Microsoft's acquisition of Sentillion stands out

* Sentillion found its niche concentrating solely on IAM in the healthcare industry

It took until December, but what could be the biggest acquisition story of the year broke last week. At least until Oracle's buyout of Sun gets EU approval, Microsoft's acquisition of Sentillion will be the big one.

Sentillion was, perhaps, the biggest vendor concentrating solely on IAM in the healthcare industry. The 11-year-old company was started at the same time as Business Layers and Oblix, the pioneers of user provisioning -- but it's the only one of the three that's still around. They show the wisdom of developing a niche and sticking to it (as long as it's growing).

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A couple of years ago I sat down with Sentillion CEO Rob Seliger and tried to get him to admit an interest in branching out beyond healthcare. Nothing too exotic; perhaps an allied market such as pharmaceuticals? But he wouldn't be baited. He claimed Sentillion knows the market well -- the company was spun off from HP's Medical Products Group nine years ago --  and wants to leverage its expertise to do healthcare identity better than anyone else. According to the Gartner Group that might be so. In announcing their Magic Quadrant for user provisioning earlier this year, Gartner said: "Sentillion remains the vendor to beat in healthcare, providing increasingly innovative approaches to deal with a unique industry segment's needs, and responding to the increased attention it is receiving in the U.S."

Gartner put Sentillion in the Visionaries Quadrant, primarily, I'd guess, because the company focused on the single vertical market. But I find significant what they listed as the strengths of the company:

* Sentillion's remains in the Visionaries Quadrant due to its innovation in healthcare provisioning needs, continued customer growth, its increasing name recognition within healthcare, and its expanding partner network for resale and system integration.

* Sentillion customers gain access to its online open source community -- IdMPower -- which allows them to share custom-built provisioning software adapters for clinical and nonclinical applications.

* Sentillion's strategy for user provisioning in a specialized, complex industry is built on the concept of "purpose built" healthcare, and addresses role-based and fine-grained provisioning.

* Sentillion leverages Active Directory as the identity repository to streamline the infrastructure required to deploy its product.

* Because of Sentillion's healthcare focus, it provides more out-of-the box connector (i.e., "bridge" in Sentillion's nomenclature) support to healthcare-industry-specific systems (for example, McKesson-Horizon products, IDX Systems products and ChartMaxx) than most of its competitors do. In addition, Sentillion's industry focus gives it a strategic advantage over its competition in areas where industry policy, terminology or healthcare-specific use cases dominate the project/program needs.

* Customers like the industry-specific focus, the personalized predeployment customer support during planning and implementation, and the company's quick response to new customer needs.

Significantly, the acquisition was driven by Microsoft's Health Solutions Group, not the Forefront Identity Management team. It remains to be seen if Sentillion can integrate successfully with the IAM group. But if it does, then Redmond has a real hit on their hands.

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