SnapLogic is the privately-held enterprise US-headquartered integration company you quite possibly haven’t heard of (yet). A company you’re much more likely to be aware of is Informatica, which from its mid-90s founding rapidly grew to over a billion dollars in revenue in 2014.
What links the two companies is one name – Gaurav Dhillon, who set up Informatica with friends, but who famously walked away ten years ago. Since that dramatic split, Informatica’s been acquired by private equity and is seen in some quarters as having lost its mojo, while Dhillon has re-invented himself as the CEO of a company he says takes the best of the Informatica proposition, but marries it with consumer-style ease of use to produce a new force.
SnapLogic won $40m in VC funding last December, has 700 customers including Denny's, Wendy's, Subway and NBC, 300 staff and a global network of offices (US and India, mainly), and has been written favourably about by the likes of Forbes and Gartner. The latest push being a new AI avatar interface to the SnapLogic service, which is designed for users, expert and non-expert, to easily link disparate business apps and data sources without the need for complex IT intervention,
I sat down with Dhillon to ask why we need to listen to him second time around. The main reason, it turns out; the basic problem he set Informatica up to solve still hasn’t been, well, solved, he says:
No enterprise is a brand-new company; there is always a legacy that you have from the days of client server and mainframe. And they have lots of data, because they have lots of employees, they have a lot of applications, and are looking to the future in the shape of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence as ways to be able to get their knowledge worker to do more and more higher value tasks and shift repetitive tasks into the arms of technology.
What makes us different is that we were born right around the time of the iPhone launch and were very inspired by its multiple utility – it’s a camera, it’s a phone, a music player - a very simple user interface but a very powerful, deceptively simple one; under the cover is superb architecture. We combined that simplicity with the idea of a Lego block ‘snap’ idea for handling legacy and cloud application integration.
And just like the former PeopleSoft management team has built Workday using all the advantages that came to enterprise IT because of the consumer Internet, you can think of us as the former management team of Informatica building a platform in a hybrid world using cloud technologies: we're solving a familiar problem, except we are using some very sharp tools that did not exist to build this platform then.
Commerce One, SOA to the iPhone - a straight line?
Dhillon’s claim, then, is that what we’ve been trying to do in enterprise IT since the 1990s and (remember them?) briefly famous dot com darling Commerce One, Enterprise Service Bus, SOA and all that heavy duty software that never really worked. Why? We just didn’t have the full toolbox, says Dhillon:
There were no web browsers. There was no standardisation about the way you move documents around the web, there were no load balancers, there weren’t any practical things in artificial intelligence. But now all these things are available to us at commodity prices - so we can actually fulfil that dream and make that promise come true.
Sure. But why do we believe SnapLogic’s the way to do it? His answer is essentially that he and his company aren’t the solution – it’s empowerment of staff in the organisation that is:
Traditionally, integration tools have been the purvey of Information Technology, they've required administration skills, UNIX administrator, database administrator, you had to be a programmer to use them.
But there is ever more data, ever more applications. And the only way to defeat that is not to work harder with legacy tools and ESB and ETL, but to work smarter, with a cloud platform that is driven through simple UX so it is a self-service model.
Self-service here really means that someone in Marketing can use this product to integrate and consume data from all over the company, someone who is in HR can do it, too, someone who is in Finance, ditto.
Really, what we have done is, looking at what we have seen Apple do in the consumer world, is apply the concept of a graphical, metaphorical sort of way of snapping things together, literally like a child’s puzzle… you link up these jigsaw links and you are suddenly building these phenomenally capable data pipelines to move data around in your enterprise at enterprise scale, reliability, security, availability.
That’s on the surface on-premise for data for some verticals, like manufacturing - and while useful as that is, Dhillon claims that underneath the covers you can use cloud to route what you want where it needs to be. So, in the cloud if you are a retailer, for example, but if you are manufacturing company your data might be on premises, and so on.
SnapLogic’s got here by spending the first year or two of the company ironing out the abstractions to do ‘snaps’ successfully around SAP, but has since extended its connectivity to 400 ‘snaps’ – growth that Dhillon thinks means he can claim he’s
taken integration from the basement into the front office - into the light.
It’s a neat idea, and one that the firm says is starting to play well in the market, with users like Adobe with almost 800 people using the tool to build apps without major IT help, concludes Dhillon:
People are self-serving with their mobile phone, they are self-serving their e-mails, they are self-serving their CRM and now we are providing a self-service model for enterprise integration.
The next step is to ‘Alexa’ the whole thing to even further cement the consumerisation of integration, which truly was, with all that hub and spoke stuff, one of the most baroque of all programming disciplines. That's a big ask, but Dhillon says: :
In the industrial age we mechanised automated like making widgets, and with artificial intelligence we should be able to automate the equivalent of the widgeting that happens in enterprises everywhere. If you can have self-driving cars, why can’t you have artificial intelligence to connect up your company?
Or, ‘Alexa, can you automate my business app creation?’
One to keep an eye on, I think.