Back to School with Tibco
In much of the U.S., Labor Day marks the official end of summer. The following day, kids go back to school, adults go back to work, and the normal hubbub of life resumes. This year, my summer came to an abrupt end the day after Labor Day: I was on a plane at 6 a.m. heading for Las Vegas to attend the Tibco Now conference. So long summer!
I have never attended a Tibco event; in fact, I’ve never covered Tibco before. That’s because Tibco wasn't always an analytics vendor. It always focused on business process management (BPM), application integration, and service-oriented architectures. But in recent years, Tibco has acquired an arsenal of business intelligence (BI) and data analytics products: Spotfire for visual discovery, Jaspersoft for embedded reporting, Alpine Labs for data science, Composite Software for data virtualization, and Statistica for deep analytical modeling.
Given Tibco’s new stripes, I, and the usual retinue of BI industry analysts, ended our summer by flying to Vegas to see what Tibco has been cooking up in the data analytics space.
To be frank, most industry analysts are skeptical about M&A-based product portfolios where companies buy their way into a hot market, like analytics. We’ve seen many big visions and failed promises, followed by a quick brain-drain of engineers and marketers. But to stay true to my calling as an industry analyst and strategy consultant, I kept an open mind. Although the Tibco event lacked the energy and enthusiasm of a BI upstart (i.e., Tableau’s cult-like annual conference), I got the distinct feeling after talking to multiple Tibco product managers and customers, that Tibco is serious about analytics, is committed to it for the long haul, and plans to invest accordingly, not just in acquisitions but in product integration and organic development.
The centerpiece of Tibco’s analytics strategy is Spotfire, a visual discovery tool that competes with Tableau and Qlik. Tibco acquired Spotfire in 2007 during the “great BI consolidation” in which large software companies snapped up leaders in the space, including Spotfire, Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion.” After that, Spotfire went quiet for a number of years and lost its status as BI front-runner. But Tibco kept investing in the product and, by all accounts, its customers are happy and loyal. Spotfire appeals to a range of business users, but is particularly strong among analysts and engineers, who appreciate the product’s advanced analytic functions and built-in R engine. With better marketing and sales, Tibco can use Spotfire as a foundation to grow both analytic product revenues and mindshare for its new analytics strategy.
At the Vegas event this week, Tibco unveiled Spotfire X, a major new version that provides some leading-edge features and closes gaps with competitors.
Streaming Analytics. The most powerful addition is plug-and-play integration with Tibco Spotfire Data Streams (formerly Tibco Live Datamart). This separately-priced module enables customers to update Spotfire dashboards in real-time with streaming data to create “twinkling” dashboards. Although the functionality is not new, the new integration module makes it easier to implement. Few other BI products support real-time analysis, so this will help Tibco win new business for emerging operational analytics and IoT applications and reinforce its lead in pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, and utilities where these types of applications dominate and Tibco already has a strong presence, thanks to its roots in the BPM market.
New GUI. Responding to customer demand, Tibco gave Spotfire a graphical makeover that gives the tool a modern look and feel. The new GUI also gives proper airing and placement to the numerous features it has added over the years. Most importantly, it uses a “dual-sided” graphical framework in which users can easily flip between visual creation and consumption and the data representation of those activities. This lets users choose the interface best suited to their needs and make edits and changes in the data layer without rebuilding the visual layer. For instance, Spotfire users who are exploring data or creating visuals can click to access the product’s data wrangling features to clean data, revise joins, or build transformations. Those changes are automatically added to the visual side of the product.
AI Assist. Like other BI vendors, Tibco has injected artificial intelligence into Spotfire. Users can now type a metric into the search box or select it from a panel and Spotfire automatically generates a visual list of relevant correlations in the data. Users can select one of the visual correlations to obtain more information. Unlike other tools, Tibco runs these correlations automatically in the background and doesn’t require users to first click on a button to generate these AI-based recommendations. Tibco plans to beef up Spotfire’s data wrangling features with AI to make recommendations for data cleansing, joins, and other data tasks.
Natural Language Query. Finally, Tibco unveiled natural language processing capabilities built directly into its data engine. Users can type words into the search box and Spotfire provides type ahead options based on metadata and data values. The search generates a query and returns results in the appropriate chart type based on contextual data. Users can override the chart selection, save it, and integrate it in a dashboard. These new capabilities put it on par with other leading visual exploration tools.
To further its lead and attract more developers, Tibco has announced JasperReports IO, a REST-based microservice for executing Jasper reports in the cloud. Rather than purchase the JasperReports Server or build their own, developers can now call the lightweight Jaspersoft IO report service. The Professional Edition, which supports low-to-medium reporting volumes, costs $.19/an hour on Amazon AWS, while the Enterprise Edition costs more.
Tibco is betting that a percentage of its Community customers, which range in the hundred thousands, will want to migrate from the free, Java-based JasperReports Library to the utility-based Jaspersoft IO. This will give them access to a REST API (versus a lower-level Java API) and a low-cost reporting engine that they can scale up and down on demand and run in a container. If all goes well, JasperReports IO is the first of other reporting microservices that Tibco will ship. Others might be alerting, scheduling, repository, access controls, in-memory computing, and natural language generation.
Tibco Analytics Strategy
Data Science. Thanks to its acquisitions of Alpine Data Labs and Statistica, plus the analytic functions built into Spotfire, Tibco has a strong data science story. Alpine was designed as an end-to-end data science platform with GUI-based development, collaboration and in-database modeling that runs against big data repositories. Statistica is an in-memory product with tons of algorithms and data connectors that is geared to heavy-duty data scientists. Tibco plans to integrate these two tools into a generic Tibco Data Science offering that combines the best of both and integrates with Spotfire to visualize and run analytical models.
Data Virtualization. Tibco also recently acquired Composite Software from Cisco Systems, where the product languished for a few years. Tibco was a ready buyer since it has OEM’d the product for many years and integrated it with Spotfire. Now called Tibco Data Virtualization (Tibco DV), the product will continue to support third party BI tools, while Spotfire will continue to use other data virtualization tools. This underscores Tibco’s commitment to openness and customer choice.
Tibco DV is experiencing a resurgence of interest as Tibco promotes the product alongside its BI and analytics products. Tibco DV amplifies the self-service experience for data analysts and data scientists who can connect to any data source without having to know connection details or locations. With a DV layer, IT can change back-end systems without impacting BI and reporting tools.
Tibco has made major investments in BI and analytics. It has acquired numerous companies and given them latitude to sell their technology as stand-alone products, while giving them ample motivation to integrate with each other. The goal is a comprehensive data analytics ecosystem that provides both best of breed functionality and an integrated experience. This will be compelling for companies who are still in the early stages of their BI evolution—stuck in reporting for example—who want a glide path for upgrading to interactive dashboards, self-service BI, and advanced analytics.
Although the vision is there, Tibco still needs to clarify the story and make it compelling enough for new and existing customers to consider it as part of their long-term roadmaps. There is precedent here: Tibco has done a great job on the BPM side of its business creating, communicating, and executing a global vision that is embodied in its Connected Intelligence Cloud, which provides an ecosystem of interconnected products for building operational applications. Tibco needs to do the same on the analytics side.
During the Tibco Now event, I heard a lot of futures for individual products, but not a lot about how they all fit together, especially in the public keynote sessions. Tibco has a lot of ammunition to make a dent in the BI and analytics market and an accommodating corporate culture that seems to get the most out of its acquired products and people. The next two years will determine if it can execute its vision and become a serious player in the data analytics market.
 In 2007 and 2008, the leading BI companies, Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion, and Spotfire, were acquired by SAP, IBM, Oracle, and Tibco respectively.