The IT utopia of universally compatible databases and applications is something that only exists in glossy vendor brochures and slideware. The reality is more commonly an ugly collection of legacy systems – all with disparate structures.
Attempts to rationalise that incompatibility and let these systems talk fluently with each other is often seen as part of the pipework of IT. But as every plumber knows, the specialist aspects of the trade ensure a healthy living.
Informatica is the largest independent data integration vendor, a market veteran with steady growth of around 20% over the past three years, giving it annual sales of $391 million. But things were not always that sweet.
Its current success is something of a Lazarus act, following an ill-judged plunge into business intelligence in the early part of this decade. Through the dot-com bust years, the company’s stock price plunged to a low of $3.10; today it hovers at six times that, around $17.50.
“It was a hard time; we went from being the leader in a very specialised market place to a small fish in a very big pond, competing against [companies like] Cognos and Business Objects,” says Informatica’s general manager of data integration, Girish Pancha.
The sea change came in 2004 – along with the arrival of CEO Sohaib Abbasi from Oracle – when, according to Pancha, the company decided to “stick to what it does best”.
Informatica’s subsequent success can be partly attributed to its independence from big-platform players such as Oracle and SAP. This neutrality has become a selling point and, it says, makes the company’s technology particularly attractive to financial institutions and governments.
Informatica sees its main challenger not as Oracle, IBM or the other players in the sector, says Pancha, but “hand-coded integration” by in-house teams.
Speaking in early June at the Las Vegas launch of the company’s latest offering, Informatica 8.6, Sohaib Abbasi described the upgrade as “the first comprehensive, unified and open platform for data integration”.
Besides real-time integration and cross-enterprise data exchange, two features stand out in the new edition: identity resolution (based on technology acquired from the buy-out of Nokia’s Identity Systems) and an on-demand version of its integration offering.
Identity resolution has been used by immigration authorities, intelligence agencies and financial institutions for purposes such as fraud detection, but it is now adding depth to Informatica’s data quality component by catching intentional as well as unintentional errors, across multiple languages and scripts.
“An insurance company found multiple instances of fraud among its employees during a trial licence of the software,” says Informatica’s general manager of data quality, Ivan Chong.
Meanwhile, the company’s SaaS product is aimed at mid-market customers. During the launch, it demonstrated a live integration of data from Salesforce.com’s on-demand customer relationship management application across to Google Docs and back again, before repeating the performance using an iPod.
The plan, says Ron Papas, general manager of Informatica on Demand, is to simplify the integration procedure to such an extent that the service will bypass IT altogether and instead empower SaaS administrators. “We’re not aware of anyone else delivering on-demand integration,” he says.
Going forward, it is widely predicted that Informatica will add a master data management player to its portfolio, potentially through one of its current partners in the space (Initiate, Orchestra and Siperian). Executives were cagey but said they were “committed to growth”.
That commitment should see Informatica through any economic downturn. Abbasi emphasises the increasing efficiencies demanded by an uncertain economic climate and the competitive advantage to be gained through good use of data. As he says, “people sometimes ask whether IT matters, but they never ask whether data matters”.
Information orchestration The drive towards more effective information management. An Information Age Research Report