By Rob Karel and James Kobielus

Strategic partnerships are a dime a dozen in the data management industry. Vendors announce partnership deals so often that it’s a challenge to distinguish the mundane from the noteworthy. Case in point: Earlier this week, HP and Informatica entered into a partnership that is not entirely new—after all, their relationship long predates this announcement—but could be the start of  a relationship of considerable strategic importance to both partners.

What the two vendors announced was a multipronged joint approach to the data integration (DI) and data warehousing (DW) markets. First, they announced that HP “will sell and deliver a set of data integration solutions with embedded Informatica technology,” including the latter’s flagship data integration, data quality (DQ), and identity resolution software solutions. Also, the partners plan to develop solutions that combine Informatica’s software with HP Neoview, a high-end, massively parallel data warehousing (DW) appliance. Furthermore, HP and Informatica will develop horizontal and vertical solution accelerators through industry-specific data models drawn from their respective consulting ecosystems, with principal reliance on HP’s BI consulting organization, the foundation of which came from HP’s 2006 acquisition of Knightsbridge Consulting.

It’s an important deal for Informatica, but not one that will appreciably improve its already strong positioning in the data integration and data quality markets. HP simply represents another major systems integration (SI) partnership for Informatica, which already does considerable business with such SI powerhouses as Accenture and Wipro. Informatica will leverage its expanded HP relationship to open doors into new large, global accounts. Likewise, Informatica will benefit from any future sales of HP’s Neoview that incorporate pre-bundled, pre-optimized data integration software. So, clearly, there’s a lot of upside, but minimal downside for Informatica.

For HP, however, the deal may offer very strong upside potential, but also comes with considerable downside risk.

On the positive, the deal will enable HP to position Neoview—with integrated Informatica software and HP/Informatica-developed industry data models—as a more complete analytic solution platform. In this way, HP will be better able to sell Neoview into an increasingly solution-oriented DW appliance market, against such rivals as the forthcoming IBM Smart Analytics Systems.

These future HP-Informatica solution offerings will add more credibility for HP to address consulting engagements with deeper data integration and data quality complexity–especially in accounts that have already short-listed or procured Informatica. The future Neoview-based joint solutions will also provide a credible data management platform for HP’s global consulting business to build custom DW, MDM, and other analytics-intensive applications for clients.

Furthermore, the HP-Informatica alliance represents a new lease on life for Neoview, which, though it has achieved respectable adoption in the three years since it was released, has not been a rousing success in the DW market. The vendors’ joint development deal holds out the hope that Neoview will evolve into a more feature-complete data management and analytics platform. This is the best hope for Neoview, which, until the Informatica announcement, appeared to be drifting as a solution platform in HP’s increasingly professional-service-centric data management strategy.

But the downside of the Informatica deal for HP is undeniable. For starters, the HP-Informatica alliance is likely to elicit a wall of indifference from prospective SI customers if it can’t effectively differentiate itself from a multitude of other partnerships between DW platform vendors, SI firms, and data integration solution providers. This is a non-exclusive deal, after all, which sows doubt as to whether HP is truly committed to the relationship on a high strategic level. Yes, Neoview has a new lease on life, but that could quickly fade away if the promised solutions—incorporating Informatica software—take forever to come to market.

The deal also highlights the fact that the HP-Informatica offering will likely, barring addition to other partners in the near future, fail to deliver a joint solution with the functional breadth of the forthcoming IBM Smart Analytics System offerings. Obvious components missing from a joint HP-Informatica software portfolio include MDM, BI, business performance solutions (BPS), predictive analytics and data mining (PA/DM), and text analytics.

One could even make a case for the Informatica deal representing HP’s last brave attempt to mount a credible data management software strategy. It highlights the question in many industry observers’ minds:  Does HP want to be in the business of data management software? For years, analysts, soothsayers, and other fun-loving rumor-mongers have questioned if and when HP will evolve its data management strategy from primarily a services-driven model—plus an also-ran of a DW appliance product (Neoview)–to a full-fledged software and services platform vendor that could compete head to head with the likes of IBM, Oracle, SAP, and others. However, the Informatica deal does not take HP to that critical next strategic step.

If HP is truly serious about becoming a full-fledged data management software provider, now is the time to make strategic acquisitions in the DI, DQ, MDM, BI, PA/DM, and other key solution markets. With over $13 billion cash in HP’s war chest as of July 31, 2009 (according to its Q3 2009 financial statement), HP certainly can afford such acquisitions. It could even afford to acquire Informatica, which, however, wouldn’t come cheap.

But what HP cannot afford is to let the window of opportunity slam shut. It cannot afford to make any acquisitions of this magnitude, and then fail to capture and grow a very significant share of the data integration, data quality, data warehousing, and BI software markets. 

So is the partnership with Informatica a “proof of concept” for future acquisition or is it simply HP BIS’s answer: ‘We are a services business and we will leave software to our partners’?    We don’t know if this is the first step of a broader software strategy, or an admission that HP does not see itself as a major data management solutions provider.  If it’s the latter, Forrester would not be surprised to see Neoview either spun off or sold to a full-fledged data management solution provider (perhaps Informatica, though SAP would also be a potential suitor) that needs a scalable, real-time DW appliance platform.

We don’t expect Neoview to die on the vine of HP’s sometimes unclear data management solution focus. But we would hate to see this impressively engineered DW appliance platform dangle in the shifting winds of HP’s strategy for the business intelligence market.