Chapter 56. Walkabout

The initial transition stage gave way to a period of reflection. The number of opportunities decreased as the organization converted from an accounting firm to a technology company with a very large sales force. I recognized in the Fall of 2003 that we weren’t connected to that sales force in any meaningful way. Our funding was nearly used up and, given the Internet crash, no one was funding new IT tools. And prospects for new customers hadn’t materialized.

Rick began in September of that year to work with a global universal bank, helping to outline a SAFR like financial reporting solution. They readily grasped the benefits of a business event based architecture. However, the entire IT strategic direction was to use UNIX.

In November, Rick went with the client to visit a strategic IT software partner. He was pretty impressed by what he saw, and told me he wondered how we could compete against a company with a 1 billion market capitalization, and 300 dedicated programmers. It threw me for a loop, but I didn’t have a good answer.

At the end of the month, Rick asked if I would meet with a technician from that company and make my own assessment. I asked Monica to join me. It was a very interesting day. It led me to wonder as well if what we were trying to accomplish with SAFR couldn’t be done another way. If that were possible, client investments in existing applications might be protected, and the benefits of the business event approach to reporting might be achieved much sooner, because the tools are already much more widely used.

Having consulted with a number of the team members about this sort of thinking, I asked Rick to let me contact IBM corporate development to investigate the possibility of an IBM divestiture of SAFR. This began a multiple month analysis of all aspects of the SAFR business. The corporate development people pushed us to explain the business model, the product, the market, the competitors, and the people. I remember one day being complimented for the thoroughness of our analysis.

We had a number of meetings with potential acquirers. One ETL vendor seemed particularly interested, which resulted in a number of onsite visits.

I came away with an understanding that SAFR wasn’t solving the traditional ETL problem. As noted in Iteratively View Results, those tools typically have many connectors to many data types.

With these insights while still in the midst of considering divestiture, I decided I needed to better articulate what was unique about SAFR. Our introductory meetings within IBM had emphasized what SAFR shared in common with other tools, in order to help properly classify it with other tools.1

I began making a slide presentation that explained the SAFR differences, that SAFR was about the convergence of ETL and reporting processes. Bill O’Connell, an IBM Distinguished Engineer in information management, was very helpful in encouraging my explanations. He gave me opportunities to present, and refine the deck to new IBM audiences. This generated another round of discussion, and interest in some quarters in pursuing a transfer of the tool.


 

 

Earlier in the winter, on the same day we had our first discussion with a potential acquirer, I had a good friend, whom I deeply respect and was then serving a five year assignment as the volunteer pastor of my church, contact me wondering if I would be interested in going to work with him. It would have been a complete career change for me. His call started me evaluating over the next few months what I wanted to do for work. I analyzed, from top to bottom, what I did and did not like about my work, and considered if perhaps it was time for me to move on to something different.

 

In August all these divergent threads came together in some sense. I decided I should know for myself what this opportunity with my friend might be like. So I finally suggested I make an office visit and we discuss it. We went to lunch first, and he asked me a very unexpected question, but one completely in keeping with his concern for me as a mentor and friend. “Kip, if you somehow dropped out of the sky into a completely new place and had to find something to do for work, what would you do?”

 

I was speechless, which is not very common for me at all. Amidst all the turmoil, because I had this friend’s potential offer of employment, I had not worried about what would become of me after the divestiture. It provided me tremendous emotional stability and objectivity. But amidst all my contemplation about what I liked and did not like about what I did for work, I had never thought to ask that particular question. What did I want to do? I remember stammering for what seemed quite awhile to me, and finally blurting out, “I think I would do exactly what I have been doing.”

 

It was quite an insight for me. If I could, I would continue to do exactly what I have been doing. I still felt a real sense of mission.

 

The next day, I was in an IBM management training class. I was gaining a better perspective on what IBM really wanted me to be. That afternoon I left the class a few minutes early to have a discussion with the new CTO of IBM Information Management, Anant Jinghran. A month earlier in again reviewing the asset, he had felt he had misunderstood SAFR in prior discussions. He asked for more time, and this meeting was the result.

 

Also a month earlier, IBM had acquired the one ETL vendor who had shown the most interest in the tool. Instead of building from scratch on the base of SAFR, and capturing new white space at the same time, IBM had purchased a significant portion of the ETL market.

 

Anant listened as I and Randall explained the concepts behind SAFR more fully, the new insights on how SAFR was unique. I remember him asking about data cleansing, to which I responded with what’s described in Iteratively View Results. “What gets exposed through reporting is what gets cleaned up.”

 

There was a slight pause, and he responded with, “Your and Randall’s vision of this entire space is fascinating.”

 

I was dumbfounded again, twice in two days. “Fascinating” he had said. There really was something to what we were doing, something fundamentally different than anyone else’s approach. And what we were doing was exactly what I wanted to do for work, even though it was very challenging.

 


A few weeks later I called a team meeting. I titled my slides “Results of the SAFR Walkabout.” A walkabout is “a short period of wandering bush life, engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work”.2 I explained everything that had gone on in the last year, and what the results were. There was still some small chance we might be made a software product, but similar to my feelings about me being in the right place, SAFR was also in the right place.

I decided it was time to stop thinking about what we might have been, and start being what IBM wanted us to be. I also decided to start pursuing every opportunity with abandon.

1 Parenthetically, I also had the idea to write this book.
2 Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary sv “Walkabout”.