TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Kapow Touts Insurgent Data Integration

Data management pros are likely to have very strong feelings about what Kapow does and how it does it.

Data integration upstart Kapow Technologies Inc. is probably doing itself a disservice when it bills its Kapow Web Data Server as a "disruptive" product, which could be a poor choice of words when workers are already being pushed to do more with less and companies struggle to find calm in a choppy economy. More turmoil is the last thing they need.

Kapow aims to disrupt the status quo with the release of a revamped version of its Web Data Server, slated to ship next week.

One thing is certain, however: data management professionals aren’t ambivalent about Kapow’s product. They are sure to have strong feelings about what Kapow does and about how it does it.

What it does is trawl for, process, and standardize Web data. If data can be exposed in the context of a Web browser, Kapow can get at it. Ron Yu, vice president of marketing, claims Kapow Web Data Server can get at both publicly available or subscription-based data sources -- which are often exposed via Web interfaces -- and as-yet-un-integrated internal sources. For example, Yu says, Web Data Server can facilitate access to Web-enabled legacy applications that IT hasn't yet brought into the data warehouse.

"These [applications] have been on [IT's] road map in some cases for years. IT has a plan [to get to them], but [line of business customers] needed them yesterday. They've been asking IT to make them available, and the whole time IT is telling them, 'We'll get to it, we'll get to it. Eventually," Yu observes.

An Unorthodox Take on DI

It's Kapow's proposition that can drive DM purists -- who champion the importance of clean, standardized, and well-managed data -- to distraction.

It's likewise the kind of pitch that -- thanks to what might be called an "insurgent" trend in data management -- now enjoys a certain kind of cachet.

Consider the perspective of industry veteran Bob Eve, director of marketing with Composite Software Inc. Eve's company partnered with Kapow earlier this year to deliver a Web content-oriented DI bundle, Composite Application Data Services for Web Content.

Eve says that "messy" data integration problems -- e.g., issues posed by merger and acquisition (M&A) scenarios; legacy applications; untraditional or non-uniform data or content types; and nice-to-have (but with not-quite-necessary) data integration (DI) projects that are destined never to get funded -- are the rule rather than the exception.

The rub, Eve argues, is that many DM practitioners want to pretend that such problems don't exist. In this respect, Eve argues, vendors such as Kapow and data warehouse (DW) upstart WhereScape Inc. champion a kind of pragmatism that challenges the DM status quo.

"If you look at some of these [companies], what they're doing, it's really kind of neat. They're basically saying, 'Ideally, you'd do it [i.e., manage and integrate data] this way, but when is anything ever ideal in the real world?'" Eve points out, citing Composite's partnership with Kapow as a pragmatic example.

Besides, Yu counters, Kapow isn't saying that the line-of-business should go out-of-band around IT. Kapow Web Data Server is not an end-user-oriented tool, he stresses; it's designed to be implemented, deployed, and managed by IT. There's likewise no reason Kapow can't be used to feed or populate a data warehouse. In this case, the data Kapow produces can be cleaned, standardized, and managed -- just like data from any other source.

"[Kapow] is something IT can use to integrate [this data] while they work on whatever their preferred approach is [to integrating data]. In some cases … they'll find that the way we do it [i.e., facilitate access to data] is actually the best [approach], all things considered," he notes.

Kapow touts several prominent customer references, including German automaker Audi and U.S.-based networking giant Cisco Systems Inc.

An Rx for People and Process Peccadilloes?

Data integration isn't just a technology problem. Because DI involves various stakeholders -- both inside and outside an organization -- integration scenarios inevitably entail the likelihood of turf disputes.

Some of these turf wars will occur between the line-of-business and IT; others will occur between separate or distinct IT and DM groups; still other problems will arise between the line-of-business and IT, on one side, and disparate bureaucracies (inside and outside an organization) on the other.

The point, Yu maintains, is that a technology solution -- even an "ideal" one, from IT's perspective -- only gets you so far.

This helps underscore the case for Kapow Web Data Server, he contends. Yu cites Audi's use of Kapow Web Data Server, which he says helped accelerate its otherwise stagnant data integration effort. Audi's DM team had hit a series of brick walls in its effort to negotiate access to data hosted by several partners (prominent German and Italian automotive manufacturers): the German and Italian DM teams put up resistance while -- further down the line -- other people and process issues likewise interposed.

"In a [data] integration project like this, the technology [integration] can sometimes be the least of your worries. You have resistance from all of these stakeholders who tend to jealously guard the data or resources that [they feel] they own," Yu explains.

"Meanwhile, the business users are going, 'We just want to be able to [run analytics against] this data that we already have access to [via a Web browser] or that we're already paying for.' Kapow cuts out the middle man. If it's in a Web browser, if it can be displayed in a Web browser, we can get to it. We can get to it cleanly [and] elegantly -- and we don't have to worry about access permissions or firewalls or security."

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