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At the Informatica World 2014 conference, the company known for its data integration software unveiled the Intelligent Data Platform. In the last three years Informatica has expanded beyond data integration and now has a broad software portfolio that facilitates information management within the enterprise and through cloud computing. The Intelligent Data Platform forms a framework for its portfolio. This expression of broad potential is important for Informatica, which has been slow to position its products as capable of more than data integration. A large part of the value it provides lies in what its products can do to help organizations strengthen their enterprise architectures for managing applications and data. We see Informatica’s sweet spot in facilitating efficient use of data for business and IT purposes; we call this information optimization.
Informatica’s Intelligent Data Platform is built in three layers. The bottom layer is Informatica Vibe, the virtual data machine that I covered at its launch last year. Informatica Vibe won our Ventana Research 2013 Technology Innovation Award for information optimization. It virtualizes information management technology to operate on any platform whether on-premises or in any form of cloud computing.
Above Informatica Vibe in the platform is a data infrastructure layer, which contains all the technologies that act upon data, from integration through archiving, masking, mastering, quality assurance, security, streaming and other tasks. At the core of this second layer is Informatica PowerCenter, which provides data integration and other capabilities central to processing of data into information. PowerCenter provides parsing, profiling, joining and filtering but also is integral for data services through Informatica’s Data Integration Hub that operates in a publish-and-subscribe model. The latest PowerCenter release, version 9.6, focuses on providing agility in development and provides a series of packaged editions that provide certain levels of functionality; users choose among them to fit their requirements. This developer support includes advances in test data management and data masking for enterprise-class needs. There are editions for Informatica Data Quality, too. The latest release of Informatica MDM, 9.7, improves the user experience for data stewards along with enhanced performance and governance. Not much was mentioned at the conference about Informatica’s Product Information Management (PIM) offering that our most recent Value Index vendor and product assessment rated Hot.
The third layer is data intelligence. Here Informatica has added capabilities to organize, infer and recommend action from data and to provision and map data to business needs. In addition Informatica’s Business Glossary and Metadata Manager help establish consistent definitions and use of data for operational or analytical tasks. Informatica RulePoint, a product that also was not mentioned much at the conference, processes events through workflow in a continuous rule based manner; depending on how processing occurs, its function is to support complex event processing or event streaming.
On top of the Intelligent Data Platform, Informatica has added a couple of new innovations. Project Springbok, which is not yet released, is a tool for preparation of data for analytics and operations through its Innovation division. This new product will use Informatica’s expertise in providing access to and integration of data sources, which according to our information optimization benchmark research is the top analyst requirement in 39 percent of organizations. Despite data warehouse efforts, analysts and business users still have to access many data sources. Simplifying information is critical for nearly all organizations that have more than 16 data sources. Demonstrations showed that Springbok can dynamically create and automate the transformations that run in PowerCenter. It also offers access to a master reference to ensure that data is processed in a consistent manner. IT professionals gain visibility into what business units are doing to show how they can help in provisioning data. Even in beta release Springbok has significant potential to address the range of data issues analysts face and reduce the time they spend on data-related tasks. Our research has shown for several years that this data challenge presses organizations to diversify the tools they use, and software vendors in this market have responded. Informatica will have to compete with more than a dozen others and demonstrate its superiority for integration. Our research finds that the lines of business and IT now share responsibility for information availability in 42 percent of organizations. Informatica will have to demonstrate its value to line of business analysts who are evaluating a new generation of tools for data and analytics.
A second innovation is a new data security product called Secure@Source, also being developed in the Innovation unit, is designed to protect data assets where they are stored and processed. This product moves Informatica into the information security market segment. Secure@Source helps users discover, detect, assess and protect data assets in their persistent locations and during consumption by applications or Internet services. The question is whether Informatica can convince current customers to examine it or will have to approach information security professionals who are not users of Informatica. Security of data is among the top five required data activities according to our research and a key part of the manageability requirements that organizations find important in considering products. Informatica has an opportunity to insert itself into the dialogue in this area if it properly presents the new product to IT and business people alike.
In big data Informatica has made steady progress, but to reach its potential in this segment will require more investments in the mixed big data environments, not just Hadoop. As our research has shown for three years, customers want big data to distribute processing and integration of data across sources. Our recent research on big data analytics finds that three out of four (76%) define big data analytics as being about accessing and analyzing all sources of data. This poses a challenge for data integration, and our new research on big data integration finds that most have a long way to go in accessibility and mastering of data. Informatica begins to address this and has an opportunity in helping develop a new generation of data architecture.
In cloud computing, the company has consolidated its efforts to ensure that the cloud is part of its core technology. It released new versions for its cloud-based integration, quality, master and real-time data management products; these begin to address the challenge of process and application integration, which are important considerations for businesses in determining whether integrate or replace point cloud solutions to improve efficiency of tasks and business processes. Informatica has continued to focus on integrating mostly with the large cloud computing providers and has yet to invest in streamlining processes in particular lines of business. This has left openings for other cloud integration providers to compete, making it harder than expected for Informatica to dominate in this segment. The next step here is up to Informatica.
I believe that one of the highest potential opportunities for Informatica is in the application architectures of organizations whose business processes have been distributed through a collection of cloud-based applications that lack interconnectivity and integration. For example, finance departments often have software from different providers for budgeting and planning, consolidation and reporting, accounting and payroll management. When these applications are spread across the cloud, connecting them is a real challenge, let alone trying to get information from sales force automation and customer service applications. The implications of this are shown in our finance analytics research : Data-related tasks consume the most time and impede the efficiency of financial processes as they do in all other line of business areas that we have researched. Similar situations exist in customer-related areas (marketing, sales and customer service) and employee management processes (recruiting, onboarding, performance, compensation and learning). Informatica has made progress with Informatica Cloud Extend for interconnecting tasks across applications, which can help streamline processes. While perhaps not obvious to data integration specialists, this level of process automation and integration is essential to the future of cloud computing. Informatica also announced it will offer master data management in the cloud; this should help it not just to place a data hub in the cloud but to help companies interoperate separate cloud applications more efficiently.
Overall the Informatica Intelligent Data Platform is a good reference model for tasks related to turning data into information assets. But it could be much distinct in how its automation accelerates the processing of data faster and helps specific roles work faster and smarter. This platform does not provide a context for enterprise architectures that are stretched between on-premises and various cloud deployments. Organizations will have to determine whether Informatica’s approach fits their future data and architectural needs. As Informatica pushes its platform approach, it has to ensure it is seen as a leader in big data integration, helping business analysts with data, supporting a larger number of application sources and connecting cloud computing through unifying business applications. This won’t be easy to accomplish as Informatica has not been as progressive in the broader approach to big data and use across operations and analytics.
Informatica has been growing substantially and is getting close to US$1 billion in annual software revenue. We have recognized its success through rating it a Hot vendor in our Data Integration Value Index and naming one of its customers, the CIO of UMass Memorial Health Care, the Chief Information Officer in our 2013 Leadership Awards. Informatica has been continuing substantial investment in R&D. Its acquisitions of data-related software companies have helped it grow, and Informatica has invested to integrate the products with PowerCenter. With almost half (49%) of organizations planning to change their information availability processes, the opportunity for Informatica is significant; its challenge is to gain the confidence and recognition by business customers, who now play a larger role in the selection and purchasing of software. This will require Informatica to speak their language of business and not just technology but the business processes that they are held accountable. Informatica is a major player in information management; now it must become as significant a choice for streamlining business processes and use of applications and data across the enterprise and cloud computing to enable information optimization.
CEO & Chief Research Officer
The need to be effective in the marketing, selling, manufacturing, distributing, and sourcing products requires more consistent and higher quality product information. This is where product information management (PIM) has great potential, and as I have attested is the responsibility of business to lead the process and technology improvements. Of course for PIM to be efficient IT needs to support business leadership to improve PIM and ensure access and integration of data and applications. One of the technology providers that help in this mission is Agility Multichannel, a software supplier that I have been tracking for many years and rated the highest level as a Hot Vendor in our 2012 Ventana Research Value Index for Product Information Management. In the scope of PIM its product has the ability to handle a broad range of channels of interaction for product information, from traditional print and electronic layout to email, portal, mobile and commerce interfaces across the life cycle of product information.
We awarded Agility Multichannel our Technology Innovation Award in Service and Supply Chain for its Agility product and its 5.2 version that is generally available. In summary Agility was recognized for what it is doing to simplify PIM to enhance the usability and overall supply chain of products, from commerce to manufacturing and suppliers. This focus on keeping PIM simple but usable along with being more automated is essential, as our research on PIM finds that 45% of organizations still use manual processes, which can create errors and just as important waste time. Innovation is also found in the adaptability of PIM with its Agility Modular Interface (AMI), which gives control of configuration and extensibility of Agility to its customers. This is essential, as PIM must adapt to the business processes and information requirements of each organization. Let me review more of what I know about Agility from analyzing and recommending the product over the past several years and outline why it was a recipient of our Technology Innovation Award for 2013.
Agility provides the ability for a wide range of business professionals – from marketing, product and associated content managers and merchandisers to manufacturing staff and others in the supply chain – to have consistent product information. Its web-based interface, which is available in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach, makes it simple to sign up and use the product. Agility is easy to configure for use by different roles in the organization, making it even more intuitive. To ensure tight integration with product processes, the application sets up workflow that connects people to processes, supporting real-world review and approval and enabling participation of individuals in the product information processes. In addition, the application provides a single page where you can search and find products, review and update information from attributes and other aspects of products in a highly functional manner, without the need for changing windows and context within the application. It is very simple to navigate products and hierarchy and see information in one screen. Many other PIM products do not provide this level of simplicity and are not able to customize the user interface for the individual or lack simplicity in the workflow of creating, improving and distributing product information. In contrast, Agility is simple and enables organizations to adapt the application to the needs of different users and roles. By providing this breadth and depth, Agility can help address the top barrier to a single version of product information: having too many incompatible tools, according to 48 percent of organizations according to our product information management benchmark research. These are just a few examples of the application’s usability and simplicity, which you can easily see in a demonstration.
Agility’s AMI helps extend the application in many ways by enabling it to be further adapted through what the company calls gadgets, which are built through an AMI toolkit. For example, Agility used it to demonstrate how a preview gadget can be used to quickly see what a user would see when accessing product information. Many of its customers have built custom interfaces like product viewing that are integrated into its commerce and supply chain processes, providing a unique experience to individual customers. The gadget approach makes it easy to extend and basically snap into the user interface through a publish and subscribe interface. This is also how organizations can create and deploy product information in what are typically called portals to the supply chain of distributors, manufacturers and suppliers. This approach provides a great level of adaptability for Agility customers across users, processes and applications and has also expanded its integration with data across applications and systems by embedding Pentaho data integration software offering. The importance of adaptability should not be underestimated, as almost half of organizations (49%) in our research cited it as a very important consideration in evaluating vendors and products, higher than any other consideration.
Addressing the newer demands on PIM, Agility also supports the layout and viewing of product information on mobile technology like tablets. It also enables the required versioning of product information and supports many languages and translation of product information across many channels. Agility has some places for improvement, however, including the robustness of its analytics on product information. Overall the application’s manageability, adaptability and usability provide significant value, offering capabilities that enable business to take control of its responsibility for product information management. At the same time, where IT is needed, it can be assured that the right levels of conformity to systems and system security are adhered to in the application. The product can easily meet the needs of small and medium-size businesses and is now more than ready to be used by larger organizations. A number of companies currently use Agility, including Avon, Allied Electronics, West Marine and many others. Considering our benchmark research finds that three in five organizations plan a change to their management of product information, Agility Multichannel has a good opportunity to help these organizations with a simple but sophisticated PIM offering. If you have not seen Agility, you should, and we congratulate Agility Multichannel for receiving our 2013 Technology Innovation Award and its commitment to the simplicity of PIM for business.
C EO & Chief Research Officer