Data Integration Platform Shopping

I’ve been looking for a data integration tool for a new project.  Up to this point, I’ve always hand-coded everything. But now I need something that will allow me to add data sources quickly and scale to a potentially large number.

The use case: ingesting data in real time from CSV/Excel or XML/JSON files coming in via FTP throughout the day, and pushing into a data warehouse.

The end goal of the project is to provide BI viz to show customers where they’re currently losing money. Even though these losses are significant (six to seven figures annually per customer), due to the volume of business and the nature of the industry, the losses are currently flying under the radar.

I chose three vendors from the Gartner Magic Quadrant and reached out to set up a demo for each.


Vendor 1

The sales cycle started with a group demo.  There were a dozen of us on Zoom, and the vendor showed their software pulling data from a SQL Server and pushing it to another SQL Server. 

I was really hoping to see something with a little more teeth. I can understand not wanting to jump through all the hoops involved in SQL Server Replication, but honestly, who’s going to get excited about spending tens of thousands of dollars on software to push data between two identical db’s?

The rest of the demo consisted of a quick walk-through showing the other components of their platform, including data quality and data cataloguing. At the end during the Q&A portion, a few other participants and I entered some questions in the chat.  The vendor provided short answers, then offered to schedule a more in-depth demo to address these questions directly.

I received an email the next day about scheduling the in-depth demo, and we put something on the calendar.

This second demo ended up being just for me, and it really pulled the curtain back.  It showed exactly how the platform could–and couldn’t–handle what I anticipated throwing at it.  

In particular, the vendor didn’t have anything baked into their solution to monitor and process flat files coming into a folder via FTP.  They showed me a standalone PowerShell application they had co-developed with a customer of theirs as a workaround, and they said they’d give it to me but wouldn’t officially support it.

This was eye-opening. Overall, their platform’s UI looked slick.  Yet having to use a separate utility to handle my scenario (which isn’t an uncommon one) made their platform feel incomplete.

Following the demo, the vendor sent an email with 40 questions they wanted me to answer. Argh.  I answered all and replied the same day.  

The next day, they sent a short email saying, “Unfortunately our software is not well suited for the use case you described….  While we’d love to partner, at this time, we unfortunately are not a good fit.”  

The file handling clearly threw them off.  I can understand not wanting to risk having a disappointed customer.  And I appreciate their humility in admitting their software couldn’t handle my use case. Still, because that was a detail I had shared with them up front, it felt frustrating to go through everything to get a flat “no”.

Takeaway: Save yourself (and the vendor) some time and skip the group demo.  Email them all the details at the outset, ask them if they have questions they need you to answer, and request a one-on-one demo customized to your needs.


Vendor 2

The second vendor started off with a discovery call, then offered to schedule a demo.  Then rescheduled it twice

As it turned out, there were family reasons involved, so I found myself not being as irritated as I otherwise might have.  In fact, somehow that made dealing with this vendor right away feel more personal.

In the days that followed, someone from their finance department emailed me repeatedly about my company info.  Instead of just asking me for the info, the person sent several emails with profiles of similar-sounding companies and kept asking, “Is this your company?”  Some of the companies’ names weren’t even spelled the same as mine.  I got annoyed enough that I stopped replying.

The following week, I participated in the demo. It wasn’t as tailored as I had hoped, despite that the vendor already knew all the particulars of my use case from our initial call.  They ran through their software quickly, showing the basic features.  When I asked specific questions, they said they could handle anything, insisting there’s nothing they haven’t seen.

While I admired their confidence and couldn’t argue with their stature in the industry, I’ll admit I remained a bit skeptical in light of my experience with the first vendor.

Looking back, I should have been more assertive and asked them to step through the specific workflow I envisioned for my project. Because I didn’t, I got about as much out of this demo as I would have by reading through the information on their site.

Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to grab hold of the reins on a demo. Almost all vendors have a similar suite of basic components, so you won’t learn much by going through an overview-type presentation.  Instead, interrupt and steer the demo towards what you need to see.


Vendor 3

My experience with the third vendor started out very differently. They took a long time to respond to my initial outreach for a demo.  After that first exchange, I had to follow up with them again after hearing nothing for several more days. When I finally received a reply, the rep apologized, saying that closing on a house made for a hectic week.

Ordinarily I’d see their lack of responsiveness as a red flag. But the company has a long history and a lot of respect in the data integration space.  Also, they were so darn friendly.

Almost two weeks after I initially reached out, I finally had a discovery call.  Following the call, they promptly followed up the next day (!) with a summary of everything we discussed on the call, and asked me to fill in any missing details. 

I replied, and they responded with another email consisting of ten questions asking for more details. I replied the same day.

Then I heard nothing for almost a week, so I followed up again.  The vendor said they were lining up a technical resource for a technical discovery call.  

Another week passed. I followed up again.  More apologies from them.  We finally set up a call for the next day.  It took another full week to schedule the actual demo. Ugh.

While frustratingly slow in their approach, this vendor asked questions efficiently so that when the time finally came for the demo, they were prepared to address all my concerns. 

During the demo, the presenter had a very relaxed friendly demeanor.  It felt like part demo, part relationship-building.  He mentioned a couple times during the demo that he could relate to my position as the tech lead of a startup.

Having read Robert Cialdini’s “Influence”, I recognized the presenter’s mentioning our common experience as a sales technique.

The presenter also sprinkled in terms specific to the industry for which I’m positioning my product, which I recognized as another sales/marketing tactic.

At the conclusion of the demo, the sales rep made it a point to tell me that the company would be going private very soon, couldn’t guarantee that pricing would remain the same, and assured me pricing definitely wouldn’t go down.  Again, thanks to Cialdini, I spotted that (creating urgency) as another sales strategy.

Overall, I didn’t appreciate the delays with this vendor, but I did appreciate how tailored the demo was to my use case.

Takeaway: I should have turned the tables and used the urgency technique on this vendor to get them to move more quickly out of the gate.


Wrap Up

Vendors 2 and 3 gave me pricing following the final demos. Although their licensing models differ significantly, my initial calculations appear to show that my costs would be roughly the same for each.

My next step will be to break down the two offers feature-for-feature to make sure I’m doing an apples-to-apples comparison.  

One thing that could be easy to overlook is training.  Vendor 3 eagerly pointed out how their offer includes a full year of a hands-on training program. Vendor 2 made no mention of anything similar, but they did suggest I consider consultants to assist with implementation.  In both cases, it makes me wonder how steep the learning curve is with their software.

I’ll post a follow-up article to report my final comparison and decision.