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Informatica hopes to bridge the business/IT divide with latest release

New collaboration capabilities aimed at improving communication between IT and the business are highlights of the latest version of Informatica's data integration software platform.

With the latest version of its data integration software platform, Informatica says it has finally found a way to overcome the business/IT divide. Yet industry observers say it will take more than just software to accomplish that task.

Informatica 9, which was released today, utilizes service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based data integration services, rather than the conventional extract, transform and load (ETL) method, to enable near real-time data integration with applications and databases throughout the enterprise, according to the company, giving business users access to timelier, relevant data. It can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud, Informatica says.

"This is more than simply the launch of a platform," said Chris Boorman, chief of marketing for the Redwood City, Calif.-based vendor. "It is a launch of a capability that will enable the business and IT to collaborate together in defining requirements and definitions and understanding the value of data in a way that wasn't possible before."

With what the company calls "purpose-fit tools," Informatica 9 lets both the business and IT view and manipulate data in formats most useful to them. The platform uses browser-based, self-service tools to let business users see and manipulate data as they understand it, in non-technical terms, Boorman said. IT, meanwhile, can see and interact with the data in a format designed for the developer environment.

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The key is that both views rely on the same underlying metadata, he said. So while the views are different, the data is consistent, and any changes made by a business user in data models or data quality rules will be accurately transmitted to IT.

The platform also allows both business and IT users to share ideas via bookmarking.

Mark Smith, CEO and vice president of research at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Ventana Research, said 30% to 50% of data-related errors occur because data is delivered in the incorrect form to business analysts from IT. That forces analysts to make changes to the data that often result in errors.

The new tools to allow better collaboration between business analysts and IT could help mitigate the problem, Smith said.

"This is one of the most important things that they've got done with this release," he said. "It's not that their product hasn't been used and shared before, but now they've got the toolset that data and business analysts can actually put their arms around and work on a common set of metadata with IT."

In addition, Informatica 9 offers the ability to create centralized, reusable data quality rules so that data quality standards can be enforced enterprise-wide, regardless of which application is accessing the data. It also includes an improved address validation engine based on technology that Informatica acquired when it bought data quality vendor Address Doctor in June.

But the new features aren't a cure-all for miscommunication between the business and IT. "Now we just have to do the work to educate and improve the maturity and competency of these organizations so they can actually work together," Smith said.

Rob Karel, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, agreed that the new tools to allow better business/IT communication are a positive development, but he said that more needs to be done in terms of collaboration capabilities.

"I think some areas where [Informatica] could improve are on the collaboration workflow side of it," Karel said. "There are still certain areas that are TBD in terms of creating workflows for approvals and validations. If you're going to build this collaborative process, make it more than just sharing data."

In addition to better transparency between business analysts and IT, he said, Informatica and other vendors also need to develop better ways to extend those capabilities to actual data integration and quality decision making within the products themselves.

The version 9 upgrades represent Informatica's latest attempt to expand its offerings beyond purely ETL data integration technology to data quality and data governance capabilities to better compete with Oracle and IBM. They also support analyst firm Gartner's contention that data integration and data quality are increasingly converging.

While small in comparison with its mega-vendor competitors, Informatica has done relatively well throughout the recession, achieving positive revenue growth each quarter during the downturn and adding a number of high-profile customers, including Bank of New York Mellon, according to the company.

With the upgrades, Informatica does indeed compare well with IBM and Oracle, Karel said, but the vendor needs to do a better job now in getting its message – particularly that it offers SOA-based data integration services and data governance capabilities – to customers who think of the company as a strictly ETL vendor.

"From a technology and architecture approach, it looks and sounds great," Karel said. "I think where they will maybe struggle against the other more traditional SOA players is in the fact [that] they still might have a perception in the marketplace of being more just batch and ETL integration. Their real-time data integration story, not everyone associates with Informatica."

Fiserv, a financial services IT company based in Brookfield, Wis., has been evaluating Informatica 9. Mark Hendrickson, a data warehouse services manager at the company, said he was first struck by the platform's new collaboration capabilities, noting that miscommunication between the business and IT has bedeviled Fiserv in the past, particularly when it comes to data quality.

"Oftentimes, the IT teams that work with the data may not be as familiar with the business rules," Hendrickson said. "And seeking out business users with subject matter expertise is tough."

Hendrickson is also pleased to see data quality taking a more prominent role in the data integration platform, saying, "They should be tightly integrated."

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