Connecting Business in a Decentralized IT World: Q&A with Dell Boomi's Steve Wood

Dell Boomi (Boomi), an independent business unit acquired by Dell in 2010, is a provider of cloud integration and workflow automation software to build “the connected business.” Expanding its range of services, in 2017, Boomi acquired ManyWho, a provider of a unified cloud and low-code development platform that helps simplify workflow automation.

Recently, Steve Wood, chief product officer at Boomi, talked about what’s ahead for Boomi as well as what it means to be a connected business in the new hybrid cloud era, the importance of low-code development, and the challenges customers are facing today.

Boomi acquired ManyWho a little more than a year ago. What are the synergies you have found between the two companies’ approaches?

Boomi and ManyWho are definitely matched as organizations. Both companies strongly believe that customer success is the number one priority. We share the core goal of time to value, which means getting successful results as quickly as possible, not forcing customers to make large scale commitments up front or paying huge amounts of money to prove our platforms work. We are very complimentary in both technology and delivery, but also in economies of skill, which is having the minimum number of skills to do the maximum number of useful tasks.  Once you become proficient on the Boomi platform you can apply those learnings to deliver a lot of very interesting and powerful solutions back to the business. For example, you could build a chat box and integrate it with AI systems. You could build text to speech and speech to text applications as well as web interfaces, and mobile apps that work on and offline. You could do all of those things using the same set of skills. With ManyWho’s workflow capabilities already fully embedded within the Boomi platform, we take great pride in the platforms’ ease of use, which enables skills to be learned quickly for maximum productivity.

What are the key goals that Boomi has focused on over the past year?

This past year we extended our definition of integration to include people, devices, and IoT. In doing that, we now talk about integration in terms of delivering the Connected Business and unlocking data across the entire ecosystem of customers, partners, and employees, as well as across the disparate IT landscape from devices through hybrid IT landscapes. A connected business helps drive digital transformation. Businesses can’t go through a digital transformation without having a good sense of where all of their data resides. Getting information flowing around an organization and unlocking all of its core, critical business data delivers a truly connected business. That’s what we’ve been working on this past year and we continue to be committed to delivering on that goal.

At the time of the purchase, Boomi said that ManyWho was expected to extend Boomi's application and data integration capabilities with a unified cloud and low-code development platform for building and deploying workflow applications. Was that accomplished?

The acquisition has been extremely successful. We knocked it out of the park on every metric and exceeded every expectation. We’ve successfully integrated the technologies and customers tell us they’ve already seen the benefits of Boomi’s low-code, unified platform with deployments live and in production. For example, in just eight weeks with minimal coding, South Africa-based Afrox Healthcare used Boomi’s workflow functionality, now called Boomi Flow, to build an online/offline mobile app that lets nurses enter and access key data to improve healthcare from any location.

Why is the “low-code” approach getting more attention recently? 

There are a few reasons why low-code is hot in the industry. Initially, there was a phase where everyone was talking about no code. It was very easy to get the job done quickly and off you’d go. However, as cloud is maturing in the enterprise, there are times when coding is the most productive way to solve a problem. The combination of both of these approaches is low-code, which has been quickly gaining in popularity. If developers can manage the last mile, which may or may not require coding, then customers can focus on the things that drive their business forward. This also gives a feel for the openness of the platform and the fact that everyone can be productive from a developer to a drag and drop rebel. Everyone across the development and delivery lifecycle can be incredibly productive in getting the job done.

What does it mean to be a “connected business” and why is it critical to a companies’ growth?

Boomi strives to bring true business value to the market. People ask why do you need a middleware platform? Why do you need to connect all of the applications? The connected business has key parts including unlocking the data and making it available to the business so that they can gain access to the data across a very large array of applications. It is vital that businesses have this access. However, it also must be quality data so that when they are making company decisions they can be confident that they have the full picture.

In addition, if you can easily access and rely on the data, it will fuel the next generation of machine learning and AI projects. Businesses are struggling with managing data sprawl, and that’s where Boomi can help. Adding intelligence to these insights is the real value of the connected business.

What are some of the critical elements to making that a reality?

There are both elements in business and technology that are essential in making the Connected Business a reality. There are data and people silos everywhere, and organizations are under pressure to figure out how to centralize all of this data. I recently had an interesting conversation about the cloud with an analyst. Cloud has brought ease of use, but cloud applications are getting smaller and smaller. They are being used for shorter time spans and solving more specific problems. Previously, you would have SAP for a couple of decades, but today you might have a cloud application for a just a few years and then tear it down while attempting to retain the data.

We have gone through the first big wave of cloud computing and we are now seeing that the industry is getting back to where it’s important to have things running on the edge, on the gateway devices, and running on and off line. We can’t assume that it’s going to be connected. That’s a tough architectural challenge to solve from a distribution perspective because you still need to retain automatic upgrades. This is a challenge that Boomi has taken on and succeeded.

What else?

Data quality is another important element in building the connected business. How do you manage data quality when you have data everywhere? Many of these cloud applications have the same information. It’s great to connect everything, but then you realize just how big of a data mess you have in terms of managing quality and governance across so many systems. Solving that challenge is difficult, and that’s one of the things Boomi has done with the hub. The idea is that instead of data quality residing in a big MDM database somewhere, we are actually managing that in real time across all applications. You don’t have a connected business unless you solve these problems. The connected business is not about centralizing everything in one place, it’s about realizing that everything is becoming decentralized, and how you manage it.

Looking out over the next 3 years, what are some of the challenges you see at customer sites?

Customers are still learning about IoT, blockchain, and net neutrality. They are concerned with Internet bandwidth and how to apply machine learning and AI to business when their infrastructure is fragmenting continuously. They are concerned with how to send 10 petabytes of data across the internet in two minutes, if net neutrality kills it, and how much will it cost. We are working on addressing what architectural challenges customers will face and how do we help them succeed. Boomi is on a path of continuous innovation. Customers rely on us to be their enterprise architect, their CTO, and to help them navigate whatever new challenges the coming years will bring.

What are you focused on providing to help them address those hurdles?

Boomi is focused on being trusted advisors to our customers. As a cloud vendor, we feel that customer success and customer trust is a core value of what we do. We have to make customers successful because if we don’t, our business model simply breaks.