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Tibco continues adding developer tools to analytics platform

Since its last major update in September 2021, the vendor has added to its array of prebuilt Spotfire Mods applications, including new AI Mods called Data Functions.

In the months since unveiling its last analytics platform update, Tibco has continued to add new tools for application development.

The analytics and business intelligence vendor, founded in 1997 and based in Irvine, Calif., introduced Spotfire Mods in late 2020.

Mods are a series of prebuilt applications for Tibco Spotfire -- the vendor's longtime BI platform -- that enable users to build customized analytics assets including visualizations without requiring them to know code.

The Mods framework then enables users to share and deploy those assets throughout their organization.

Spotfire capabilities

In September 2021, building on Spotfire 11 that was launched in 2020, Tibco made its Mods framework a main focus of the update it released during its virtual user conference.

In the months since then, it has continued adding new Mods, including some developed by the Tibco community of users that the vendor has made available to other customers through its analytics platform.

That involvement of the community using Mods, meanwhile, has enabled Tibco to add far more on top of Spotfire 11 than it did before the advent of the Mods framework, according to Mark Palmer, Tibco's general manager and senior vice president of analytics, data science and data products.

"The momentum from the community -- on top of Spotfire -- has been so much fun," Palmer said. "We used to add maybe two visualizations a year, and last year we added 25. It's all based on the Mods framework, and what we've done internally is, much the way Apple vets apps, we do the same and then release them out into the community."

A sample Tibco Spotfire dashboard.
A sample Tibco Spotfire dashboard displays an organization's shipping data.

In addition, Palmer noted that Tibco is adding augmented intelligence Mods called Data Functions that enable users to build predictive models and other data science assets that help organizations to forecast. Data Functions were first unveiled in September 2021.

"We're always extending those for typical AI and machine learning models that you would want to embed," Palmer said.

They're focusing quite a lot on the developer community, and I think that's a smart move for them.
Donald FarmerFounder and principal, TreeHive Strategy

And as with the addition of new visualizations, some of the new Data Functions added over the past few months have come from Tibco's community of developers.

That focus on the developer community has been beneficial to Tibco, according to Donald Farmer, founder and principal of TreeHive Strategy.

"They're focusing quite a lot on the developer community, and I think that's a smart move for them," he said.

"Mods is very focused on a developer market that is waiting to be well-serviced. I think that shift, rather than trying to win the desktop business user against Qlik, Tableau and Power BI is very smart," Farmer continued, referring to the three dominant analytics platforms. "It's smart for them to go into a deeper, more technical side of the market."

Moving forward, Tibco plans to continue enhancing the Mods framework and adding more AI and machine learning models to its library of Data Functions, according to Palmer.

"We're looking at extending the Mods framework into more action orientation," Palmer said. "Since we do a lot of streaming and real-time BI, we want to enable customers, when they see something, to be able to take action."

For example, Tibco wants to enable more real-time decision-making such as in the case of Autostrade per l'Italia, which manages and maintains roadways in Italy. Using Tibco's streaming data capabilities, capturing information from IoT sensors sent into Spotfire, the organization is able to make decisions in real time that help ease the flow of traffic.

In addition, the release of ModelOps, first unveiled at Tibco Now but not yet generally available, is scheduled for some time in 2022.

ModelOps is an addition to the Tibco analytics platform that will enable business users without training as data scientists to quickly and safely -- with built-in governance -- deploy and manage AI and machine learning models.

And like the expansion of its Mods, the eventual addition of ModelOps will make Tibco stand out somewhat among analytics vendors, according to Farmer.

"They're taking their strength in data science and bringing it into the desktop in a different way than just making model-building easy," he said. "They're taking it a little more seriously than companies that just provide augmented analytics with the click of a button. Tibco is really thinking through what it means to have a model in production being used by a business user, and that's very smart."

Beyond Spotfire

While Tibco plans to continue adding capabilities on top of Spotfire 11, the vendor also has two additional BI platforms.

Tibco inherited WebFocus when it acquired IBI -- formerly Information Builders -- in late 2020, and also has Jaspersoft, an embedded analytics platform Tibco acquired in 2014 when it bought the company of the same name.

According to Palmer, when Tibco acquired IBI and inherited WebFocus, its strategy was to augment the existing WebFocus platform with streaming analytics and data science capabilities while integrating the platform with Tibco's data fabric and data virtualization capabilities.

"That was really important because it gives WebFocus access to the 350 data sources we have inside our data virtualization platform," Palmer said.

With respect to adding streaming analytics and data science capabilities, he added that the process is ongoing.

"Some things we've done already, and there are things that we'll keep adding on top of WebFocus," Palmer said. "A cool thing that's a result of us having a broad portfolio is that a lot of the things we'll add come for free by just integrating the product."

Despite having three separate analytics platforms, Palmer said Tibco has no plans to combine the capabilities into one.

Each has specific functions. Spotfire offers streaming analytics and data science capabilities that enable deep exploration, WebFocus offers scalable reporting capabilities that enable thousands of users to view and work with the same data and Jaspersoft enables developers to embed BI in applications.

"The plan is to keep them separate," Palmer said. "It's like having three children -- they're all great, and they're all very different. They have quite different use cases. We'll keep them separate but synergistic in areas like real-time data, AI models and data virtualizations that are horizontals and building blocks of any BI platform."

He added that many Tibco customers use two or even all three of the different platforms for their various applications.

Interoperability within the Tibco analytics platform, meanwhile, goes beyond the vendor's BI tools. Spotfire, WebFocus and Jaspersoft all fall under Tibco's Predict portfolio, but the vendor also has Connect and Unify portfolios. The Connect portfolio is where Tibco is building out its cloud capabilities, while the Unify portfolio is where it enables data management.

And it's the depth of Tibco's capabilities that differentiate the vendor, Farmer said, pointing out that the vendor's portfolio even includes a master data management system that competes with enterprise cloud data management vendor Informatica.

"They have strength in depth," he said. "Their analytics are really comprehensive, they're well-established, and they enable users to go deep into problems."

Attempted acquisition

Beyond the addition of new capabilities to existing tools, Tibco attempted to add new capabilities through an acquisition in late 2021.

In late September, concurrent with the start of its user conference, the vendor revealed that, through its parent company Vista Equity Partners, it had agreed to acquire robotic process automation vendor Blue Prism for $1.5 billion.

In December, however, Vista was outbid by SS&C Technologies and declined to increase its offer.

And there lies Tibco's chief vulnerability, according to Farmer.

While some vendors such as MicroStrategy and SAS are independent and can operate as they wish, Tibco -- like Tableau and Qlik until its impending IPO -- has a parent company that has final say over what the vendor can and cannot do.

"It makes a lot of sense for Tibco to [acquire an RPA vendor], but it was telling that the deal didn't come off," Farmer said. "It suggests that the investors don't have bottomless pockets and that there's a limit to what they're willing to do to see Tibco succeed. That's why they're not masters of their own future."

If Tibco was in control, Farmer speculated it would have pushed harder and perhaps continued to bid against SS&C Technologies, which ultimately reached an agreement to acquire Blue Prism for $1.65 billion.

Despite losing out on Blue Prism, however, Tibco still plans to add more process automation capabilities, according to Palmer.

That could be by acquiring a different vendor or expanding action-oriented capabilities already within the Tibco analytics platform.

"That is still interesting to us from an acquisition perspective," he said. "It is also why the strategy of adding actions is super exciting. The future of analytics is not just looking at a dashboard, but doing something about it. Companies are getting more data-aware, and then the action part comes from human decision-making. Whatever we can do to make that easier is part of our strategy."

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