451 Research has announced the recipients of our Firestarter awards for the second quarter of 2019. The 451 Firestarter awardees in Q2 represent a diverse set of innovators, from the earliest pre-revenue startups to established heavyweights such as Microsoft and IBM. 451 Research believes that innovation happens everywhere, regardless of company size, sector or location. We are proud to recognize these 11 disruptors in their respective markets.

The 451 Take

The 451 Firestarter award recognizes organizations for exceptional innovation and disruption in their markets. Firestarters are awarded quarterly to technology firms of any size and age. Awardees are nominated by the 451 Research analyst team based on their own insights and expert opinion of long-term trends and competitive landscape, and their in-depth conversations within the industry. Nominations are based on a combination of factors, including uniqueness, strategic and technology vision, and the disruptive potential of the organization's technology. Award recipients fall within the four key technology themes of 4SIGHT, the 451 Research framework for understanding the evolution of the digital transformation landscape: Contextual Experience, Invisible Infrastructure, Pervasive Intelligence and Universal Risk.

The Four Technology Pillars of the 4SIGHT Framework

Contextual Experience defines interactions between a customer, worker or citizen and an organization that are augmented by rich sources of real-time information, delivered to them in the right format and at the right time, for an experience that is friction-free, empowered by technologies such as smartphones, machine learning and the cloud.

Invisible Infrastructure describes the evolution of IT and communications infrastructure to meet the demands of modern, digital organizations, enabling technology consumers to assemble, access and pay for digital services in a simple, seamless and automated manner, without specific knowledge of the underlying physical infrastructure.

Pervasive Intelligence describes the ubiquitous use of data and analytics to drive not just business decisions, but also the core operational applications of the business itself. 451 Research defines Pervasive Intelligence as the infusion of human and artificial intelligence into applications, services, workflows, systems, devices and computing systems infrastructure – on the cloud, in the datacenter and at the edge – to deliver, democratize and automate data-driven decision-making.

Universal Risk reflects the new reality of digital transformation. Today, the risks of IT are largely confined to the operational realm, or the consequences of cyberthreats. As technology increasingly permeates virtually all aspects of everyday life, its impact will become pervasive – more universal – as will the risks that arise from the consequences of technology failures and threats at every level, from the personal to the corporate to the national and global.

Recipients of the Q2 2019 451 Research Firestarter Awards (in alphabetical order)

Nominated by William Fellows, Research Vice President

AntWorks has received a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for its differentiated approach to RPA and the forthcoming extension of process automation with cognitive capabilities, which will offer alternatives to buyers seeking competitive advantage.

Our take – The RPA market has become a procession of unicorns with technology aimed at the automation of low-level manual tasks. Moving up the value chain using ML and AI techniques is the next reach for this group. We believe AntWorks is well placed to weaponize a strategy here that relieves the complexity in having to choose between approaches, which marks it as a 451 Firestarter. In addition to bot productivity and verticalization, ANTstein's platform evolution will include microservices, cloud hosting and process mining. It also has an opportunity to create a specific cloud-native narrative and DevOps persona use case. This mentality is scaling quickly, and it must stay close to the market. An additional round of financing will enable AntWorks to accelerate this proposition and its position in the market.

More about AntWorks – AntWorks is 'in' the RPA sector but has an opportunity to address a wider problem set due to its differentiated approach (fractal/recognition vs. neural network). ANTStein does not require customers to use separate OCR, RPA and AI tools, and is therefore able to address a broader 'intelligent platform' play. While AntWorks missed the 'RPA 1.0' market, we expect it to have a role in the next wave as RPA moves into the mainstream. The really interesting thing is AntWorks' potential to take the sting out of having to choose between machine learning, neural networks, TensorFlow, Bayesian, Watson and more. In other words, it's in the RPA market (commercially pragmatic) but is more than RPA, and it's one of the few vendors in this sector not to have been acquired or 'unicorned' yet, although we suppose additional investment won't be far behind. The question will be how much it takes and how daring it can be in the market.

Most recent 451 Research Coverage

Nominated by Christian Renaud, Research Vice President

Atomation has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for helping to solve a key problem for critical infrastructure simply and inexpensively. IoT is often envisioned as large and complex, and Atomation stands out for applying technology quickly and easily to provide immediate value and savings to energy and manufacturing organizations.

Our take – When it comes to monitoring the status of the electric grid or the condition of manufacturing equipment, sometimes simpler is better. Atomation's focus on reducing the cost and complexity factors typically associated with distributed intelligence eases the deployment of brownfield IoT initiatives, making it well suited for OT environments full of large networks of uninstrumented physical objects and legacy devices.

More about Atomation – Atomation is tackling the enormous brownfield IIoT opportunity in manufacturing and energy (electric grids) with inexpensive sensors, battery power, cloud services and distributed intelligence. Its systems (sensors, software, connectivity) address real-world problems such as machine vibration/heat, power pole impact and angle, and transmission equipment arcing, all at an aggressive price point. The distributed sensors (Atoms) also have a 'swarm intelligence' value proposition to provide a holistic view of the state of complex systems such as large manufacturing equipment and transmission towers.

Nominated by Conner Forrest, Analyst, Workforce Productivity & Compliance

Concentra has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for its unique approach to organizational planning and workforce alignment that could help companies more effectively utilize existing talent and optimize employee productivity.

Our take – With recruitment and hiring growing increasingly complex, companies are looking inward to optimize their existing talent investments in order to drive business outcomes. Concentra's OrgVue organizational planning and analysis (OP&A) creates a valuable interplay between disparate business systems, and has the potential to help companies realize new efficiencies in their talent strategies, making it deserving of a 451 Firestarter award.

More about Concentra – With the war for talent raging, and the concepts of work and productivity shifting, workforce and organizational planning is coming into its own as a strategic investment. No longer can enterprises think of organizational planning as simply the headcount line item in their yearly budget. No, executives and managers must think more strategically about their workforce as a framework for driving innovation and improving the bottom line.

Concentra is addressing this sea change with OrgVue, its OP&A tool for workforce visualization, scenario modeling, talent planning and more. Along with its other products, the company aims to help customers with workforce alignment, and ensuring that the right employees are assigned the right work to drive efficiency and productivity. Concentra sits at a unique intersection of HR and corporate performance management, occupying a greenfield space that is ripe for innovation. If the firm can navigate the challenge of effectively convincing HR and finance professionals to embrace a forward-looking approach to workforce planning, it has a unique opportunity to ramp up adoption and position itself as a competitive support tool in organizational development.

Most recent 451 Research Coverage

Nominated by Sheryl Kingstone, Research Vice President

Conga has earned a Q1 2019 451 Firestarter award for its push to streamline the tedious nature of contract management for sales users.

Our take – Conga's CLM suite of products is aimed at automating document processes and providing visibility into aggregated big data. Conga Contracts, Contracts for Salesforce and Conga Sign help alleviate the bottlenecks of traditional contract management by creating opportunities to work collaboratively with clients either within or outside of the Salesforce ecosystem. Conga Grid provides enhanced visibility to allow for more documents to be managed at once; this helps sales teams increase their productivity and improve everyone's bottom line. Conga AI Analyze identifies the clauses and structured data in contracts, so businesses can quickly understand their risks and take action on their obligations. As digital transformation proliferates in the enterprise and legacy business practices become virtualized, automation and ease-of-use are mission-critical. As such, we believe Conga's recognition as a 451 Firestarter awardee is well earned.

More about Conga – Conga offers a document automation transformation suite for contract lifecycle management. Business-to-business buyers' journeys can be complex, demanding digital strategies similar to business-to-customer approaches to help the organization execute in the digital era. Customer experience is a catalyst in many digital transformation projects, as businesses invest in new digital technologies and processes to more effectively engage with customers, partners or employees. Conga helps businesses by putting digital tools to work in a transformative way by ensuring that data and insights connect people with information and processes that ultimately lead to a better experience for customers. It complements existing Salesforce deployments, including the Salesforce CPQ and Billing products, with document automation, digital signatures and intelligent process automation.

Strong customer references show improvement in cost reduction through automation efficiencies and revenue recognition through improvements in sales effectiveness. Conga has invested in R&D across three key areas: modern content management architecture, robotic process automation and AI/ML for document tagging, search and regulatory compliance.

Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric
Nominated by Dan Thompson, Research Director - MTDC

Equinix has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for its Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric (ECX Fabric) platform, which takes an innovative approach to interconnection. While the platform's initial function was to connect businesses to clouds, as the name implies, today it has been expanded to also include connectivity to network providers, other datacenters and any other business connected to the platform.

Our take – Equinix continues to lead the pack as the largest multi-tenant datacenter (MTDC) provider in the world by revenue. And while the datacenter industry can be slow to change and adopt new technology, Equinix has found ways to innovate without compromising reliability. The company moved interconnection to the forefront of the conversation many years ago, and has followed up by creating and continually expanding its ECX Fabric. Equinix connected all of its datacenters around the globe, allowing customers to easily reach infrastructure in any one of its facilities, and then it melded in its interconnection options to other businesses in their ecosystem. This extended ECX such that Equinix customers can reach almost anywhere, all through a platform that is edging toward a true software-programmable interconnection (SPI).

More about Equinix – Equinix's work in the SPI space has set the pace for the entire industry. By combining the assets of interconnection, the ECX Fabric and globally connected facilities, Equinix has created a fabric that allows its customers to connect from any location to any resource within its sphere, via a software-driven platform.

While Equinix was not the first provider to offer interconnection, or connectivity to clouds, or connected datacenters, it was the first to go so big with all three, and has changed the conversation in the large-scale colocation industry. With its connectivity play, Equinix illustrates that it can innovate and differentiate in an industry that can often be slow to do either.

IBM Watson OpenScale
Nominated by Paige Bartley, Senior Analyst, Data Management

Stalwart IBM has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award, amid a playing field composed primarily of younger upstarts, by demonstrating that it is taking a novel approach to the complex problem of explainability and fairness in AI and machine learning with IBM Watson OpenScale.

Our take – Explainability and fairness of models is a big challenge as society begins to automate more functions. An even bigger challenge is giving business users the power to contextually examine these models in a way that is not bottlenecked with a few expert users, typically on the data science team. IBM Watson OpenScale allows business users to visually drill down into the effects of variables and control their impact on models. Because perfect model accuracy and perfect model fairness are often at odds, these capabilities provide the 'knobs' to make adjustments so that automation can be implemented ethically and defensibly at scale.

More about IBM Watson OpenScale – Modern data privacy and data protection regulations are scant on prescriptive rules around AI and ML, but what we do know today is that they place guardrails around automated decision-making when it has material effect on living individuals. In an uncertain regulatory climate, 'explainability' of models is emerging as a key theme, requiring organizations to provide human logic as to how these decisions are made. In many cases, the fairness of a model, mitigating bias, is in direct conflict with the pure accuracy of a model trained on biased human data. Balance needs to be achieved, and a black-box approach is not acceptable.

IBM Watson OpenScale, borne out of IBM research efforts, provides mechanisms to address this issue, and is targeted at business end users who are best suited to taking remediation action. The product can essentially reverse-engineer models in production, isolating variables, allowing the business to control for bias and ensure explainability and fairness for both regulatory compliance and operationalization. Monitoring capabilities help organizations increase the performance and scalability of AI and ML initiatives, providing proactive use cases as well as reactive compliance ones. 'Trust in AI' was a central theme of the IBM THINK conference in spring 2019, and the transparency afforded by OpenScale's capabilities will be helpful in creating industry standards for ethical use of AI and ML in the absence of stronger regional and international frameworks.

Intel Optane DC Persistent Memory Modules
Nominated by Tim Stammers, Senior Analyst, Storage

Often referred to simply as Optane NVDIMMs, Intel's DCPMM devices are already receiving a warm welcome across the IT infrastructure ecosystem, and are set to drive major changes to database architectures – thus, Intel has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award.

Our take – Intel's Optane NVDIMMs are the first devices to fully exploit the performance of the 3D XPoint memory jointly developed by Intel and Micron Technology. Existing operating systems and unmodified applications can already use the devices to achieve potentially significant performance gains and cost reductions. With modifications, applications can also exploit the devices' persistence, or non-volatility, which will drive major changes in application architectures.

More about Intel Optane DC Persistent Memory Modules – In 2017, Intel and Micron's 3D XPoint memory (3DXP, now also called Optane) became the first new solid-state storage medium with double-digit billion-dollar market potential to emerge in the two decades since NAND flash usage exploded in the 1990s. Optane qualifies as a storage-class memory (SCM) because it is fast (orders of magnitude faster than NAND); non-volatile (unlike DRAM); and relatively cheap. Multiple companies have spent billions of dollars attempting to create SCMs, and despite the emergence of 3DXP, the search for others continues. However, 3DXP will remain the sole SCM with mainstream potential for at least another three to four years, and may remain so indefinitely. It will help deliver the performance needed for emerging data-intensive applications such as ML and analytics, and because of its non-volatility, it will also allow systems architectures to be streamlined.

Intel began shipping Optane NVDIMMs to Google and other cloud providers in 2018, and the devices became GA this year. They exploit Optane performance far better than the Optane NVMe drives that shipped in 2017, as we pointed out. Multiple major application vendors are committed to altering their software to exploit Optane NVDIMM performance, although even without such modifications, the devices are expected to boost performance significantly.

JupiterOne (LifeOmic)
Nominated by Fernando Montenegro, Principal Analyst, Information Security

JupiterOne has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for creating a cloud security platform that works alongside the other technologies an organization uses. Security practitioners see cloud platforms as one more environment they need to focus on, and many times there are important links between the cloud platform and the rest of the organization's IT footprint.

Our take – JupiterOne offers a combination of an underlying graph structure that can easily model complex relationships and connectors for other modern security components. Taken together, these features help to deliver more efficient security and compliance use cases. JupiterOne views cloud platform security as part of a broader modern, cloud-native environment, where the relationships between elements are critical, and individual customer needs will require supporting multiple technology options. We agree, and as such are excited to recognize JupiterOne as a 451 Firestarter.

More about JupiterOne – JupiterOne is an outgrowth of LifeOmic's innovation to help organizations comply with healthcare initiatives such as HITRUST, where it has enabled organizations to significantly reduce the time and effort required to demonstrate compliance and remediate gaps. It takes a graph approach to following connections between various points in cloud architectures – from endpoints to 'cloud native' assets and supporting resources – and enables security and compliance teams to visualize relationships, validate compliance and identify exposures more readily. Its flexible architecture is open to any integratable technology. This supports straightforward expansion and positions the technology well for giving security and compliance teams better visibility and policy-based control around multi-cloud environments as well.

Microsoft HoloLens 2
Nominated by Ian Hughes, Senior Analyst - Internet of Things

Microsoft has earned a Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award for its HoloLens 2 Mixed Reality headset, setting a new benchmark for robust enterprise-grade spatial computing with augmented reality (AR). Its evolution from an already well-received headset, launched into a market that did not yet exist, into a much-improved device adopting changes from real customers across a range of verticals has made this the device to beat. AR is the user interface for IoT, and HoloLens 2 enables that transformation to occur.

Our take – Microsoft is able to leverage its place in the IT world and in the OT ecosystem, plus it brings advances in game technology and hardware development to usher in the next generation of user interfaces, which go hand in hand with digital transformation. The HoloLens 2 offers impressive performance to anyone experiencing it, either for the first time or when being compared to other AR headsets. It has also been proven in the field and is well known in industry settings, making it deserving of a Firestarter award.

More about Microsoft HoloLens 2 – Microsoft unveiled its new enterprise-focused Mixed Reality headset (its term for AR) at MWC 2019. The HoloLens 2 provides a significant improvement over the original device, with a better field of view, additional user interaction with eye tracking, and improved gesture recognition. The updated form factor is designed to help workers use the device for extended periods of time, with improved weight distribution for comfort and a flip-up visor – both of which tick some important boxes. The graphical and seemingly playful nature of the HoloLens 2 should not cloud the view of the positive impact it can have on worker effectiveness. The HoloLens 2 is a design honed from enterprise and industrial AR use in the field. Partners such as Philips have created systems for improved visualization of data in operating theatres, while PTC applications drive industrial use cases such as machine servicing instructions and recording. Startup Masters of Pie uses HoloLens 2 and virtual reality devices as collaboration tools, reaching deep into engineering CAD systems. Other startups like Spatial enable office-based idea collaboration and meetings in AR. Microsoft has a subscription option with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, for one of the most common AR use cases, enabling less experienced engineers in the field to get detailed assistance from experts, addressing the great crew change issue in industrial enterprises.

Most recent 451 Research Coverage

NVIDIA Enterprise AI-Enabling Ecosystem
Nominated by Steven Hill, Senior Analyst, Storage and Christian Renaud, Research Vice President

NVIDIA has been very adept at exploiting the inherent advantages in GPU architectures into AI-centric use cases, ranging from horizontal compute in datacenters and supercomputers to vertical-centric applications in healthcare and transportation.

Our take – While many are quick to pin NVIDIA's recent earnings woes on the volatile cryptocurrency market, the company has since rationalized its organization to focus on three key areas: computer graphics, general-purpose computing in datacenters for AI/ML applications, and autonomous machines, which includes robotics and automotive. In datacenter and robotics/automotive specifically, NVIDIA has highly differentiated technology and a growing ecosystem of partners and developers, and its focus on providing a common platform for accelerating the most high-performance AI/ML workloads earns the company a place among the elite enterprise hardware manufacturers. We believe its product portfolio, execution and ecosystem are all disruptive to the industry, making NVIDIA a clear Firestarter.

More about NVIDIA Enterprise AI-Enabling Ecosystem – In the last few years, NVIDIA has moved well beyond its roots in graphics to build out a highly optimized and purpose-built analytics ecosystem, based on a full lineup of extremely high-performance hardware, industry-tested software, and design services that now span practically any AI/ML use case – from embedded platforms for energy-efficient portable AI to turnkey, supercomputer-level datacenter servers. In 2019, NVIDIA announced its intent to acquire Mellanox for $6.8bn, which adds a well-known high-performance external networking technology to its expanding portfolio. NVIDIA has struck valuable partnerships with everyone from hyperscale cloud providers like AWS to automotive manufacturers such as Volkswagen, and its GPU technology is a key component in many of the current TOP500 supercomputers.

Most recent 451 Research Coverage

Nominated by Conner Forrest, Analyst, Workforce Productivity & Compliance

A Q2 2019 451 Firestarter award has been given to tech skills platform provider Pluralsight for its broad approach to e-learning, blending assessments and analytics with expert-led courses.

Our take – Pluralsight's Role IQ and Skill IQ assessments provide company leaders with a clearer picture of skills availability within their organization, helping them see gaps where upskilling could yield the greatest ROI. Pluralsight's potential to offer customers a more granular and data-led approach to learning and skills management makes it a clear choice for inclusion as a 451 Firestarter.

More about Pluralsight – As more companies look to effectively leverage the talent within their workforce, the concept of reskilling and upskilling employees is coming to the forefront of talent management strategies in business. While there is a definite demand for skills training and advancement across the knowledge economy, technology skills represent a distinct need for most modern enterprises.

Pluralsight, which got its start as a classroom training vendor, eventually pivoted to the concept of using technology to teach technology. After ditching the classroom training model, the firm grew its customer base to include 16,000+ B2B clients in over 180 countries. While Pluralsight's course library is extensive, its greatest value comes from its analytic and assessment offerings, which give managers a better view of how their employees are being utilized and provide insights into where upskilling could yield the greatest ROI.

With its Role IQ and Skill IQ assessments, the firm could end up playing an important part in workforce transformation – supporting more granular methods of resource management and bolstering scenario-modeling capabilities within corporate talent planning. Skills are a critical piece of workforce agility, and Pluralsight's ability to measure and balance those skills makes it one of the more valuable tech skills platforms in the market.

Most recent 451 Research Coverage

451 Research will be recognizing additional organizations throughout the remainder of 2019, and moving forward, across all four areas of the 4Sight framework: Contextual Experience, Invisible Infrastructure, Pervasive Intelligence and Universal Risk.

About 4SIGHT

4SIGHT brings together the top thought leadership of 451 Research to help frame conversations about the evolution of enterprise IT. It isn't a quadrant or a wave – it's informed perspective that can fuel your planning.

All organizations are finding themselves navigating a challenging and changing digital transformation landscape. It's hard to know what path to take and which obstacles to tackle first. In this new world, it's very easy to fall into one-size-fits-all guidance, but an oversimplified model can't address the unique aspects, skills, assets and expectations of your organization. What is really needed is a frame of reference to start more specific conversations. That's where 4SIGHT comes in.

We've built this framework to bring some clarity to the digital transformation landscape, and to help companies plan for the future in ways that fit their situation and aspirations. Organizations can expand the context of these scenarios to prepare for a wider range of outcomes.

We've grouped 4SIGHT into four areas. Like the real world, they're not distinct, and there is considerable overlap between them. They're not fixed, either. That's by design – it's a living framework that we'll update with new information, course-correcting as the future unfolds. But it does provide a critical starting point for the deeper discussions that all organizations need to have about changes in technology today.
Fernando Montenegro
Senior Analyst, Information Security

Fernando is a Senior Analyst on the Information Security team, based in Toronto. He has broad experience in security architecture, particularly network security for enterprise environments. He currently focuses on covering vendors and industry events in the endpoint security and cloud security spaces.

Jeremy Korn
Research Associate

Jeremy Korn is a Research Associate at 451 Research. He graduated from Brown University with a BA in Biology and East Asian Studies and received a MA in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, where he employed quantitative and qualitative methodologies to study the Chinese film industry.

Aaron Sherrill
Senior Analyst

Aaron Sherrill is a Senior Analyst for 451 Research covering emerging trends, innovation and disruption in the Managed Services and Managed Security Services sectors. Aaron has 20+ years of experience across several industries including serving in IT management for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Want to read more? Request a trial now.