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I recently returned from Sweden, where QlikTech International hosted its annual analyst “unsummit.” Much of the information I was exposed to was under NDA, so I cannot talk about it here. What I can discuss, and what in many ways may be more interesting and more important, is the company’s focus on culture and philosophy.

Arguably, culture and company philosophy can provide a company competitive advantage by providing its employees, customer and partners a vision and a sense of engagement with the product and the company itself. Engagement and software usability have become important topics as companies such as Tableau and QlikTech have brought user-friendly, visual and iterative analysis to software that has heretofore been the domain of a few tool-oriented analysts. As such tools continue to gain traction in the organization I anticipate that these discussions around culture, engagement and the consumer-oriented idea of brand intimacy will become more important. In particular, I see two trends driving this: the consumerization of business technologies, which I discussed in a recent blog post, and demographic workforce shifts, which my colleague Robert Kugel discussed.

QlikTech CEO Lars Bjork gave us the initial chat regarding the company.  He spoke of the origins of the company and how the Swedish government gives favorable terms to Swedish startups, but then extracts high interest after a few years. He used this story to show how his company was able to overcome early stage difficulties in repayment of the loan, and how the Swedish government listened to its needs and worked to resolve the issues in a mutually beneficial way. Eventually it turned out that QlikTech became the most successful venture in which the Swedish government had ever engaged.

Bjork used this story as a jumping-off point to discuss the cultural backbone of the company, which is its Swedish heritage.  Sweden, he suggested, is interesting in two ways. The first is its design principles of simplicity and sophistication. The second is the consensus decision-making models in which its population engages.

Simplicity and sophistication are readily evident in Swedish architecture, and furniture. QlikTech and its user base make a strong argument that this is the underpinning of its software as well. (Interestingly, two of the new breed of BI software vendors were born and grew up in Sweden – Spotfire in the north and QlikTech in the south.) QlikTech uses a simple but powerful color-oriented approach to help users understand data.  Values in a data set can be highlighted in green, linked values are white, and excluded values are gray. This approach provides users an exploratory environment in which to iterate and visualize data. This approach was inspired by spreadsheet environments, where color coding is often used for analysis and alerting on differentiated variables. While QlikTech has advanced significantly from its spreadsheet roots, the color design principles remain intact and usability remains a key tenet of its strategy.

Perhaps the more interesting cultural aspect of Sweden is its societal and political culture. It is a democracy with a measure of shared responsibility in government and society that isn’t really found in the United States. The US is much more aligned with Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of “rugged individualism” and of the self-made men. In business, this American mindset tends to create a chain-of-command culture in which decision-making is pushed up the organizational pyramid, and once a decision is made, it is then disseminated through the organization. European business, and Swedish organizations, it can be argued are less hierarchical in nature.

This discussion of Sweden and its culture naturally flows into how business intelligence is becoming more collaborative by nature and how decisions are being pushed down through the organization. It also brings to light the different philosophies of locking down data and controlling data versus the ideas of openness and information sharing. As our benchmark study around next-generation business intelligence shows, these are key points for the future of business intelligence. As cultures become more open with mobility and collaboration, and decisions are moved down through organizations, employees become more empowered.

vr_ngbi_br_benefits_realized_from_collaborative_biThe entire premise, however, revolves around openness toward information sharing and a balance of controls within the organization. The idea of democratizing analytics makes a lot of sense, though democratization pushed to the extreme leads to anarchy. Much like Sweden, QlikTech intends to walk that fine line inspired by democratic ideals and consensus governance in its quest to bring analytics to the organizational masses. At the end of the day this may just may be the secret sauce the appeals to the millennial generation and beyond.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP & Research Director

We recently completed our benchmark research on next-generation business intelligence. Ventana Research looks as next-generation BI as a function of traditional BI that is converging with new technologies such as mobility, collaboration and cloud computing. Just a few years ago business intelligence might have been considered a mature category with incremental growth, but now it’s growing in new directions and it’s difficult today to call business intelligence mature.

vr_ngbi_br_mobile_device_deploymentsOne of the reasons for the dramatic change in business intelligence is the impact of consumer technologies in the workplace. Our study shows that 53 percent of companies are currently deploying or plan to deploy tablet computers in their BI environments. This trend is driven by executives who have started to bring their devices to work and are asking for support – the so-called BYOD movement.

From the BYOD trend, it is apparent that ease-of-use and integration expectations are being led at the consumer level. Think about how easy it is to do things on an application like Yelp, where social, local and mobile technologies come together in real time to offer insights on our choice of restaurants.

When we port these expectations into the business environment, however, the tools we have in place do not meet these expectations. In our study, only 28 percent say they are fully satisfied with mobile BI, and only 32 percent with collaborative BI. Furthermore, our maturity model shows that while the people and technology categories are mature, information and processes are immature and holding companies back with respect to next-generation BI. This makes sense, since people have the technology and are skilled at using it in consumer environments, but they lack integrated information in the workplace, as well as the processes they need to take advantage of next-generation BI capabilities. Until businesses can take advantage of the kind of integration available in the consumer environment, we will likely see the satisfaction with these technologies stay relatively low.

Unfortunately, we found no coalescence around any particular access method. Just under two-fifth of the study (38%) prefer business intelligence applications as the primary access method for collaborative BI, but 36 percent prefer access through office productivity tools, and 34 percent prefer access through applications themselves.

Clearly, next-generation business intelligence is extremelyvr_ngbi_br_collaboration_tool_access_preferences important and can provide real competitive advantages, but it is still a bit of a mine field. For this reason, we strongly encourage companies to look at their information environments, consider current role-based workflows, and develop solutions that fit as seamlessly as possible into their environments. The alternative – deploying next-generation BI in a horizontal manner without careful thought for how the technologies integrate with the surrounding people, process and information – is just asking for trouble.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

Tableau Software is growing fast. Tableau has taken a “land and expand” strategy that drives what they call the democratization of analytics within organizations. Tableau has enjoyed first mover advantage in the area of exploratory analytics called visual discovery, a growing type of business analytics that allows companies to easily visualize data in a descriptive manner, but the company is facing competition as deep-pocket companies such as IBM, SAP and others become more aggressive in the space.

Tableau’s big advantages are that its software is easy to use, can access many data sources, and lacks the complexity of a traditional OLAP cube, which necessitates predefined schemas, materialized views and pre-aggregation of data. Our next-generation business intelligence benchmark research finds that usability is the most critical criterion in the choice of next-generation BI tools, and in usability, Tableau is an industry juggernaut. The company’s VizQL technology obviates the need for an analyst to understand technologies like SQL, and instead lets users explore data from multiple sources using drag-and-drop, point-and-click and pinch-and-tap techniques. No code, no complexity.

With Tableau’s 8.0 release, code-named the Kraken, currently in beta, the story gets more compelling. The Kraken takes the software beyond the business user and into the IT department –  the home of BI giants. New ease–of-use features such as better infographics, text justification and rich text formatting got applause at Tableau’s customer conference in San Diego earlier this month, where Tableau announced three specific features that help equip it for battle with traditional BI vendors.

The first is the ability to author, customize and share reports through a browser interface. This brings much of the functionality that was available only on Tableau Desktop to the Tableau Server environment. It gives users anywhere, anytime access, and increases manageability within the environment. Visualizations can be shared through a link, then picked up by another author in an iterative and collaborative process. Administrators can make sure dashboard proliferation doesn’t overwhelm users.

One big advancement is Tableau’s ability to embed its software in other companies’ portals or web applications through a JavaScript API. Many companies should pick up on this advancement to partner with Tableau to embed analytics into their applications. Our research shows that the market has yet to decide how next-generation BI will be delivered, with approximately even splits between those expecting it to go through a BI application (38%), end-user application (34%) and office productivity suite (36%). Anecdotally, we are seeing an uptick in embedded BI arrangements, such as Workday embedding Datameer and Kronos embedding MicroStrategy. Given Tableau’s visualization sophistication, I anticipate it will get a lot of traction here.

Tableau announced support for Salesforce.com and Google Analytics at the conference. The Google move was soon extended to include Google’s BigQuery, which is based on Google’s Dremel real-time distributed query technology, which works in conjunction with Google’s MapReduce. Cloudera recently announced a similar approach to big-data ad-hoc analytics with its Impala initiative, and it chose Tableau as the first company to integrate. These partnerships say a lot about Tableau’s potential partnering power, which I anticipate will become a more important part of the company’s overall strategy.

While the conference announcements were extensive, and in many ways impressive, the battle for the hearts and minds of both IT departments and business users still remains. Tableau comes from the business side, and it remains to be seen is how powerful the usability argument is in the face of the risk and compliance issues that face IT. Tableau may encounter resistance as it moves closer to the IT department in order to enable multidepartment rollouts. IT often has long-term relationships with large software providers, and these providers are now bringing their own tools to market. These include such tools as SAP’s Visual Intelligence (a.k.a. Visi), and IBM Cognos Insight, which I recently blogged about. In many ways it is easier for IT to convince business to use these tools than for business users to make that argument to IT. The outcome of the battle depends on how quickly companies like SAP and IBM can catch up. Tableau says its R&D as a percentage is much higher than that of its competitors, but the question is whether that percentage is big enough to compete with the deep pockets of competitors that surround it. My assumption is that competitors will ultimately catch up, and then its ultimate success will come down to how large a footprint Tableau has established and the loyalty of its user base.

In sum, Tableau has an impressive offering, and the 8.0 beta release is another step forward. The company is advancing a new era of interactive visual discovery of data. Its partnerships and links to multiple data sources make it difficult to ignore in the business intelligence space. The advancements mentioned above as well as Tableau’s focus on things such as cohort analytics and quasi-experimental design approaches gives the company a fair amount of runway with respect to core analytics in the organization. However, it needs to start putting more statistical prowess into the application, starting with basic descriptive statistics, including significance testing such as t-test and chi-squared tests. While it is great to have cool pictures and graphs, if users cannot find real differences in the data, the software’s value is limited. Also, in order to meet its ambition of truly democratizing analytics, it needs to build out or embed basic analytic training modules. This will be key in getting from the What of the data to the So What of the data. Addressing this skills gap, as I wrote about in a blog post earlier this year, is one of the most important areas of focus for companies and suppliers playing in the analytics space. Suppliers that focus only on the tools themselves and ignore data sources and people aspects will see diminishing returns.

Tableau is well on its way into IT departments with its latest advancements, but it still needs to better address things such as write-back, data management and higher-level analytics if it hopes to compete with broader BI portfolios. Competitors in this market are not standing still; they are beginning to morph into more operation-oriented analytical systems.

Business users and departments considering exploratory analytics tools for their companies should definitely consider Tableau. For IT departments with broader responsibility, Tableau is also worth a look. Tableau is a leader in this emerging space, and with its continued investment in R&D, its strengthening partnerships, and a singular focus on bringing analytics to the business populous, it is addressing many core analytics needs within today’s organization. Tableau is an important company to watch.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

I had a refreshing call this morning with a vendor that did not revolve around integration of systems, types of data, and the intricacies of NoSQL approaches. Instead, the discussion was about how its business users analyze an important and complex problem and how the company’s software enables that analysis. The topic of big data never came up, and it was not needed, because the conversation was business-driven and issue-specific.

By contrast, we get a lot of briefings that start with big data’s impact on business, but devolve into details about how data is accessed and the technology architecture. Data access and integration are important, but when we talk about big data analytics, focusing on the business issues is even more critical. Our benchmark research into big data shows that companies employ storage (95%) and reporting (94%) of big data, but very few use it for data mining (55%) and what-if scenario modeling (49%). That must change. Descriptive analysis on big data is quickly turning into table stakes; the real competitive value of big data analytics is in the latter two categories.

Not every big data vendor drowns its message in technospeak. IBM, for instance, stokes the imagination with analytical systems such as Watson and does a good job of bringing its business-focused story to a diverse audience through its Global Business Services arm. Some newer players paint compelling pictures as well. Companies such as PivotLink, PlanView and SuccessFactors (now part of SAP) deliver analytics stories from different organizational perspectives. Part of their advantage is that they start from a cloud and application perspective, but they also tell the analytics story in context of business, not in context of technology.

Providing that business perspective is a more difficult task for BI companies that have been pitching their software to IT departments for years, but even some of these have managed to buck this trend.  Alteryx, for instance, differentiates itself by putting forward compelling industry-specific use cases, and espousing the concept of the data artisan. This right-brain/left-brain approach appeals to both the technical and business sides of the house. Datameer also does a good job of producing solid business use cases. Its recent advancements in visualization help the company paint the analytical picture from a business perspective. Unfortunately, other examples seem few and far between. Most companies are still caught pitching technology-centric solutions, despite the fact that, in the new world of analytics, it’s about business solutions, not features on a specification sheet.

This focus on business issues over technology is important because the business side of the house today controls more and more of the technology spending. While business managers understand business and often have a firm grasp of analytics, they don’t always understand or care about the intricacies of different processing techniques and data models. In our upcoming benchmark research on next-generation BI systems, the data from which I’m currently analyzing, we see this power shift clearly. While IT still has veto power, decisions are being driven by business users and being ratified at the top of the organization.

The Ventana Research Maturity Model from our business analytics benchmark research shows that the analytics category is still immature, with only 15 percent of companies reaching the innovative level. So how do we begin to change this dialog from a technology-driven discussion to a business-driven discussion? From the client perspective, it starts with a blue sky approach, since the technological limitations that drove the old world of analytics no longer exist. This blank canvas may be framed by metrics such as revenue, profit and share of wallet, but the frame is now extending itself into less tangible and forward-looking areas such as customer churn and brand equity. If these output metrics are the frame, it’s the people, process, information and tools that are our brushes with which we paint. The focal point of the piece is always the customer.

If a business has a hard time thinking in terms of a blank canvass, it can examine a number of existing cases that show the value of utilizing big data analytics to help illuminate customer behavior, web usage, security, location, fraud, regulation and compliance. Some of the bigger ones are briefly discussed in my recent blog entry on predictive analytics.

The big data industry, if we can call it that, is quickly moving from a focus on the technology stack to a focus on tangible business outcomes and time-to-value (TTV). The innovations of the last few years have enabled companies to take a blue sky perspective and do things that they have never thought possible. The key is to start with the business problem you are looking to solve; the technology will work itself out from there.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

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