Hyper-converged analytics – why TIBCO is buying Information Builders

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks December 2, 2020
TIBCO’s push to provide users with a simpler, less tech-centric and de-silo’d environment in which to exploit all the data they have has triggered another acquisition in the shape of Information Builders. COO Matt Quinn, discusses the thinking behind the move and its significance to the realisation and delivery of `hyper-converged analytics’


Reading back on my recent piece on TIBCO and its move to create what it called hyper-converged analytics, I realised there is one glaring question I should have asked Matt Quinn, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, namely., ‘What company are you going to buy to fill some of the thinking here?’ The October announcement that TIBCO is buying Information Builders  Inc (IBI) may well have provided an answer.

When I spoke to Quinn again and told him this, his response was:

We've clearly been looking at this area for a while, looking for ways to extend our data stack. If you think about all the products that we've got to interact with data and databases and what IBI has - a tremendous number of data integration, data quality and data governance tools as well as some great stuff in analytics and application integration - it really was a great fit for us.

The planned takeover does beg another obvious question of course, along the lines of, `So what's wrong with Spotfire?’ but Quinn’s answer was plausible, especially in the light of the wider goals the company now has. In Quinn’s view, IBI’s WebFOCUS Business Intelligence tools fit well between Jaspersoft, which is aimed at the embedded reporting tools marketplace, and Spotfire as the high end, complex data analytics service.

It also makes more sense of TIBCO’s earlier protestations of creating hyper-converged analytics. The range of tools that will be available to users in order to access and exploit data in the widest possible range of forms and formats, gives some strength to the marketing pitch now, as users will be able look at all their data as an entity rather than a set of different silos, and have access to a toolset that can address it:

We keep seeing all these different ways that people want to interact with data, and I don't want to have one part of that puzzle. I want to have the whole damn puzzle.

Don’t partner, acquire

TIBCO does have a reputation as an acquirer of businesses with appropriate technology, but given the size of IBI - numbers are not being stated, but a price in the order of $1 billion has been bandied about - and the fact that there is not a huge customer overlap, wouldn’t a partnership be a more sensible option to achieve the same business results?

But Quinn sees acquisitions as an important part of the process, for his view is that partnerships can only go so far:

The very best partnerships tend to be short-lived, but perfect for a period of time. I think that if you want a long-lasting kind of relationship, then merging or acquiring is really the best route because you have a little bit more control over the overall strategy. And that's true for any acquisition.

That strategy is now to offer any data, any format, any location, ‘analysed’ and reported on in the most appropriate manner, which is one way of defining hyper-converged analytics. But I did also ask Quinn for his definition:

The reality is that people always have a unique set of comfort levels around how they want to see their data. Some people want a spreadsheet, others, especially on the data science side, are quite happy with very static images or even output from Python scripts. Then you've got general users who typically want an easy-to-use dashboard, and the list goes on and on. What's happened in the analytics market is a lot of people have tried to create the perfect analytics tool, and what they find is that it works really well for a particular set of users. But it's pretty shitty when it goes outside of that. People bolt onto it, and it becomes a big, bloated mess.

So with hyper-converged analytics, we're embracing the fact that there are all these different personas out there, but we're not trying to create the massive super product, we want to do the tight integration that TIBCO is known for, bringing these things together so they're leveraging all of the common elements, which should become common, but still really creating that opinionated interface for all those different types of use cases.

Forget the tech; it’s about data for data’s sake

To Quinn, this issue is no longer about databases or the technology underpinning data, it is about the data itself being considered as an addressable, exploitable entity. The technical issues of ‘doing’ analytics have broadly been solved and the issue now is about helping users to achieve much better results by improving the way they decide what it is they want to analyse, why they want to analyse it, where they find it, how to pull different but relevant streams of it together, and how they deliver results that are exploitable:

We like to solve problems and what we find with analytics is that the problem people have is that they don't know what data is out there to analyse, what format it's in or where to get it, even if they know that it probably exists. And that's where our unified stack, our data hub, really comes into play. And if you go one step back from there, you've got all the connectivity tools, which really brings the last mile to applications and systems, which also feeds into that data. That's the responsive application mesh, the hyper-converged analytics.

Quinn pointed to TIBCO’s earlier acquisitions, Streambase and Spotfire, as a guide to what might be expected to emerge from the IBI acquisition. Being able to watch multiple streams of analytics has allowed a whole new set of use cases to emerge round realtime analytics. He refers to it as building the connective tissue between different analytical capabilities, rather than trying to cram everything into a single product. That way, users can have the capabilities they require at a specific time and add whatever else they need as when it is needed. That connectivity has long been one of TIBCO’s strongest suits, but IBI will also bring a well-established contribution to this particular party. There is one capability, however that IBI has not had, as Quinn observed:

We've got a fantastic cloud and we know that they desire to get to the cloud. And in the past, as we look at other acquisitions, that's what we've helped them do, get to the cloud faster than they could have done themselves.

Having hyper-converged analytics available in the cloud will also bring one other change in the way users think about the way they exploit their data, as there is a significant change now possible away from the days when analytics was a deeply mystical black art that went on somewhere in the bowels of the IT infrastructure. Now it is in the cloud, analytics – at a level that fits the needs of businesses from the smallest to the largest – is now available to all. This opens up the market for delivering such services through channel partners and not just the high-end systems integrators TIBCO has worked with for years, but now including the well-established Value-Added Resellers (VARs). Quinn explained:

We've long desired the notion of an analytical application. I think applications that exist today, both consumer and enterprise ones, are richer for including analytics. The next step in evolution, however, is to go one step further, which is the application is actually built inside of the analytics, not the other way around. This is exactly what we've been talking to partners about.

Essentially, this is about building functionality that helps users make decisions about what the data is telling them, inside all the data they need to be working with. And the people best-equipped to both understand the functionality needed and what decisions are important – and indeed, why they are important – are the VARs that have long specialised in serving the needs of a huge range of business sectors. Quinn now sees VARs as being key to delivering on an old TIBCO slogan - ‘The right information, in the right place, at the right time’. To this is now added what he sees as an important fourth component - ‘in the right context’:

That last part has perhaps become the most important piece, because what we find is that when people have the context and they’re making a decision, all in the same place, the decisions are better.

My take

Another example of the way some IT vendors are now moving up the levels of abstraction, away from promoting the wonders of technology for its own sake and moving on to addressing questions far more important to end users, such as ‘Why is X important to the business’ and if it is important, `How do we implement and exploit the hell out of it?’ These days, what you do it with  is far less important; there will be some technology available somewhere. It is still early days in this subtle, but significant, change and many vendors still have to learn that what users really need to ask and learn about is not what the vendors really want to ramble on about.

A grey colored placeholder image