Informix is dead. Long live Informix?

At its annual user group conference in San Diego last month, Informix unveiled a new chief executive, Jean Yves Dexmier, and a new focus: ecommerce. So can the new-look Informix fight its way back into the market? Sally Watson finds out

At its annual user group conference in San Diego last month, Informix unveiled a new chief executive, Jean Yves Dexmier, and a new focus: ecommerce. So can the new-look Informix fight its way back into the market? Sally Watson finds out

Database specialist, Informix, has struggled recently to hang onto market share in the face of aggressive competition from the likes of IBM and Oracle. Last year, its slice of the new licence revenues cake fell to just 4.4 per cent. Profits were further damaged by the news in May that the company had been fined $142m for 'accounting irregularities'. But Informix is refusing to go down without a fight. At a glitzy launch in San Diego recently, it unveiled Internet Foundation.2000, the cornerstone of its new push into ecommerce. The company has faced heavy criticism in the past for poor marketing. The launch of its Universal Server database was hailed as a new dawn, but the company failed to turn those claims into sales. So can the 'i.Informix' revamp pull the company back into the black? Alan Kerr, vice president of EMEA, is confident that it can. "We have taken our first step on the route to becoming a real market-focused company. We have turned our technology into a real business message," he said. Kerr admitted the company made mistakes in the past, and two years ago made a conscious decision to bring in new marketing expertise and change the company's look. "We needed to use the might of marketing with one clear, straightforward message," he said. "We now have that message - the Internet." Kerr admitted that "the war is over" in the traditional OLTP database market, and that Informix will never be able to challenge its greatest rival, Oracle. But Jacqueline de Rojas, Informix's new UK MD, claimed the company is not abandoning its core database expertise: "We haven't jumped ship, but we had to change - we didn't have a choice." "We are becoming totally Web-centric," she continued. "It's not just about deployment [of technology] within a company, but about building within a Web environment." Rob Hailstone, database expert at Bloor Research, explained: "They [Informix] have got a difficult problem, but the line they are taking is right." Hailstone pointed out that Informix has always worked well with industry alliances and, unlike its rivals, has always been careful not to compete in the same space as its partners. "It looks like a good package," he said. "Informix have kept their sound technical reputation despite having a drubbing in terms of management. Their new management seems to be a good team and they have a reasonably good chance of pulling it off." A GartnerGroup Dataquest survey of the worldwide database market published in March claimed IBM, Oracle and Microsoft are now the dominant players, but noted there is "still plenty of room for vendors that can enter niche application areas or industry-specific markets". Informix claims it has found that niche. "To make a big difference to Informix we don't need a huge share of the market," said Kerr, "and Oracle aren't dominant [in ecommerce] yet. We have been playing defensively for sometime - now we are on the offensive." The company certainly has determination, and feedback from its users at the annual conference was positive. Hailstone praised this determination, but added a note of caution: "They seem to have the confidence internally [to succeed], but they are still not growing very fast and they need to do that soon to survive."