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VentanaResearch_TechInnovation_Award_Winner_2013At the Informatica World 2014 conference, the company known for its data integration software unveiled the Intelligent Data Platform. In the last three years Informatica has expanded beyond data integration and now has a broad software portfolio that facilitates information management within the enterprise and through cloud computing. The Intelligent Data Platform forms a framework for its portfolio. This expression of broad potential is important for Informatica, which has been slow to position its products as capable of more than data integration. A large part of the value it provides lies in what its products can do to help organizations strengthen their enterprise architectures for managing applications and data. We see Informatica’s sweet spot in facilitating efficient use of data for business and IT purposes; we call this information optimization.

Informatica’s Intelligent Data Platform is built in three layers. The bottom layer is Informatica Vibe, the virtual data machine that I covered at its launch last year. Informatica Vibe won our Ventana Research 2013 Technology Innovation Award for information optimization. It virtualizes information management technology to operate on any platform whether on-premises or in any form of cloud computing.

Above Informatica Vibe in the platform is a data infrastructure layer, which contains all the technologies that act upon data, from integration through archiving, masking, mastering, quality assurance, security, streaming and other tasks. At the core of this second layer is Informatica PowerCenter, which provides data integration and other capabilities central to processing of data into information. PowerCenter provides parsing, profiling, joining and filtering but also is integral for data services through Informatica’s Data Integration Hub that operates in a publish-and-subscribe model. The latest PowerCenter release, version 9.6, focuses on providing agility in development and provides a series of packaged editions that provide certain levels of functionality; users choose among them to fit their requirements. This developer support includes advances in test data management and data masking for enterprise-class needs. There are editions for Informatica Data Quality, too. The latest release of Informatica MDM, 9.7, improves the user experience for data stewards along with enhanced performance and governance. Not much was mentioned at the conference about Informatica’s Product Information Management (PIM) offering that our most recent Value Index vendor and product assessment rated Hot.

The third layer is data intelligence. Here Informatica has added capabilities to organize, infer and recommend action from data and to provision and map data to business needs. In addition Informatica’s Business Glossary and Metadata Manager help establish consistent definitions and use of data for operational or analytical tasks. Informatica RulePoint, a product that also was not mentioned much at the conference, processes events through workflow in a continuous rule based manner; depending on how processing occurs, its function is to support complex event processing or event streaming.

On top of the Intelligent Data Platform, Informatica has added a couple of new innovations. Project Springbok, which is not yet released, is a tool for preparation of data for analytics and operations through its Innovation division. This new product will use Informatica’s expertise in providing access to and integration of data sources, which according to our information optimization benchmark research is the top analyst requirement in 39 percent of organizations. Despite data warehouse efforts, analysts and business users still have to access many data sources. Simplifying information is critical for nearly all organizations that have more than 16 data sources. Demonstrations showed that Springbok can dynamically create and automate the transformations that run in PowerCenter. It also offers access to a master reference to ensure that data is processed in a consistent manner. IT professionals gain visibility into what business units are doing to show how they can help in provisioning data. Even in beta release Springbok has significant potential to address the range of data issues analysts face and reduce the time they spend on data-related tasks. Our research has shown for several years that this data challenge presses organizations to diversify the tools they use, and software vendors in this market have responded. Informatica will have to compete with more than a dozen others and demonstrate its superiority for integration. Our research finds that the lines of business and IT now share responsibility for information availability in 42 percent of organizations. Informatica will have to demonstrate its value to line of business analysts who are evaluating a new generation of tools for data and analytics.

A second innovation is a new data security product called Secure@Source, also being developed in the Innovation unit, is designed to protect data assets where they are stored and processed. This product moves Informatica into the information security market segment. Secure@Source helps users discover, detect, assess and protect data assets in their persistent locations and during consumption by applications or Internet services. The question is whether Informatica can convince current customers to examine it or will have to approach information security professionals who are not users of Informatica. Security of data is among the top five required data activities according to our research and a key part of the manageability requirements that organizations find important in considering products. Informatica has an opportunity to insert itself into the dialogue in this area if it properly presents the new product to IT and business people alike.

vr_Big_Data_Analytics_02_defining_big_data_analyticsIn big data Informatica has made steady progress, but to reach its potential in this segment will require more investments in the mixed big data environments, not just Hadoop. As our research has shown for three years, customers want big data to distribute processing and integration of data across sources. Our recent research on big data analytics finds that three out of four (76%) define big data analytics as being about accessing and analyzing all sources of data. This poses a challenge for data integration, and our new research on big data integration finds that most have a long way to go in accessibility and mastering of data. Informatica begins to address this and has an opportunity in helping develop a new generation of data architecture.

vr_NG_Finance_Analytics_09_too_much_time_to_prepare_dataIn cloud computing, the company has consolidated its efforts to ensure that the cloud is part of its core technology. It released new versions for its cloud-based integration, quality, master and real-time data management products; these begin to address the challenge of process and application integration, which are important considerations for businesses in determining whether integrate or replace point cloud solutions to improve efficiency of tasks and business processes. Informatica has continued to focus on integrating mostly with the large cloud computing providers and has yet to invest in streamlining processes in particular lines of business. This has left openings for other cloud integration providers to compete, making it harder than expected for Informatica to dominate in this segment. The next step here is up to Informatica.

I believe that one of the highest potential opportunities for Informatica is in the application architectures of organizations whose business processes have been distributed through a collection of cloud-based applications that lack interconnectivity and integration. For example, finance departments often have software from different providers for budgeting and planning, consolidation and reporting, accounting and payroll management. When these applications are spread across the cloud, connecting them is a real challenge, let alone trying to get information from sales force automation and customer service applications. The implications of this are shown in our finance analytics research : Data-related tasks consume the most time and impede the efficiency of financial processes as they do in all other line of business areas that we have researched. Similar situations exist in customer-related areas (marketing, sales and customer service) and employee management processes (recruiting, onboarding, performance, compensation and learning). Informatica has made progress with Informatica Cloud Extend for interconnecting tasks across applications, which can help streamline processes. While perhaps not obvious to data integration specialists, this level of process automation and integration is essential to the future of cloud computing. Informatica also announced it will offer master data management in the cloud; this should help it not just to place a data hub in the cloud but to help companies interoperate separate cloud applications more efficiently.

Overall the Informatica Intelligent Data Platform is a good reference model for tasks related to turning data into information assets. But it could be much distinct in how its automation accelerates the processing of data faster and helps specific roles work faster and smarter. This platform does not provide a context for enterprise architectures that are stretched between on-premises and various cloud deployments. Organizations will have to determine whether Informatica’s approach fits their future data and architectural needs. As Informatica pushes its platform approach, it has to ensure it is seen as a leader in big data integration, helping business analysts with data, supporting a larger number of application sources and connecting cloud computing through unifying business applications. This won’t be easy to accomplish as Informatica has not been as progressive in the broader approach to big data and use across operations and analytics.

VR_leadershipwinnerInformatica has been growing substantially and is getting close to US$1 billion in annual software revenue. We have recognized its success through rating it a Hot vendor in our Data Integration Value Index and naming one of its customers, the CIO of UMass Memorial Health Care, the Chief Information Officer in our 2013 Leadership Awards. Informatica has been continuing substantial investment in R&D. Its acquisitions of data-related software companies have helped it grow, and Informatica has invested to integrate the products with PowerCenter. With almost half (49%) of organizations planning to change their information availability processes, the opportunity for Informatica is significant; its challenge is to gain the confidence and recognition by business customers, who now play a larger role in the selection and purchasing of software. This will require Informatica to speak their language of business and not just technology but the business processes that they are held accountable. Informatica is a major player in information management; now it must become as significant a choice for streamlining business processes and use of applications and data across the enterprise and cloud computing to enable information optimization.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer


Epicor used its recent user group conference to explain its strategic direction and product roadmap. The company is the result of multiple mergers of business software corporations over the past 15 years; its target customers are midsize companies and midsize divisions of larger organizations. Its most significant products are Epicor (ERP software aimed mainly at manufacturing and distribution companies) and Activant Solutions (software for small and midsize retailers, including a point-of-sale system). The company also has software that manages CRM, HR and human capital and supply chains,  and provides financial performance management (FPM) and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) capabilities. These components of the software suites are adequate for the needs of many of the company’s target customers and are not intended as stand-alone applications.

It’s worthwhile to view Epicor’s situation in market context. During the first decade of the century there was a sharp decline in demand for ERP and other software categories as well as limited technology advances, and this led to a wave of consolidations. For example, Oracle bought PeopleSoft (which had acquired JD Edwards), Microsoft picked up Great Plains and Navision (both of which had just acquired rivals), and Infor was assembled from multiple layers of consolidated companies. These corporate restructurings made sense from both financial and operating perspectives in that they could achieve some economies in administration and R&D in a relatively stable business and technology environment. That era has ended. The challenge facing all vendors of legacy ERP systems is to significantly redesign their core applications to address evolving market requirements. These include a user experience that is more intuitive and productive and reducing the cost of implementing and operating the software. Epicor is positioned to address these challenges, but success will depend on its ability to accelerate its development efforts in enhancing the user experience and lowering the total cost of ownership of its software (whether on premises or in the cloud) while adding users to boost revenues.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesExecutives at the user conference highlighted their development themes, which are consistent with our research on business technology innovation priorities. Epicor will concentrate development efforts on utilizing Microsoft’s infrastructure and the customer benefits that this makes possible. For example, the most recent release of ERP 10 was presented customers with fewer issues than the previous major release because it didn’t have to deal with the complexities that go with trying to support multiple IT environments. Speakers emphasized five key themes in product design going forward: choice, collaboration, responsiveness, simplicity and mobility. All of these are consistent with the broad market trends that have been under way for a few years. Addressing all of them is necessary for Epicor to achieve its strategic goals. Specifically, the company has been investing in making its applications more granular so that companies can have end-to-end process management as well as the flexibility to deploy only the pieces of the software suite that they need. Epicor is also intent on giving companies the choice to deploy its software on-premises or in the cloud in multitenant or single tenant form. I have written about the importance of this for new ERP deployments. Since finance and manufacturing – not just the front office – are now social entities and because social capabilities facilitate collaboration in managing processes, the company has been beefing up these features of its software. Executives also emphasized that its development strategy is to provide simplicity in deployment and the user experience (including ease of use, ease of upgrades and better performance) and to expand mobility options. Ease of upgrades is essential for the company to compete in the on-premises market and to support a hybrid cloud strategy. The company is planning to offer enhancements to its ERP 10 software every four months, so it’s critical that upgrading be simple or customers will fall behind and satisfaction will decline.

Epicor also has been evolving its reporting and financial performance management capabilities over the past five years; these are essential for an ERP vendor to offer. It has taken the individual budgeting, planning and reporting created for specific applications and built an FPM application that supports its applications and gives users of FRx (a once widely used but discontinued product from Microsoft) a replacement option. Sessions at the conference highlighted numerous small but essential enhancements that Epicor has made over the past two years to all of the applications that deepen functionality and enhance their usability.

At this point Epicor has a large installed base and a product line that is attractive to midsize companies and as a tier 2 package for larger companies. However, after a decade of technology drowsiness, business software markets are becoming more dynamic. ERP systems are about to undergo a considerable transformation, driven by the growing availability of technologies that can address the operational shortcomings of established systems. A demographic shift is taking place in the ranks of senior executives and managers – from the baby boom generation to those who grew up with computer technology – and this will drive demand for a new generation of ERP software. Soon, to be competitive these systems will have to deliver a better user experience, greater flexibility and agility as well as mobility and lower cost of ownership. Epicor is heading in this direction, but it will need to run hard just to sustain its market position.

The company is moving to rationalize its software offerings (while still supporting existing users), which is essential to be able to quickly evolve its offerings by providing flexible deployment options and facilitate ongoing enhancements to its products. It would benefit extending its partnerships to add product breadth. For example, its FPM capabilities are solid for some customers but especially for its larger ones it lacks some essential capabilities that we evaluate in our Value Index on this topic.

Epicor is no longer a public company, and that can be a good thing when management needs to make investments and take chances it might not dare when financials results must be published every quarter. This is especially true for the ERP category since, as a result of the complexity of the product, no single big breakthrough will change the market; a steady and protracted series of incremental advances will in aggregate determine which vendors succeed over the long term. Epicor has a solid foundation, but to achieve its strategic objective of remaining a major business software player, it will need to invest heavily and execute consistently and nimbly over the next several years.

Regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

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