Currently, the absence of a 3G/4G next generation network within India has slowed down the process of adopting mobile applications, feels Sunil Jose, Managing Director, India & Sub-Continent Region, Sybase Software (India) Pvt Ltd., Mumbai (www.sybase.in). With the impending announcements of the 3G-rollout across India, this scenario is bound to change, he adds, during a recent interaction with Business Line. “Telco operator VAS (value added services) departments are sure to change their strategies and seek more revenue from mobile application deployments.”

Another challenge in India, says Sunil, is the present call rate, which makes the business case for VAS difficult for targeting retail and SME (small and medium enterprise) consumers. Hence, the market for mobile applications remains very niche, he notes.

For starters, it may help to know that there are mobility solutions for the large-scale players and the smaller enterprises; there are PIM (Protocol Independent Multicast) deployments, and custom applications for sales force and field force automation, on-site data collection, forms entry, site and equipment inspection, and so on.

Our conversation moves on to a variety of topics, ranging from databases to maturity models, from acquisitions to CIO worries, from business analytics to mobility challenges…

Excerpts from the interview.

What has changed over the years in the database field in which Sybase is one of the early players?

What we have seen in the past few years is an increase in companies that are becoming dependent for revenue on the data. Businesses have gone past the ‘Applications’ phase to a phase where useful, accurate and timely information from the application data is being used to make better business decisions.

Databases also have begun to align with this shift in the customer need. Databases continue to be the heart of transaction processing – but there is a definite shift in focus on providing databases that support superior performance as far as reporting, analytics and data mining are concerned. Sybase continues to remain at the heart of transaction processing for Wall Street companies. In fact, these companies have used our expertise to jointly develop bulletproof heterogeneous replication as well.

For example, we have a group of customers that we call data aggregators. These companies pull together information that they generate and acquire from multiple sources and offer it for resale. The key is the sheer volume and to be able offer data at a very granular and atomic level to a huge number of users who are going to be pounding on the data with queries that you cannot predict. A regular OLTP database collapses. It is not the volume of data but when you are able to ask any question; with a standard database you have to put limits or it takes so long.

Even though most refer to the database as a commodity, the actual reality is that the selection of the wrong technology can mean a really poor return on investment. Sybase has long recognised that different applications, and therefore customers, have different needs for database technology, and the degree of difference cannot be met with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. That is the primary reason why Sybase continues to invest research dollars in developing codelines for achieving superior performance in each of the database technologies it possesses. Be it OLTP databases, high growth reporting environments, low latency environments or disconnected usage, Sybase Database Management continues to develop technologies to suit all these environments.

In your long-standing clients do you witness a maturity process, from the perspective of database systems in the enterprise?

a) Most organisations are becoming increasingly heterogeneous in terms of their database infrastructure. Most companies will have a mix of relational databases running their applications and transactions. This brings about a crucial need for movement of data between these heterogeneous databases for purposes of data aggregation/ reporting/ business intelligence/ cross application transactions. This requires replication software that can seamlessly move data real time between heterogeneous databases. Sybase Replication Software is an undisputed leader in this segment of software.

b) Need for very high availability / business continuity has given rise to a serious demand for databases that to deliver 24/7 performance with lower IT operational costs. For example, databases like the Sybase ASE Cluster Edition using a shared disk architecture, protect application service levels, maximise resource utilisation and maintain low costs of infrastructure.

c) The trend towards use of database more for mining useful accurate information has led to a new category in critical business intelligence databases. With Sybase IQ, we have created a new product category for fast and efficient reporting databases.

For example, banks have increasingly become aware of the impact that information technology can make to their business and have woken up to this differentiating factor to their business model taking up technology initiatives that have shown remarkable results. Instead of accumulating and then analysing data, on Wall Street and customers in telecommunications, they want to do microsecond analysis. That is emerging.

Also, data volumes are increasing at an exponential rate. Today, even small and medium business are transacting at a higher rate than expected and it is not uncommon to find enterprise users asking for more than 100 business transactions to be completed every second! At this rate, we see typical operational and analytical databases crossing the terabyte mark as standard, and even think of 10 TB databases as the norm.

Large telecom organisations in India are witnessing phenomenal spurts in data volumes due to CDR and operational systems. This leads to consequent spurts in hardware and storage subsystem investments, impacting the TCO of their IT operations, which makes their end products less competitive in the fiercely competitive Indian marketplace.

Are security issues increasingly worrisome for the CIOs in large enterprises? On a related note, are there gaps in the database security and information management in general that you observe among enterprises?

Database security is a controversial and important topic for all CIOs. Data within most relational databases form the core of an enterprise's information management system. Many initiatives have been put in place by CIOs to ensure data security remains tight. Most organisations have Chief Security Officers, and external IT audits are conducted for ensuring data security is bulletproof.

Some initiatives taken to plug information management security are as follows:

1) Database partitioning is carried out to ensure relevant business and technical users access data relevant to their business operations.

2) Encryption is carried out to ensure data can be decrypted by the relevant operations users within an enterprise, and also to take care of data theft.

3) Basic access to relational databases through LDAP and Directory Servers can be authenticated at a second level through use of Directory Services plug-ins to relational databases.

4) Apart from all the above areas, database vendors provide data auditing capabilities to track usage of the relational databases by time and user identification.

Most of the above-mentioned initiatives handle a large part of information management security.

How have the recent acquisitions/ partnerships helped in widening the solution set offered by Sybase to clients?

Earlier this year, Sybase and SAP entered into a partnership centred on co-innovation that will change how users access critical business information anytime, anywhere. The two companies are co-innovating and collaborating to deliver the new SAP® Business Suite software for the first time to iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and other devices by integrating it with Sybase’s industry-leading mobile enterprise application platform.

SAP and Sybase share a common vision to provide businesses easy access to valuable information contained within enterprise applications through tight integration with a wide range of mobile device environments. The use of mobile devices in the workplace is growing rapidly; today’s workforce requires easy access to information while on the road or working from home, and they want the flexibility to use the device of their choice. Together, SAP and Sybase will enable millions of enterprise software users worldwide access to secure, full-featured, business applications on the go.

We have also announced recent partnerships with Samsung Mobile to deploy, manage and secure Windows Mobile® powered smart phones for enterprise customers that will provide mobile knowledge workers with advanced access to business-critical applications, and with IBM to target the global mobile commerce opportunity with both hosted and on-premise solutions in developed and emerging markets.

Sybase has a strategic partnership with Microstrategy to ensure that customers are able to use best-of-breed business intelligence and analytics tools from the leading vendors in the field.

Would you like to talk about the innovations in the business analytics space?

Certainly! The definition of BI has changed in the way that now to fully leverage the value of data, companies are turning from decisional BI to operational BI. It is evolving from basic reporting to what-if analysis.

To begin with companies used to perform analysis by running queries on OLTP systems due to which performance used to get affected and the results obtained were not conclusive. Also even the routine decision-making was done by the top management personnel but now as the number of decision-makers in the organisations has grown the need for decisions to be taken by the respective department heads has become imperative, so here business intelligence and analytics have become the need of the hour.

To support these sentiments, Sybase has come out with in-database business analytics. Our solution Sybase IQ 15.1 delivers smarter new functionality that allows users to more easily drive risk management, fraud detection, business process management and investment strategies, as well as competitive product, marketing and customer relationship strategies, by running real-time predictive analytics directly in the Sybase IQ 15.1 database, increasing speed and accuracy while utilising years of organisational data. This smarter approach enables organisations to make better predictions about future business risks and opportunities, more informed decision-making around the clock, spot trends and anomalies immediately, and make operational decisions more efficiently and affordably.

In traditional approaches for analysing data, end-users must transport data out of the database for processing. This activity often accounts for up to 75 per cent of the cycle time and imposes severe constraints on throughput and timely delivery of results. By running algorithms directly in Sybase IQ 15.1, analysts can now perform predictive analytics and complex data mining tasks such as Principal Component Analysis, Linear and Logistic Regression, and Clustering entirely within the database, making it faster and easier than ever before to gain valuable insights into enterprise risks and market opportunities.

Our database technology plays a critical role in automating the data archival process and ensuring movement of data from production to near-line to DR sites in order to meet strict regulatory requirements in the areas of Financial Services, Insurance, Telco and Healthcare.

BI already has percolated below top management and is actively being used by middle and regional management in most sites today. The prime driver of this percolation (apart from improving decision-making) is the gain realised by users from having a single coherent view of data across the organisation. Also, with the nature of tooling available today, most BI implementations find that users can easily perform their own (sophisticated) analysis and essentially break actions down to simple decisions.

Business intelligence is increasingly being used by on-the-go business people, too. It is now possible to deliver reports from servers to handheld devices, and let authorised users make changes to the data in those reports.

Your take on the challenges when it comes to implementing mobility solutions.

Most organisations have an idea of what their problem areas are and what kind of solution they require, but they aren’t aware of the implementation possibilities, procedures and timelines.

The CIO’s demands are pertaining to a solution that will give them the necessary platform to do away with complexities and execution problems faced on the field today with minimal investment in terms of technology, hardware, training and maintenance infrastructure. Since most of them become aware of a reference solution being applied somewhere else, they want to know whether a similar investment will be able to generate hard ROI in the Indian system as well.

Here we are looking at data management outside the data centre.The right approach for enterprises to adopt mobile solutions – including technology selection, IT infrastructure augmentation, workforce orientation, costs would be:

§ An extremely crucial consideration that needs to be kept in mind is that the technology deployed should be able to communicate with all the possible back-end systems, be it a web application, enterprise application or any other data source as it would simply be wise to realise the eventual mobilisation of the entire enterprise in the long run. Also, enterprises should steer clear of proprietary lock-ins. Enterprise mobility should focus not only on the device type but also on the message delivery. (Sybase, for instance, has open cross platform technology that can work in heterogeneous environments of data sources, applications, operating systems, languages, devices etc., so as to not hamper the integration of technologies in the future. This is beneficial for the enterprise since it doesn’t require an investment in any particular device.)

§ If the workforce requires exhaustive travel to places where network may be inconsistent, then appropriate technology should be available to provide the necessary synchronisation whether they are connected to a live network or not.

§ The devices used should be ruggedised since they are likely to be exposed to rough handling. Also the respective attachments required like thermal printer, barcode reader, magnetic strip reader, digital signature reader etc. can expand the utility of the solution.

§ Security of the data that is available on the device is extremely crucial and an enterprise should ensure that modes like encryption and power-on passwords are inbuilt. Irrespective of the number of devices, their management should be possible from a central console, such that repair and maintenance can be done wirelessly form a central console without the need for the devices to be brought back.

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