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User Experience Trumps Feature Load

As I was conducting my research on the enterprise chat segment of the collaboration and communication market, I reviewed a number of products in that space. What struck me most was the simplicity of the products. Not that the code wasn’t complex – a lot of what these products do required extensive engineering – but I was impressed by how simple and clean the user experience was. Most of these product were highly intuitive. They were designed to be easy to understand and easy to use. Honestly, the learning curve on these products was negligible. This is a primary example where the user experience trumps the temptation to pile on

Tackling Complexity and Security – The InformaticaWorld 2015 Big Picture

The message from IT professionals at InformaticaWorld 2015 this past week was pretty clear. Complexity is making data management tough to do these days. Cloud and mobile was, in their minds, a great boon to business. Both gave access to applications that used to be frozen on desktops. It also meant that data security was more complicated than ever and the amount and type of data rapidly expanding. New IT architectures, microservices and containers, were leading to more flexible and easier to deploy applications. The unfortunate side effect was data silos of structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data. Add to this mix machine data a.k.a dark data – data generated by

Data Masking or Encryption

Last week I gave a talk at InformaticaWorld followed by a panel discussion with Manish Gupta and John Gibel, both of Informatica. In the midst of talking about the different methods of securing test data we found ourselves in a really interesting conversation about data making and encryption. We searched around for a clear answer as to which made the most sense in a majority of use cases. In the end, we settled on “both” and “it depends”. For those of you who don’t follow software testing, let me say, you should. It doesn’t matter your role in the software development process, everyone needs to test code and systems using

Informatica Goes Private

Today, Informatica announced that it has agreed to be acquired by international private equity firm The Permira Funds and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The all-cash deal, which values Informatica at US$5.3B, takes the company private. Private equity takeovers are as rare as white tigers in the IT market with mergers and acquisitions with other tech companies more common. The most recent (and dramatic) exception was Dell which was driven by founder and CEO Michael Dell. Like Dell, taking Informatica makes infinite amounts of sense. The conversion of revenue from one time capital expense to subscription based services is making it hard for technology companies, especially software companies, to

Disruption and Failure = Waste

It seems like I can’t get away from two ideas that have been widely adopted by the information technology industry – disruption and failure. The first trope says that the best company is a disruptive one. By disrupting the status quo, in markets and inside a company, you create change. The second trope is that failure is good so long as you fail fast. You see this often in companies that have pivoted. Their first business model or product has failed but they are building something else using technology and money obtained using the first idea. There are problems with this both of these ideas because of something they share

User Experience Trumps Feature Load

As I was conducting my research on the enterprise chat segment of the collaboration and communication market, I reviewed a number of products in that space. What struck me most was the simplicity of the products. Not that the code wasn’t complex – a lot of what these products do required extensive engineering – but I was impressed by how simple and clean the user experience was. Most of these product were highly intuitive. They were designed to be easy to understand and easy to use. Honestly, the learning curve on these products was negligible.

This is a primary example where the user experience trumps the temptation to pile on feature after feature. This is a common tendency in software design. In an attempt to differentiate from other products in a market segment, companies add more and more features to a product until it no longer resembles the original intent of the designers. Software that once solved a simple but important set of problems for end-users becomes a tangled mess of rarely used features. Instead of true innovation, software companies enter into a type of arms race with each copying the so-called “best” features of their competitors and adding more obscure features that the others feel compelled to copy.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for innovative features. Enterprise chat products have unique features that address certain types of customers and their use cases. At present, vendors haven’t allowed added features to drown out the core set of characteristics that make enterprise chat useful in the first place including ease-of-use.

Given the number of companies in the space, it is likely that eventually they too will enter into a features arms race. The need to compete on features rather than whole product (pricing, service, delivery options, etc.) is too compelling. If this does happen, it will be dripping with irony since these products are exploiting the feature bloat in current communications and collaboration products. This is already happening in the consumer space where products such as Facebook Messenger is “evolving” into a gaming and payments platform and its competitors are following suit. Pretty soon, consumer chat products will drift far enough away from what made people want to use it in the first place that their original purpose be undetectable.

There is still time for enterprise chat companies to sidestep this problem. They can consider line extensions and complimentary products, leaving the core chat products alone. There is room for some well-chosen features that enhance the user experience and make IT admins happy. Other than that, enterprise chat vendors should leave a good thing alone.

Tackling Complexity and Security – The InformaticaWorld 2015 Big Picture

The message from IT professionals at InformaticaWorld 2015 this past week was pretty clear. Complexity is making data management tough to do these days. Cloud and mobile was, in their minds, a great boon to business. Both gave access to applications that used to be frozen on desktops. It also meant that data security was more complicated than ever and the amount and type of data rapidly expanding. New IT architectures, microservices and containers, were leading to more flexible and easier to deploy applications. The unfortunate side effect was data silos of structured, unstructured, and semi-structured data. Add to this mix machine data a.k.a dark data – data generated by and for devices and computer systems themselves – and the data landscape has become a complicated mass of different types of data, spread throughout thousands of sites, systems, and devices. It almost makes one long for the days when all of a company’s data was in a handful of SQL databases that powered a few applications.

Teasing value from all this data had become a headache to say the least. If just finding the data an organization needs to analyze is hard, making it useful sometimes seems impossible. Data is dispersed through the organization and often quite dirty with errors or no clear way to connect data together. Thankfully, technology has advanced beyond a data warehouse where we stuff aggregate data from a few systems. We can now build data lakes – data repositories with cleansed data and prepackaged and have user-friendly query capabilities that can tie together information from many disparate systems. This has had the unfortunate effect of creating a needle in the haystack problem. Business analysts now have access to so much data that it’s easy to drown in the data lake.

The same was true of data security. Mobile devices, cloud systems, and containers have made data much more portable and, hence, dangerous. It used to be that a company could secure its network and critical databases and the data was mostly safe. The sophistication of threats has, however, increased dramatically. More important (and somewhat perverse), by making data available to many more business users, in order to get more value out of data, managing the security of data has gotten more difficult. Between complexity and security, using an organization’s data to its advantage is, in some ways, harder than it used to be.

And that was the point of many of the announcements at InformaticaWorld 2015 of course. Project Atlantic is a great example of a forward thinking product strategy. It looks to harness dark data by converting it into something useful to a human analyst. In an ironic twist, Informatica is using machine learning to transform machine data into something people can understand. Another announcement, Project Sonoma, looks to simplify the management and use of Hadoop-based data lakes. Products like this, along with user facing tools such as Rev, will make data lakes more accessible allowing business users to gain value from huge amounts of corporate data. Informatica is expecting to add streaming data to Project Sonoma in 2016 which should greatly enhance the ability to use Internet of Things and other machine data as well as streaming social media data in data lakes. Remember, getting data into a data lake is one thing, making use of it is really hard. Project Sonoma looks to take allow companies to spend more time getting value from data instead of managing it.

Finally, Informatica demonstrated a variety of technologies for securing data. Informatica has had data security products, including data masking, for a while but now have a full management layer called Secure@Source. This product provides a dashboard that shows where there are data security flaws and when policies are being violated. It’s a tool for both the DBA and security administrator which sits squarely in both the data governance and security fields of IT.

A picture emerges from this conference of a company that is very different than it was even five years ago. While Master Data management is still the core business, Informatica has made it clear that they are really the data value company. The mission is to help customers do more with data by making accessing, securing, and integrating data across the enterprise a much easier process. And this is something that IT and business users can agree that they need.