The problems with the USA’s Veterans Administration are in the news. Much of the scheduling issues have to do with large volumes of modern data being run through decades old systems built by systems integrators (SI). Custom built systems can be the choice during the early stages of a software solution category’s life cycle. However, they are very difficult to upgrade and modernize.
Last Friday’s BBBT presentation was by Salient Management Company. Salient is a consulting group with a product and all the potential hazards of SI’s came to mind. The presenters, David F. Gianneto and Jim McDermott, are both in professional services. The obvious question was how much of their solution is customized versus how much is truly a software solution that provides the ability to upgrade and adapt as needs change.
The Software-Services Balance
Modern business software is complex. Every software firm must have professional services, either internally or through partners, to help with implementation. Many software founders think their software is so wonderful that they don’t need serious professional services. Many professional services companies think every client is so different that software must always be heavily customized. How do technology executives balance the difference issues of ISV software development and the need for consulting? More importantly, for this article, how does Salient management look at that?
From the cursory experience of a three hour presentation, the balance is a strength of Salient. One slide, in particular, pointed to a logical split. They point that the business user is not the person who has to understand the technology. That’s something everyone agrees is true, but not many companies seem to understand how to address.
David Giannetto and Jim McDermott presented a company that claims to focus consulting at ensuring an understanding of the client’s business model, helping to ensure that the implementation does address business needs, while demonstrating a product that looks like a standard interface.
While that was the focus of the talk, the product demo implied other consulting. They did not cover the complexity of ETL, even though questioned, so I’m also assuming there is significant technical professional services needed to link to data sources. That assumption is backed up by the fact that Salient uses a proprietary database that wasn’t discussed in detail.
One critical point about their technology insight is that Salient began with an in-memory architecture thirty years ago. It was a risky choice as most companies thought that the price/performance ratio benefits of disk would grow far more than RAM. The drop in RAM prices and the growth of parallel computing software are providing strong backing for their initial gamble. They have a clear focus on technology and products.
Their offering seems to be a sandwich of services to understand the business and implement the data acquisition on the outside with robust software for the BI users at the heart. I can see a continued strength in the business consulting, but the robustness of some newer vendors as far as simplifying the back end, and thereby lowering those costs and shortening implementation times, is a potential risk to the Salient model.
Jim’s demo showed both dashboards that allow management to slice & dice basics themselves and a designing interface with more capabilities for power users and analysts. While they claim that the software changes the roll of IT from control to governance, I still didn’t see anything that allows the end users to integrate new sources. IT is still required for more than just governance.
There was also a very good example of how geospatial information is being integrated into the analysis to better understand demographics and logistics. In the CPG market, that can provide a crucial advantage.
One key point that some competitors might knock is that most of the charts and graphs aren’t as fancy as in some BI tools. However, my response is “so what?” First, they accomplish the same things. Second, focusing on how fancy graphs look sometimes creates overly complex displays that can slow understanding. When we’re dealing with executives who have worked with Microsoft Excel or with Crystal Reports for decades, a way of seeing new analytics clearly and simply, almost in the style they’ve seen can help adoption. The focus is on understanding the information and I thought the simpler graphics had the benefit of a comfort level for managers.
Overall, I was impressed by Salient. The combination of strong business consulting, a good BI interface and a history in in-memory data management means that they’re well positioned to address Global 1000 firms. Any large organization should evaluate the Salient offering for the combination of product and services.
The risk I see is that the service/software balance is right for large companies, I don’t see them getting into the SMB market anytime soon. While that might not concern them in the short term, one word: Salesforce.com. There are new vendors coming up which are much easier to implement. If they can grab a large chunk of the SMB market, they can then move up the food chain to challenge the large companies, as Salesforce has done in their markets.
I see Salient growing, I’m just not sure if they’ll be able to grow as fast as the market is growing. Depending on their plans, that could be good or bad.