Has TIBCO got its groove back?

Almost two years ago, with a lot of work to do in analytics, TIBCO went private. What company could bounce back from such a challenge, and how soon? At the aptly named "TIBCO Now" event this week, we may have gotten our answer.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

I'll admit it...I had kind of written TIBCO off as an analytics player. I mean Spotfire, which started off as classmates with Tableau and Qlik, had kind of fallen behind. Jaspersoft seemed a weird buy, and StreamBase, as a CEP tool, looked (ironically) behind the times. Analysts even cited tough competition from Tableau as a reason for TIBCO needing the long-view protection that going private (which TIBCO did in 2014) can provide. So it wasn't just me being judgmental.

Maybe it was sour grapes, though. After all, when I was CTO of a NYC boutique consulting firm working with the Microsoft technology stack, TIBCO, with its wicked fast integration and middleware technology, kept us out of a lot of opportunities on Wall Street. Microsoft's BizTalk was just too slow to compete and, by extension, so were we. Perhaps snarkily, I thought TIBCO had simply suffered the fate of so many companies that dominate a lucrative category like that. Eventually the category commoditizes, the dominant vendor has trouble pivoting and destruction ensues.

Comeback KIDCO?
But if what TIBCO showed at its TIBCO Now event this week in Las Vegas can be taken at face value, there may yet be a comeback. Because not only has the company been working on making its individual products better, but it's also been (fittingly) integrating them and drawing upon historical strengths to take advantage of contemporary trends.

I spoke for 90 minutes yesterday with Michael O'Connell, TIBCO's Chief Analytics Officer, who got me caught up on what has been going on with the TIBCO analytics stack over the last year and a half, as well as the announcements made this week. What follows is my attempt at a summary and analysis.

See Spotfire run
First there's Spotfire, which has over the last year or so been updated with a completely rewritten HTML 5 front-end user interface in version 7.0, and an optimized, multi-node back end analytics engine in version 7.5. Spotfire 7.6, which was announced this week, has added a number of new features and facilities, including:

  • A new Waterfall chat
  • A KPI chart, which sounds almost like a full dashboard-in-a-chart
  • An impressive teaming of mapping visualizations and geo-spatial intelligence, including compatibility with various external mapping file formats and tile-based services
  • Revamped table layouts for better aesthetics and screen real estate efficiency
  • A responsive design for better mobile device compatibility

This ain't their first data rodeo
Spotfire now also features a what TIBCO is calling "Inline Data Wrangling," essentially elevating the product's many built-in data transformation functions to be available in a more self-service, contextual fashion, including from visualizations.

Spotfire has also added a new "Source View," which summarizes all data transformation steps taken interactively in the UI, in a diagram/flowchart, for those who prefer to document data prep in that format. In a future release, this won't just be a read-only summary, but will be an editable interface for authoring the data transformation steps in the first place.

Smooth acceleration
On the streaming side, TIBCO has introduced "Accelerators," which you can think of as free, fully built-out end-to-end reference applications for horizontal and vertical applications, that integrate various TIBCO technologies and products. TIBCO has introduced accelerators for industrial IoT, connected automobiles and financial services scenarios. On the horizontal technology side, the company has also built its Accelerator for Apache Spark.

Not TERRible
As I reported more than three years ago, TIBCO has its own version of R, called the TERR (the TIBCO Enterprise Runtime for R). TERR is not open source; rather it was written from scratch as a scalable, embeddable, commercial implementation of the R language by an engineering team which had previously built "S+," an implementation of R's predecessor, S.

TERR is now integrated across the TIBCO analytics stack, including within Spotfire and StreamBase, to provide in-built predictive analytics in those products. Combine that with TIBCO's classic messaging and event-handling software and you have the makings of real-time, operational monitoring paired with automated prescriptive analytics.

This shows up in the Intelligent Equipment Accelerator (the IoT-focused one) which analyzes industrial equipment breakdowns, builds predictive models around such failures, then monitors the equipment and triggers emails and other actions when it sees the equipment crossing thresholds that indicate impending failure.

TIBCO's Live Datamart comes into play here too. Effectively, this product acts as a cache on a huge sliding window of streaming data, presenting it in a format that descriptive analytics products know how to consume and analyze.

Building, blocks
Essentially, what TIBCO has done is take its many acquisitions -- including Spotfire itself, Jaspersoft, StreamBase, Insightful (for TERR), Extended Results (for the KPI chart) and Maporama (for all of the geospatial capabilities) -- and combined those technologies with each other, and the company's integration technologies, to build a modern analytics suite that is purpose-built for the age of IoT. This is what we used to call BAM (business activity monitoring), but modernized, enhanced, scaled and accelerated.

Pride, authenticity
Towards the end of the Day 2 keynote (the online recording of which I viewed in its entirety), Matt Quinn, TIBCO's CTO and EVP, Products and Technology, a 19-year veteran of the company, concluded the presentation by asking for a round of applause for what his team has been building over the last 18 months. Quinn became emotional as he did so, and was rather apologetic for it.

To me, it was refreshing to see an executive exhibiting such a reasonable human reaction and one that was apparently imbued with compassion for his colleagues. Imagine what TIBCO has been through for the past year and a half. Tech companies employ real people, with real families for whom they need to provide. The human side of "creative" destruction in the industry can be damned frightening to rational people who want to tend to their own, and their loved ones', needs.

TIBCO may or may not prevail, but the company certainly seems to have confronted adversity with hard work and produced what looks to be very good, new technology with lots of value. No matter what happens, that's a very inspiring story. Forgive the double-negative, but whoever wouldn't be emotional about that is not someone I'd want to work for.

That fact that Quinn was emotionally appropriate, in public, gives me confidence that TIBCO has its priorities straight and is in a good position. Keep the company and its products on your radar.

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