Data integration joins the on-demand craze

Data integration is evolving as companies migrate to on-demand applications such as Salesforce.com. New tools manage data integration between internal and external applications.

When Brocade Communication Systems Inc. decided to move to on-demand application Salesforce.com, it discovered

that integrating on-premise and off-premise data can be a major headache.

Brocade, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of shared storage products and services, chose Salesforce.com for sales pipeline and lead management. But it found that getting Salesforce.com data back into its data warehouse was likely to require a significant development effort, according to Marti Menacho, chief information officer at Brocade. This integration was a requirement for Brocade, which was moving from a homegrown system to the on-demand (also called hosted or Software-as-a-Service) application from Salesforce.com, a San Francisco-based provider of customer relationship management tools.

A recent study by Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC found that 79% of U.S. businesses use, or have considered using, on-demand applications, so other enterprises may soon encounter similar data integration challenges. Vendors are rushing to help.

Brocade beta tests the waters

Brocade needed to merge its Salesforce.com data with data from its internal ERP and finance systems to compile trend reports and pay pipeline-based commissions, Menacho explained.

"We were well on our way with our Salesforce.com implementation, then all of a sudden we found that bringing the data back in house would be a big deal," Menacho said. "It was one of the things that we were most worried about getting done [in time for the planned launch date]."

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Salesforce.com offers a set of application programming interfaces (APIs), but the implementation team determined that developing the APIs would take longer than they wanted, Menacho said. So they turned to Informatica, a Redwood City, Calif.-based data integration vendor. Brocade has used Informatica's PowerCenter platform for six years and wondered whether it could help. The timing was fortuitous.

Brocade piloted some of Informatica's new on-demand data integration functionality, slated for a phased-in release over the next year. The first product, still in development, will help Informatica users migrate and synchronize data from Salesforce.com with data inside a company. It was what the Brocade team needed to hit their go-live dates for its Salesforce.com implementation, Menacho said.

In fact, using Informatica took only one tenth of the time the team had figured it would take to write and test the interfaces itself.

Now, a nightly process moves data out of Salesforce.com into Brocade's data warehouse. If business requirements demand, the team might look at more frequent data migration in the future, Menacho said. And soon, the company will use the Informatica platform to move data the other way -- out of internal systems and into Salesforce.com -- and will start to manage more sales functions in Salesforce.com.

"From an ROI perspective, we were able to shut off the other [sales] system, stop maintaining that, and get our field salesforce on a system that they could access on the Internet as opposed to having to come into our network [to a homegrown system]," Menacho said.

Informatica has not released pricing but said in a statement that the Salesforce.com connector will be a "separately priced product" from its platform.

The next killer feature in the on-demand world?

Informatica's PowerCenter Connect option is just one of 20 utilities currently listed on Salesforce.com's AppExchange in the integration tools section, though the connector is still in development.

Informatica is releasing its on-demand data integration functionality in stages, starting with the PowerCenter connectors for Salesforce.com slated for release in the third quarter of 2006. Later, the company plans to make these functions generally available to partners on AppExchange. By the first quarter of 2007, it hopes to be able to license a variety of data services to hosted service providers to incorporate into different kinds of on-demand applications. Informatica plans to offer a whole stack of on-demand data integration services, including data profiling and quality technology gained from its acquisition of Similarity Systems.

The other tools listed on AppExchange range from utilities that promise easy integration with specific applications to broader integration platforms. For example, there is Vancouver, British Columbia-based SalesCentrix Inc.'s AccountDynamics, which integrates Salesforce.com data with QuickBooks, and Redwood City, Calif.-based Ipedo Inc.'s XIP, an enterprise information integration (EII) software platform that creates a virtual data services layer for complex enterprise architectures.

On-demand data integration is poised to be a critical component of increasingly heterogeneous enterprise architectures, according to James Kobielus, principal analyst with Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis Inc. Companies want highly flexible deployment options for all kinds of enterprise functions, Kobielus said, and that requires new kinds of data integration platforms.

"Many users are going to zigzag -- they'll bring some data management stuff in house and have some outside the firewall," Kobielus said. "I don't think most companies are going to be purely internal or purely external. They will want a hybrid set of deployment options and they'll want their data management provider to support those options."

Other data integration providers also embracing the on-demand model include BusinessObjects -- based in San Jose, Calif., and Paris -- which in April put out a hosted version of Crystal Reports, crystalreports.com.

Incumbency may play a role in vendor selection, though. For Brocade, the only options the team considered were building it themselves or using Informatica, their current data integration provider, Menacho said. There wasn't time for analysis, and they're trying to consolidate systems, anyway.

"We've been successful with Informatica for six years. That's why we looked to expand that platform, rather than bring in a new one," Menacho explained.

For companies considering similar moves to on-demand applications, Menacho offered advice that she said is obvious, yet critical: focus on getting consistent data definitions, with disciplines such as master data management, as well as good data mapping across the enterprise.

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