IB Summit 2018: the case for balanced renewal

Information Builders is updating products, leadership and go-to-market strategy to capitalize on emerging opportunities, balancing these initiatives against traditional customer and technology strengths.

Information management is changing, and so is Information Builders. At this year’s practitioner Summit, the New York-based provider of BI and data management solutions charted several key initiatives designed to capture burgeoning opportunity in this field: it introduced new leadership, outlined a fresh go-to-market approach, announced product updates aimed at extending its user base in traditional businesses and launched platform innovation to plug into new technologies that are creating a firestorm of interest across the market landscape – Blockchain and IoT. As the company’s new(ish) COO Frank Vella proclaimed in his keynote welcome, “we’re the best kept secret in the industry, but we’re going to change that…”.

IB’s determination to revamp the company’s profile could not come at a better time. Information management needs are growing in degree and complexity, keeping pace with an explosion of data volume, variety, and velocity generated by the digitization of traditional processes in virtually all sectors, and the instrumentation of the physical world, activity that is commonly known as IoT. By 2020, fifty-billion devices are expected to be in the field, streaming real time data in multiple formats, and by that same year, analysts have calculated that approximately 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet – which will exist largely in various social, video or other unstructured formats. At the same time, business awareness of the value in information assets is growing, as usage progresses from embryonic trend analysis to more advanced predictive and even prescriptive intelligence. According to Vella, this conjuncture of Big Data developments has created a rare opportunity for Information Builders: in a “distracted, confused market” characterized by “startups that need to scale, and enterprises that haven’t yet addressed the complexity” in information management, IB offers a differentiated value proposition. In his view, IB can meet growing data challenges with a platform that addresses the broad spectrum of information management requirements: “Everyone wants to get to predictive, but very few (13% of businesses) are deploying, and the problem is data quality,” he explained – but the company uniquely can help with “product that scales, architecture that is sound, and a customer base still loves dealing with IB.”

IB CEO Gerry Cohen and COO Frank Vella at IB Summit 2018

On a personal level, Vella found this “cultural thing” also reflected in a good fit with senior IB executives (and co-founder and president Gerry Cohen in particular), which combined with unique market opportunity to provide sufficient incentive for him to leave the world of Silicon Valley startups for work with a more established, enterprise-focused business. But Vella brings with him new ideas on marketing and distribution, drawn from a range of work experiences. In the short term, he’s looking to develop industry partnerships, such as the new relationship with AWS announced at Summit which will serve as the basis for development of IB’s managed cloud services platform going forward. Longer term, he will work with a new channels team to evolve channel programs that can leverage partners for distribution, and help the company transform its horizontally-oriented solution portfolio to support a more verticalized approach in go-to-market activities. IB’s relationship with partner DMI, which won an award at this year’s Summit (2018 North American Innovative System Integrator Partner), is case in point:  in new IoT solutions, IB will provide functionality for the aggregation and management of data, while DMI will help customers turn data to value through a predictive maintenance solution, targeted first at fleet management. This combination of IB capabilities – for the aggregation, integration, cleansing, management, analysis, visualization and reporting of data insights – and the partner’s domain expertise may be applied across any number of industries, though given IoT market momentum, this specific relationship with DMI seems a good place to start. IB focus areas for the near term will be data monetization, operationalization of IoT, embedded business intelligence (essentially a partner play), and the creation of trusted data – which arguably, should be the basis of any enterprise data initiative.

So far, Vella’s strategy appears to be delivering good early returns. Just in advance of Summit, IB was able to report strong first quarter growth for 2018: software sales were up 74% year-over-year, and the company increased the number of new customers signed in Q1 by 73% over the same period. Commenting on these results, CMO Michael Corcoran added that “Our first quarter with Frank at the helm has been very successful, and there’s nothing but upside moving forward. Our projections show that with our pipeline and forecasts, the year looks like it will continue to build in a very healthy fashion. We’re very excited about the change.”

Michael Corcoran, CMO, IB

According to Corcoran, Goldman Sachs investment in Information Builders last year has led to the onboard of new leadership, expanded revenue targets, and catalyzed a search for ways to improve efficiencies and cut costs. However, company transformation will not entail modernization at the expense of strategies that have proved successful in the past. “Our goal is to really grow the company more aggressively than we have historically,” he explained. “Over several decades we have been content to grow the company very slowly but very steadily and with that comes a lot of customer stability and high customer retention rate.” So, while looking to expand its customer base via upgrades to the sales and marketing technology stack, including the use of predictive capabilities that will help IB better target organizations that are ready for analytics functionality and align this with internal planning, the company will also build on current strengths in customer management. For example, IB has introduced a new team focused on reinforcing existing relationships – helping customers to use IB solutions in a productive way, or even expand usage – to deepen the connection. The key to growth, in his view, is the combination of new and organic customer growth: “the company’s good values are not going away with new models, rather, we will take what we have done successfully, and expand that out.”

New ways of working

A new approach to team building has also been applied in areas that the company has earmarked as helpful to IB’s positioning within the world of IT innovation. To bring new solutions to market in “forward looking initiatives” including IoT, Blockchain, embedded applications, BI and analytics, IB has created cross functional teams with staff from marketing, sales, product development, and even telemarketing who work to ensure the product is a good fit for IB and for the market.  Benefiting from multiple inputs, the team collaborates on finding opportunities, on implementation, and on the development of campaign and marketing programs. According to Corcoran, market research advises on what is possible today, and on a solution roadmap – impacting the way products are developed as well: “this is an interesting transformation within the company. We try something as skunk works and see if it’s viable – I’ve got people in my doorway from product development that I probably wouldn’t have talked to five years ago. These folks now more energized – as excited as my team is – as they are out of the back-office closet doing technology research, connecting with marketing people and research. There’s more communications flow in the company than we had before.”

IB is also applying this more iterative approach to partnering. As Corcoran described it, partnering was done formerly on an ad hoc basis, “nothing was repeatable or sustainable. But with some partnerships, we’re starting to build assets together and will go to market together.” And since it does not “have the intellectual property to be experts in every vertical,” IB is looking to specialized partners, such as a managing consultancy in manufacturing, systems integrators or IoT firms, and is building a formal channels program to capture opportunities in these emerging markets. “Because we’re focused on things like IoT, Blockchain and GDPR, we’re looking for people that have this in their wheelhouse,” he added “or people that have vertical focus in some of our growing industries (like healthcare, government, manufacturing, financial services). And we’re looking at embedded relationships with hardware, software and cloud vendors – at expanding through relationships with OEMs.”

Innovation focus

IB’s innovation agenda is focused on promising areas where the business case is clear. IoT, for example, which Corcoran claimed is “exploding” in terms of demand these days, is the business case for Big Data and analytics. Similarly, Blockchain’s ability to address the pervasive IT security challenge, and its potential to solve for data standardization (in Blockchains that ecosystems build round) feed into real business issues. On another level, IB’s focus on specific emerging areas is based on complementary abilities. In the case of Blockchain, for example, IB is applying its data management capabilities to solve a key enterprise problem – the need to integrate Blockchain with traditional back office systems, such as ERP, general ledger or supply chain systems, and to do this in an automated way, rather than through custom consulting projects.

At the Summit, IB announced new Blockchain adapters for Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum, hatched from integration services that have been a mainstay of the company’s portfolio for some time now: the iWay Service Manager (iSM) now supports a broad range of permissioned and private blockchain applications, and integrates blockchain platforms into a broader enterprise information ecosystem by providing easy synchronous and asynchronous communication to and from Blockchains. Commenting on the new Blockchain offering, VP for product marketing Jake Freivald noted: IB’s value will be that we make it easier to get information into and out of an environment like Blockchain, and manipulate that information in a way that solves a particular business problem or creates a business process.” One common business problem example is reporting, and IB has extended the advanced functionality in its BI and analytics portfolio to Blockchain in response to customer interest. “We can report off virtually any type of structure of data,” Corcoran explained, including Blockchain.

IB’s support for “two camps in Blockchain” represents another instance of the company’s determination to build on both existing and new customer opportunities. Customers who work with IBM – enterprises in the financial world, for example – are likely to connect with Hyperledger as this platform is backed by a major vendor, as opposed to an unfamiliar open source venture. IB’s support for Hyperledger means it can leverage its heritage in working with IBM clients. At the same time, by creating the connections to Ethereum, IB can appeal to the developer community, who prefer open source innovation to established vendor offerings – targeting mid market firms as a means to expand the market.

Blockchain remains potential opportunity – analysts predict a three to five-year adoption cycle, according to Corcoran – and there are specific technology hurdles that Information Builders will continue to grapple with in the short term. The heavy encryption is at once a security feature and a reporting challenge, as is connecting and reporting off a distributed ledger (IB’s adapter now connects to one instance of the ledger). However, significant investment and experimentation in PoCs that are currently underway in the market, combined with IB’s traditional strengths in reporting, integration, and data quality/standardization, which will serve to link Blockchain innovation to legacy back end systems, will help push the needle beyond experimentation to real production – into the operational world where business is transacted and done.

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