It’s mainly thanks to salesforce.com, I think, that one of the hottest topics in business technology today is cloud computing. True, there are many, including me, who would say this is actually nothing new – that in one form or another companies having been using software applications running on third-party hardware platforms for many years now. Once they were called service bureaus, then application service providers, providers of software-as-a-service, hosted systems, and now cloud computing. The common factor is that the application is remote and companies pay on a subscription basis.
Informatica seems to be determined to fly in the face of this common understanding of this delivery mechanism as it introduces Informatica Cloud.
At its recent Data-Driven Enterprise Summit 2010 in the UK, many brave souls including me got up at the crack of dawn to find out what Informatica Cloud is really all about. The day started out with a bang, with Andy Bromley, the European sales manager for Informatica Cloud, telling us that Informatica Cloud “is not PowerCenter in the cloud.” (For the uninitiated, PowerCenter is Informatica’s core product that supports data integration and delivers that data to where it is required in the enterprise.)
So if that’s what it isn’t, what is it? Well, that’s where the tale truly gets intriguing. It is in essence what Informatica calls an “agent” that sits on a platform somewhere and enables non-IT-skilled personnel to create their own data integration processes that then will deliver data where they want it. The agent is designed very much with the business user in mind. After a little upfront help from a systems person, business users can create their own data integration tasks. The upfront help includes identifying both source and target systems and defining the format of the data records within those systems. Armed with this information, the business user simply has to fire up the agent and point it at the source and target systems. It then will pull down the data definitions, enabling the user to then use an array of built-in functions to define how the integration is to be done.
So Informatica Cloud simply puts at least basic data integration into the hands of business users. What's so intriguing? Well, three things. First, the only piece of this package that sits outside the company's firewall is the data definitions. These are created, either by extracting the information from an existing PowerCenter implementation or by being purpose-built, then reside in the Informatica cloud and are downloaded only when creating a data integration application. Second, on careful questioning we discovered that the agent is in fact a simpler version of Informatica PowerCenter. And third, the data transfer doesn't go through the cloud; it is a direct system-to-system transfer if both systems sit in-house; if one of the systems sits outside the firewall, then the transfer is over a secure data transmission link. All of which does raise the question, is this cloud computing or cloud integration?
That debate apart, this product offering intersects interestingly with some of our research into customer information management. That research confirmed what many of us intuitively already know: Most companies' customer data can only be described as a mess. The research found that customer data resides in up to 22 different types of systems (ERP, CRM, finance, billing, data warehouses, spreadsheets, etc.), most of it not synchronized between systems and of dubious quality. This makes it almost impossible for companies to get a complete, up-to-date, reliable picture of their customers, which of course restricts their ability to use segmented marketing and sales processes, deliver consistent customer experiences across all channels of interaction and make consistent decisions relating to customers.
From what I saw once the upfront work has been done, Informatica Cloud:
- puts basic data integration in the hands of the people who need it, business users.
- looked easy enough to use.
- is priced so that it is more affordable than a full blown PowerCenter implementation, although the lower cost brings with it less functionality.
- is fully auditable so that big brother IT can keep an eye on what business is up to.
All this makes Informatica Cloud an interesting product offering. The big question is whether companies will adopt this approach to solving what is a crucial issue. Clearly they have gained significant traction from salesforce.com users that downloaded the loader and integration applications from the appexchange. Informatica can of course already quote some success stories, but my research shows that we are still in the early days in the adoption of cloud-based services. Do you think this approach would suit your company? If so, I recommend you take a look. I’d also be interested in people’s views on how big a problem data integration is in your company and whether this approach might indeed help.
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Richard Snow – Global VP & Research Director