Tibco Goes All In for Social Features

For a company that's best known as a provider of back-end plumbing, Tibco's tibbr and Spotfire solutions comprise a very visible public face.

Tibco Software Inc. last month announced version 3.5 of tibbr, its enterprise collaboration platform that incorporates social concepts and methods.

The revamped solution boasts several impressive features -- starting with GEO, its new geo-location capability -- but it's perhaps most notable as an example of the relentlessly iterative character of software development in the cloud. After all, tibbr-the-platform is just over a year old, which means that tibbr 3.5 debuted a year and a day to the day after its seminal predecessor. That's rapid iteration, at least by pre-Web 2.0 standards.

Tibbr's is notable for another reason: it's the public face -- the social aspect -- of a company (Tibco) that's probably best known as a provider of back-end plumbing. That's why Tibco positions tibbr as anything but a social novelty. As a business tool, tibbr functions as a kind of sinewy layer that knits together Tibco's event processing and analytic technologies. That's "sinewy" as in sinew -- connecting tissue; "tissue" as in organic matter; and "organic matter" as in human bodies -- voilà, social beings.

As tibbr has evolved, Tibco has likewise evolved its existing product set to integrate with (or take advantage of) it. The release late last year of Spotfire 4.0, for example, saw a bevy of tibbr-friendly features, mostly grouped in the categories of either "contextual" or social collaboration.

"A lot of the condensed visualizations that we did for analytic dashboards fit well into mobile applications, and [those] -- along with the collaborative aspects that we also developed [for Spotfire 4.0] -- tie in with tibbr, too," says Lou Bajuk, senior director of product management with Tibco Spotfire.

"The other big piece of Spotfire 4.0 was the contextual collaboration stuff, a big piece of [which] was integrating with social platforms, including tibbr, so in Spotfire 4.0, you can easily share visualizations or comments through tibbr or have people comment on tibbr and [be able to] see those [comments] from Spotfire."

Tibco bills Spotfire 4.0 as a "full 'social' decision-making platform," trumpeting integration with tibbr that permits users to "follow" a specific analysis subject as well as to follow specific analysts or authors (an explicitly social feature). Spotfire 4.0 supports several established or emerging social concepts, Bajuk explains, including the ability to create discussions (called "workspaces" in the Spotfire lexicon) about specific insights or decisions. (A discussion can both take place in tibbr and be represented -- inside Spotfire itself -- in the context of the analysis that first precipitated it.) Other tibbr-enabled social features include support for subscription channels andone-click video conferencing or desktop sharing (via "Spotfire Meeting").

Last month, tibbr 3.5 returned the favor, introducing tibbr GEO, a new geo-location capability designed to supply consumers with streaming information specific to distinct geographical locations. In the abstract, GEO could simply function as a conduit for information: unfiltered and/or unanalyzed. Used in conjunction with Spotfire analytics, suggests Bajuk, it can support a kind of geographically-distinct, just-in-time analysis. A good salesperson, for example, is never at a loss for words; backed up by a GEO-enabled tibbr platform, Bajuk maintains, that provides quick access to the information needed to choose the right words.

Bajuk cites the example of Proctor and Gamble Inc. (P&G), which he describes as a "big user" of both Spotfire and Tibco. P&G is also a big believer in mobility. "They're a big adopter of the iPad," he points out, explaining that "they have some very specific use cases. For example, they have [employees] out in the field who go into a customer account and need up-to-the-minute regional pricing [information] so that they can understand how to price their products versus their competitors. The fresher the information, the more valuable."

Visualizing the Future

What's ahead? Bajuk says Tibco Spotfire plans to make a big push into predictive analytics in 2012. In addition to its existing integration with R and SPSS, the company expects to "do some professional services integration with SAS and MatLab, too," he says. "We want to become the conduit for integrating predictive analytics into business applications."

How did Tibco transform itself from an enterprise application integration (EAI) mainstay to an event intelligence specialist that -- as of 2012 -- is gung-ho on predictive analytics? It makes for a compelling story. Part of it even acquires Bajuk's former company, data mining specialist Insightful Software Inc., which Tibco acquired nearly four years ago.

No one disputes that Tibco has event-processing chops; in what used to be called EAI market, where it once vied with webMethods Inc., it was considered a heavyweight. As disciplines such as business process management (BPM) and complex event processing (CEP) evolved to complement, enrich, and ultimately supplant vanilla EAI, Tibco evolved its platform accordingly. Then, five years ago, it added data visualization to its product mix, gobbling up Spotfire Inc., a data visualization specialist, in what was then seen as a head-scratching deal. The next year, it pulled another head-scratcher, buying up Insightful.

If Tibco's moves seemed confusing at the time, perhaps that's because not everybody was able to visualize the future. BPM, for example, was still seen as a discipline distinct from BI and data warehousing, and operational analysis -- more precisely, the real-time analysis of operational (or event) data -- likewise wasn't yet seen as a killer app for BI.

CEP itself had been described just a few years earlier, in The Power of Events, a 2002 book by computing luminary David Luckham, so the pot was stirring. In addition, several industry watchers, among them analyst James Kobielus, now with Forrester Research, started actively considering CEP in the context of BI back in 2006.

Fast forward four years, to early-2011, when -- in a presentation at the TDWI World Conference in Washington, D.C. -- data warehousing visionary Claudia Imhoff described CEP as "an entire world of analytics that we [BI professionals] don't know anything about." Imhoff's statement was a call to action to BI and DW pros to get with the program: to replace a discipline-centric (or tactical) perspective with a process-oriented one that reconceptualizes the roles of BI and DW in the context of (holistic) business processes.

"By and large, strategic BI and tactical BI are very data centric. [They're] comparing this data to that data ... [or] looking at long patterns [inside the] data," Imhoff told attendees. "When I [get] to operational BI, ... our whole paradigm kind of shifts from a data centricity to a process centricity."