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Software from the hinterland

A company from Campina Grande is exporting data base systems and is keeping a close relationship with the university

Some twenty years ago few people would have believed that Campina Grande, a municipality with mild climate some one hundred and thirty kilometers from the city of João Pessoa, in the interior region of Paraíba State, would turn itself into a technology center. Two people from Pernambuco State and a Canadian believed that they could. In 1983 Antão Moura and Jacques Sauvé, professors at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), founded a small information technology consulting firm in the town. Shortly afterwards, Alexandre Moura, Antão’s brother, who had moved there in order to study electronic engineering, joined the pair to set up the company.

The enterprise, which shortly after being launched would direct itself towards the development of software, is called the Light Infocon Tecnologia, a supplier of data bank solutions and the electronic management of documents (GED), it has a large client base in Brazil and also exports to Spain, and is about to close a very large deal with China. The company has a technological agreement – with the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) and of the Technology Park Foundation of Paraíba (PaqtcPB) – with the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Science (Iscas, being the acronym in English), and is developing a version of its own data bank, the LightBase, for the Linux operational system, to the Chinese standard named Red Flag.

“The product will be ready sometime between 2003 and 2004”, announces Alexandre Moura, the president of the Administrative Board and the company’s Marketing Director. The selling of software and information technology solutions abroad already accounts for provides an important percentage of the company’s income. “Of the estimated income for the year 2002, out of a total of R$ 2.3 million around 20% will come from exports”, explains Alexandre Moura, who purchased some of the company shares from his brother and from Mr. Sauvé.

The Light Infocon, Moura related, has always revolved around the university. “Our products and related questions have been the themes of close to twenty theses and dissertations”, he reveals. Most of the authors of these pieces of work are collaborators or ex-collaborators with the company, whose staff includes four master’s degrees, two currently doing a master’s and twenty five graduates, who have dedicated themselves to the development of software and technical support.

Each year the company hires four trainees from the seventh and eighth semesters of the computer science course on the Campina Grande campus of UFPB, which last year gained its independence and is now known as the Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG). On graduating, many of these trainees become effective members of the company – and those who do not stay, Moura related, end up carrying the name of the Light Infocon company to where ever they go.

Technology town
During these years, the evolution of the company has been linked to the development of the technological profile of the town. Campina Grande, which each June receives close to one million visitors for the festival known as “the largest Saint John Festival in the world”, has more than one hundred enterprises involved with high technology. In 2001, it was recognized as the only Latin American representative on the list of ten global tech cities in the weekly North American news magazine, Newsweek.

Born within the policy of an internally reserved market, the Light Infocon company, at that time with the name of Infocon, had a lot of success with its software tools for the Unix operational system, which experienced enormous growth in companies, large banks and in government organs beginning in the 80’s. Another of the company’s products, SpoolView, a piece of software for controlling printers, was commercialized in the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1997 the product would gain the prestigious Top of the World Award from the North American magazine SCO World, in the category of printing systems management for Unix and TCP-IP networking (the Internet protocol).

However, the expansion of the Windows operating system into the corporate market and the dissemination of the commercial use of the Internet, would present new challenges to the company. “We needed to invest in the assimilation of new tendencies”, Moura tells. During 1994 Infocon incorporated at that time Light Software, a software company in the city of Brasilia that had also been working with products for the Unix and DOS operational systems. It had been founded in 1990, being made up of systems analysts coming from the Federal Capital. The main shareholder was Jairo Fonseca da Silva who is the current Director President of Light Infocon.

The two companies had already been partners: one of their common projects was the development of the AGIX software (for communication between machines using Unix and DOS), as well as the development of modules of the first version of the data bank named LightBase, for the same operational environment. In 1997, Light Infocon launched their LightBase, a Windows and Web version, which, with 1.4 million code lines (the sotfware formation) was more than ten times larger – and much richer – than the original version with a little more than 120,000 lines. For example, among the software’s users are the Brazilian and Spanish Federal Police, Interpol (the international civil police), the Federal Inland Revenue, the Union’s Legal Profession, the Gol Airline Company, the cosmetics company Natura and the Bradesco bank.

In the opinion of Moura, the LightBase does not reach the level of being a direct competitor to the international giants of the data base segment, such as, for example, Oracle – it is before Oracle’s level and a complement for these applications. What differentiates the technology of the major part of the products offered to the market is the versatility and facility in the formation of data base projects over very short periods of time.

Focusing abroad
In order to grow beyond the plain on which it is currently situated, the Light Infocon company, which throughout its history has had four projects supported by the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep), is concluding its most recent: the adaptation of LightBase for the Chinese market and the development of a tool that reduces the time scale for this process to only a few days, being adequate for the translation of the manuals and the screen libraries.

This is very helpful for conquering new markets. In 1997, the company received investments from the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) and from Pernambuco S.A. – a private risk capital company directed towards the development of the Northeast region and made up of around one hundred entrepreneurs from the state of Pernambuco. “Now our objective is not to limit ourselves to raising financial resources; we want partners who can commercially support us in Brazil and abroad.”