• Paul Burgess

What we have been missing from attending events - the reality in information management.

Updated: Mar 27

In attending the big healthcare technology conference ran by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) group was both refreshing and eye opening. Was able to use a full conference pass through a partner organization and attended under an alias - keeping the post-show phone calls and emails to a minimum.

From a focus perspective, I was paying the greatest attention to the data repository vendors - rather it is structured or unstructured and from a transactional and analytical perspective. Did attend some breakouts to hear from practitioners but also from certain vendors to uncover more of the truth. Finally 71 vendors stated they did 'information management' - but it was more about solutions or selling data.

Findings (in alphabetical order as to not show preference):

Amazon - Visiting with employees in their booth one thing I uncovered is their lack or focus or details around the data layer. AWS (like the other clouds) bring such a large catalog of technology to an organization if you want to dive into any one particular area they were only as informative as that one person in the booth who to talk to it. For the event, this broad-yet-shallow view was obvious and glaring. The solutions from AWS are broad - multiple Postgres and MySQL options for OLTP, and RedShift for analytics which is based on Actian columnar tech that was built on Postgres (why you see references to 'vacuuming' in Red Shift documentation). A moment I had a blank look the whole week - Upon further questioning, they said I should go talk to the Snowflake people.

Box - As the largest pure-cloud content player, I would hope they would have an existence at the show. In reviewing their website they have a focus are on healthcare. Alas they did not show.

Databricks - This organization was promoting before the show announced their focus around a healthcare 'cloud' around "...eliminate challenges by providing health institutions with a single cloud-backed platform for data management, analytics and advanced AI". So I wanted to get into this with someone at Databricks at the show. They had this small 10x10 booth that was hard to find in the back corner of the show that looked like something they had a FedEx Kinkos make the day before. The people at the booth brought no expertise in healthcare and just wanted to scan by badge. With all the noise put behind their healthcare announcements, this is a huge let down in both presence and people. They want to be Snowflake.

Google - This was an interesting one as they didn't really have a formal booth presence but had some breakout sessions with Google people and clients presenting. The only space they formally had were meeting rooms. What I take away from the breakouts and when I spoke to a Google person - it had a lot of the same feeling as the Amazon booth but with an AI/ML priority. They also brought the greatest aura of arrogance - only second to Microsoft - of all the vendors I spoke. It almost makes me not want to use Google search any longer.

Hyland - As Hyland is now owned (and manipulated) by a private equity firm, that PE firm has acquired Perceptive, Nuxeo and Alfresco and created a 'content repository conglomerate'. It reminds me or OpenText and IBM in terms of confusion. But what Hyland has is marketshare and a partnership with Epic that drives consumption. It is why their booth is so close to the large Epic presence. When asking Hyland people 'with your acquisitions, what is your repository strategy' the answer was - at best - sentence run ons and very murky. What I also took away from this experience was a stoic set of disparate technologies that have no real logical portfolio or 'swim lanes' to drive client success. What was needed was the managing parter of Thoma Bravo in the booth to share their invest and 'exit strategy'.

IBM - 'Big Blue' was literally tall and blue for a booth. When it comes to their strategy for clients all I hear was 'cloud-pack-for-data'. When I asked someone to explain it the result sounded like a lot of old on-premise components that have by cobbled together, put into a cloud container and sold as something new. Add to it their 'cloud' story was overly vague and all about the IBM cloud = all at the same time. Big Blue has issues.

Microsoft - For being 'Microsoft' I had some high hopes in their booth to talk about Azure, data and their strategy. What I got - much like the AWS booth but worse - was a lot of high level 'memorized scripts' and clicky demos (mostly looking pre-recorded). Re-enforced their desire to have me only consume Microsoft components that could not scale, were individually mediocare at least and integrated with bailing-wire-and-electric-tape (had a pupil use that line with me decades ago and it felt appropriate here). As I spoke about how pricing worked, that also because confusing once to bring together pieces-and-parts to drive to an end desire. For instance, their Synapse product sounds reasonable in a webcast but once speaking about it in their booth sounded like an old on-prem technology that has gone through multiple name changes that is expensive.

Opentext - The sadest 'repository' player there that was best described by their booth giveaway - a set of dominos. One would think after a few decades of acquisitions this portfolio of technology could have a chance in bringing some answers to all the unstructured information and potential use bases for AI/ML. In the end, the OpenText booth was there to sell fax - that's right the collateral and people in the booth had a focus on fax communications. Got an ear full on how it is a secure communications medium - otherwise this was a short conversation.

Oracle- They had a presence to focus people on their 'Oracle solutions', the 'Oracle cloud' and their pending acquisition of Cerner. Their play had very little to do with Oracle-for-data-management. It was about all the reasons organizations should use Oracle cloud. Let us not forget one of the primary ERP systems still running in this industry is still Peoplesoft. Which is part of their 'cloud' narrative. Overly old and self-serving in their tone.

Snowflake - This was a high point. In researching Snowflake, they bring some fundamentals that are really compelling to this show attendee. They have the only born-cloud (which means you only pay for what you use - by the second), they have focus and - as of HIMSS - they have a health care cloud strategy. The breakouts were very on topic and a session where a technology leader from Anthem presented was very powerful. In going into their booth, had an engineer (Tom something) give me a demo that was one of the best I have experienced in years in making me want to learn more. Unlike every other vendor visited, I took away from this experience that nearly all of their R/D is driving both new capabilities and making the current ones better (and cheaper for clients). What they are doing around making it easy for organizations to 'share' data is a nirvana-moment for all of us. From the demo, he spoke about how (adlibbing a bit) "Stop unloading data, copying data and reloading data - 1995 called they want their ftp back (made me laugh). You lose context, time and who-owns-the-truth and explode your security exposure". Add to it an evolving capability in Snowflake in their ability to manage unstructured information - to do things like OpenText, Hyland and BOX - but in a single repository. To be clear, I do not own shares in SNOW but I think I will after this.

Teradata - One can tell they are the primary analytical technology running in data centers for the last 25+ years. Their booth was well positioned, professional but it was clear they are in a defensive position. They stated to me "We are here in helping our clients take advantage of where they want to take their Teradata next". I took away from that "when clients move from on-prem Teradata, they are mostly going to the cloud onto something else". Going to the website after the show, you can play with their online cost estimator for Teradata Vantage and quickly understand why - it is very expensive. It was discovered they also had a layoff before the show AND announced a $250 million stock buyback - this is typical of a company who is profiting from their install base, cannot grow top-line and instead of investing in people and R/D = are maximizing the EBITA and EPS. Sad to see this bellwether sink.


The experiences and conversations in attending a live event showed their importance. Not just in typical human interaction aspects, but to get beyond the online-scripted experiences we have been flooded with over the last 2+ years in blogs and webinars. Realize HIMSS had a big healthcare focus around data - but it did not take long to peel back the reality of each of the vendors in conversation. Looking forward to more of this in 2022 to bring everyone the truth.

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