Q&A: Informatica CEO details competitive data integration market

Sohaib Abbasi says American Express, Bose are among customers of new PowerCenter 8

Longtime Oracle executive Sohaib Abbasi became CEO of data integration vendor Informatica Corp. in July 2004. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company's stock was tanking, and the company was losing money and market share, while business software and database vendors were also introducing their own data integration capabilities. Informatica is on its fifth straight quarter of better-than-20% year-over-year license growth and its sixth straight profitable quarter. Its stock price is up more than 140%. And the company is moving forward with new products such as an on-demand version of its flagship PowerCenter software to help it fend off competitors, Abbasi told Computerworld. Edited excerpts from the interview follow:

With so many other vendors now offering data integration software that they claim is the best fit with their business or database software, Informatica is one of the few remaining independents. Is that a good feeling? The ambitions of the database vendors are very different from ours. Most focus on enabling data to be migrated over to their own database. They are using it as leverage to grow their database sales. Our interests are aligned with our customers – that is, neutrality across databases.

At least one of those vendors, Sybase Inc., however, recently announced plans to bring together a suite of data integration products that, while currently focused on a narrow area – data replication – does on paper appear to offer a broader suite than Informatica. After Sybase announced that they had bought Solonde AG, they sent a note to us reiterating their partnership with us. Solonde is suited for lower-end data integration projects. It does not provide the comprehensive offering that we do. Our suite automates the entire data integration life cycle. We provide connectivity to more sources of data than any other vendor. We enable access to all the mainframe sources, including IMS, IDMS, AS/400 – the list goes on. We also provide profiling and data quality products, neither of which Sybase has announced. No one else comes even close to our breadth.

How do you rate your capabilities in cleaning data and ensuring its quality compared to your competition? Most data quality vendors started in postal automation. They looked just at names and addresses. Our approach starts with financial data and employee data. Banks might need to comply with Basel II rules or do anti-money-laundering. There are consumer-packaged goods companies using it for product data. And we have dozens of customers using it for traditional name-and-address cleansing. We also measure quality six different ways. And our approach is more versatile and the most modern of the offerings out there.

Will data integration software kill the enterprise application integration (EAI) market? No. EAI vendors help customers integrate transactional systems so that they can post data consistently in multiple systems. If you look at the features they've touted over the years, they include guaranteed message delivery and transactional integrity.

We, on the other hand, help customers gain an accurate and holistic view of all their information. The features we talk about are near-universal access to data across all of these systems, data quality, data integration, etc. So we help our customers address distinctly different challenges. We have joint customers with EAI vendors. We use the message bus provided by the EAI vendors as a source of data for real-time data warehouses. There have been some vendors that tried to cross over to the other side and make claims. We are not one of them.

You released Version 8 of PowerCenter in the spring of this year. What has been the uptake? Who are some of your customers? We are very pleased with the uptake. One of our new features is support for unstructured data. We enable customers to integrate data, not just stored in databases and file systems, but also in Microsoft Office formats and even PDF documents. American Express is using it to integrate Excel data that stores data about members who hold certain branded cards. They want to aggregate that information on members with other member data, meaning they need to draw from Excel spreadsheets as well as more traditional databases.

Another customer is stereo maker Bose Corp. It is migrating off legacy data sources and toward SAP. Modernization is a big driver for us. Post M&A integration, especially in the financial services and pharmaceutical industry, is also bringing customers. Cemex, the second-largest cement manufacturer in Mexico, merged with RMC Group in the U.K. last year. They wanted to reduce the time to integrate systems by six months because it would be worth $100 million to them. Using Informatica, they intend to meet that goal.

What is your on-demand strategy? How do you avoid competing with your existing channel partners? On-demand is complementary and incremental to our partners. We first provided connectivity to Salesforce.com. Then we want to make data integration a feature for other hosted service providers. NetSuite is already one of our partners. We have a long history with Siebel. We are in discussions with them to extend our hosted offering to Siebel-On-Demand as well. Eventually, we plan to offer our platform entirely as a software-as-a-service. This is all to help us go out of the enterprise arena.

There are very few open-source data integration vendors. Why? Given the nature of data integration, you need to have knowledge of a lot of different systems, including very old mainframe computers. This is specialized knowledge that few open-source data integration companies have.

Have you entertained any buyout offers recently? If Ab Initio were sold, would that make you take a buyout offer more seriously? We are singularly focused on data integration and on our sustained execution. Obviously though, because we're a publicly traded company, we take our requirements to keep the perspective of investors in mind very seriously. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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