Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Tibco's CTO Matt Quinn: "I'd Do This Job For Free"

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 28, 2011

(I'm in Las Vegas this week attending Tibco's user conference. Tibco is a founding sponsor of SVW and has been a strong supporter of my work for many years.)

Tibco Software is an interesting company, it is doing extremely well, it's on track to report nearly $1 billion in revenues this year. Its software helps enterprises integrate their IT systems, analyze data in real-time, and deploy social business software. It's a complex mix of many important technologies central to the core of very large businesses in financial services, telecoms, energy, retailing, and more.

Yet few people in Silicon Valley have heard of Tibco, even though it's located right at the heart of the valley, next to Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, and its founder and CEO Vivek Ranadivé has been here for more than three decades and is well connected with its top movers and shakers.

Fortunately, that lack of local visibility doesn't matter because it's known in the places that matter, among the IT leaders at some of the world's largest companies.

The annual user conference is an incredibly busy week for Tibco, with some of its largest customers in town. But I managed to grab some time with Matthew Quinn, CTO at Tibco.

He has a tough job, one that requires a coherent vision that unifies an expanding catalog of technologies, adapting for cloud IT architectures, and developing new applications such as Tibco's rapidly growing Tibbr social messaging for the enterprise.

Here are some notes from our meeting:

- We've been focused on three things: the rise of the platform, business analytics, and collaboration.

- We've talked for many years about delivering the right information to the right person at the right time and today that means developing for mobile phones. It's amazing how much processing power phones now have and that means we can develop sophisticated mobile IT applications. Corporations are now less concerned about some of the issues they used to have around mobile apps.

- Plus, browsers become very powerful. We recently ran some tests using HTML5 and I was blown away by the performance of some apps in the browser, the performance was within 25% to 30% of what you'd expect from a native app. That's a huge improvement and that's why enterprises are very focused on mobile apps these days.

- HTML5 is going to be very important because it will enable powerful enterprise apps. But we are agnostic when it comes to which technologies we use. For example, a few years ago I wouldn't have believed that we would develop Tibbr totally in Ruby on Rails. Languages and development tools have become very powerful and usable -- you don't have to be n expert to use them.

- Our customers are also becoming more agnostic in terms of which technologies they will use. They used to stick to what they know, the skills they have in-house, now they do that less and instead, they talk about what they want to do. That's much better because there's some very powerful new tools and technologies, you can use whatever is best for specific job.

- For mobile, we have a strategy will create native apps when we want to take advantage of a phone's built-in functions. But we will also create web apps that run int the browser. Increasingly, we like to use a hybrid strategy, whch makes use of an app that acts as a shell, separating key functions such as security, but with the core being browser based for cross-platform advantages.

- Browsers still have their own idiosyncrasies and that won't change but it's not as much of a problem as it used to be because the differences are now well known and we can plan for them.

- When you are agnostic about the technologies used, such as language, etc, you can then concentrate on more important questions such as 'am I delivering the right data?' Rather than how do I move this pixel from here to there. It's about focusing on the functionality rather than the vehicle that gets you there.

- Vivek (the CEO) says that the 21st century didn't happen at the same time for everyone, so there are still quite a lot of companies that need to change and become more agile in their use of technologies. The technologies have been around for a while but not everyone has figured out how to use them best. For example, corporations have had mobile phones for many years but they only used them as phones. Now they are realizing that they can and should use them for so much more.

- Enterprises used to be concerned about using smart phones and notebooks because what happens if they are lost or stolen? Now, with the cloud, loss is no longer an issue because the data is protected, and that's made a big difference in how enterprises view mobile phones, tablets, etc.

- Consumer tech is very powerful. Most people have more computers and access to cutting edge applications in the home than at work. Things like downloading and buying an app for $1.99 is having an effect on the enterprise where people want the same type of freedom and access.

- Smart phones now have duo-core chips in them and that makes them suitable for sophisticated IT applications. And increasingly, they are taking the place of PCs where people use them to take notes, and perform key tasks rather than their desktop PCs, because it is always with them.

- There's a lot of news about patent wars but patents aren't much of an issue in what we do. We are keeping an eye on the patent wars and we have our own patents for protection. But I don't want my engineers worrying about patents, I want them to be productive and to focus on innovation. Also, I feel we are usually so far ahead of competitors that patents are not an issue in our work.

- Companies in developing countries can often move faster with new technologies because they don't have the legacy infrastructure of older technologies, and there are fewer government rules and regulations about what they want to do. For example, a customer in Kenya rolled out an innovative mobile payments system. It probably couldn't be done in the US, or take far longer because of banking regulations in each state.

- Companies in the developing world will often choose the latest technologies because they know they will have to live with their systems for ten years or more, so you don't choose a ten year old technology. Also, their people get educated and develop expertise in the latest technologies, which helps build a valuable workforce.

- Vivek's latest book "The Two-Second Advantage" is about having an edge over competitors. But it's only an advantage if you can make decisions quickly. We often talk with customers about what decisions can be made when you don't have all the data. Can you make a good decision when you only have 80% of the data? How much time does it take to make a decision? It's not an easy answer and it changes from company to company.

- If you have to deliver product to another location and your truck takes two hours to get there, when do you decide what should be on the truck? Should you load more rather than less? Is the product perishable? There are decisions that can be automated but there are many that require a human operator. Humans are good at pattern analysis and using their experience to make the right decision. Tibbr, for example, helps the human operator because it can be used as a collaborative tool for decision making, where several people can confer in real time.

- Tibbr does great job in connecting a company's human capital -- it's most important resource. Tibbr also helps companies change their culture, it's interesting seeing how collaboration improves a business.

- [Earlier this year there was speculation that Hewlett-Packard was looking to acquire Tibco.] By being independent we can be more agile and entrepreneurial, we can develop new technologies and services more quickly than at a larger organization. Tibbr is a good example of that agility.

- Tibco engineers are encouraged to come up with ideas and work on new apps but there is no formal 20% of your time on new projects, as Google does. If engineers are passionate about an idea and put their sweat equity into a project, we will develop it further. It's how we've developed some key products.

- Some problems are not solvable with the technologies we have. But that can change. We've managed to make use of work on projects that we shelved a few years ago because the technologies weren't capable back then. We learn and profit from failed projects.

- There is a lot of competition for skilled engineers but the shortage hasn't affected us. We've always had good retention rates because we have interesting projects. Silicon Valley attracts highly talented people, they come here because they want to prove themselves. It's the reason I came here from Australia.

- Specialists are good to have but increasingly I am paying more attention to people that have a broader range of skills. For example, a software engineer that has also worked in marketing or product management, and developed business models. These days it's not the technology that's important but the innovation you can create, it's about developing the right mix of functions and business models. People with those skills can be more valuable than an expert that knows one thing well.

- The rise of the platform has affected Tibco's strategy, we are making it possible for others to develop on the Tibco platform. But you aren't a platform simply by announcing you are a platform -- you are only a platform if others call you a platform.

- You are a platform when you see people developing applications that you hadn't expected. We've seen customers create amazing applications on the Tibco platform that we had no idea they could do that.

- Some apps are increasingly disposable, the mantra is to build quickly and drop it if it doesn't work. If it takes a year to develop a custom IT infrastructure for an app you probably shouldn't do it. If you are agnostic about the technologies you use you can move much faster.

- Consumer technologies have had a big influence on the enterprise, there's much talk about how companies are adopting a Facebook type look and feel to apps and services, and copying the look of other consumer technologies. But that's only true to a degree, the influence of consumer tech on the enterprise is not as large as people imagine.

- The recent changes in Facebook, such as the real-time frictionless sharing, is unlikely to be used internally by corporations because of security and government regulations.

- I've got a great job, I get to work with amazing technologies and people on important problems. I'd do this job for free, I'm very lucky.


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