Informatica: The last enterprise software indie?

Company may be ripe for the picking, but maybe it doesn't want picking

Will Informatica be snapped up like Hyperion, Business Objects and Cognos -- or will it be the last indie enterprise software vendor standing?

The logic driving the mergers and acquisitions mayhem in the enterprise software arena can be contradictory. Some argue that enterprise software's "maturity" is driving consolidation. Others, citing the business intelligence boom, claim that the potential for "hockey stick growth" is what made Hyperion Solutions, Business Objects SA and, last week, Cognos ripe for the plucking.

By either line of reasoning, software vendor Informatica would likely appear high on any list of buyout targets.

Since 1993, the company has been providing software to help companies clean, transfer and otherwise manage their data. Its PowerCenter suite has long been one of the most popular extract, transform and load (ETL) tools around, with about 4,000 installations at 2,900 companies.

"What Informatica does is undervalued," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst at Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research Inc. "Delivering a project is easy. Delivering it full and on time is harder. People get in over their heads with the complexity of the data. Informatica is really good at minimizing those problems."

"While some people will argue that IT doesn't matter, no one would say data doesn't matter," said Informatica CEO Sohaib Abbasi in an interview earlier this month.

Tough space, but no hidden agendas

Despite its lack of glamour, ETL -- which Informatica calls "data integration" -- is a tough space. Longtime competitors include Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, which bought Ascential Software two years ago. Newer players include Sybase and SAS Institute, which announced tools in April 2006 to complement its data warehousing software.

Abbasi said Informatica has been able to carve out a living by staying ahead technically as well as reassuring customers that they aren't being pushed to migrate.

"We don't have a hidden agenda to promote one database or another," he said. "Our neutrality assures that our customers are never locked into a single vendor."

That also lets Informatica work with direct competitors. For instance, it has inked marketing deals in the past half-year with both SAP and Cognos, which now that it is part of IBM, is a direct competitor to SAP.

"I doubt that deal would have been inked if IBM wasn't sincere about Cognos retaining its independence in working with existing clients and partners," said Charles King, an analyst at research firm Pund-IT.

A rising BI tide lifts all boats

Abbasi said Informatica is benefiting from the same BI boom that led to the acquisitions of Cognos by IBM, Hyperion by Oracle and Business Objects by SAP. (The only uncompleted acquisition, Oracle's proposed US$6.7 billion offer for BEA Systems, would bring it enterprise application integration capabilities similar to data integration.)

In its most recent quarter, 30% of the deals Informatica signed for more than US$300,000 included the real-time BI option in PowerCenter 8, Abbasi said.

Not only is Informatica benefiting from BI demand, it is also forging ahead in nascent areas such as data integration for software as a service (SaaS).

Informatica has two main SaaS services today. One converts Salesforce.com data to Google Spreadsheets or to an on-premises database.

"It's as simple to use as Amazon.com," Abbasi said.

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