Shaking and moving in IT world
From NZ Herald, September 15, 2010
Seismic upheavals in a technological sense are part of the DNA of Christchurch's Jade Software, and the geological shake-around is now just part of the company's rich history.
"The backup power came on and we didn't miss a beat," says Jade's chief innovation officer, John Ascroft, about the earthquake.
That's important for many of the New Zealanders paid through Jade's payroll system, or whose business applications run on its data centres in Christchurch and Auckland.
Jade started almost 30 years ago when programmers Gil Simpson and Peter Hoskins wrote a language called LINC to simplify development of programs for a Burroughs mainframe computer.
It was so good Burroughs (now Unisys) started selling it to other customers, and the developers set up a development centre in Christchurch.
Fast forward to 1996, and Simpson recognised mainframe computers were on their way out. He developed Jade as a software development and deployment platform which would, he said, allow mainframe computing on the PC.
Simpson is gone as a director, but the company continues to innovate.
It has had big successes, but it almost went broke a few years ago and its history contains a wealth of lessons good and bad for other technology companies to learn from.
I sat down recently with Ascroft and managing director Craig Richardson, who joined the company less than a year ago, to find out what the future holds.
While Jade comes up with great technology, it's hard to sell pure technology out of New Zealand.
Over the years Jade has tried several ways to do it, usually involving developing an application to solve a particular customer's problem then trying to make a product out of it.
That carries the risk of having to devote more and more resources into understanding the needs of a particular industry or sector without having big enough customers willing to pay for the development.
That can be managed by spinning off separate applications companies, or entering partnerships, but it all takes effort.
Richardson says when he came into the business there were at least 12 verticals demanding resources. "The intent is to narrow that down."
There are three core strands.
The payroll business is strong on both sides of the Tasman. It's a steady earner without being showy.
Three years ago Jade bought a Wellington company, Methodware, which had a product for managing governance risk and compliance which had 2000 customers in North America and Europe. Jade has been rebuilding Methodware in .NET, adding features and building up services around it.
The third strand is the core Jade software, the object-oriented database and associated tools that give developers a different way of solving complex business problems than can be done on relational databases such as Oracle or SQL Server.
Richardson says he has tried to work out where Jade works best, or can find a natural fit.
He has come up with logistics, investigations and intelligence, financial services and a new generation development tool, JOOB, for the Microsoft .NET environment.
Jade's logistics packages manage marine terminals and rail systems.
It's now deploying software into ports in Iraq and Italy, and a package it developed to keep freight deliveries around Britain from clashing with passenger services is now being rolled out through Europe because of Deutsche Bahn AG's acquisition of English Welsh & Scottish Railway.
A case management tool called Investigator, built for the Australian federal police, is now used by police, customs, government agencies and companies in almost 30 countries. Last month it won Technology New Zealand funding so it could be developed further.
"The other part of the business is in high volume, low latency enterprise businesses that are under pain where we think we can a solve problems."
That's where JOOB comes in.
Ascroft says JOOB is out now in beta, and should be released towards the end of the year.
He says financial services and telecommunications companies are seen as logical fits for JOOB, with large databases and complex problems that need rapid solutions.
It means Jade can be selling its technology on an as-required basis.
He says JOOB sparked a lot of interest from developers when it was demonstrated at last week's Microsoft Tech Ed conference in Auckland.
Ascroft says JOOB should allow Jade to attack the global product space, offering a high-value tool set that can be useful to millions of Microsoft developers.