal appears to be making business sense, but doubts keep bubbling up about the technical direction Ask is taking. For example, the main reason given for the acquisition 18 months ago was to provide Ask with tool technology to aid the development of the next generation ManMan products, known as the Advance product set. Expected shipping date for these products is now running more than a year behind (CI No 1,917) although Ms Kurtzig says the first module will now be launched in the autumn. Speculation that the Advance project was in trouble was stoked by leaks that Unix manufacturing software specialist Baan International NV of Ede, Holland was contributing technology. Ms Kurtzig explains that Ingres remains the core technology both for the Unix versions of ManMan and for the Advance product set. The partnership with Baan is enabling Ask to develop some forecasting products for ManMan on Unix that are based on Ingres. She sees the future development of Ask’s manufacturing products in two distinct views. One spots a trend towards Unix that is not yet served by ManMan – in this area customers want the traditional ManMan functionality, but they want it under Unix. It is in this area that Ask is forging deals with small software companies to ensure that the Ingres Unix product serves the traditional customer base. For example, there is a requirement here to access the IDMS report generator and so Ask signed a deal with Interactive System Software for its bi-directional report writer UDMS to support ManMan.
By Katy Ring
Ms Kurtzig’s second view of the manufacturing products sees a time when customers will require distributed database support and this is the direction the Advance products are heading in, using the Ingres Star technology. A lot of this development is still in the research and development stages and this seems to be the area where there is some slowing of intent. What is not clear is whether technically speaking the whole project has
bitten off more than it can chew or whether customers simply aren’t ready for this kind of stuff and, therefore, there is no hurry for it anyway. Another little puzzle that has intrigued the industry is the odd way that Ingres handled leaks from Digital Equipment Corp concerning the annulment of the deal whereby DEC bundles Ingres as Ultrix/SQL with the Ultrix operating system. On the whole, it seemed likely that Ask had more to gain from this annulment than DEC and yet the story came out that DEC had given Ingres the elbow. Ms Kurtzig explains that the bundling agreement was signed prior to Ask buying the company and that Ask has, for some time, wanted to unbundle the database. For, on the Ask side, salesmen weren’t motivated to sell on Ultrix as it gave them no commission and the company no revenue. From DEC’s point of view, service and support had to come from Ingres and Ingres staff dealt with paying customers first. So negotiations began to unbundle the database and this will happen on June 30 (the original contract ran to June 1993). Ms Kurtzig clearly did not want to add fuel to the fire on this issue but did comment that as nowadays software drives hardware sales, she was a little surprised at the way DEC handled the situation in the press. Indeed, but then just as surprising was the way Ingres staff contradicted each other in statements to the press. Suffice it to say that 41% of Ingres business is in the VMS world and the whole issue is a little tender. The DEC negotiations are just the latest round in the renegotiation of the Ingres database with close hardware partners. In the UK Ingres exclusivity is now taboo at ICL although the two continue to have a close working relationship. Less well known is the fact that Compagnie des Machines Bull SA and Ing C Olivetti & Co SpA, which have hitherto proved fairly staunch Oracle Corp allies, have recently signed up for sales and support deals with Ingres. So what does the future hold for Ingres in this ever changing industry? Currently, the company is undergoing a restructuring, full details of which are not yet public. What is clear, however, is that the desktop environment will have a much higher profile in the new look Ingres with Asa Lanam coming over from Sun Microsystems Inc to head up both new desktop tool and server groups.
OS/2 and NT
Currently Windows4GL runs under Windows 3.0 but work is under way to convert the Ingres database and tools for OS/2 and for Microsoft Corp’s NT. Ingres is also considering a bigger move into the software engineering world – it did have an exclusive deal with Cadre Systems Inc, but discovered that customers had needs not served by one software engineering product and so has decided to negotiate deals with a range of CASE vendors. Cadre remains a partner, Westmount Technology BV of Delft, the Netherlands, has just been signed as another partner and two further deals have been signed but are not yet public. Five other software engineering tools vendors are in talks. The future direction seems to be an Ingres open CASE strategy built round its Windows4GL technology. The idea being that the Vision dictionary information can be put into the data dictionaries of the various partners and from there moved into their tools. As future moves both this and entry into the desktop world seem laudable if late. Ingres is now in order financially, but has the energy absorbed in the merger with Ask cost it dear in its time to market with its next of generation products? That’s a spectre only time can put to rest.