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Datawatch Swarm on path to combine data prep, analytics

Datawatch plans to add analytics and data visualization tools to its Swarm data preparation platform, starting with integration capabilities in a Swarm 2.2 release.

Datawatch Corp. released an updated version of its Datawatch Swarm software, the first of three planned steps to incorporate predictive analytics and real-time data visualization tools into the self-service data preparation platform over the next 18 months.

Datawatch Swarm 2.2 adds integration with the Angoss predictive analytics software that Datawatch bought earlier this year. These new ties enable data scientists to upload predictive models created in Angoss to Swarm for business analysts to execute and reuse. The integration also lets users centralize data preparation work for analytics applications in Swarm to take advantage of the platform's collaboration and data governance capabilities.

The predictive modeling tools in Angoss will be built into Swarm in the second phase of the development plan outlined by Datawatch. The Bedford, Mass., company itself was acquired by Altair Engineering Inc. two days after Swarm 2.2's release, completing a $176 million deal announced in November. But Datawatch officials said the upgrades to Swarm are due to continue as planned under Altair's ownership.

The rollout of the second phase is scheduled to start with a Swarm 3.0 update in the spring of 2019, and the full set of Angoss model creation features should be available in Swarm later next year, said Rami Chahine, vice president of product management at Datawatch.

The company then expects to fold its Panopticon data visualization and streaming analytics software into Swarm by mid-2020 in the plan's third phase, Chahine added.

Screenshot of Datawatch Swarm 2.2's graphical flow UI
Datawatch Swarm 2.2 includes a graphical flow UI option, in addition to the existing grid view.

A change in technology

Datawatch Swarm became generally available in June, taking over as Datawatch's lead data preparation product from its decades-old Monarch desktop tool.

Originally called Monarch Swarm when it came out in preview mode last year, the new server-based platform supports teaming on data preparation tasks, with a built-in data catalog and data lineage tools to help analysts find, track and govern data.

Swarm's collaborative elements are its biggest differentiator compared to rival data preparation technologies, said David Menninger, an analyst at Ventana Research in Bend, Ore.

"They've staked their claim around collaboration, and they've gone further on that than other vendors have," Menninger said, referring to Datawatch. "They've really embraced it."

The folks at Datawatch had to sort of reinvent themselves.
David MenningerVentana Research analyst

In addition, the plan to combine data preparation, analytics and visualization in Swarm could put Datawatch on more even footing with larger competitor Alteryx Inc., according to Menninger. Alteryx's namesake platform blends those three technologies now, including an expanded set of data visualization features that the company added in August as part of its Alteryx 2018.3 release.

Menninger said that while Monarch is widely used, it's a stand-alone data preparation tool that has mostly been sold to individual users or small groups in organizations via a land-and-expand strategy. As preparing data for analytics uses has become more of a core IT concern, "the folks at Datawatch had to sort of reinvent themselves" with Datawatch Swarm, he said.

Forced to focus on IT

A handful of large banks and auditing companies have thousands of Monarch users, Chahine said, but Datawatch hasn't sold the desktop tool to IT departments for enterprise deployments.

"That's what Swarm forces us to do," he said, adding that the development of the collaborative platform was partly driven by customer feedback that IT wants to better control the data preparation process. Centralizing data prep is meant to stop users from saving files on their own systems without proper data governance and to coordinate tasks so different analysts don't "end up doing the same work over and over again," Chahine said.

Nonetheless, Datawatch Swarm is designed to be used primarily by business analysts and managers who want to prepare and analyze data themselves while working with data scientists to make sure the predictive models that will run in the platform meet business needs.

Besides Alteryx, Chahine said Datawatch hopes Swarm will enable it to match up against Looker Data Sciences and Periscope Data, which sell platforms that are used to create curated data sets for analysis by business users.

Convincing prospective users to turn away from rivals with more complete platforms may be challenging until all of the planned Swarm technology pieces are in place, but Datawatch execs think the 2.2 release makes the combination of Swarm and Angoss a viable alternative.

"I would imagine that it's easier to go out and buy a single solution," Chahine said. "But with Swarm and Angoss integrated now, we can compete on feature-function with those guys."

He said Datawatch also plans to target the Monarch customer base for deployments of Swarm, which currently is being used in production applications by about 20 organizations.

Watching the data flow

Datawatch Swarm 2.2 also adds a graphical view of data flows and data preparation steps; users can toggle back and forth between that and the original spreadsheet-like grid view in the software's UI. Menninger said the dual views are another competitive differentiator for Datawatch, which can now also match Alteryx by offering a flow-based UI to users who prefer that format.

Datawatch acquired the Angoss tools when it bought Angoss Software Corp. last January. The vendor also bought the Panopticon software, which supports data visualization and analytics on sets of streaming data; that deal took place in 2013. Now, Datawatch is part of Altair, a maker of simulation and computer-aided engineering software based in Troy, Mich.

Altair agreed to move forward with the Swarm development plans as part of the acquisition, Chahine said. Datawatch will likely add new functionality for manufacturers, which make up most of Altair's customer base, and its licensing, packaging and branding may change. "Other than that, I don't see a lot of impact on the roadmap," he said.

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