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Just days before Dreamforce, Salesforce's annual user conference that brings more than 170,000 enthusiasts to San Francisco each year, the Linux Foundation's Joint Development Foundation announced a new initiative: the Cloud Information Model (CIM). Linux is joined in the initiative by Amazon Web Services, Salesforce and customer experience and call center software provider Genesys. 

CIM promises to provide common standards and source code to make it easier for companies to connect data across multiple cloud platforms and disparate systems.

Common Standards to Connect Data – Sound Familiar?

If this sounds familiar, it's a similar idea to the Open Data Initiative (ODI) which Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and now former SAP CEO Bill McDermott announced at Microsoft Ignite in September 2018. In that case, the CEOs of three of the world's leading enterprise software companies came together, live and in person, to introduce ODI. The announcement made headlines not only in technology publications but also on news stations like CNBC. In other words, each of these companies made an effort to pitch ODI to the media.

ODI was initially created for the Adobe Experience Cloud, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Office 365 and SAP C/4HANA — direct competitors to Salesforce and its suite of products. Moreover, last March at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Narayen announced the ODI Partner Advisory Council, comprised of over a dozen companies including Accenture, Amadeus, Capgemini, Change Healthcare, Cognizant, EY, Finastra, Genesys, Hootsuite, Inmobi, Sprinklr and WPP. CMSWire asked Salesforce if it had been approached about ODI, but haven't received a response.

Related Article: Will Open Data Initiative From Adobe, Microsoft, SAP Break Down Silos?

Cloud Information Model Flies Under the Radar

Contrast the hoopla around ODI with the minimal press that CIM has received. Neither AWS nor Salesforce published a press release about the announcement. Genesys made the announcement on its website. We found out via a tweet by Salesforce president and chief product officer Bret Taylor. That tweet linked to The Linux Foundation's announcement of the initiative.

One of the notable things about CIM is it was created to reduce "the complexities of integrating data across cloud applications by providing standardized data interoperability guidelines to connect point-of-sale systems, digital marketing platforms, contact centers, CRM systems and more," according to the Linux Foundation's press release. The ODI was created around similar application areas.

Scott Nicholas, senior director of strategic programs at the Linux Foundation told CMSWire how CIM came about. "The initial founders of the CIM project are Amazon Web Services, Genesys and Salesforce," he said, adding that "CIM looks forward to welcoming additional members as it starts public operations."

"ODI and CIM are very similar initiatives,” Josh Greenbaum, founder and analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting told CMSWire. "CIM is clearly AWS's and Salesforce's response to ODI." ODI, for now, appears to be invitation only. CIM is open source, so anyone who wants to can contribute and leverage its assets. 

It is worth noting that Genesys is a member of both CIM and ODI. "Our goal is to provide organizations with the most options and flexibility possible to connect their customers journeys using their choice of systems — the CIM and ODI are two ways we're able to do that,” Tibor Voss, strategic director, strategic solutions at Genesys, told CMSWire.

But do we really need both ODI and CIM? "The good thing about standards is that there are so many of them,” joked Greenbaum.

That said, CMSWire asked analysts whether both CIM and ODI are needed and whether they would confuse customers and get in the way or open more doors and provide more choice. 

Related Article: OASIS Approves Updated CMIS Standard

Cloud Information Model vs. Open Data Initiative: Analysts Speak

They Help, But 'Not a Complete Answer'

"Ultimately, I think most companies will end up having their own data models. By that I mean that they'll likely leverage as much from 'standard' models as they can, but they will also have unique needs in some areas that require some adaption," said Nicole France, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "One model is the goal, but with many ways to get there and one size does not fit all. Consider just the question of defining what a 'customer' is. Very different in a franchise model, wholesale distribution, or retail, for example. And that's before you ask whether a 'customer' has already bought something from you."

"The importance of initiatives like ODI and CIM is that multiple vendors are working together to create some framework of consistency across their various data sources and models. That can take care of a lot of the hard work for many of their customers, though won't be a complete answer. To my mind, initiatives like these are similar to social science debates on whether regional trading blocks are a step toward freer, more open trade or not. They help to overcome some significant barriers. But they're never going to be the silver bullet," France concluded.

Increased Competition Benefits Customers

"Theoretically, both ventures (ODI and CIM) are addressing the same problem, so there is a chance that one will eradicate the other in time. However, given that the standard isn't set and that companies are using different applications, clouds and marketing stacks along with different IT Architectures, what we have here is increased competition," said Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum Research.

Newman continued, "Whether we need both or not in the long run is less the question than how can competition drive both organizations to speed up the offerings to meet the customers where they are and solve their biggest data challenges. ODI is still a very important initiative with three critical companies teaming together to standardize the way data is tagged to simplify how value can be extracted from data. With initiatives as significant as this one, it isn't uncommon for progress to take more time than anticipated. Given the complexity of most companies data management, not to mention the amount of coordination required for the three founders of ODI to make this work, I'm not surprised it has taken some time to develop. Having said that, I do believe an expanded announcement in the next few months will be important, especially in the wake of CIM."

This Is Only a Start: Expect More Initiatives

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research saw it this way: "ODI and CIM are early attempts to define open data and architecture models. There is another, or more, initiatives to come. Data is a traditional priority. Over time these will smoothen out and align. Customers want formalized integration and abstraction."

"Sometimes they (initiatives like ODI and CIM) also die. Consider Openstack. Something simpler, faster and easier to implement came along — here Kubernetes. And when some standard wins like Kubernetes did, competitors and all vendors adopt it. The customer wins," said Mueller.