Tuesday saw a rare, mid-week presentation at the BBBT. Silwood Technology, an Ascot, UK, company sent people to Boulder to present their technology. Roland Bullivant, Sales and Marketing Director, and Nick Porter, Technical Director (and a co-founder) were the presenters.
Silwood Safyr is focused on helping IT understand the metadata in their major packaged enterprise systems, primarily from SAP and Oracle with a recent addition of Salesforce. As those familiar with the enterprise application space know, there are a lot of tables in SAP and Oracle and documentation has never been, shall we say, close to perfect. In addition, all customers of those systems customize the applications, thereby making the metadata more difficult to understand. Safyr does a very good job at finding the technical metadata.
Let me make that clear: Technical metadata. The tables, indices and their relations are what is found. That’s extremely valuable, but not the full picture. Business metadata is not managed. I’ll discuss that in more detail below.
The company, as expected from European companies, uses partners rather than direct sales for its primary sales channel. In addition, they OEM white label products through IBM, CA and other firms. All told, Roland Bullivant says that 70% of their customers are via reseller channels. Also as expected, they still remain backline support for those partners.
As mentioned above, Safyr captures the database structure metadata. As Roland so succinctly put it, “The older packages weren’t really built with the outside world in mind.” The internal structures aren’t pretty and often aren’t easily accessible. However, that’s not the only difficulty in understanding an enterprise’s data structures.
Salesforce has a much simpler data structure, intentionally created to open the information to the ecosystem of partner applications that then grew up around the application. Still, as Mr. Bullivant pointed out, there are companies in Europe that have 16 or more customized versions in different countries or divisions, so understanding and meshing those disparate systems in order to build a full enterprise data model isn’t easy. That’s where Safyr helps.
But What Metadata?
Silwood Safyr is a great leap forward from having nothing, but there’s still much missing. While they build a data model, there’s not enough intelligence. For instance, they leave it to their users to figure out which tables are production and which are duplicates or other tables used just for performance. Sure, a table with zero rows usually means either a performance table or an unlocked app segment, but that’s left for the user rather than flagging, filtering and indicating any knowledge of the application and data structures.
Also, as mentioned above, there’s no business intelligence (gosh, where’d that word come from?). There’s nothing that lets people understand the business logic of the applications. That’s why this is a pure IT tool. The structures are just described in technical terms, exported to data modeling tools (a requirement for visualization, ERwin was used in the demo but they work with others ) and then left to the analysts to identify all the information need to clarify which tables are needed for which business purpose or customer.
One way to start working on that was indicated in Nick Porter’s demo. He showed that Safyr is good at not just getting table names, but also in accessing descriptive names and other metadata about the tables. That’s information needs to be leveraged to help prepare the results for use by people on the business side of the organization.
Where to Go From Here?
The main hole I see in the business links from the last section: The lack of emphasis on business knowledge. For instance, there’s a comparison function to analyze metadata between databases. However, as it’s purely on a technical level, it’s limited to comparing SAP with SAP and Oracle with Oracle. Given that differences in versions of those products can be significant, I’m not even sure how well that works across major version releases.
Not only do global enterprises have multiple versions of one vendor, they have SAP on one continent, Oracle in another and might acquire a new company that is using Salesforce. That lack of an ability to link business layers means that each package is working in a void and there’s still a lot of work required to build a coherent global picture.
Another part of their growth need is my usual soapbox. When the Silwood team was talking about how they couldn’t figure out why they weren’t growing as fast as they should, Claudia Imhoff beat me to the punch. She mentioned marketing. They’d earlier pointed out they don’t spend much on marketing and she quickly pointed out that’s a problem. This isn’t Field of Dreams, they won’t come just because you build it. Silwood marketing basics are good, with a lack of visible case studies being one hole, but they’re not pushing their message out through the channels.
Silwood Safyr is a good core product to help IT automate the documentation of data models in packaged enterprise software. It’s a product that should be of interest to every large enterprise using complex applications such as those by Oracle and SAP, or even multiple versions of simple databases such as Salesforce. However, there are two things missing.
The most important missing piece in the short term is the marketing necessary to help their resellers better understand benefits both they and the end customer receive, to improve interest in reselling and to shorten sales cycles.
The second is to look long term at where they can grow the business. My suggestion is to better work with business logic within and across applications vendors. That’s the key way they’ll defend their turf against the BI vendors who are slowly moving downstream to more technical data access.
The reason people want to understand data models isn’t out of curiosity, it’s to better understand business. Silwood has a great start in aiding enterprises in improving that understanding.