The other shoe drops

For sometime I had been wondering which company Microsoft would buy to enter the MDM market. This is a key area in the broader business intelligence arena that they aspire to progress in, and was a major gap in their offering. Stratature was their choice, and it was a smart choice. Stratature plays in the analytical MDM area rather than being an operation transaction hub (like Siperian, say). It had built up a good reputation for flexible hierarchy management, an important feature of most MDM applications. They competed directly with Razza (an excellent tool which Hyperion purchased but Oracle seems to have now buried) and Kalido.

Stratature is the kind of bite-sized (16 employees) acquisition that Microsoft likes. It prefers to catch a company when it is small so that it can easily absorb the technical staff and mould them into the Microsoft way of doing things. When it has deviated from this rule (Great Plains, Navision) it has discovered why this was a good rule in the first place.

Congratulations to Ian Ahern, who impressed me on the several occasions I met with him. He also supports my (possibly biased) thesis that all the best MDM people are Brits. The terms of the deal are not public, and it would have been interesting to see what valuation a good MDM vendor achieved; I am sure it worked out well for Stratature’s shareholders. This now leaves Kalido as the main remaining independent analytic MDM vendor. This is not necessarily a bad thing for Kalido. Informatica has shown how you can thrive once your competitors get swallowed by the behemoths. Being stack-neutral in data management carries advantages.

Metamorphosis

It is a big day for me today, as I have decided to move from Kalido to pursue other interests. Kalido has come a long way since I encountered some original generic modeling research at Shell in 1996 that I could see had massive potential to provide Shell with integrated information from across the world throughout business change. After success at Shell with the software, I set up a business unit to commercialize Kalido, resulting in Kalido being set up as an independent company in 2001, and, with the backing of major venture capitalists, subsequently spun off from Shell in 2003. By this time it was clear that the next phase of growth for the company was to become successful in the US market, the largest in the world, and as I am based in the UK, I handed over the reins of CEO, and assumed the role of customer champion, company spokesperson and chief strategist. There has been no shortage of projects to work on, and I have thoroughly enjoyed continuing to raise the public profile of Kalido, but now that a new CEO – Bill Hewitt – has come on board to take the company to its next level of growth, I felt it was the right time for me to move on. Bill Hewitt has exactly the right background in enterprise software to take the company to the great commercial success that it deserves.

I have immensely enjoyed building Kalido up from an idea to a company with tremendous potential, and I look forward to seeing its continuing success. It has been an exhilarating experience for me, above all because I have had the privilege of working with a group of highly talented and committed individuals. It has been an immense pleasure to see so many examples of real business benefit in customer projects that have deployed Kalido in over 100 countries. The success that the company has enjoyed so far has been based on a passion for customer success and the high quality of its people, and is something I am extremely proud to have been associated with.

I intend to initially do some independent consulting and do a little writing. This blog, of course, will live on!

Mastering data

At the 2005 Kalido User Group this week in London a survey was carried out of the attendees regarding the attendees persepctives on master data management. The striking result in the survey was that, although around two-thirds of the respondents (and these are serious companies, like BP, Unilever, Philips etc) felt that dealing with their companies master data was a “top three”priority issue for them, no less than 90% felt that the industry had failed to address it properly. While there are a few software products out there to help tackle customer data integration and product information management, very few address general issue of managing master data across a global corporation.

Large corporations are need to manage not just customers and products, but also other data such as brand, organization, people, price etc, which are scattered throughout a wide range of corporate systems, including multiple instances of ERP systems from the same vendor. The application consolidation that has been occurring in recent years has clearly failed to make inroads into this issue in the eyes of the people that matter: the customers.

Hiring Top Programmers

At Kalido we want to hire the best 1% of programmers. This is for a very good reason: the top 1% of programmers code 10 times as much code as the average ones, and yet their defect rates are half the average. This is a pretty amazing productivity difference, yet has been found consistently over the years e.g. by IBM. In order to try and search out these elusive people, we use a couple of different tests in addition to interviews. Firstly we use ability tests from a commercial company called SHL. In particular their “DIT5” test, aimed at programming ability, proves to be very useful. We found a very high correlation between the test results and our existing programming team when we tried this on ourselves, and we now use it for all new recruits. Another is a software design test that we developed ourselves. We find that very few people do a decent version of this, which allows us to screen out a lot of people prior to interview, sacing time for all involved.

I actually find it encouraging that some people don’t like to have to do such tests, thinking themselves above such things or (more likely) fearing that they won’t do well. This is an excellent screening mechanism in itself – as a company we want the very best, and in my experience talented people enjoy being challenged at interview, rather than being asked bland HR questions like “what are your strengths and weaknesses” (yeah, yeah we know, you are too much of a perfectionist and work too hard, yawn). Partly as a result of these tests, as well as detailed technical interviews, we have assembled a top class programming team.

I am encouraged that a similar view is shared by Joel Spolsky, who writes a fine series of his insights into software, “Joel on software”:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/HighNotes.html

which I highly recommend.