Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Independent Teradata Makes New Friends

I had a product briefing from Teradata earlier this week after not talking for nearly two years. They are getting ready to release version 6 of their marketing automation software, Teradata Relationship Manager (formerly Teradata CRM). The new version has a revamped user interface and large number of minor refinements such as allowing multiple levels of control groups. But the real change is technical: the system has been entirely rebuilt on a J2EE platform. This was apparently a huge effort – when I checked my notes from two years ago, Teradata was talking about releasing the same version 6 with pretty much the same changes. My contact at Teradata told me the delay was due to difficulties with the migration. She promises the current schedule for releasing version 6 by December will definitely be met.

I’ll get back to v6 in a minute, but did want to mention the other big news out of Teradata recently: alliances Assetlink and Infor for marketing automation enhancements, and with SAS Institute for analytic integration. Each deal has its own justification, but it’s hard not to see them as showing a new interest in cooperation at Teradata, whose proprietary technology has long kept it isolated from the rest of the industry. The new attitude might be related to Teradata’s spin-off from NCR, completed October 1, which presumably frees (or forces) management to consider options it rejected while inside the NCR family. It might also reflect increasing competition from database appliances like Netezza, DATAllegro, and Greenplum. (The Greenplum Web site offers links to useful Gartner and Ventana Research papers if you want to look at the database appliance market in more detail.)

But I digress. Let’s talk first about the alliances and then v6.

The Assetlink deal is probably the more significant yet least surprising new arrangement. Assetlink is one of the most complete marketing resource management suites, so it gives Teradata a quick way to provide a set of features that are now standard in enterprise marketing systems. (Teradata had an earlier alliance in this area with Aprimo, but that never took hold. Teradata mentioned technical incompatibility with Aprimo’s .NET foundation as well as competitive overlap with Aprimo’s own marketing automation software.) In the all-important area of integration, Assetlink and Teradata will both run on the same data structures and coordinate their internal processes, so they should work reasonably seamlessly. Assetlink still has its own user interface and workflow engine, though, so some separation will still be apparent. Teradata stressed that it will be investing to create a version of Assetlink that runs on the Teradata database and will sell that under the Teradata brand.

The Infor arrangement is a little more surprising because Infor also has its own marketing automation products (the old Epiphany system) and because Infor is more oriented to mid-size businesses than the giant retailers, telcos, and others served by Teradata. Perhaps the separate customer bases make the competitive issue less important. In any event, the Infor alliance is limited to Infor’s real time decision engine, currently known as CRM Epiphany Inbound Marketing, which was always Epiphany’s crown jewel. Like Assetlink, Infor gives Teradata a quick way to offer a capability (real time interaction management, including self-adjusting predictive models) that is increasingly requested by clients and offered by competitors. Although Epiphany is also built on J2EE, the initial integration (available today) will still be limited: the software will run on a separate server using SQL Server as its data store. A later release, due in the first quarter of next year, will still have a separate server but connect directly with the Teradata database. Even then, though, real-time interaction flows will be defined outside of Teradata Relationship Manager. Integration will be at the data level: Teradata will provide lists of customers are eligible for different offers and will be notified of interaction results. Teradata will be selling its own branded version of the Infor product too.

The SAS alliance is described as a “strategic partnership” in the firms' joint press release, which sounds jarring from two previous competitors. Basically, it involves running SAS analytic functions inside of the Teradata. This turns out to be part of a larger SAS initiative called “in-database processing” which seeks similar arrangements with other database vendors. Teradata is simply the first partner to be announced, so maybe the relationship isn’t so special after all. On the other hand, the companies’ joint roadmap includes deeper integration of selected SAS “solutions” with Teradata, including mapping of industry-specific SAS logical data models to corresponding Teradata structures. The companies will also create a joint technical “center of excellence” where specialists from both firms will help clients improve performance of SAS and Teradata products. We’ll see whether other database vendors work this closely with SAS. In the specific area of marketing automation, the two vendors will continue to compete head-to-head, at least for the time being.

This brings us back to Teradata Relationship Manager itself. As I already mentioned, v6 makes major changes at the deep technical level and in the user interface, but the 100+ changes in functionality are relatively minor. In other words, the functional structure of the product is the same.

This structure has always been different from other marketing automation systems. What sets Teradata apart is a very systematic approach to the process of customer communications: it’s not simply about matching offers to customers, but about managing all the components that contribute to those offers. For example, communication plans are built up from messages, which contain collateral, channels and response definitions, and the collateral itself may contain personalized components. Campaigns are created by attaching communication plans to segment plans, which are constructed from individual segments. All these elements in turn are subject to cross-campaign constraints on channel capacity, contacts per customer, customer channel preferences, and message priorities. In other words, everything is related to everything else in a very logical, precise fashion – just like a database design. Did I mention that Teradata is a database company?

This approach takes some practice before you understand how the parts are connected – again, like a sophisticated database. It can also make simple tasks seem unnecessarily complicated. But it rewards patient users with a system that handles complex tasks accurately and supports high volumes without collapsing. For example, managing customers across channels is very straightforward because all channels are structurally equivalent.

The functional capabilities of Relationship Manager are not so different from Teradata’s main competitors (SAS Marketing Automation and Unica). But those products have evolved incrementally, often through acquisition, and parts are still sold as separate components. It’s probably fair to say that they not as tightly or logically integrated as Teradata.

This very tight integration also has drawbacks, since any changes to the data structure need careful consideration. Teradata definitely has a tendency to fit new functions into existing structures, such as setting up different types of campaigns (outbound, multi-step, inbound) through a single interface. Sometimes that’s good; sometimes it’s just easier to do different things in different ways.

Teradata has also been something of a laggard at integrating statistical modeling into its system. Even what it calls “optimization” is rule-based rather than the constrained statistical optimization offered by other vendors. I’m actually rather fond of Teradata’s optimization approaches: its ability to allocate leads across channels based on sophisticated capacity rules (e.g., minimum and maximum volumes from different campaigns; automatically sending overflow from one channel to another; automatically reallocating leads based on current work load) has always impressed me and I believe remains unrivaled. But allowing marketers to build and deploy true predictive models is increasingly important and, unless I’ve missed something, is still not offered by Teradata.

This is why the new alliances are so intriguing. Assetlink adds a huge swath of capabilities that Teradata otherwise would have very slowly and painstakingly created by expanding its core data model. Infor and SAS both address the analytical weaknesses of the existing system, while Infor in particular adds another highly desired feature without waiting to build new structures in-house. All these changes suggest a welcome sense of urgency in responding quickly to customer needs. If this new attitude holds true, it seems unlikely that Teradata will accept another two year delay in the release of Relationship Manager version 7.


oscil8er said...

Hi there, I noticed neolane seems to be building some momentum so have been trying to research it. However technical info is nonexistent on their site. Would you happen to know what it's coded in and any prerequisites?

Sorry about the much later comment, but your article is the only one I've come across about neolane in the entire blogosphere!

David Raab said...

I'm not sure how your comment got attached to this post about Teradata, but assume you've already seen the one on Neolane itself at:

As to your platform question, I've never asked them explicitly. But all my notes refer to components working with Javascript, XML and Web services, so I'm pretty sure it runs on a J2EE platform rather than Microsoft. Hope this helps.