California garages must be very special places. For those living in less friendly climes, a garage is a utilitarian structure designed to protect automobiles from the elements - hail, snow, wind and cold. While most garages breed mildew, mice and clutter, California garages seem to breed technological innovation. The most famous "tech garage" in California undoubtedly is the Palo Alto garage that served as the incubator for the ideas of William Hewlett and David Packard. Seemingly a candidate for similar notoriety is the Southern California garage of Gaurav Dhillon and Diaz Nesamoney.
Diaz Nesamoney, Informatica's president, explains, "We both worked at Unisys, and we'd been talking about forming our own company. We started out part- time in my garage."
Recalling the countless hours spent in that garage, Gaurav Dhillon, chief executive officer of Informatica, adds, "When the garage got too cold, we moved into Diaz's house."
"Even though we both had technology backgrounds, we realized we needed equal focus on the business side and the technology side. Initially I covered the technology side, and Gaurav handled the business side. Now that the company has grown to about 230 people, our roles have evolved. I now oversee day-to-day operations of the company internally while Gaurav focuses on long-term vision and strategy," explains Nesamoney.
The co-founders of Informatica Corporation, incorporated in 1993, have always taken a team approach to developing their company. "As we grew, we brought in people at each level to drive that piece of the business forward. I am very proud of the fact that we have kept the team spirit alive in spite of our growth. What makes our company unique is that we worry a lot more about getting something done than about who does it. We look for the strength of the individual and match that with the task at hand. Because nobody has all the skills necessary to make the company a success, we find people with complementary skills who are very passionate about what they do. We hire the best and give them the best in terms of technology, tools and whatever they need to be successful. Then we get out of their way. It works really well for us," says Dhillon.
Dhillon and Nesamoney share much more than the leadership of one of the fastest growing software companies in Silicon Valley. They share not only a contagious enthusiasm for their company, employees and products, but an evangelical fervor for the tangible benefit their technology provides to the more than 400 large companies throughout the world that are Informatica customers.
Informatica's data warehousing software products automate the extraction, transformation and load processes that reconcile data drawn from mainframe, relational and enterprise resource planning systems. Because Informatica's approach is meta data driven, it provides a scalable solution for developing and managing the business intelligence and analytic applications required for effective enterprise decision support.
Nesamoney adds, "The interesting thing is that while data integration may not sound like rocket science, it's not as simple as it sounds. Because a typical corporation today may have 15 or more different systems that run the day- to-day operations, it involves pulling the data together, consolidating it, cleaning it and then delivering it to the analytic systems. Only then can meaningful data analysis be conducted which leads to true business insight."
Why is there such a demand for the data integration platform products from Informatica? Dhillon explains, "I compare a large company's IT systems to the layers of rock in the Grand Canyon. Some of the old systems are fossils, but you can't move them away or everything will come down. Each system grows on the others. Since none of these systems could have known what was going to come after them, our products enable the new and old systems to work well together."
"People have started to realize that they must have a general-purpose infrastructure because the systems at the back end and applications on the front end keep changing. Today it's ERP, e-business and e-commerce. Tomorrow it could be anything," explains Nesamoney. "I think the biggest value proposition of our infrastructure is that we don't care what the system is - legacy, e-commerce, ERP or any combination of those. Our platform provides the foundation for all kinds of applications. We predicted that there would be a brave new 'distributed' world, and we were determined to take a distributed approach to our product development."
"We recognized that there would be a need for an off-the-shelf product to provide data integration to address rapidly increasing data volumes and the growing number of systems within each company. We felt it was necessary to put together a product category that would provide a backbone - a platform - for analytics. Our first product, PowerMart, enabled rapid data mart deployment. Realizing that we wanted to be able to scale that across the enterprise, we developed PowerCenter, a data-integration hub that completes our "hub-and-spoke" data warehouse architecture. PowerCenter represented a significant change in strategy and direction, and its release was a major milestone for us. We basically changed direction from addressing very tactical data mart type problems to the more strategic enterprise problems. We recently added capabilities to support prepackaged analytic applications. Our vision has stayed on track, and I give credit to Diaz for our product strategy. He always makes sure the railway cars are all lined up before the train leaves the station," says Dhillon.
Dhillon emphasizes that companies today recognize the importance of being able to analyze their corporate data to make effective decisions. "It's the ability to make smarter decisions faster that is driving this market," he states.
"The proliferation of the Web has really accelerated people's desire to know more about their business. They can point their browsers to such a variety of Web sites that they often can learn more about other companies than they can about their own business. The ability to easily gather information with a very easy-to-use, approachable, ubiquitous user interface is driving the demand. It is a push-pull situation. The pull is that there are more and more users recognizing the benefits of being able to access and analyze corporate data. The push is that the systems in their business are too many and too sophisticated for anybody to directly gather the information," says Nesamoney.
Dhillon adds, "We've all seen the results of trying to integrate all of an organization's systems by hand. The task of responding to business changes such as mergers, acquisitions and the introduction of the Euro currency - not to mention new product releases such as Windows NT, Oracle7, Oracle8 - is overwhelming. Those who tried to manage data integration manually now say they would choose a commercially available product if they had to do it again. Fundamentally, the market has gone from build to buy for many slices of the enterprise software pie - human resource systems, payroll systems and help desk functions, for example. The data integration market has gone that way as well, and we feel justifiable pride at having caused that to happen by breaking through with our products."
"It's amazing to see how companies are using our products to grow their business. They are using our products because they want the ability to be flexible as changes happen or as they grow their business through acquisitions or mergers. Success is not about size alone - it's about being nimble. The company that is responsive will win. One of our customers had a $15-16 million revenue increase in one quarter because they were able to more accurately call on a particular set of customers. That was a breakthrough that they could not have identified until they had installed our product. It is that type of analysis that provides a competitive edge. I think we do a great service to companies that use information technology by giving them a viable solution for enterprise data integration," says Dhillon.
"We try not to compare ourselves or our products to the manual approach too much because while that's part of the point, it's not the main point. There is that value, but I think there's an even bigger value," says Nesamoney. "Our customers are able to build large, complex analytic systems - something they probably could never have done by hand. The big benefit is getting a breakthrough downstream where you have better customer relationships or a sales- analysis breakthrough. That's the bigger value."
Through the use of powerful analytic applications, organizations can identify trends and respond proactively. "You can wait for a blockbuster quarter or a devastating quarter to learn how your company is performing. But that's post air crash," emphasizes Dhillon. "It's playing back the information from the black box to see what happened. With analytic applications, it's like having radar in the aircraft to avoid hills, fly better and fly faster," Dhillon states.
Key to Informatica's success has been their ability to adjust to rapidly changing marketplace demands. "We have all worked very hard to make sure that Informatica can scale and grow in response to marketplace needs," states Nesamoney.
"Here at Informatica we accurately portray our products and our capabilities. If a potential customer is not a good fit for our products, we'll tell them that. We do good business and build good products. We're a company that has a unique data integration platform for all kinds of analytics - from build- it-yourself data warehouses to packaged analytics. Companies will have enormous flexibility as they roll out e-business and configure a one-to-one experience for their customers. And, what we're seeing now is just the beginning. The new millennium, in my mind, is about analytics," proclaims Dhillon. "It is incredibly satisfying to know that we're leading the way."
The Lighter side of Informatica
- Gaurav Dhillon's comment that 20 years ago if you said you were in the software business, they thought you meant lingerie.
- The time the whole company went to see "Return of the Jedi" and noted amazing similarities between the movie and life at Informatica
- The rocket launch contest to celebrate the company's first product launch.
- The sumo wrestler "Informatica 15" statuettes (with free pass to the gym) presented to anyone at the company who, as a result of enjoying Informatica's kitchen too often, looks noticeably more substantial than they did when they joined the company.
- The voluntary program started by Clive Harrison, EVP of worldwide sales, where by salespeople donate a percentage of their commissions (matched by Informatica) to help East Palo Alto youngsters attend college.