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Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt
We live in a world driven by the economics of the stock market. Marketing matters, major players have whole departments devoted to making sure that you’ve heard of their products – not just in adverts but in product placements, sound bytes, expert quotes in opinion pieces and so on. How many people using, or even working in, a bank think that it runs on Windows just because that’s what their user interface runs on, even though its core systems run on a mainframe, or on Linux running on IBM Power or whatever?
So, when Tony Blair and Microsoft seemed to have a bit of a cosy relationship (see “when Bill met Tony….” in 2001) over the modernisation of the UK Health Service all those years ago (see also here and the links therein), was this because Microsoft technology was “best of breed” (I think we have to assume that someone checked that it was at least adequate) or, in part, because Tony knew that his potential voters had heard of Microsoft and that some of the Bill Gates myth could rub off on him?
These musings were prompted while I was in the audience at an InterSystems technology innovation forum in London – and InterSystems really does have some good healthcare stories to tell, although that’s not all it does. So, why do I meet so many people who haven’t heard of it or think it’s no longer around (it is famous – for some value of famous – for being part of the development of the rather interesting “Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System”, MUMPS, in the last century). Perhaps because InterSystems is a privately-held company led by an engineer – rather than a publicly quoted company led by an accountant and a marketing department.
Does this matter? Yes, I think it does. Remember Enterprise Application Integration, Enterprise Service Bus, Service Oriented Architectures and all the associated acronyms (EAI, ESB, SOA)? All largely devalued today because they were taken over as some sort of magic talisman by marketing departments who overlooked (or wilfully ignored) the fact that integration is largely a business and a cultural issue and some of the integration stories went rather sour (70% failure rates have been quoted). You don’t achieve integration by buying a tool, you achieve it by bringing business departments together and by breaking down business silos, and then buying a tool to help you make the integration effective, efficient and “sticky”.
I bring this up because business IT development is mostly about integration, in practice, and it is vitally important that it is done properly, on a foundation of trust, leaving people the freedom to work as they think best, within a well-governed framework of actionable insights. Automation is an enabler for integration and InterSystems has an automation platform that can do all the EAI and ESB things (while making the data involved in the integration persistent, if necessary) called Ensemble, which has a welcome business process management focus. It’s not exactly unknown (especially in the healthcare market), but it doesn’t have the instant recognition in the wider industry of something like, say, MS BizTalk, TIBCO, or Oracle Fusion.
Gartner does seem to be aware of Ensemble these days; but mostly wrote about it back in the days when InterSystems was exhibiting at Gartner conferences (I first met Ensemble at a Gartner event) and buying research contracts; since 2010, InterSystems seems to have cut back on its Gartner spend a bit, I think. Ensemble, however, does have some really interesting capabilities – integrated realtime analytics (DeepSee) and true semantic textual analysis (iKnow), to support actionable insights, for example
Perhaps Ensemble needs more marketing – or a bigger marketing budget. But, on the whole, I think I’m glad that it belongs to a vendor that places engineering above marketing, even if that does mean that finding it is a bit harder. Sometimes, marketing is more about helping you to find what someone needs to sell you; rather than about helping you to find what best suits your needs – although there’s not a lot of good in building super technology that no-one knows about. So, some marketing is a good thing; just as long as it doesn’t replace good engineering.