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Dell Boomi, the integration play too hot to spin off (yet)

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright March 16, 2017
On the day of the MuleSoft IPO, we look at its rival, cloud-based integration platform Dell Boomi, and why it didn't spin off during the recent EMC merger

Chris McNabb CEO Dell Boomi Feb17 370px
Chris McNabb, Dell Boomi

Why did Dell hold on to Boomi, the cloud-based integration platform it had acquired in 2010, when it sold off many other software assets heading into its acquisition of EMC just a few months ago?

Today's stock market IPO by rival integration vendor MuleSoft is likely to set a high benchmark for valuing such businesses. There's little doubt that Boomi's growth rate would have earned an equally impressive multiple had Dell decided to sell. But instead the leadership decided it was too strategic to offload at the time, argues the unit's CEO Chris McNabb:

If you needed cash, the best thing Dell could've done was to move the business on, make it a part of the sale, collect all the cash, pay down a larger portion of the loan that you need to fund the EMC transactions.

Michael [Dell] and his leadership team decided not to do that. [They decided] it was a much more strategic asset than that, that it was important for them to grow this business as a part of their business, [to] be able to have this kind of a technology.

Boomi is a good fit with several of the software businesses acquired with EMC, he believes, including Virtustream, which plays a key role in migrating many SAP customers to the cloud, and Pivotal, whose Cloud Foundry PaaS is often a cornerstone of hybrid cloud environments. Exposure to those customers will add fuel to Boomi's continuing growth, as its sweet spot is in hybrid environments where organizations have to manage a fast-moving integration landscape.

This hybrid appeal is reinforced by Boomi's acquisition yesterday of ManyWho. This is a 'low-code' development platform for workflow that can join processes across multiple applications and data sources, such as provisioning new users or onboarding new trading partners. It extends Boomi's appeal to a wider user community of application builders who will be able to use the ManyWho functionality to create API-driven, ad hoc applications that use existing Boomi integrations.

As ManyWho co-founder Steve Wood explains in a blog post, this will help organizations keep pace with growing demands on IT:

Every business is becoming a software business and the demand for applications is exponentially outstripping the ability of IT to keep up. We created ManyWho to make it easy for a CIO to meet those demands without 10x’ing their budget and building a mountain of unmaintainable code.

Integration in a hybrid world

Cloud migration is an important adoption driver for Boomi's cloud-native integration platform, which, explains McNabb, is able to connect both old and new technologies, from EDI and ETL to mobile and IoT:

On-premise to on-premise is a huge percentage of our workload. Because people are trying to take this older expensive stuff and minimize the organization's requirements or dependency on that technology and migrate that over ...

As people are migrating out from the old and into the new, you need a technology that's very complementary to your existing infrastructure.

As enterprises prepare for that migration, they need to make integration "strategic upfront" he says. It's a predictable stance from the CEO of an integration vendor, but as he points out, digital transformation falls flat if the connections don't work:

All of those kind of ways in which people are trying to achieve success for their business, at the end of the day you can't get that wrong.

If your integration is worse off than what it was, your business will suffer. You can't have less connectivity or poorer connectivity.
This is at the heart of what they need to understand, going in, to get the outcome that they need.

But having stressed its importance, in the next breath he underlines that Boomi's role is to make the integration process as unobtrusive as possible:

Our goal is to have our customers spend as few seconds on our platform per month as possible — because they should be doing something else for their business. So we innovate, we push the boundaries. We don't care how it used to be done, what we care is, how can we do it better, faster, stronger?

Ease of use

That commitment to ease of use is borne out by customer testimony. LinkedIn's head of sales and operations systems, for example, praised the Boomi platform during a presentation at a Salesforce event in 2014 — this in the days before it ended up as part of Microsoft:

I have never seen an ETL project with that level of complexity get up and running that quickly.

What Salesforce did for [the] CRM world, I believe Dell Boomi is doing for the ETL world as well. You can hire someone that doesn’t have 10 years of engineering experience, can come in, learn the platform, integrate the front end to the back office in a number of weeks.

Last month, online retailer told diginomica how Boomi had helped it slash the turnaround time for integrating its NetSuite ERP system to its retail partners' EDI (electronic data interchange) supply chain systems:

On average, we’re achieving a two-week turnaround from the start of implementation to completion of testing where we’re ready to go live pending the trading partner’s sign off. And once that arrives, we’re ready to accept and fulfill their orders — a process taken down from 26 weeks to two, which gives us 24 extra weeks of revenue from a new trading relationship.

In the past, enterpries would have used different tools for each different type of integration. McNabb argues that Boomi acts as a universal platform to handle everything from cloud-first APIs to old-school EDI and ETL (extract, transform and load, for data consolidation and analysis), without the need for a lot of cross-training.

What we do is we provide you one unified programming model of a way to do things. And you can do any kind of integration in your enterprise. IoT work, mobile work, et cetera, it's all the same. Work flow, it's all the same UI. So once you learn it once, it's very easy to do.

Time to market

While capabilities such as monitoring, API management and process workflow are valued by customers, the overriding need is for rapid time to market, says McNabb:

You know, the average lifespan of a mobile app today? 45 days. It can't take 30 days to build the integration to power it. It's literally, you have hours to get the thing off and go ...

[The rise in] integration demand is exponential due to the explosion in number of endpoints. The number of cloud softwares, the services things that people are buying. The number of mobile integrations — Internet of Things, the sheer number of devices — the number of endpoints for your average big data thing.

Getting involved in those kinds of things are really cool, but it's certainly not the old-fashioned point-to-point. These are complicated integration scenarios, because we're trying to find insight into solutions that make a difference in people's business.

As a cloud-native platform from the outset, McNabb believes Boomi has some crucial differentiators in how it mines its archive of usage data. It has a function called Boomi Suggest which recommends field mappings based on what other customers have selected when they've done their integrations. Another function called Boomi Resolve shows how other customers have resolved problems.

This is a huge differentiator from my competitors. I, in a single database, have every single process ever created by every customer in the history of Boomi, in a single instance of a single database. Nobody else has that ... economists talk about it as the network effect. The network effect that I'm able to bring to the table dramatically speeds people up.

The system, which dynamically adapts to reflect shifting trends and vendor updates, sounds like something many vendors would describe nowadays as artificial intelligence. But McNabb declines to leap on the bandwagon:

I'm an engineer by trade. Network effect is I think a more accurate description. I probably should call it AI, it'd be a better buzzword. It's technically not.

My take

In a digital enterprise, integration is perhaps the most strategic IT tool that you never want to have to notice. Connections between applications and data need to be as seamless and frictionless as possible, and the business looks to IT to provide an infrastructure that fulfils that goal.

Hence the rapid growth being experienced by the likes of MuleSoft, which IPOs today, Apigee, which Google acquired last year — and Boomi, which doesn't grab the headlines as much as its venture-funded Silicon Valley-based rivals, but which has quietly built up a much larger customer base.

It was first among this new wave of rapid integration platforms to embrace the cloud, and got an early start on building up its now extensive library of integrations to both cloud and on-premise resources. The acquisition of the ManyWho workflow application builder adds an important capability where Boomi was beginning to lag against competitors — and does so in a way that's consistent with Boomi's ease-of-use mindset.

With a clear identity as a separate business unit within Dell, Boomi may yet seek independence at some point in the future, especially if Mulesoft's IPO does well. But it's currently proving its value within the Dell organization, and with every hardware business looking to add value by providing software-based services, perhaps it makes sense for Dell to continue to keep Boomi within the fold. Whatever the future holds, it's going to remain an important player in this market.

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