Our Thinking
Why Workday’s acquisition of Platfora makes sense.
29 July 2016 | Posted by Darragh McConville

I’ve spoken to a few people this week who have expressed surprise at Workday’s acquisition of Platfora.  I wanted to pen this blog to explain why I feel it makes sense.

What is Platfora?

Platfora is an Hadoop-only, big data discovery platform that includes data preparation and visualisation.  Its goal is to empower business users to blend, transform and integrate data sets to, as part of exploratory analyses which produce stunning visualisations on PBs of data.  Yes, that’s a P.

It’s neither an ETL tool nor an advanced analytics tool and does not pretend to be either, although future releases had alluded to non-Hadoop data source integration and machine learning capabilities.

Think of Platfora as a combination of superb tools like Trifacta and ZoomData. Platfora’s value proposition can be summarised in a simple sketch comparing the old-world vs new world approach to data engineering for insight .

PlatforaInsightOverall implementation times are shrunk and the mean-time-to-insight is reduced greatly.  IT involvement decreases as business users take control of their own destiny.

Why would Platfora interest Workday?

Workday are a big data company, don’t you know – them and everyone else.  Workday have actually been big data service providers for a while.  In 2012 they OEM’d Datameer and combined it with Cloudera to launch a Big Data Tenant offering for a subscription premium to their HCM or Financials customers.

Datameer is a big data analytics and visualisation platform, providing a business-user friendly spreadsheet interface onto big datasets within Hadoop. Datameer was once a market leader, sitting atop Hadoop as master of all it could survey – recognised by KMWorld as a Trend-Setting Product in 2010.  But time waits for no-one.  Datameer has become a little jaded, their features have not matured in line with the rest of the industry and their procrastination in adopting Spark as the de-facto big data processing engine has seen it appear old before its time.

Do I think that Datameer would have evolved more as a product – albeit with a Workday badge, available only to Workday subscribers – if they had been bought outright?  Yes, I do. Enter Platfora.

Both products sound similar, don’t they? But, delve into the detail and Platfora’s own cluster-based architecture and constituent Spark processing framework set it apart.  Push-down of Spark jobs for data transformation on Hadoop is one thing, but native Spark-based in-memory data lenses is quite another.  It is this, Hadoop-scale in-memory data discovery engine that sets Platfora apart.  Think sub-second drill-down and drill-through across all of your data. Forever.

What impact will this have?

Although they tend to prefer organic growth over acquisitions, when it comes to acquiring current and future market leaders, Workday has form.

I was one of the founding members of Kainos’ Workday Practice in 2012 where our initial introduction to Workday was through a company called Cape Clear.  In 2006, Forrester ranked Cape Clear as market leaders in ESB technology, the same year Workday licensed it as part of their product offering.  Workday acquired them less than two years later, when they were not quite seven years old.  In doing so, Workday created one of the first cloud-based ESBs – or what Gartner now categorise as embedded integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) – paving the way for a wave of successful cloud-based ESBs such as MuleSoftDell Boomi and Talend to name a few.

Platfora are almost five years old and were identified by CIO Magazine as #1 on the 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch in 2014.  They have tackled a difficult problem and are well on the road to solving it – making Hadoop datasets available for business user exploitation immediately.  Platfora will become consumed into Workday’s multi-faceted Cloud platform and will avail of all the benefits that have seen Workday retain their position as cloud-based market leaders: zero deployment footprint, constant release of new features and a pay-per-use license model.

Workday will now make Platfora, as we know it, disappear, but in doing so, I believe they will actually make the market for cloud-hosted, big data analytics and discovery tools, as they did for ESBs. ZoomData, to their credit have been pioneers of this model, but I  expect to see more tools emerge in the vacuum left behind.

Where will Platfora be used?

I expect Workday to say their goodbyes to Datameer and promote Platfora as the de-facto management information and discovery tool of choice for all of their Hadoop data.

Workday have long been encouraging customers to ingest additional datasets into their Workday Big Data tenants for analysis with their HR and Financials data. Platfora will provide customers with manipulation and transformation of this data and sophisticated, interactive visualisation as part of an exploratory exercise.  It is the exploration that is key here, as the rigidity of Datameer’s templates meant that you often needed to know what you were looking for before you started.

Platfora will provide the instrumentation and controls that will further realise the value of the vast datasets and intelligent algorithms that Workday now own through their 2014 acquisition of Identified.  Platfora will become the window onto the Hadoop world for Workday customers and Workday staff for everything from regulatory reporting for Financials customers to dog-fooding with their own internal operations data.

Given our heritage and expertise across the Workday and Big Data Analytics domains, I expect our involvement with Platfora to continue, albeit in a different, but exciting direction.

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