Systems Integration

Snap! SnapLogic CEO revels in second go at integration

Informatica is a bittersweet memory,” says Gaurav Dhillon, the co-founder and CEO of 11-year-old integration software company SnapLogic, having held the same role from 1992 at the company he is reminiscing about. “The issue is when you stop innovating. You need to have more desire to innovate and change things and keep growing. If you’re a plumber, you plumb; if you’re a roofer, you keep roofing…” And innovators innovate, even if he leaves the thought hanging.

Technology “ages like fish – quickly”, he says, and adds that he is determined that the same won’t be allowed to happen at his second go in the space with another Californian company. The difference this time in software, he says, is artificial intelligence and the latest math models - often out of the University of California at Berkeley - mean that, as the name suggests, his latest firm “can snap things together” so that the chores of connecting systems, programs and services are diminished. He refers to SnapLogic embodying “AI-fuelled integration” but adds that AI will change the world as we know it in ways we can’t even begin to count.

The world had moved on in IT deployment too of course, meaning that integration today is not just about forcing software sitting on a server and written in one language to talk with another designed for another operating system, like a marriage counsellor dealing with a couple who have tired of each other. It’s also about connecting clouds, mobile apps and more. To that end SnapLogic offers both a cloud and on-premises offering called the Elastic Integration Platform and acts as the Esperanto that enables cross-service communications. The opportunity today is 10 times bigger than the one he once surveyed at Informatica, he says with typical Silicon Valley panache.

“It wasn’t pre-planned this would be [competitive with] a Tibco or an Informatica,” he says, but it turns out that SnapLogic is effectively in the same, or at least adjacent, space, but supercharged by new software approaches.

“Most software is what we call deterministic. If you make a payroll app you can check that it works with a calculator, but how does [an AI-driven system] do facial recognition? We don’t know [at least at first]. That makes software fresh for those of us who have grey hair and grey beards, and the chances are that it’s scary good.”

To illustrate his point he makes a historical comparison. In the industrial age we automated machinery. In the software age we automated manual processes. In the AI age the software automates the processes, and often without human intervention. Dhillon doesn’t say so explicitly but the world before AI will feel like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times movie quite soon – hopelessly anachronistic and comically old-fashioned.

Java application and data integration is the core audience for Dhillon and SnapLogic has been successful enough to employ 300 people and raise $136m. But he’s realistic enough to know that the integration problem won’t go away completely, just as the old host systems don’t ever disappear.

“When I was young, I thought the mainframe would die and, my god, how stupid I was,” he laughs. “It not that people don’t want to get off it, they can’t.”

That being locked in to a provider, platform or version is what Dhillon wants to get around. But prior experience has taught him to be careful about what can happen at companies where there is disagreement over future direction and he has organised two classes of stock so that he can’t easily be unseated from his own company. “Technology goes in 15- to 20-year cycles,” he says, and becoming a legacy player leads, shudder, to the “purgatory” of private-equity ownership.

“It’s a bicycle business: you have to keep pedalling,” he says. “Success leads to arrogance, leads to failure. What you have today as a problem isn’t what you’ll have in 24 months. We want to be Switzerland or the independent suspension of systems. That clicking sound you can’t hear is entrepreneurs ticking over…”


Also read:
Informatica CEO at heart of a data-driven world
Informatica CIO chases velocity
For Informatica CMO, tools change rules of the game


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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