I had a very interesting conversation with Attivio recently. Most of it is confidential and thus not enough for me to wrote a full 451 report on it yet (but I will as soon as we’re able to), but I can say that the startup founded mostly by former employees of FAST Search & Transfer that has a couple of public customers has some much more interesting news coming down the pike in coming months. It just announced one of these customers, here.
We talked about what is triggering the customer wins it is getting and one thing stood out; the key value prop Attivio has been focused on from the start, which is the conjoining of structured and unstructured data. But it’s not just about having access to both types (that was possibly years ago and anyway there’s myriad types between those two simplistic and oft-confused descriptions, but bear with me). And it’s not just the ability be able to query them both; that too has been done, but crucially with different tools in the past.
It’s the ability to switch between both based on what the user is doing – not based on what type of data is being queried – to do so without the user knowing and having a single API for access to both types. And that, say the Attivio team, is hitting home with customers.
Attivio is not the only company to be thinking like that of course. Attivio’s management’s alma mater FAST was doing this for a while as a product called Adaptive Information Warehouse. We wrote a report on it in January 2007 under the headline: FAST: everything you thought you knew about BI is wrong. And there are other companies both positioning their products this way and winning customers doing it. See our recent report on Exalead for another example and we’re sure IBM could build its customers just such a system if they paid enough.
The challenge with this idea is of course that for the past 30 years or so relational databases have been where the ‘important stuff’ has been stored and the multi-billion BI market grew on top of that as a way to access it. Database administrators rule(d) the roost as far as information management goes. Meanwhile enterprise search got relegated to a side room where it was all about finding documents and getting pages and pages of results returned to you. What Attivio, Exalead and a few other companies are moving towards is a convergence of the two; call it database offloading, unified information access; unified information intelligence or something similar.
We’re not seeing these vendors being dragged kicking and screaming towards this single-API-no-matter-what-the-data-is nirvana by their customers, however; it takes a fair amount of market education on the parts of the vendors and their partner to make it a reality. But given what we see happening here, we expect to hear alot more from the vendors mentioned here and others throughout 2009 and beyond as enterprise search morphs into something new.