The rumors of IBM’s acquisition of MDM vendor Initiate Systems were confirmed yesterday in an IBM press release.  Herewith, a brief homage.

A few years ago Initiate Chief Scientist Scott Schumacher dropped by our L.A. offices to introduce his fledgling company and to share some MDM successes. If you don’t know Scott, this is like saying that Robert Deniro showed up to block a couple scenes, or that Jimmy Page needed to borrow your guitar to try out a new riff. Needless to say, I took notes.

Upon learning of our forthcoming book on CDI, Initiate referred Evan and me to several of its customers. One was Marty Moseley, at the time Intuit’s Chief Architect. These were the days when people still couldn’t articulate the difference between an MDM hub and a data warehouse. I asked Marty how he made the internal pitch for MDM at Intuit, and his answer was refreshingly plainspoken: “We have SOA here at Intuit. It helps us make sure that our systems do what they’re good at. Why would I use my data warehouse to do MDM? That’s like saying SAP can do everything. We needed to operationally integrate our customer data. So we bought a hub.” Marty went on to become Initiate’s CTO and a good friend.

Where other vendors hoard contacts and micro-manage their messaging, Initiate made transparency part of its culture. When our book was published CEO Bill Conroy personally offered his support and that of his management staff, and would follow up with personal notes of congratulation and regular company updates. Bill knows how to build a good management team too, and Gina Sandon and her marketing team fell over backwards to provide me with industry research. Ian Stahl, Andrea Zivalich, Michelle Woolfolk, Rick Clements, Jim Cushman, Lorraine Fernandes, and Greg Shaw have all been similarly supportive and impressive.

In addition to being an acknowledged leader in healthcare (most notably, master patient index) and government (person-of-interest recognition), Initiate has blazed a trail across a range of industries, geographies, and value propositions. Its matching algorithm is arguably second-to-none, it led the way in defining the concept of exchanges, and its data governance and stewardship offerings were first out of the gate.

Initiate’s acquisition means that its new parent company can now make good on those Sunday-morning network commercials that flaunt its leadership in health care and information integration. I do predict that Initiate will be more difficult to absorb into IBM than its rival Siperian will with Informatica. I’ve spoken to two Initiate Customer Advisory Board gatherings and the consensus among heavy-hitter customers is that they invested in Initiate precisely because it wasn’t a one of the big enterprise app vendors.

In the dark of night most owners of MDM programs will admit that they ultimately chose their MDM solution because the vendor was already incumbent, or because the incumbent vendor was willing to provide a steep discount (read, free) in exchange for a reference. But Initiate customers tell a different story. “We bought Initiate because of [insert Initiate employee name here]. And because they weren’t [insert large vendor name here].”

Don’t eff it up, IBM.

Jill also blogs at jilldyche.com.