EP1 – Successfully Scaling Location Intelligence for the Era of Cloud Technology

In this episode

In 2020, Forrester, the market research company, named only two leaders in their study of location intelligence platforms. And today, I’ll be speaking with the CEO of one of those companies, Josh Rogers of Precisely. Josh has taken Precisely through enormous transition over the past two years; first uniting Syncsort with Pitney Bowes Software and more recently with acquisitions of Infogix and Winshuttle to create one of the few global companies capable of tackling the deluge of data that many companies face as they undergo their transformation to digital but in particular as they leverage location technology. Please join me for this inaugural episode of On Point with Korem.

Episode transcript

Joe Francica: In 2020 Forrester, the market research company, named only two companies as leaders in their study of location intelligence platforms and today, I have the pleasure of speaking with the CEO of one of those companies: Josh Rogers, from Precisely. Josh has taken the company through enormous transition over the past two years. First, with the uniting of Syncsort with Pitney Bowes software, and more recently with the acquisitions of Winshuttle and Infogex, to create one of the few global companies capable of handling the deluge of data that companies face as they make their transition to digital, but also with leveraging the power of location technology. I hope you’ll join me for this inaugural episode of On Point with Korem.

Great, well thanks Josh again for doing this, I really appreciate your time. I just want to start off by talking more about more of the history of Precisely and we’ll get to some of the location technology issues later, but perhaps you can start by just really enlightening listeners to the podcast about just how much the world’s transactions still run on IBM mainframes which is where some of the company’s history run, so maybe just go over that a little bit before we get to location tech.

Josh Rogers: Yeah sure. So, thanks again for having me, it’s great to be on with you today and certainly Korem is a wonderful partner so happy to be here. Yes, I think there is, generally in the marketplace, a little bit of a lack of understanding , which you can think of as almost a downscale mainframe, platforms today, they are core transactional platforms in virtually every banking institution, in the world, healthcare, telco, most of the federal government still run mainframe computers. I like to say that these systems really do power the global economy, every time you swipe your credit card, every time that you make a cell phone call, you are doing a transaction with the mainframe system and they’re incredibly reliable. IBM companies invest in the platform, and they also tend to generate most of the kind of critical data assets for some of the largest companies in the world.

JF: Yeah, I was surprised at just how much IBM is still at the forefront a lot of the data transactions and that just really caught my attention. Just turning to some of the things the company has been involved with lately, I mean you’ve really taken the company through a bunch of acquisitions there has been a lot of transition and taking on new equity partners as an example, maybe just take me through the strategy a little bit on how you’ve been able to integrate Pitney Bowes software, Infogex and Winshuttle to build the company around the focus of data integrity.

JR: Yeah sure. So, just a little bit of background on me, I started my career in technology at IBM, I worked at a couple of other software companies and then joined a business called Syncsort at the time, about 12 years ago, and Syncsort was a leader in the data integration space and had a particular capability around integrating data and manipulating data in mainframe environments and then moving that data into data warehouses when I first got there, and then later big data and cloud environments, and so you could think of us originally as a bit of a specialized data integration company. In 2016 we acquired the Trillium business and that kind of got us into the data quality space and so now we were not only integrating data from these transactional systems, but also helping our customers understand that data and improve the quality of that data. In 2019 we acquired the software in the data business of Pitney Bowes which increased our capabilities and market share in the core data quality space, but also added the incredibly important capabilities around data enrichment and location intelligence and so, at that point we took a step back and wanted to think about how would we best describe this breadth of capability to the marketplace, to our customers and what we decided was that first thing, it was the right time to change the name of the company and so we changed the name to Precisely. I was really pleased that our ability to land on a name that was a word and a name that I think speaks about our ability to provide precision for customer in their data assets and that precision we believe leads to trust, and we believe that that trust leads to more competence and better decisions. And then the second decision we made was that we needed a better way to talk about the market that we’re in. If you look at the analysts, they tend to take this market of technology that sits between source systems and analytic systems, and they splice it into a bunch of technical sub segments. Data integration, data profiling, data quality, master data management, metadata management, data governance, data preparation, on and on, and nobody in my opinion really cares or understands all the distinctions between the two and so what we wanted to do was to articulate that we believe that’s one market, that we believe that that market is really about a customer outcome rather than a technical articulation of an architecture and that outcome that customers want is they want trusted data, they want the right data set that has the right accuracy and context for them to be able to make a business decision, and so you can think about all those sub segments it’s really one big market, it’s about 10 billion dollars scrolling about 11% a year, and that Precisely is the leader of that market, we have a unique set of capabilities to help customers on their journey to data integrity, and that phrase data integrity is what we choose to call that market and we think that that is a an incredibly appropriate name and we think what’s going to happen in the coming quarters and years is that  the analyst firms and other competitors are going to also recognize that: “hey this is one market”, and while you could come up with different names for it, data integrity is frankly probably the best thing you can come up with. IDC already uses that, and we think that adoption and that articulation of the market will grow over time because it just makes too much sense not to.

JF: I wanted to pick up on that just for a second because it is a unique positioning in the market and IDC is recognized, but you know there’s no magic quadrant for data integrity and the trust in data tagline I think probably resonates more than anything else these days. I’m curious as to your opinion, because there are issues regarding not just data quality, but cybersecurity and the problems with people being hacked so the trust and data tagline seems to fit in this era would you agree?

JR: Yeah, I think that’s what customers are searching for and that’s why we use it. What we have seen is other competitors start to use that as well Talon actually uses trust a lot in their messaging, they came up with the trust score and I expect that we’ll see others like Informatica start to use that phrasing as well, and that’s good I think we all participate in the same market, I think we have different value propositions and frankly, I think Precisely is the broadest and that not only can we help you integrate data and clean it up, but we can add location and additional context to actual data products, and we think ultimately that’s what customers are looking for, because that’s what they’re actually doing right now. from a bunch of different providers, but we think over time they’ll be looking at one provider.

JF: So you know much of the core location technology business, Precisely is built around precision geocoding, address validation and address management, is it challenging to educate the businesses as to the importance of clean customer data location is fundamental? We all carry around these funny instruments that broadcast location all the time. How much of a challenge is it to educate customers that you’ve got a fundamental piece of data, you just need to bring it out a little bit more and recognize it as a valid investment?

JR: I don’t think it’s a challenge to educate them on the benefit of that, I think that they’re all searching for that. I think that the challenge is to articulate and educate them on what’s possible. I don’t think that organizations today understand what they can do in terms of adding context to their data and leveraging location. What we’re seeing is, and the pandemic has certainly helped accelerate this, is that there is absolutely a recognition that location is becoming more and more important in a wider variety of use cases, and what I think firms are trying to figure out is how can they add that context in a reliable way, and where we see customers falling, is that they don’t know what data is available and they can purchase. When they do purchase it, they don’t know how to bring that together and connect it with their firm generated assets or they don’t know how to scale that infrastructure to the volumes of transactions that they have, and that’s where I think Precisely has unparalleled kind of expertise and capabilities and certainly when partnered with Korem, you can solve problems that frankly no one else can solve.

JF: I’m going to want to get to that question in a bit about these other companies that are tackling cloud native issues, but I first wanted to ask you about the location technology business that has really been in transition. We’ve gone from a core desktop model (Lightmap Info Pro which is now coming up with a new release with a lot of added capabilities that I’ve had a chance to look at), but is it eventually that you’re going to go entirely cloud native, because there is so much functionality in these desktop products, yet people want it to consume their analytics in a different way like a SaaS technology?

JR: I think it does go cloud native. I think it is interesting, I would say it’s from a GIS and a desktop perspective, it’s kind of going the opposite direction of data prep. If you look at what’s happened in data integration, you used to have: “Hey, I build ETL jobs, extract, transform and load and I’m a developer, and I work in the data app warehouse, and you tell me the kind of pipeline of data that you want created and I will build that to you for you eventually, when I get through my backlog”. And then what you saw over the last five to eight years is this rise of data prep tools and what data prep tools were, they were allowing analysts to really build their own data pipelines. I think on the location intelligence side you’ve had a bit the opposite. You’ve had a lot of analysts that have been able to do desktop-based analysis and now what people are trying to do, is say: “Well, how do I build that into my core process, leveraging that location intelligence?” So, they’re looking at how do I do kind of large-scale geocoding, and enrichment in line with my core business process and that’s something that is the ability to do that either on a server, or more likely in a cloud environment and in real time. We think that’s one of the fastest growing parts of our business this year and we think customers are waking up to “Wow this can be done, it can be done in real time, and it can be done at scale because of some of the innovations that we’ve seen in cloud providers”.

JF: I think we’re seeing both at Korem, I mean we are seeing an uptick in the desktop business, but also with companies who are needing this expertise into developing a workflow, developing their models, and location data is not always easy, and we’re happy to be in a good position to support the Precisely product. So, the company’s also developed a number of partnerships in that cloud technology business: the relationship with Databricks and Snowflake. How are you positioning those partnerships with respected Precisely’s overall data integrity suite and where they fit into the IT stack?

JR: They’re both businesses, both Snowflake and Databricks are pretty phenomenal success stories and they’re still early in their journey. I think if you take the most recent round, Databricks raised a billion dollars, nearly 40-billion-dollar valuation, you take the 70 plus billion-dollar evaluation of Snowflake and you add those together you get 100 billion dollars of enterprise value on what’s probably a little less than a billion dollars of revenue today. So, obviously, the market these folks these two firms as cornerstones for data management going forward. Fundamentally, if you think about what those infrastructures offer, is they allow you to store, and manipulate data, and query data. So, we view them as natural partners for us, because what they really need is high quality trusted data in those environments. So, what we believe happens over the next 10 years, 15 years is that all those capabilities and disciplines that had grown up inside the kind of highly structured, fairly expensive data warehouse, around data quality, data profiling, data integration, and geolocation are going to need to be applied in Databricks and Snowflake. Our strategy is to build very specific features into our products that allow customers to run these very various data engines, whether that be I’m trying to deduplicate a set of data, or I’m trying to enrich a set of data, or I’m trying to add location and geocode to a set of data. To be able to do that natively inside of a Snowflake or a Databricks environment and we think that customers will see a lot of value there, we’re already seeing customers take advantage of those integrations and we’re just at the beginning of what we can offer.

JF: Let me take another different part of the business, which is you’re also a data company and that’s unusual to have a company that both is in the software, and the data business. There are others also getting into this business, surprisingly, the Amazons and Snowflakes both standing up data marketplaces. How do you see Precisely positioning itself during this rise of the data marketplaces? Everybody’s got one, so what do you think the positioning is there?

JR: I think we’re in both marketplaces and have been for, depending on the vendor, somewhere between a year and three years. We view that as another route to market. We believe that there’s a lot of opportunity to reach customers through those marketplaces. We’re seeing kind of rising demand there and the other thing I’d say, is I don’t see Amazon and Snowflake getting into the data business, in that they’re building data assets, I think what they’re looking to do is to give their customers choice and ability to achieve that trusted data, so they’re going to data providers and saying: “hey would you be willing to provide data in our marketplace?” and they believe that that’ll drive not only new customers to their platform, but increased usage among their existing customers, and I think they’re probably right, so we participate in those marketplaces and will continue to invest there.

JF: I see that too and one of the things that maybe, as kind of a last question here, is you’re bringing the capabilities together for location analytics and then you’re providing the data as well. That’s still going to be a challenge for some companies that are just getting into this business. Are you finding that they need a little hand holding as they go through this process? Like they need a little data, they need a little software and maybe again just to wrap it up, give me a vision of how that all plays out for Precisely and bringing those two forces together for clients.

JR:  I talked earlier about customers understanding what’s possible with their data and in terms of how they can leverage location and enrichment to drive better decisions ultimately. You made the point that location data is really challenging. It is a different type of data, it’s a different discipline to be able to leverage that, to be able to integrate that with firm generated data. What we’re trying to do, is by offering both software and data, make that easier and we’re building both features and a core strategy in terms of resource investment to continue to make that easier with things like the Precisely ID, but core to that is to make sure that our products, both on the data side and the software side, are being delivered to customers through firms like RIM, where you’ve got unparalleled expertise around. Not only how to make those things work together in the customer’s environment, but also how to help a customer shape a use case for the business outcome that they are looking to achieve, and then how to break that down into a set of deliverables that will achieve that outcome. That’s not the space that that we’re trying to specialize in we want to be able to provide those products and we’re looking for folks with the expertise that Korem has, to be able to craft that solution for customers. I think the Korem relationship is, as you know having a record year, we expect that 2022 is going to be even better. It’s just it’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for having me.

JF: You bet! We certainly appreciate the partnership with Precisely and again, thanks very much for taking the time to do this. Very much appreciate. I think it’ll be a great discussion for people to get a deeper appreciation of Precisely.

JR: Thanks so much. Have a great day.

JF: Thanks Josh. Thanks again for joining us on another On Point with Korem and don’t forget to subscribe where this podcast is posted whether that’s Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify or YouTube, and if you like today’s podcast, please leave a comment in the comment box. Join us again for another episode of On Point with Korem where we’ll get on point.