Informatica’s Software-as-a-Service Gambit
Hail Mary or Hail Abbasi: Is Informatica’s come-to-SaaS moment a case of a vendor leading the market by its nose?
At its annual customer confab this week, Informatica Corp. announced an ambitious foray into software-as-a-service (SaaS) data integration, touting a “strategic partnership” with salesforce.com, upcoming connectivity into salesforce.com CRM applications, and by early next year, a full-fledged SaaS version of its data integration platform. Is it a Hail Mary pass from a gutsy Informatica or, instead, an indication of CEO Sohaib Abbasi’s prescience?
Informatica—which likes to bill itself as the “Switzerland” of data integration—now finds itself surprisingly engaged for a supposedly neutral power. In the high end, Informatica has its hands full with data integration heavyweights IBM Corp. and SAS Institute Inc.; in the mid-market, with commodity ETL players (and relational database superstars) Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp.; and, just about everywhere else, with BI upstarts Business Objects SA and Information Builders Inc. So Informatica can’t afford to be on autopilot.
Brian Gentile, Informatica’s chief marketing officer, says autopilot is the last thing he and other company executives have in mind. He cites Informatica’s ambitious foray into software-as-a-service (SaaS) data integration as a case in point. Not only did Informatica announce its own, albeit primitive, SaaS ETL offering, Gentile points out, but it also notched deals with “strategic partner” Salesforce.com. Informatica also outlined a strategy to partner with other SaaS BI, CRM, and business process outsourcing (BPO) providers.
“The overall strategy that we’re going to employ is to put more and more of our Informatica data services and data integration capabilities on demand, to be available as services,” he comments. “In the last six to eight years, we’ve seen a huge rise in data outside the corporation, payroll [BPO players] like ADP, HR like Hewitt, CRM systems like Salesforce.com—lots of data now exists that is owned by the enterprise but exists outside the enterprise.”
Enter Informatica On Demand, the company’s still-gestating SaaS offering. “Our goal is to treat all of this data exactly the same, so customers can perform all of the sophisticated projects and processes on this external data” as they can with their on-premises data, Gentile says.
Informatica plans to roll out its On Demand entry in a phased approach. The first deliverable—PowerCenter Connect for salesforce.com—won’t be available until sometime in Q3 of this year. It will provide canned connectivity into salesforce.com’s hosted CRM systems, such that users can migrate and synchronize data between on- and off-premises applications.
“After that, [we plan to] develop connectors for other major SaaS providers. In each case, the idea is [users] can integrate through the workings of the familiar PowerCenter interface itself,” Gentile indicates.
Informatica also expects to embed select PowerCenter capabilities (such as data cleansing) as tabs in the salesforce.com user interface, via salesforce.com’s AppConnect APIs. That’s Phase 2. In addition to salesforce.com, Informatica plans to partner with other, as-yet-unnamed SaaS vendors to develop similar embedded capabilities.
Says Ivan Chong, vice-president of business development with Informatica: “The phase 2 deliverable manifests itself as a UI that looks just like what you’d have with the partner application, so all of those tabs to migrate and clean your data look just like the tabs you get in salesforce.com. The customer only needs to take advantage of a thin AJaX client [to exploit them].”
Chong says the Phase 2 deliverable can be used by rank-and-file salesforce.com users, in addition to data integration pros. “In Phase 1, we envisioned traditional IT developers familiar with PowerCenter using the technology. In Phase 2, we do envision the business users using this technology,” he explains. “So if you’re in salesforce.com, and you’re a marketing pro [who] had to execute a direct mail campaign, you might want to de-duplicate that [contact] list, you might want to filter it so your direct mail campaign is the most efficient, so you might get a tab that would allow you to take that contact list and apply data cleansing to it.”
Informatica’s Phase 3 deliverable is its most ambitious. It’s a full-fledged “On Demand”—that is, SaaS—integration platform, says Chong, which will offer multi-tenant, hosted data integration services for a “wide variety” of (still mostly unnamed) SaaS and BPO vendors. The idea, says Chong, is that users can subscribe to Informatica’s SaaS offering to integrate data across multiple outsourcing service providers and on-premises applications—without (of course) installing any software. Phase 3 general availability is slated for Q1 of 2007, Chong says. “This is designed as a general purpose platform that will be customizable, multi-tenanted; it will be available through our partners as an on demand integration platform powered by Informatica,” he explains
Hail Mary or Hail Informatica?
Not surprisingly, Informatica officials are bullish about the company’s SaaS data integration push. “If you sign up for a new software as a service, there’s no data in the application. You need to migrate existing data that’s assuredly on premise[s] to salesforce.com,” notes Gentile. “Number two, there’s synchronization. Once the data is in these systems like salesforce.com, you have to synchronize it [with your on-premises systems] by creating a customer hub, integrating customer data from salesforce.com with on-premises data from your customer support system that would be in PeopleSoft, for example, or payroll data in ADP.”
It’s tempting to dismiss Informatica’s come-to-SaaS moment as a case of a vendor leading the market by its nose – or, to switch metaphors, of a besieged company trying to formulate a winning, breakthrough attack strategy. But Informatica’s CEO Sohaib Abassi last year talked up outsourcing—and, by implication, business process outsourcing—as one of several potential growth opportunities for his company.
“[By] outsourcing, I’m not necessarily referring to off-shoring,” he said. “You’ve got organizations like IBM and EDS that propose to their customers that they can take over their operations and go even further. You’ve got business-process outsourcers like ADP, who say, ‘You don’t need payroll because we can do it all for you.’ You’ve got HR outsourcers like Hewitt. If you look at Cisco, they’re a salesforce.com customer and an Oracle e-business suite customer, and if they ever want to know how effective their marketing campaign was, they need to integrate that [salesforce.com] data with the receivables [system] that is in house….So my own view is that the role of transactional business applications will be diminished as more functions get outsourced, whether to business process service vendors or on demand or [integrators]. Customers of the outsourcing services providers will want to have greater visibility into that data, and that creates an enormous opportunity for us.”
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.