1010data at the BBBT: Cool technology without a clear strategy

The presenters at last Friday’s BBBT session were from 1010data. The company provides some complex and powerful number crunching abilities through a spreadsheet paradigm. As with many small technical companies, they have the problem of trying to differentiate between technology and a business solution.

Let’s start with the good side, the engine seems very cool. They use distributed technology in the Cloud to provide the ability to rapidly filter through very large data sets. It’s no surprise that their primary markets seem to be CPG and financial companies, as they are dealing with high volumes of daily data. It’s also no surprise because they must have very technical business users who are used to looking at data via spreadsheets.

The biggest problem is that spreadsheets are ok for looking at raw data, but not for understanding anything except a heavily filtered subset of it. That’s why the growth of BI has been in visualization. Everything 1010data showed us involved heavy work with filters, functions, XML and more. The few graphics they showed look twenty years out of data and quite primitive by modern standards. This is a tool for a power user.

Another issue, showing the secondary thought given to re-use and display of information is their oxymoronic QuickApps. As the spreadsheet analysis is done in the cloud on the live data set, if someone wants to reuse the information in reports a lot of work must be done. The technical presenter was constantly diving into complex functions and XML code. That’s not quick.

When asked about that, the repeated refrain was about how spreadsheets are everywhere. True, but the vast majority of Microsoft Excel™ use no functions or the very simplest of sum() and a few others. Only power users create major results and BI companies have grown over the move from Excel to better ways of displaying results.

I must question whether CEO and Co-founder Sandy Steier understands where the company fits into the BI landscape. He constantly referred to Cognos and MicroStrategy as if they’re the current technology leads in BI. Those solutions are good, but they are not the focus of conversation when talking about the latest in visualization or in-memory technologies. The presentation did have one slide that listed Tableau, their web site was devoid of references to the modern generation (or it was well hidden). Repeated questions about relationships with visualization vendors were turned off to other topics and not addressed.

Of key focus was an early statement by Mr. Steier that data discovery is self-service reporting. There seems to be the typical technical person’s confusion between technology and business needs. Data discovery is the ability to understand relationships between pieces of data to build information for decision making. Self-service reporting is just one way of telling people what you’ve discovered. Self-service business intelligence is a larger issue that includes components from both.

I very much liked the technology but I must question if the management of 1010data has the vision to figure out what they want to do with it. Two, of many possible, options show the need for that choice. First, they can decide to be a new database engine, providing a very powerful and fast data repository from which other vendors can access and display information. Second, they can focus on adding real visualization to help them move past the power users so that regular business users can directly leverage their benefits. The two strategic choices mean very different tactics necessary for implementation.

To summarize: I was very impressed with 1010data’s technology but am very concerned about their long term potential in the market.

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