There’s no question the SELF-SERVICE data space is a hot topic. In the past 12 months every major analyst firm has published their report on this rapidly growing market. Here are just some of the predictions

  • By 2020, self-service data preparation tools will be used in more than 50% new data integration efforts for analytics.
    Gartner Market Guide for Self Service Data Preparation 9/16
  • Through 2020, spending on the self-service visual discovery and data preparation market will grow two-and-a-half times faster than traditional IT-controlled tools for similar functionalities.
    IDC Market Supply: Self Service Data Preparation 3/16
  • The self-service BI market size is estimated to grow from USD 3.61 Billion in 2016 to USD 7.31 Billion by 2021, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.2%
    MarketsandMarkets 10/16

Most of the reports published are very thorough and, for the most part, give an objective review of the vendors and their solutions to solve this interesting business challenge. Nearly all of the analysts including: Gartner, IDC, Bloor Group, Ovum, TDWi, and 451 Research articulate the following key points:

  • SELF-SERVICE Data—Data prep has been around for decades and is the mainstay of legacy vendors like Teradata, Informatica, Talend, and SAS – where the job of integration or, it’s “lightweight cousin” data preparation, is an ETL function performed by programmers in IT. SELF-SERVICE on the other hand moves the task of data preparation to the hands of the non-technical business user. This is a critical distinction as the business insights derived from the SELF-SERVICE model no longer require the analyst to wait for data to be ETL’d by their IT support staff, often cutting time to insight to hours or days rather than months.
  • Equal Parts CATALOG & PREP—Most of the recently published reports, perhaps most notably, the Gartner Market Guide For Self Service Data, articulate the need to provide the business user with both SELF-SERVICE DISCOVERY or CATALOG and SELF-SERVICE PREP. As is often the case in emerging businesses, with new vendors jockeying for position with legacy vendors trying to spruce up decades-old software, the terms get used with a fair degree of poetic license. The industry should agree on what the term SELF-SERVICE means, the analysts should lead the independent charge for this—one reasonable definition would be: “The ability for a business user to search across the enterprise for any and all data of interest and then join, cleanse, enrich, normalize and format the data for subsequent viewing on their BI tool of choice WITHOUT, and this is the key point, ANY contact with IT.” Of course no one is arguing, although some vendors that don’t yet support this functionality a little less loudly than others, that IT MUST maintain the governance of the environment and provision a user to use a data set. It’s important to note here that “IT provisioning a data set ahead of time for subsequent Prep is CHEATING and is far from SELF-SERVICE even though it looks impressive in a canned demo.

 

OBJECTIVE Criteria—For an end user to garner value from an analyst report on a market space, especially with highly technical solutions, the criteria for reporting and cross-vendor evaluation must remain OBJECTIVE. The usability of a tool is a subjective, what one person may find easy another person may find really confusing. For example, after their pivot from data science platform to data prep platform for Tableau users, Alteryx cleverly copied the familiar drag and drop canvas user experience pioneered by Informatica. Presupposing, not unreasonably, that someone moving from an IT/ETL function into more of a business analyst role or support staff would be familiar with this metaphor. A new user might find the same interface confusing and the need to understand the underlying software architecture to perform simple prep task onerous at best. Similarly, a recent report cited “Product Vision” as an evaluation criteria—you’d be hard pressed to find a more subjective criteria. Isn’t every vendor striving for the day that a non-invasive neural shunt allows a business user to simply think of the hypothesis or prediction and have this flawlessly displayed in 3D in front of them?  Some will get there before others, some not at all, but one thing’s clear, the final tool or platform, will be SELF-SERVICE, include CATALOG AND PREP and will be entirely OBJECTIVE in the results given.

In 2016, Unifi was called out by Gartner, IDC and Bloor Research International as the self-service data prep vendor to watch.

  • In its Market Guide for Self-Service Data Preparation, Gartner identified 10 specific features it deemed essential to delivering a truly end-to-end self-service data preparation platform. Gartner pinpointed Unifi as the only company with more than two-thirds of the features supported in all 10 categories.
  • IDC named Unifi an IDC Innovator in self-service data preparation, citing the company’s prescriptive, unified approach to self-service data cataloging and preparation.
  • Bloor identified Unifi as a differentiated solution in a crowded field of old and new players, calling Unifi the only company “that has set out from the beginning to deliver both data inventory and data preparation capabilities, and which includes exactly the sorts of capabilities you would expect in both areas.”

It’s important, then, when reviewing the plethora of reports covering this space to consider the credibility of the source, which vendors have been included (and which have been left out), the methodology for comparing vendors and the breadth of coverage of the market and application. It’s only when these factors are in balance that you’ll have an accurate picture of who to invite to your next POC.