Transforming TIBCO

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TIBCO has just announced the acquisition of Alpine Data. Last month it acquired what used to be Composite Software from Cisco and in the summer, it acquired Statistica. Add that to the company’s existing ownership of Jaspersoft, Spotfire and StreamBase and you have a pretty extensive collection of analytic products. So, what’s going on?

Historically, TIBCO has been very successful as a company providing IT plumbing but has acquired a series of products that it didn’t seem to fit. For example, I first met with Spotfire in 2004 – when it was still an independent company – on the same trip to Boston when I first met with Netezza. And Spotfire should have been as successful as Netezza. It should be mentioned in the same breath as Tableau and Qlik. But it isn’t. And the reason that it isn’t is that, while TIBCO was good at marketing plumbing to IT folks, it had no idea how to market to the business. As a result, Spotfire never gained the traction that it deserved.

In 2014 TIBCO went private, with Vista Equity Partners buying the company. Since then Vista has been re-organising, re-structuring the company and putting new management in place. In general, fixing what was broken. Now it wants to expand, and it is clear that it sees two major foci going forward, which we could call TIBCO Infrastructure and TIBCO Analytics respectively.

As far as TIBCO Analytics is concerned the company now owns all the products detailed in the first paragraph. The obvious question is how you tell a coherent story with such a range of disparate products? And one answer is that TIBCO has no intention of positioning itself as a stack player: the company intends to continue to sell its products independently, though there will obviously be advantages for users if they want to license multiple products, including feature integrations. Going forward I would expect some consistent branding across the product line and, from a technical perspective, it would be sensible (I am guessing at corporate plans here) if the company employed a single data catalogue across all of its products, with common data preparation capabilities: there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

At a more detailed level Spotfire is a visualisation tool, Jaspersoft is a BI platform and both Alpine Data and Statistica are data science platforms. Thus, there is significant overlap between the last two. However, they have different strengths. For example, Statistica supports 16,000 mathematical and statistical functions and is especially strong in this area. Conversely, Alpine Data has strong collaborative capabilities and has been purpose built for cloud deployment, while Statistica has an on-premises heritage. In the short to medium term I would expect each to inherit capabilities from the other. In the longer term one could imagine them merging into a single platform but that would be a long time in the future.

Sticking with this technological theme for the moment, who might TIBCO buy next? I would like to see the company create what you might call a “collapsed” lambda (or kappa) architecture. That is, a single product that supports both batch and streaming analytics. The company has all the analytic pieces it needs, and it has Composite to federate queries across environments, but I think it would make sense to have a single product that could compete with the likes of Splice Machine. This might mean acquiring a suitable database vendor but TIBCO could equally choose to partner with one or more relevant suppliers.

Of course, organisational transformation is not just about acquiring products, it is also about culture. Over the years, lots of companies have told me a good story about transformation but have failed to walk the walk. However, in the case of TIBCO I have more confidence about success than I usually do. From a practical point of view, the company is incentivising the Infrastructure sales force for sales of the analytics products, which is a good start. More particularly, I have faith in the management team. While I obviously do not know all of them, I have known and worked with Mark Palmer (senior VP for analytics), Bob Eve (of Composite) and Shawn Rogers (an industry analyst before he turned to the dark side) for many years. If anyone can successfully turn TIBCO – or, at least, its analytics division – around, then they can. Of course, I hope that they can belie the expression that good guys finish last but, as that other saying goes, it’s the exception that proves the rule.

If TIBCO gets it right – and it is a substantial if – then it is going to be one of the leaders in analytics: up there with SAS and IBM as one of the behemoths of this space. It will be interesting to watch.