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Story of a 'Bad' Category - Gartner's iPaaS for Cloud and SaaS Integration

A good category alleviates confusion, a 'bad' category causes confusion

"Categories" are supposed to help. But sometimes they hurt. When they help, they reduce confusion. When they hurt, they cause confusion - and I refer to them as "bad categories".

Creating good or useful categories is one of those Best Practices that is high on my list of important things.

Good Categories - a Great Thing
When properly applied, categories help us mentally organize otherwise difficult, unfamiliar, new, abstract and sometimes seemingly arbitrary things into various discrete buckets in a way that is useful in making decisions - for example, what kind of minivan to buy - all minivans have a set of similar characteristics - and help people by instantly identifying a set of similar vehicles to evaluate when buying a new car.

When applied to similarly functioning software, a category - like Business Intelligence or Relational Database software helps us make sense out of things. Good categories do that.

In most cases, the creation of a category is a helpful thing - it serves to reduce confusion in the marketplace about some new technology by grouping together a number of highly similar products. Typically products that are put together in a category compete against each other. Like Coke and Pepsi. Or Business Objects and MicroStrategy (in the case of BI). This is incredibly useful for helping people grok new emerging technologies. It's just the right level of affinity.

"Food": an Example of a Bad Category
As a category though, "iPaaS" is only slightly more useful than the category "food." The word "food" is almost meaningless as a product category:

  • To Gordon Ramsay, something doesn't qualify as "food" unless it hits an exacting level of perfection.
  • To a typical college student, food is entirely different and usually involves pizza, burgers, ramen noodles or cafeteria fare.
  • To a starving child in Bangledesh, food might be anything edible that comes off the U.N. truck.
  • To a "back to the earth vegan", food might be something that grows in the backyard.
  • To the robins that stop by to visit the yard, food means that some unfortunate worm just got eaten.
  • To a fungus, it's dead plants and animals.
  • To a baby, it often comes in a jar and comes from some company like Gerber, and to an infant, it comes from Mommy or from a bottle.

So if I decided to form a "food" company, that really wouldn't wouldn't say much about what my company was about, would it? It would probably just confuse people, and I'd almost be better off not saying anything at all.

Why Is iPaaS a "Bad" Category?
Some categories just confuse things. Gartner's latest category - iPaaS - is the confusing kind.

It is a category that does the exact opposite of what a category is supposed to do - instead of helping people understand the products are grouped together inside the "bucket" and make better decisions about them, it actually just confuse people.

In the case of iPaaS, that benefit of reducing confusion has not entirely been achieved. Cloud-based integration technologies are still relatively new. And to lump together so many different technologies, capabilities, integration models and such - most of which would never be used together on even the very largest of projects - is bound to result in bewilderment.

Bad categories typically get created in the early days of a technology movement. Any product that does not clearly belong in another (already well-known) category runs the risk of getting dumped into the new "bad" category, which is full of products that often bear little similarity to each other.

How Did iPaaS Become "Bad"?
There are a number of fairly common errors that get made when categories are created that turn them into "bad categories." In this particular case, the errors are threefold:

  1. It is an incredibly broad category, and the products that get lumped into the category do very different things, have different use cases, different value propositions, and appeal to very different audiences.
  2. The category mixes and matches existing as well as future product capabilities.
  3. The category is presented in a confusing way.

Hope for iPaaS's Future
Although Gartner Research has done a very nice job of predicting the future with the iPaaS reports, they've made a mess out of the actual technological categorization for people who rely on such things to make informed and useful decisions.

Yet, I hold out hope for the future of the category.  Remember, Gartner Research is the king of category creation. For example, Gartner is credited with creating the category "Business Intelligence" and those very cool "Magic Quadrants."

And Gartner's vision for the future of Cloud-based Integration Platforms is solid (if, in my opinion, overly aggressive).

My hope is that they will refine, clarify and better explain the category. Make the differentiation between future and present more clear. And focus on making the category realistic actionable qualities for those organizations evaluating or researching Cloud Integration solutions.

In the meanwhile, I've written a number of articles in an attempt to help organizations clarify the confusion around iPaaS:

Where Do I Buy Gartner Research's iPaaS? Cloud & SaaS Integration Confusion

Damn the Gartner iPaaS, Full Speed Ahead on SaaS & Cloud Integration

Gartner Further Complicates Cloud and SaaS Integration with Multiple Distributed iPaaS Options

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.

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