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Editorial & Analysis

From Ingres to Actian

23 Apr 2012

Why did database company Ingres change its name to Actian and what is its strategy now? IP EXPO Online talks to CEO Steve Shineu

The name of the Ingres database is as old as the database industry itself. Dating back to 1973, its history is long and convoluted, spanning life as a university research project, as a company that took on Oracle in the database wars and lost, and as a business unit within software giant CA, before emerging once again in 2005 as an independent company, Ingres Corporation.          

With all that history behind it, the decision to change the company’s name to Actian Corporation in September 2011 may seem puzzling. In an exclusive interview with IP EXPO Online, company CEO Steve Shine explained that, while the renamed company continues to support and develop Ingres, which has been open-source since 2004 and has 10,000 customers worldwide, the new name marks a shift in focus onto big data and cloud computing.

It wasn’t a decision taken lightly, he says. “The debate about our new name was a long one. I won’t pretend there wasn’t a bit of nervousness internally about the name change but we all knew it was vital that we addressed the value-add beyond core database software.”

For Actian, that ‘value-add’ means developing analytic tools and building on its 2010 acquisition of analytical database Vectorwise. “We looked at the BI market, which is a $10 billion market, and what it does is two things: reporting, which tells you how your business looked in the past, and predictive analytics, which give you some insight into future trends. What’s missing for business people is a view of what’s happening right now and we see a real need and appetite for intuitive tools that alert them to events, as they happen, to create real business value.”

That’s why Actian has developed Action Apps – lightweight, easy-to-use and personalised analytics that feed off a cloud-based platform, where massive datasets are combined with publicly available feeds, such as Twitter or Facebook.

In this model, the Vectorwise database provides the foundation for the company’s Cloud Action Platform – which can be deployed in Actian’s public cloud or within a company’s own private cloud environment. Action Apps, meanwhile, are created by business users to automate actions triggered by real-time changes in data.

These new products were announced back in September 2011, but since then, the company has been hard at work on getting the Action Apps intuitive interface, which will run on mobile devices as well as traditional desktop PCs “completely right”. Without this, says Shine, the underlying technology stack would be “totally irrelevant.”

So the company has been out there testing it with users, as well as trialling Action Apps among the company’s internal sales force, getting them to build their own Action Apps – setting event tracking and action outcome configurations - with the company’s own customer relationship management (CRM) data held in its Salesforce.com system. 

“The first five iterations, we failed. I used to watch the sales managers and think we were so far away from making the interface completely intuitive – but we’ve been able to learn valuable lessons and apply them really quickly,” he says.

The upshot is that sometime this quarter, Actian will release Action Apps for Salesforce.com, enabling the company to engage with other Salesforce.com customers early on and get feedback from them. The Cloud Action Platform, meanwhile, is up and running in preparation for this first release.

“This is more than a name change – it’s about us becoming a data management company, rather than just a database supplier. If we weren’t a company that was evolving into something different, then we would have stayed as Ingres,” says Shine.

It’s a huge gamble – but if Action Apps gain traction among enterprises, it will mark an entirely new chapter in the 40-year history of the company formerly known as Ingres.

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