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Information Builders Co-Founder Gerry Cohen Mourned As Software, Analytics Visionary

“In the four years I knew [Cohen], he built IoT technologies and blockchain technologies, anything to access data from disparate sources. He said, ‘Let me get data from any source, and do all the hard work of dealing with that disparate landscape so you can just use the data to work,’” says Frank Vella, CEO of Information Builders.

Gerald D. “Gerry” Cohen, founder and chairman of the board of pioneering data and analytics technology developer Information Builders, passed away December 3.

Cohen founded Information Builders in Manhattan in 1975, and grew the company to be the third-largest software company in the world at one point. Prior to founding Information builders, he developed in the mid-1960s the RAMIS (Random Access Management Information System) programming language for creating and managing databases while working with Mathematica, which was founded by professors at Princeton University to develop mathematical models for decision making.

With RAMIS, Cohen was also a pioneer in the direct sales of software given that most software at the time was sold directly by IBM because of its dominance of the mainframe computer market.

[Related: Tibco CEO Dan Streetman On Information Builders Acquisition, Opportunities For Partners]

After co-founding Information Builders, Cohen developed FOCUS, a fourth-generation language software product that was among the first efforts to make it possible for users without deep mathematical skills to use natural English language skills to manipulate data.

Cohen was very proud of his fourth-generation natural language programming, said Frank Vella, CEO of New York-based Information Builders.

“That’s the legacy of the company,” Vella told CRN. “And before his death, he was still interested in what he could do for the cloud. He built his vision for the mainframe. But he built a programming language that could take the Ada language from a timesharing environment to be an architecture for the cloud.”

Michael Corcoran, Information Builder’s former chief marketing officer and currently the head of a new subsidiary of the company doing risk management analytics, told CRN that he knew Cohen for 32 years and found him to be a true IT visionary.

“When the world moved from the mainframe to PCs and distributed computing, he predicted it would fail,” Corcoran said. “He said everyone has different systems, and so they wouldn’t scale. So in 1993, he put all our R&D into the Web. He said the Web would have a common browser, and everyone would use TCP/IP, bringing everything back to centralized control.”

Vella, who in late 2017 started as chief operating officer at Information Builders before taking over as CEO in early 2019, also called Cohen a visionary.

“In the four years I knew him, he built IoT technologies and blockchain technologies, anything to access data from disparate sources,” Vella said. “He said, ‘Let me get data from any source, and do all the hard work of dealing with that disparate landscape so you can just use the data to work.’”

Cohen was an engineer and a mathematician, Corcoran said.

“But what excited him even more was what people did with technology,” he said. “For example, if you think about how people look at analytics, you might think of someone working alone. But Gerry thought information should be shared broadly, and not just for the analytics person. [Microsoft Founder] Bill Gates figured that out as well: the more people can touch technology, the better for everyone.”

Cohen was also very much focused on customers even though the level of care Information Builders provided clients could be expensive, Vella said.

“But he said when he built a software company, there was no software company at the time,” Vella said. “He said when he built customer support, there was no customer support before. He built that all in and maintained it to the end.”

Concern for IBI’s employees and customers was also a factor in Information Builder’s acquisition by business analytics and data management software developer TIBCO Software, Vella said. The acquisition, unveiled late October, is slated to close soon.

“Cohen did not take the deal with most money,” he said. “We had a checklist, looking at who would be best for the employees and customers, and who was interested not in just a new maintenance revenue stream but in preserving the technology.”

Yet for all his dedication to Information Builders and the technology, Cohen was first and foremost a family man, Vella said.

“He was a proud grandfather,” he said. “When he went home, he forgot about work and focused on his four boys and his grandchildren.”

Cohen is survived by four sons and six grandchildren. His wife Pamela Cohen passed away on June 27, 2020, while his brother Bernard passed away on December 7, only four days after Gerry Cohen, according to his obituary in the New York TImes.

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