Life after Dell: Boomi CEO Chris McNabb wants to connect all the apps

Even a modest-size enterprise company has hundreds of applications that don't necessarily talk to each other. Boomi and other companies see profit in that chaos.

​Boomi CEO Chris McNabb is leading the integration software company after it spun out of Dell.

Boomi CEO Chris McNabb is leading the integration software company after it spun out of Dell.

Photo: Boomi

After more than 10 years inside the Dell Technologies conglomerate, Boomi CEO Chris McNabb is preparing to go solo.

The application integration company was just purchased from Dell by private equity firms Francisco Partners and TPG in a $4 billion deal that will remove debt from Dell's balance sheet. It also marks a new chapter in the history of Boomi, which helps companies drowning in enterprise software applications lash those apps together so they can share data and inject automation into operations.

This market, known as integration platform as a service, or iPaaS, is exploding as more and more companies turn to new enterprise software applications to run their business. This trend was well underway before the pandemic hit, and has only accelerated as businesses also look to RPA companies like UiPath to modernize their IT strategies.

In a recent interview with Protocol, McNabb explained why the need for application integration is so profound amid the complexity of modern enterprise software, and why on-premises data centers might be around for longer than you might think.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Dell conglomerate has been very back and forth over the years, there have been a lot of structures within that. What did you value about operating within that structure? And what are you looking forward to when it comes to operating outside of Dell?

Dell is a world-class organization, brilliant leadership, and so on. And candidly, Boomi has flourished for many of the years it's been under Dell. So that's been a great ride, but I think as we have continued to scale out we saw that it was the right time for us to find a different capital structure. It helps out Dell and what it is they're trying to do, and it helps out Boomi as well. We can partner with folks who are used to growing high-growth cloud companies in the market and find ways to accelerate growth in those.

How do you think the deal will change the way the company operates going forward?

I think there's a number of different reasons why private equity buys businesses and there's a number of different ways for them to make money. And for this particular thing, this is a growth story, right? This is like, how do we accelerate growth in the booming business? How do we get it to go faster in a market that is just taking off?

If you look at the average enterprise, they've got 850 applications, only 30% of which are connected. So this is a market that still has a tremendous amount of growth in it.

You're seeing the rise of a lot of software companies purchasing and then infusing low-code/no-code tools into their own platforms. As you evolve, how do you see Boomi filling a different need than the low-code/no-code tools that are being natively added to these platforms?

I think it's fundamental to provide CIOs with a choice. If I look at my landscape, I'm going to have 30 or so, 40 or 50 software-as-a-service applications in my IT landscape. And if I keep buying the integration that's baked into each one of those — that goes from their application to everything else, in theory — they'll have dozens of integration platforms and that adds cost and complexity.

I think the iPaaS vendors come in and say, "Listen, I can not only connect that SaaS application to everything you need, but all the rest to all the rest." Most of what people do isn't connecting Salesforce to something, ServiceNow to something, SAP to something; it's all this other stuff as well.

And so that's where the true iPaaS providers come in. They're neutral; we connect anything to anything. And that saves CIOs the cost and complexity of having dozens of tools in their arsenal.

What do you see as the difference between where iPaaS players will play and where RPA vendors will play in this space? Because RPA vendors will say they can do the exact same thing, but when I talk to low-code/no-code providers, they take issue with that.

We don't see the RPA vendors in our space today. You know, when I look at true integration platform as a service, we're trying to connect everyone to everything in the enterprise. iPaaS is not just data integration, it is automation plus data integration, [that's] where true digital transformation exists. And that's where Boomi's platform sits today.

I haven't seen RPA vendors today that solve anywhere near the amount of complexity on connecting to everything that's in enterprises today.

The application landscape within companies is extremely complex right now, and a lot of times, at least from my speaking with companies, there's a struggle to even understand exactly how many applications there are, and how much is in use by employees within the company. And so when you're going into these organizations, how do you begin to strategize around what to even start with?

There tends to be two different sorts of ways that people go about it. One, people come to us with a very specific initiative.

I'll give you a very specific example: A country, when COVID hit, had a manual health care card-renewal process. So in order to get health care services, you had to have a current card that renews every year. COVID hits, all the people in this manual process in the government building go home. And all of the citizens are without their health care card and in crisis overnight.

In four days, [we] and a GSI partner created a mobile application [with the] human workflows to go through all the approvals via the phone, so that you can process all the associated documentation for renewal, ship it off to where the cards get printed, they get printed and mailed to the person.

So they completely digitally transformed overnight, and in four days put [it] into production. And from May 15 to July 31, a full third of the citizens of that country renewed their health care card, when they needed it [so] much in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

And then there are other folks who say, "Man, I just have to go faster, I need all kinds of help. I want to be able to modernize." The old game, just thinking it's all about integration and APIs? It's not; you have to do all of these other things.

So they come to us with a modernization initiative, more across the enterprise. They want to have the entire business to get access to stuff much more quickly.

Given all this increasing complexity of applications, and given that a lot of big platform players are buying a lot of application providers, a company like Salesforce now offers so many different applications within its own purview. I'm wondering if you're seeing a similar trend, where customers are a little more interested maybe in some of these bigger platform providers, because they can provide all of those applications tied together — theoretically — with good data sharing practices, as opposed to this landscape that we've had the last 10 years, which has been stitching together all of these great applications that people really like.

I still think that people are making decisions today to be, let's call it, best-of-breed SaaS. I want my 50 best-of-breed SaaS applications to run my IT landscape. And I know CIOs today that are heading in that exact direction.

I do think some people buy into larger ecosystems, to try and get simplicity. But even when you do that, when an enterprise has 850 applications, even the largest ecosystems in the world are not going to replace the vast majority of those 850 apps. Maybe they replace 100, but you're still gonna have 750 that aren't [getting replaced], and you need something that's going to connect all of that stuff together.

While the application suite is obviously vast, you're going to have applications that are much more significantly in use across the organization than others. Will it get to a point within enterprises where it just doesn't become advantageous to you know, try to integrate, once you get beyond the top 50 or whatever that benchmark is? Does eventually the benefit not outweigh the cost, as you get to lesser-used applications?

We see everything proliferating. IoT devices are growing all over the place, mobile app endpoints growing all over the place, SaaS applications growing, we see IT landscapes expanding rapidly and significantly. The pandemic has accelerated that expansion.

So we don't see people sort of consolidating and shrinking into these larger landscapes at this point, we see the exact opposite; we see the adoption of our platform, accelerating rapidly.

When you think about the ecosystem, is the end goal here that companies are actually going to have all their applications integrated? Or what's the more realistic outcome that you think companies are striving for?

I don't know that you're going to end up with something like the 1990s ERP system that was all pre-integrated, everything's all snapped together. I think that's dead and gone. And very candidly, you're always going to have new stuff. So change inside our IT environments is just going to continue to accelerate, and you're gonna have to learn to adapt to that.

Would it be safe to assume that most of Boomi's growth is on the cloud?

There's way more on-premises workloads than I think people want to admit. The cloud discussions are cool, I think everybody wants to talk about that, that's where the trends are going and certainly that's what we see. But there's a lot of on-premises data center workloads right now, and they're not going to evaporate overnight. It's going to take CIOs a while to evolve out of all those massive data centers with all those stacks, with all those big on-premises applications, to move them all.

You touched on the difference between what you think of RPA and iPaaS vendors, but the surge of RPA — particularly companies like UiPath — does that help you in terms of your own customer growth, when they're getting so much attention from investors and from the public?

I think the vendors that combined process automation along with data integration are at the sweet spot of the growth of this market. For all of the vendors that are focused on just human automation, or just data integration, are going to lose out in the long run.

The winner of the game in effective digital transformation [is] people-workflow automation and mobile apps, plus connectivity to all the systems you need to talk to; that's where the comprehensive digital transformation answer resides. So I think to the extent we can partner with people like that, or we come together to do that, but the winners are going to be the people [who] do both pieces of that.


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