Why Informatica World mattered

SUMMARY:

Salesforce.com and SAP may have stolen the headlines, but the best vendor-sparked conversations were actually coming out of Informatica World. Here’s why.

Salesforce.com and SAP may have stolen the headlines this week, but the best vendor-sparked conversations came out of Informatica World. Here’s why:

Call it whatever you like, ‘big data’ matters – not a year from now, but right now

Companies that use big data to their advantage are going to beat their competitors. In Rick Smolan’s guest keynote, he admitted that when it comes to harnessing big data, we’re still in the ‘caveman era.’ Nevertheless Smolan rolled out a number of provocative examples, including Japan’s $500,000,000 early detection system that automatically shut down bullet trains and shop floors 14 seconds before the 2011 earthquake, mitigating damage from the tragedy:

(Earthquake story at 16:00)

In 2012, when a 4.0 earthquake hit near Berkeley, low-cost sensors plugged into the laptops of 2,000 volunteers detected the quake. The laptops pinged researchers at Stanford faster than the quake could move 45 miles through the ground to Palo Alto. Data-driven risk management may not be sexy to the masses, but you better believe it is sexy to executives and compliance officers.

Forget the social data hypefest – the industrial internet delivers meatier use cases

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sohaib Abbasi described the evolution of computing, noting the recent phase of social computing before moving on to the latest generation of computing: the industrial internet, the so-called Internet of Things, where massive amounts of data threaten to overwhelm already data-swamped enterprises:
(Social and industrial internet at 5:45)

I’m not going to claim that social data isn’t relevant to predictive analysis and customer collaboration. But when I look ten years out, I can’t fathom machines making sense of Twitter hashtags stuffed with sarcasm, retweets, and sock puppetry. Never mind machines, mere mortals are hard pressed to pull meaningful takeaways from the social onslaught, much less excavate customer leads.

Sensor data is different. Whether it’s adding sensors to ‘dumb’ machines or building smart ones from scratch, machine-to-machine has immediate relevance. Even beer kegs are getting in on the action. But can enterprises handle the data load?

Real-time gets the glory, but data integrity pays the mortgage

While vendors from SAP to Teradata push in-memory and real-time speed, the not-so-mundane issues of Master Data Management (MDM), data cleansing and data security aren’t going anywhere. With a refreshingly agnostic worldview (‘We love everybody,’ quipped Abassi) Informatica was less concerned with the nature of the database and more focused on the caliber of the data.

Compliant data matters greatly to CFOs; secure data matters just as dearly to CIOs. The move to the cloud just raises those stakes. Other vendors have stopped talking about MDM, even letting the acronym be co-opted by Mobile Device Management (sigh), but customers who struggle with integrating data sources sure as heck want to talk master data.

Cloud integration will be the pesky IT topic of 2014

On second thought, maybe don’t forget cloud security. But cloud integration is going to be a grand headache for IT departments going forward. Vendors that ease this process will find a seat at the table with CIOs unwilling to swap on-premise woes for cloud data hassles. Which brings us to:

Informatica’s Vibe announcement could be 2013’s most underrated product rollout

Informatica World marked the release of Vibe, the official name for Informatica’s virtual data machine technology. Riffing on the classic ‘write once, run anywhere’ Java tagline, Vibe’s motto is ‘map once, deploy anywhere.’ The goal? Help customers pipe in data from a variety of devices, while empowering business users to crunch and derive insight. Oh, and do it without tedious data configuration. Here’s what analyst Ray Wang had to say:

Users on Vibe will not have to worry about massive changes in data technologies and the impact on integration patterns.  By mapping once and deploying anywhere, the move to keep separation allows for customers to design integration without having to worry about the underlying technology shifts in run-time.  The VDM is code-less and allows for graphical integration mapping without manually modifying code. This is a powerful advantage compared to traditional code generators.

Other potential Vibe benefits include easing Hadoop deployments and providing one stop for on-premise and cloud data integration. Talk from the keynote stage included the promise that via the PowerCenter application, Vibe provides an abstraction layer that turns existing PowerCenter users into ‘defacto Hadoop developers.’

Verdict

Given the pre-occupation with extracting something actionable, it’s a good time to be a data integration company. Like most data vendors, Informatica is still working on moving from its IT roots to make life better for the business users who increasingly drive BI decisions. Together with Vibe, the announced PowerCenter Express application is a move towards business-friendly applications. To capitalize on the Internet of Things, a pared down version of Vibe will be required to implant on small devices. A formal announcement is not expected until 2014 on that front, so there is heavy lifting still ahead.

As much as cloud-to-cloud integration sounds appealing, we’re nowhere near out-of-the box. Given the back-and-forth barbs from competing cloud vendors, it’s hard to imagine Informatica making cloud integration the no-brainer customers want. Informatica seems to acknowledge as much with the development of Cloud Connectors for SAP-to-Salesforce, Workday-to-NetSuite and so on. Maintaining integration templates for multiple cloud-to-cloud scenarios looks like a distracting chore from where I sit. But for now it is a necessary one.

Like most vendors, Informatica is challenged to move from showcasing customers to letting customers drive keynote interaction. Informatica did a good job of sprinkling customer examples, but I’m waiting for a vendor to turn a keynote stage over to its most passionate customers and field their questions. Other vendors have taken steps down this road, such as live customers chats with audience members (Infor) and microphone hand-offs (SAP). I should be clear: I enjoyed the day one presentation by Dan Domagala, CIO of the Colorado Department of Education and Informatica customer (not to mention Innovation Award Winner). What I’m talking about is more interactive segments where customers voice their views while the vendor responds live. This is a worthy story; it would be good to see more of Informatica’s own customers carry it forward onstage.

Image credit: Excited Smartphone © lassedesignen – Fotolia.com

Disclosure: I did not attend Informatica World 2013 in person. This analysis covers streaming keynotes and post-event articles. Update: updated morning of 06/08/2013 with additional clarification to final paragraph.

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