Data Quality Tools: Clearing Up Customer Confusion

On the surface, most data quality vendors appear to be marketing similar products. META Group analyst Doug Laney digs deeper to find substantial differences.

The up tick in CRM, ERP and data warehousing initiatives—all of which pose substantial integration challenges—are driving customer interest in data quality solutions. It should come as no surprise, then, that a new report from research firm META Group says the market for data quality tools will grow at a compound annual rate of between 20 and 30 percent over the next three to five years.

Doug Laney, a vice president and director of technology research service with META Group, acknowledges that he typically fields more client inquiries about data quality than any other issue. “Two years ago, all of my questions were about data integration, ETL, things like that. Now, probably a majority of my inquiries have a data quality flavor,” he says.

In spite of the importance of data quality, customers remain confused about just what’s available. This problem is exacerbated, Laney says, because on the surface most data quality vendors appear to be marketing products with similar features and functionality.

When you delve beneath the surface, however, Laney suggests that there are substantive differences between products. “It’s been very interesting to go through the process of formally assessing the players in the market. At a cursory glance, they all look the same, but once you start digging, you realize that there really are differentiators.”

Some competitive differentiators include the variety of platforms supported by each vendor, along with the types of features, types of geographies, and ways of integrating with other applications and data sources. The upshot, Laney says, is that no one vendor can address every potential data quality need for some customers. “Only one of the players really supports OFAC [Office of Foreign Asset Controls] compliance—that’s a bad guy list of people that you can’t sell to—only one supports Asian names and addresses, only one has data profiling, only one has data enrichment, so it’s filling in the gaps.”

For most clients, Laney says, it’s possible to go with a solution from one of the major data quality vendors and then fill in the gaps from there: “It’s an evolutionary thing, not a revolutionary thing, so even if one vendor isn’t offering everything that you need, you can fill in the gaps elsewhere.”

META Group’s Data Quality Tools report assesses eight vendors that offer tools for profiling, standardizing, matching, cleansing, and enriching data to help ensure its accuracy, completeness, and integrity. The surveyed vendors include Acxiom, Ascential, DataFlux, DataMentors, Firstlogic, Group 1, Innovative Systems, and Trillium Software.

Among other discoveries, Laney found that data quality buyers typically demonstrate a preference for market leaders, which are by and large vendors with the broadest array of capabilities. In addition, says Laney, data quality market leaders usually tout stable, mature products with a deep, expanding knowledgebase of data matching and cleansing business rules.

Laney doesn’t anticipate that new data quality market leaders to emerge before 2007. In the meantime, he says, challengers will be characterized by their focus on a narrower scope of capabilities than market leaders. While leaders will offer support for a range of platforms and data quality capabilities, challengers will typically strictly focus on Windows platforms, offer only a small subset of overall data quality capabilities, target small enterprises, and price their offerings to slip beneath budget radars.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.