Interview for the DOAG

„What We Are Looking at is An Evolutionary Process Which is Hard to Predict …”

Progress in information technology is faster than ever. Dr. Dietmar Neugebauer, Managing Director of DOAG, and Wolfgang Taschner, Chief Editor of DOAG News, talked about it with Roland M. Dürre, Managing Director of Interface AG, – well, that is me truly.

You founded Interface AG. What is the business model?
We started in 1984 as a product enterprise and – through our professional text processing software HIT/CLOU – became the European Market Leader on UNIX systems for all manufacturers within a few years. Around the turn of the millennium, we changed to become an IT based, sector-neutral service and counselling enterprise. HIT was the UNIX text system, CLOU was the corresponding 4GL machine for text generation. Even the first CLOU versions offered the option to embed SQL scripts, which meant that the text machine could do a qualified reading of the assigned database and, where necessary, also write it. In many instances, this was the Oracle database.

Besides the Interface AG, there are other enterprises under the IF group roof. What do they do?
Our subsidiaries specialize on services around special manufacturer’s technologies, such as Mircosoft, or IT technologies in general, such as virtualization. One enterprise is an exception: the IF Localization. It organizes translations into all languages and realizes adaptions.

To what extend do you use Oracle products for your customers?
Almost all our customers use the Oracle databases for business critical processes. These databases are the basis for all kinds of IT applications.

Where do you see the strengths of the Oracle products, what are its weaknesses?

In my perception, the oracle products usually do quite well if compared with their competition. As I see it, it is regrettable that, especially in middleware, there is no overview showing the entire variety of products. This is where Oracle has plenty of potential for improvement.

What do you think about the product strategy of Oracle in general?
It is certainly not my place to judge the Oracle product strategy. Especially since I am not even qualified to totally even have an understanding of the diversity. Perhaps a product map might make sense – where you get a description of all the products and their possible use.

Would you recommend to your customers that they use a complete system from hardware through to applications from a single manufacturer, such as Oracle?
Why not? After all, I have always been in favour of SUN systems. But seriously: an integrated and synchronized architecture has many advantages – which probably also pay off. After all, you will always be dependent on the manufacturer, no matter if we are talking Microsoft, IBM, SAP or Oracle or whoever.

What was it that impressed you about SUN at the time?
Well, we were a UNIX firm at the time and I was (wrongly) rather sure that Windows was never going to have a chance for professional use. It turns out that I was rather wrong. At the time, Sun was fairly new and modern – I saw a great future for the graphic interface of the Sun workstations. Besides, I found the then Sun employees very nice when I met them at their events.

What came to mind when Oracle swallowed Sun?
On the one hand, I was horrified, on the other hand, I hoped that this acquisition might be a great chance. The great performance of the Oracle Engineered Systems are a good example.

The Interface AG puts great stock in social media. What is your experience with them?
Personally, I find them truly great. However it is not always easy to persuade persons and also central departments to join. Strangely, I mostly find out through Facebook, Google+ or Twitter what our employees do, even professionally.

What advantages do you see in using social media in an enterprise?
In my opinion, it is an absolute MUST today. Over the years, the understanding of management has changed: now, instead of a hierarchical system, we have a network structure. Consequently, bigger groups that co-operate now need modern tools in order to, for instance, avoid countless meetings. It is, however, essential to convince all the team members that social media have their advantages.

What is the direction IT will take in the coming years?
🙂 If I knew that, I would not be sitting here, would I? Instead, I would be sitting on a beautiful yacht in the Caribbean with a glass of champagne in my hand. But honestly: I assume that IT will find its way and quickly, too. What we see is an evolutionary process which is hard to predict, let alone define. However, I assume that the massive impulses will no longer originate in Europe and not as much as we are used to in the USA either, but in Asia. In the Unix pioneer days, the disadvantage of German companies was that the German market was so much smaller than the English-speaking market. Today, China, and more and more also India, tell you where we the music plays.

What do you expect of an IT enterprise such as Oracle during this process?

It would be a true achievement to find the right mixture and/or balance between “open” and “proprietary”. The IT market changes quickly and can no longer be controlled by a single enterprise. Consequently, technological openness and strategic transparency are to be desired, as well as certainly useful in the long run for IT enterprises.

How do you see the position of a user group such as the DOAG?
Well, I have Siemens experience, both as employee and supplier. At Siemens, we had the Siemens User Association. It always made a huge impression on me how this was formative for very constructive relationships, especially with big customers and suppliers and how beneficial it was for both parties concerned.

What experience from your long professional life can you hand on to other entrepreneurs?
The most important is perhaps: always come up with your own judgement. And remain agile and avoid dogmatic decisions and behaviour on all accounts. Other than that, I try to live up to the rules for modern management as set by Hans Ulrich, the founder of the St. Gallen Management Model. They are: accept the unpredictability of the future as a normal state of affairs, extend the borders of your thinking, be more driven by “as well as” than “either-or”, think multi-dimensionally, understand self-organisation and self-control as a formative model, consider managing a meaningful and meaning-transporting function, focus on what is important and make use of group dynamics. Isn’t it remarkable that these rules have been first written down in the 1980ies?
By now, the interview has been published by the DOAG – so here is my post of same.

(Translated by EG)

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