What, really, is going on in the white-hot and closely related fields of data integration, data quality, and master data management? Are the recent acquisitions by IBM and Informatica good for CIOs in clarifying a jumbled field, or bad for CIOs in reducing their range of choices and the level of competitive intensity?
Well, as my old pal Sticks Sullivan used to say, "It all depends on whose ox is being gored."
Let's first take a look at how IBM is positioning yesterday's announcement of its intention to acquire closely held Initiate, whose own website emphasizes strongly its role as a specialist in master data management (MDM). IBM says the addition of Initiate's products will dovetail perfectly with IBM's overall information-management strategy, product line, and technologies.
However, IBM's press release about the acquisition makes no mention of the term "master data management"—why is that? Does IBM believe the term has lost its relevancy for today's market? Does IBM have a different way of articulating this concept? Is the MDM grail not so holy?
Or, as IBM's competitors would have it, is the real reason something quite different: that Initiate gives IBM only a portion of what customers need, and that its product line still has some holes? Here's what IBM has to say about Initiate—which it calls "a market leader in data-integrity software"—and we'll follow that with some perspectives from IBM's competitors.
"Bringing together data from separate systems managed by hospitals, doctors' offices and payers is a daunting task," says IBM's press release. "Initiate has helped clients meet this challenge at more than 2,400 healthcare sites, over 40 health information exchanges and multiple government health systems around the world. The software speeds the adoption and exchange of electronic medical records. With easier access to accurate information, medical professionals can recognize patients at any facility within a health network with access to complete medical histories of patients, resulting in more timely and better informed patient care."
And IBM offers this perspective about how Initiate software has helped public-sector organizations vet and share information: "Government agencies are stymied at times because they have no easy way to access pertinent information across multiple systems," the IBM press release says. "In combination with IBM InfoSphere software, Initiate software will expand capabilities for information governance and help agencies gain a single view of relevant information to better serve citizens."
Not surprisingly, the folks at two of IBM's information-management competitors don't see it quite that way, as you'll see in these comments from Kalido CEO Bill Hewitt and then from Informatica.
Noting that Initiate's product is spefically designed to handle only certain types of data—customer data and product data—Kalido CEO Hewitt says, "Where they have struggled is in mastering multiple domains, even though they advertise their products as such. The problem is that as you add domains, the complexity of the data relationships expands exponentially. So one domain might have 100 relationships, two domains 300 relationships, 10 domains 3,000 relationships. So when one master data element changes, hundreds of relationships could change, which requires a governance process to manage it."
The limitation, Hewitt says, is that rather letting customers make all the decisions about how master data are managed, the software reduces choice and flexibility. (Of course, Kalido's software has no such limitations, Hewitt says.) That type of "hub" approach, Hewitt says, requires expensive and cumbersome overhauls to keep up with changes in the business, whereas Kalido's model-driven approach "can be updated as the business process changes."
Over at Informatica—which only last week acquired MDM heavyweight Siperian—the company offered these five questions for CIOs to consider as they mull the implications of the IBM-Initiate deal: