Informatica 9: (r)evolutionary?

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Also posted on: The IM Blog

Informatica 9 is a major release in every sense of the word. This means that there is too much in it to go into all its details in a short article such as this, so I will concentrate on the high-level things. There are three of these: support for data services, pervasive data quality, and business/IT collaboration. However, while I will discuss these separately, for the sake of convenience you must appreciate that these are not distinct and are, in fact, complementary.

Support for data services is not a new concept. Basically, they do for the data hairball what web services do for application spaghetti. However, Informatica has gone a step (or three) beyond its rivals in the way that it has implemented this. In particular, it is based on what I would call business entities and what Informatica calls logical data objects. This is important because business entities are what business people work with (customers, orders, invoices, service history and so forth) as opposed to the tables that developers work with, and this is therefore an enabler for business/IT collaboration. Beyond that, Informatica continuously introspects these data objects in order to recognise changes. This is supported by federated capability that Informatica has written itself (it previously relied on a third party for federated services) that supports this introspection across heterogeneous sources. Also notable are the policy-based governance capabilities provided for these data services, including security, compliance, freshness and quality. So, for example, you can implement masking for sensitive data as a part of the support for data services.

Pervasive data quality is about applying data quality throughout the organisation, not just to a small coterie of people in the IT department and one or two business analysts. There are three main points. First, data quality should be used across domains and not just for names and addresses. Second, as prevention is typically better than a cure, companies should be encouraged to implement pre-emptive data quality capabilities: real-time checking as you enter data into your ERP application, for example. Third, everybody in the company should be (made) aware of how important data quality is to them and their jobs. For instance, would you make the same decisions if you knew that the information you were making those decisions on was 98% reliable as opposed to 68%? I don’t think so: you’d be a lot more cautious in the second case. As a business person you therefore actually need to see those sorts of figures associated with reports and queries upon which your decisions are made. Finally, to enable all of this, Informatica 9 provides role-based interfaces that present the user, whether developer, business analyst, data steward or end user, with just the amount of information they need to do their job most effectively. This will be minimal (and web-based) in the case of the end user but richer, in appropriate ways, for other types of user.

Business/IT collaboration is enabled both by the role-based interfaces just discussed and the use of business entities (which, incidentally, you can import from appropriate data modelling tools) as well as a number of other facilities, though business entities are not integrated with the business glossary yet (it is on Informatica’s roadmap). My own view is that the ‘specification mismatch’ which exists between user requirements and what the developer produces is one of the main reasons why so many companies continue to hand code rather than using a data integration platform: if that mismatch (which exists just as much in hand coded environments) can be overcome through use of business/IT collaboration, which I believe it can, then this will be a major ROI benefit that Informatica can use to overcome the objections of hand coding stalwarts.

If Informatica 9 can significantly broaden the market for data integration tools then one could regard it as disruptive. Further, one could make the same argument about pervasive data quality. However, I am not sure that applying the word ‘disruptive’ to a market leader makes a lot of sense: evolutionary or even revolutionary would be better. Indeed, I think the use of business entities in data integration environments really could revolutionise the way we use these tools and the productivity that can be derived from them. Whatever way you want to look at it, Informatica 9 represents a major step forward.