Founded in 1993, Trillium Software has been the largest independent data quality vendor for some years, nestling since the late 1990s as a subsidiary of US marketing services company Harte Hanks. The latter was once a newspaper company dating back to 1928, but switched to direct marketing in the late 1990s. It had overall revenues of $495 million in 2015. There was clearly a link between data quality and direct marketing, since name and address validation is an important feature of marketing campaigns. However the business model of a software company is different from a marketing firm, so ultimately there was always going to be a certain awkwardness in Trillium living under the Harte Hanks umbrella.
On June 7th 2016 the parent company announced that it had hired an advisor to look at “strategic alternatives” for Trillium, including the possibility of selling the company, though the company’s announcement made clear that a sale was not a certainty. Trillium has around 200 employees and a large existing customer base, so will have a steady income stream from maintenance revenues. The data quality industry is not the fastest growing sector of enterprise software, but is well established and quite fragmented. As well as offerings from Informatica, IBM, SAP and Oracle (all of which were based on acquisitions) there are dozens of smaller data quality vendors, many of them having grown up around the name and address matching issue that is well suited to at least a partially automated solution. While some vendors like Experian have focused traditionally on this problem, other vendors such as Trillium have developed much broader data quality offerings, with functions such as data profiling, cleansing, merge/matching, enrichment and even data governance.
There is a close relationship between data quality and the somewhat faster growing sector of master data management (MDM), so MDM vendors might seem in principle to be natural acquirers of data quality vendors. However MDM itself has somewhat consolidated in recent years, and the big players in it like Informatica, Oracle and IBM all market platforms that combine data integration, MDM and data quality (though in practice the degree of true integration is distinctly more variable than it appears on Powerpoint). Trillium might be too big a company to be swallowed up by the relatively small independents that remain in the MDM space. It will be interesting to see what emerges from this exercise. Certainly it makes sense for Trillium to stand on its own to feet rather than living within a marketing company, but on the other hand Harte Hanks may have missed the boat. A few years ago large vendors were clamouring to acquire MDM and related technologies, but now most companies that need a data quality offering have either built or bought one. The financial adviser in charge of the review may have to be somewhat creative in who it looks at as a possible acquirer.
I recently attended the Informatica World event in San Francisco, which drew over 3,000 customers and partners. One key announcement from an MDM perspective was the availability of Informatica MDM for the cloud, called MDM Cloud Edition. Previously Informatica had a Salesforce application only cloud offering via an acquisition in 2012 of a company called Data Scout. This is the first time that the main Informatica MDM offering has been able to be deployed in the cloud, including on Amazon AWS. It is an important step, as moving MDM to the cloud is a slow but inevitable bandwagon and recently start-ups like Reltio, designed from scratch as cloud offerings, have been able to offer cloud MDM with little real competition. The Informatica data quality technology will apparently be fully cloud-ready by the end of 2016.
The company launched a product called Intelligent Streaming. This connects lots of data sources and distributes the data for you e.g. a demo showed data from several sources being streamed to a compute engine using Spark, or Hadoop if you prefer, without needing to code. This approach shields some of the underlying complexity of the Big Data environment from developers. Live Data Map is part of the Informatica infrastructure and is a way to visualise data sources both on premise or cloud. Its also does scheduling in a more sophisticated way than at present, using machine learning techniques.
There were plenty of external speakers, both customers and partners. Nick Millman from Accenture gave a talk about trends in data management, and referred back to his first assignment at a “global energy company” (actually Shell, where I first met him), in which the replication of an executive dashboard database involved him flying from London to The Hague with a physical tape to load up onto a server in Rijswijk. Unilever gave a particularly good talk about their recent global product information management project, in which the (business rather than IT) speaker described MDM as “character building” – hard to argue there.
There were new executives on display, in particular Jim Davis as head of marketing (ex SAS) and Lou Attanasio as the new head of sales (ex IBM).
With Informatica having recently gone private, it will be comforting for their customers that the company is investing as much as ever in its core technology, and certainly in MDM the company reckons it has more developers than Oracle, IBM and SAP combined, though such claims are hard to verify. However there certainly seems to be plenty of R&D activity going on related to MDM judging by the detailed sessions. Examples of additional new developments were accelerators and applications for pharmaceuticals, healthcare and insurance.
Informatica continues to have one of the leading MDM technologies at a time when some of its large competitors appear to be losing momentum in the marketplace for assorted reasons, so from a customer perspective the considerable on-going R&D effort is reassuring. Its next major R&D effort will be to successfully blend the two current major MDM platforms that they have (acquired from Siperian and Heiler), something that their large competitors have singularly failed to achieve thus far with their own acquired MDM technologies.