Category Archives: BBBT

Boulder BI Brain Trust – http://bbbt.us

Diyotta: Data integration for the enterprise

I’m still catching up and reviewed a video of last month’s Diyotta presentation to the BBBT. The company is another young, founded in 2011, data integration company working to take advantage of current technologies to provide not just better data integration but also better change management of modern data infrastructures. In many ways, they’re similar to another company, WhereScape, which I discussed last year. Both are young and small, while the market is large and the need is great.

The presentation was given by Sanjay Vyas, CEO, and John Santaferraro, CMO. The introduction by Sanjay was one of the best from a small company founder that I’ve seen in a long time. He gave a brief overview of the company, its size, it’s global structure (with HQ in Charlotte, NC, and two offshore development centers). Then he went straight to what most small companies leave for last: He presented a case study.

My biggest B2B marketing point is that you need to let the market know you understand it. Far too many technical founders spend their time talking about the technology they built to solve a business problem, not the business problem that was addressed by technology. Mr. Vyas went to the heart of the matter. He showed the pain in a company, the solution and, most importantly, the benefits. That is what succeeds in business.

It also wasn’t an anonymous reference, it was Scotiabank, a leading Canadian bank with a global presence. When a company that large gives a named reference to a startup as small as is Diyotta, you know the firm is happy.

John Santaferraro then took over for a bit with mostly positive impact. While he began by claiming a young product was mature because it’s version 3.5, no four year old firm still working on angel investments has a fully mature product. From the case study and what was demo’d later, it’s a great product but it’s clear it’s still early and needs work. There’s no need to oversell.

The three main markets John said Diyotta aims at are:

  • Big data analytics.
  • Data warehouse modernization.
  • Hybrid data integration including cloud and on-premises (though John was another marketing speaker who didn’t want to use the “s” at the end).

While the other two are important, I think it’s the middle one that’s the sweet spot. They focus on metadata to abstract business knowledge of sources and targets. While many IT organizations are experimenting with Hadoop and big data, getting a better understanding and improved control over the entire EDW and data infrastructure as big data is added and new mainline techniques arrive is where a lot more immediate pain exists.

Another marketing miss that could have incorporated that key point was when Mr. Santaferrero said that the old ETL methods no longer work because “having a server in the middle of it … doesn’t exist anymore.” The very next slide was as follows.

Diyotta markitechture slide

Diyotta still seems to have a server in the middle, managing the communications between sources and targets through metadata abstraction. The little “A’s” in the data extremities are agents Diyotta uses to preprocess requests locally to optimize what can be optimizes natively, but they’re still managed by a central system.

The message would be more powerful by explaining that the central server is mediating between sources and targets, using metadata, machine learning and other modern tools, to appropriately allocate processing at source, in the engine or in the target in the most optimal way.

While there’s power in the agents, that technology has been used in other aspects of software with mixed results. One concern is that it means a high need for very close partnerships with the systems in which the agents reside. While nobody attending the live presentation asked about that, it’s a risk. The reason Sanjay and John kept talking about Netezza, Oracle and Teradata is because those are the firms whose products Diyotta has created agents. Yes, open systems such as Hadoop and Spark are also covered, but agents do limit a small company’s ability to address a variety of enterprises. The company is still small, so as long as they focus on firms with similar setups to Scotiabank, they have time to grow, to add more agents and widen their access to sources; but it’s something that should be watched.

On the pricing front, they use pricing purely based on the hub. There’s no per user or per connector pricing. As someone who worked for companies that used pricing that involved connectors, I say bravo! As Mr. Vyas pointed out, their advantage is how they manage sources and targets, not which ones you want them to access. While connecting is necessary, it’s not the value add. The pricing simplifies things and can save money compared with many more complex pricing schemes that charge for parts.

The final business point concerns compliance. An analyst in the room (Sorry, I didn’t catch the name) asked about Sarbanes-Oxley. The answer was that they don’t yet directly address compliance but their metadata will make it easier. For a company that focuses on metadata and whose main reference site is a major financial institution, it would serve their business to add something to explicitly address compliance.

Summary

Diyotta is a young company addressing how enterprises can leverage big data as target and source alongside the existing infrastructure through better metadata management and data access. They are young and have many of the plusses and minuses that involves. They have some great technology but it’s early and they’re still trying to figure out how to address what market.

The one major advantage they have, given what I’ve seen in only a two hour presentation, is Sanjay Vyas. Don’t judge a startup on where they are now or where you think they need to be. Judge them on whether or not management seems capable of getting from point A to point B. Listening to Mr. Vyas, I heard a founder who understands both business and technology and will drive them in the direction they need to go.

IBM, you BM, we all BM for … Spark!

IBM at BBBT

A recent presentation by IBM at the BBBT was interesting. As usual, it was more interesting to me for the business information than the details. As unusual, they did a great job in a balanced presentation covering both. While many presentations lean too heavily in one direction or the other, this one covered both sides very well.

The main presenter was Harriet Fryman, VP of Marketing, IBM Analytics Platform. Adding information during the presentation were Steven Sit, Director of Product Management, Open Source Based Analytics Systems, and Steve Beier, Program Director, Spark Technology Center.

The focus of the talk was IBM’s commitment to Apache Spark. Before diving deep into the support, Ms. Fryman began by talking about business’ evolving data needs. Her key point is that “we all do data hording,” that modern technologies are allowing us to horde far more data than ever before, and that better ways are needed to get value out of the data.

She then proceeded to define three key aspects of the growth in analytics:

  • Applying analytics in more parts of business.
  • Understand the time value of data.
  • The growth of machine learning and cognitive systems.

The second two overlap, as the ability to analyze large volumes of data in near real-time means a need to have systems do more analysis. The following slide also added to IBM’s picture of the changing focus on higher level information and analytics.IBM slide - evolving approach to data

The presentation did go off on a tangent as some analysts overthought the differences in the different IBM groups for analytics and for Watson. Harriet showed great patience in saying they overlap, different people start with different things and internal organizational structures don’t impact IBM’s ability to leverage both.

The focus then turned back to Spark, which IBM sees as the unifying layer for data access. One key issue related to that is the Spark v Hadoop debate. Some people seem to think that Spark will replace Hadoop, but the IBM team expressed clear disagreement. Spark is access while Hadoop is one data structure. While Hadoop can allow for direct batch processing of large jobs, using Spark on top of Hadoop allows much more real time processing of the information that Hadoop appropriately contains.IBM slide - Spark markitechture

One thing on the slide that wasn’t mentioned but links up with messages from other firms, messages which I’ve supported, is that one key component, in the upper left hand corner of the slide, is Spark SQL. Early Hadoop players were talking about no-SQL, but people are continuing to accept that SQL isn’t going anywhere.

Well, most people. At least fifteen minutes after this slide was presented, an attending analyst asked about why IBM’s description of Spark seemed to be similar to the way they talk about SQL. All three IBM’ers quickly popped up with the clear fact that the same concepts drive both.

While the team continued to discuss Spark as a key business imitative, Claudia Imhoff asked a key question on the minds of anyone who noticed huge IBM going to open source: What’s in it for them? Harriet Fryman responded that IBM sees the future of Spark and to leverage it properly for its own business it needed to be part of the community, hence moving SystemML to open source. Spark may be open source, but the breadth and skills of IBM mean that value added applications can be layered on top of it to continue the revenue stream.

Much more detail was then stated and demonstrated about Spark, but I’ll leave that to the more technical analysts and vendor who can help you.

One final note put here so it didn’t distract from the main message or clutter the summary. Harriet, please. You’re a great expert and a top marketing person. However, when you say “premise” instead of “premises,” as you did multiple times, it distracts greatly from making a clear marking message about the cloud.

Summary

IBM sees the future of data access to be Apache Spark. Its analytics group is making strides to open not only align with open source, but to be an involved player to help the evolution of Spark’s data access. To ignore IBM’s combined strength in understanding enterprise business, software and services is to not understand that it is a major player in some of the key big data changes happening today. The IBM Spark initiative isn’t a marketing ploy, it’s real. The presentation showed a combination of clear business thought and strategy alongside strong technical implementation.

SAS: Out of the Statisticians Pocket and into the Business Briefcase

I just saw an amusing presentation by SAS. Amusing because you rarely get two presenters who are both as good at presenting and as knowledgeable about their products. We heard from Mike Frost, Senior Product Manager for Data Management, and Wayne Thompson, Chief Data Scientist. They enjoy what they do and it was contagious.

It was also interesting from the perspective of time. Too many younger folks think if a firm has been around for more than five years, it’s a dinosaur. That’s usually a mistake, but the view lives on. SAS was founded almost 40 years ago, in 1976, and has always focused on analytics. They have been historically aimed at a market that is made up of serious mathematicians doing heavy statistical work. They’re very good at what they do.

The business analysis sector has been focused on less technical, higher level business number crunching and data visualization. In the last decade, computing power has meant firms can dig deeper and can start to provide analysis SAS has been doing for decades. The question is whether or not SAS can rise to the challenge. It’s still early, but the answer seems to be a qualified but strong “yes!”

Both for good and bad, SAS is the largest privately held software company, still driven by founder James Goodnight. That means a good thing in that technically focused folks plow 23% of their revenue into R&D. However, it also leaves a question mark. I’ve worked for other firms long run by founders, one a 25+ year old firm still run by brothers. The best way to refer to the risk is that of a famous public failure: Xerox and the PC. For those who might not understand what I’m saying, read “Fumbling the Future” by Smith and Alexander. The risk comes down to the people in charge knowing the company needs to change but being emotionally wedded to what’s worked for so long.

The presentation to the BBBT shows that, while it’s still early in the change, SAS seems to be mostly avoiding that risk. They’re moving towards a clean, easier to use UI and taking their first steps towards collaboration. More work needs to be done on both fronts, but Mike and Wayne were very open and honest about their understanding the need and SAS continuing to move forward.

One of the key points by Mike Frost is one I’ve also discussed. While they disagree with me and think the data scientist does exist, the SAS message is clear that he doesn’t work in a void. The statistician, the business analyst and business management must all work in concert to match technical solutions to real business information needs.

LASR, VAE and a cast of thousands

The focus of the presentation was on SAS LASR, their in-memory analytics server. While it leverages Hadoop, it doesn’t use MapReduce because that involves disk access during processing, losing the speed advantage of in-memory applications.SAS LARS archictecture slide

As Mike Frost pointed out, “It doesn’t do any good to run the right model too late.”

One point that still shows the need to think more about business, is that TCO was mentioned in passing. No slide or strong message supported the message. They’re still a bit too focused on technology, not what sells the business decision makers on business intelligence (BI).

Another issue was the large number of ancillary products in the suite, including Visual Data Explorer, Data Loader and others. The team mentioned that SAS is slowly moving through the products to give them the same interface, but I also hope they’re looking at integrating as much as possible so the users don’t have the annoyance of constantly moving between products.

One nice part of the demo was an example of discussing what SAS has termed “poorly structured data” as opposed to “unstructured data” that’s the rage in Hadoop. I prefer “loosely structured data.” Mike and Wayne showed the ability to parse the incoming file and have machine intelligence make an initial pass at suggesting fields. While this isn’t new, I worked at a company in 2000 that was doing that, it’s a key part of quickly integrating such data into the business environment. The company I reference had another founder who became involved in other things and it died. While I’m surprised it took firms so long to latch onto and use the technology, it doesn’t surprise me that SAS is one of the first to openly push this.

Another advantage brought by an older, global firm, related to the parsing is that it works in multiple languages, including right-to-left languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. Most startups focus on their own national language and it can be a while before the applications are truly global. SAS already knows the importance and supports the need.

Great, But Not Yet End-To-End

The only big marketing mistake I heard was towards the end. While Frost and Thompson are rightfully proud of their products, Wayne Thompson crowed that “We’re not XXX,” a reference to a major BI player, “We’re end-to-end.” However, they’d showed only minimal visualization choices and their collaboration, admittedly isn’t there.

Even worse for the message, only a few minutes later, based on a question, one of the presenters shows how you export predicted values so that visualization tools with more power can help display the information to business management.

I have yet to see a real end-to-end tool and there’s no reason for SAS to push this iteration as more than it is. It’s great, but it’s not yet a complete solution.

Summary

SAS is making a strong push into the front end of analytics and business intelligence. They are busy wrapping tools around their statistical engines that will allow them to move much more strongly out of academics and the very technical depths of life sciences, manufacturing, defense and other industries to challenge in the realm of BI.

They’re headed in the right direction, but the risk mentioned at the start remains. Will they keep focused on this growing market and the changes it requires, or will that large R&D expenditure focus on the existing strengths and make the BI transition too slow? I’m seeing all the right signs, they just need to stay on track.

 

Teradata Aster: NLP for Business Intelligence

Teradata’s recent presentation at the BBBT was very interesting. The focus, no surprise, was on Teradata Aster, but Chris Twogood, VP Products and Services Marketing, and John Thuma, Director of Aster Strategy and Analytics, took a very different approach than was taken a year earlier.

Chris Twogood started the talk with the usual business overview. Specific time was spent on four recent product announcements. The most interesting announcement was about their support for Presto, a SQL-on-Hadoop project. They are the first company to provide commercial support for the open source technology. As Chris pointed out, he counted “13 different SQL-on-Hadoop variants.” Because of the importance of SQL access and the perceived power of Presto, Teradata has committed to strengthening its presence with that offering. SQL is still the language for data access and integrating Hadoop into the rest of the information ecosystem is a necessary move for any company serving any business information market. This helps Teradata present a leadership image.

Discussion then turned to the evolution of data volumes and analytics capabilities. Mr. Twogood has a great vision of that history, but the graphic needs serious work. I won’t copy it because the slide was far too busy. The main point, however, was the link between data volumes and sources with the added capabilities to look at business in a more holistic way. It’s something many people are discussing but he seems to have a much better handle on it than most others who talk to the point, he just needs to fine tune the presentation.

Customers and On-Site Search

As most people have seen, the much of the new data coming in under the big data rubric is customer data from sources such as the web, call logs and more. Being able to create a more unified view of the customer matters. Chris Twogood wrapped up his presentation by referring to a McKinsey & Co. survey that pointed out, among other things, that studying customer journeys can increase predictive accuracy of customer satisfaction and churn by 30-40%. Though it also points out that 56% of customer interactions are through multi-channel means, one of the key areas of focus today is the journey through a web site.

With that lead-in, John Thuma took over to talk about Aster and how it can help with on-site search. He began by stating that 25-30% of web site visitors using search leave the site if the wanted result isn’t in first three items returned, while 75% abandon if the result isn’t on first page. Therefore it’s important to have searches that understand not only the terms that the prospective customer enters but possible meanings and alternatives. John picked a very simple and clear example, depending on the part of the country, somebody might search on crock pot, slow cooker or pressure cooker but all should return the same result.

While Mr. Thuma’s presentation talked about machine learning in general, and did cover some of the other issues, the main focus of that example is Natural Language Processing (NLP). We need to understand more than the syntax of the sentence, but also improve our ability to comprehend semantic meaning. The demonstration showed some wonderful capabilities of Aster in the area of NLP to improve search capabilities.

One feature is what Teradata is calling “apps,” a term that confuses them with mobile apps, a problematic marketing decision. They are full blown applications that include powerful capabilities, applications customization and very nice analytics. Most importantly, John clearly points out that Aster is complex and that professional services are almost always required to take full advantage of the Aster capabilities. I think that “app” does a disservice to the capabilities of both Aster and Teradata.

One side bar about technical folks not really understanding business came from one analyst attending the presentation who suggested that ““In some ways it would be nice to teach the searchers what words are better than others.” No, that’s not customer service. It’s up to the company to understand which words searchers mean and to use NLP to come up with a real result.

A final nit was that the term “self-service” was used while also talking about the requirement for both professional services from Teradata and a need for a mythical data scientist. You can’t, as they claimed, used Aster to avoid the standard delays from IT for new reports when the application process is very complex. Yes, afterwards you can use some of the apps like you would a visualization tool which allows the business user to do basic investigation on her own, but that’s a very limited view of self-service.

I’m sure that Teradata Aster will evolve more towards self-service as it advances, but right now it’s a powerful tool that does a very interesting job while still requiring heavy IT involvement. That doesn’t make it bad, it just means that the technology still needs to evolve.

Summary

I studied NLP almost 30 years ago, when working with expert systems. Both hardware and software have moved forward, thankfully, a great distance since those days. The ability to leverage NLP to more quickly and accurately to understand the market, improve customer acquisition and retention ROI and better run business is a wonderful thing.

The presentation was powerful and clear, Teradata Aster provides some great benefits. It is still early in its lifecycle and, if the company continues on the current course, will only get better. They have only a few customers for the on-site optimization use, none referenceable in the demo, but there is a clear ROI message building. Mid- to large-size enterprises looking to optimize their customer understand, whether for on-site search or other modern business intelligence uses, should talk to Teradata and see if Aster fits their needs.

Dell at BBBT: Addressing BI from IT

The most recent BBBT presentation was from Dell Software. Peter Evans, Sr. Integrated Solutions Development Consultant , and Steven Phillips, Product Marketing Manager – Big Data & Analytics, gave us an overview of Dell’s architecture for addressing business intelligence (BI).  Dell platform slide 2015-05-15

What they’re working to accomplish is, no surprise, ensure that Dell’s hardware is able to be present throughout the BI supply chain. For that, they’re working to be application agnostic, though they mislabel it as “no lock-in.” What they’re saying is you can change your software vendors and Dell will still be there. There’s no addressing true lock-in, the difficulty in changing one software vendor to another based on level of openness to data in systems and other costs of moving.

One marketing nit that caught a number of us was Peter’s early claim that Dell is “probably the third largest software company in the world.” Right… First, as a now privately held company, we have no way to confirm that. Second, I’m not sure if he knows just how much revenue is needed to be near the top of that list.

IT First

Far too many young firms are overselling BI as something that will let business “avoid IT.” That’s not only impossible, it wouldn’t make sense if it was possible. IT has a clear place in organizing infrastructure, providing consistency, helping with compliance and doing other things a central organization should do.

Dell has started with IT. They’re used to dealing with IT and their solution is focused on helping IT enable business. What’s not clear is how well they can do such a thing in the new world. They’ve pieced a lot of different applications into an architecture and that would seem to require heavy IT involvement in much of what’s being provided.

On the good side, that knowledge means they better understand true enterprise business needs. Unlike many vendors, Dell has regulatory and statutory compliance at the forefront, very clear in its marketechture slides. While most companies understand they have to mention compliance, it’s usually people dealing with corporate business groups such as IT and legal who understand just how critical compliance is.

Neither Peter Evans nor Steven Phillips spoke clearly to the business user, the want for speed and flexibility for them. While younger companies need to move more to addressing the importance of IT, Dell needs to more strongly focus on the business customer, the ones who are often in charge of the BI and related software projects and spending.

Boomi Suggest

The technical piece that stuck with me the most was the discussion of Boomi Suggest. Boomi is Dells integration tool. Within it, there’s a cloud-based tool called Boomi Suggest. If users subscribe to it, the product tracks data linkages and the de-natured information is kept to help other customers more quickly map data sources and targets.

Mr. Evens says that Boomi Suggest has a database that now contains more than 16 million links. The intelligence on top to that then is able to provide a 92% accuracy rate in analyzing new links. The time savings that alone suggests is a major decision driver that should not be overlooked.

A Great Case Study: Asthma

While the case study didn’t address enough of the end user issues of timeliness, flexibility and more, it was a very interesting case study from an inclusive standpoint. The Dell team focused on asthma case management to show the breadth of data sources, the complexity of analytics and a full process that could be generalized from the healthcare sector in order to support their full platform message.Dell asthma case study slide 2015-05-15

As you can see, they are doing a lot of things with a variety of information, but they’re also doing it with a variety of products.

Summary

Dell’s decades of working with IT has helped it look at BI with a more complex eye that can address many of IT’s concerns. What we saw was an almost completely IT solution and message. While BI focused companies are going to have to move down and address important IT messages, Dell must go in the opposite direction. Unless the team can broaden their message to address the solution to more business teams, Dell’s expansion in the market will be severely limited because it’s the business groups that write the checks.

The presentation shows a great start. However, the questions are if Dell can simplify the architecture to make it less complex, potentially by merging a number of their products, and whether or not they can learn about those folks they don’t have a history of directly understanding: The business user. If they can do that, the start will expand and Dell Software can help in the BI market.

Looker at the BBBT: A New Look at SQL Performance

The most recent BBBT presentation was by Looker. Lloyd Tabb, Founder & CTO, and Zach Taylor, Product Marketing Manager, showed up to display yet another young company’s interesting technology.

Looker’s technology is an application server that sits above relational databases to provide faster, more complex queries. They’ve developed their own language, LookML to help with that. That’s no surprise, as Lloyd is a self-described language guy.

It’s also no surprise that the demos, driven by both Lloyd and Zach, were very coding heavy. Part of the reason that very technical focus exists is, as Mr. Tabb stated, that Looker thinks there are two groups of users: Coders who build models and business managers who use the information. There is no room in that model for the business analyst, the person who understands who to communicate a complex business need to the coders and how to help the coders deliver something that is accessible to and understandable by the information consumer.

How the bifurcation was played out in the demonstration was through an almost exclusive focus on code, code and more code, with a brief display of some visualization technology. The former was very good while the later wasn’t bad but, to fit with their mainly technology focus, had complex visualizations without good enough legends – they were visualizations that would be understood by technical people but need to be better explained for the business audience they claim to address.

As an early stage company, that’s ok. The business intelligence (BI) market is still young and very fragmented. You can get different groups in large companies using different BI tools. While Looker talks about 300 customers, as with most companies of their size it could only be those small groups. If they’re going to grow past those groups, they need to focus a bit more in how to better bridge technology and business.

They also have a good start in attracting the larger market because they support both cloud and on-premises systems. The former market is growing while the later isn’t going away. Providing the ability for their server to run either place will address the needs of companies on either side of the divide.

RDMS ≠ SQL

One key to their system is they don’t move data. It stays resident on the source systems. Those could be operational systems, data warehouses, an ODS or whatever. What they must have is SQL. When asked about Hadoop and other schema-on-write systems, the Looker team stated they are an RDMS based application but they’ll work on anything with SQL access. I have no problem with the technology, but they need to be very clear about the split.

SQL came from the relational world, but as they pointed out in an aside, it isn’t limited to that. They should drop the RDMS message and focus on SQL. As Lloyd Tabb said, “SQL is the right abstraction.” What I don’t know if he understands, being focused on technology and having those biases, is it isn’t the right abstraction because of some technical advantage but because it’s the major player. McDonalds isn’t the best burger because it has the most stores. SQL might not be the best access method, but it’s the one business knows and so it’s the one the newer database companies and structures can’t ignore.

Last year, the BBBT heard from multiple companies including Actian and EXASOL, companies focused on providing SQL access to Hadoop. That’s as important as what Looker is doing. The company that manages to do both well with jump ahead of the pack.

Summary

Looker is a good, young company with some technical advantages that can greatly improve the performance of SQL queries to business databases and provides a basic BI front end to display the results. I’m not sure they have the resources to focus on both, and I think the former have the clearest advantage in the marketplace. Unless they have more funding and a strong management team that can begin to better understand the business side of the market, they will have problems addressing the visualization side of BI. They need to keep improving their engine, spread it to access more data sources, and partner with visualization companies to provide the front end.

JInfonet at the BBBT: OEM or Direct, a Decision is Necessary

Let’s cut to the chase, this is another company with a very good product and no idea how to message. Unless they quickly figure out and communicate the right message, they’ll need to get ready for acquisition as an exit strategy.

Jinfonet is a company founded, it seems, to clone Crystal Reports in Java. Hence the awkward name. JReport, their product, is full featured and we’ll get to that, but the legacy name using report will leave them behind if that remains their focus.

The presentation was primarily by Dean Yao, Director of Marketing, with demo support brought by the able Leo Zhao, Senior Systems Consultant. However, the presentation indicated the message problem.

Reports? What Reports?

The name of the product is JReports, but at no time in the three hours did a report make an appearance. They showed two different analyst charts, Nucleus Research and EMA, of the business intelligence (BI) industry to show where they were placed. BI. Yet when asked about competition, Dean Yao repeatedly mentioned they didn’t compete against BI vendors but focused on reports.

Their own presentation begs to differ:

JReport solution areas

Notice that reports are a secondary feature of one focus.

What’s also good and bad is that Leo Zhao’s demonstrations showed a very richly featured product that does compete against the other vendors. The only major hole wasn’t in functionality, it’s that the rich set of visualizations weren’t as pretty as most of the competition. That is in part because they are self-funded with more limited resources and partly because they’re great techies who haven’t prioritized visualizations as they should.

OEM or Direct?

OEM, in JInfonet’s business model, doesn’t only mean the product embedded in third party applications. Mr. Yao discussed how JReport is also regularly embedded in departmental IT applications. That is different than when companies use JReport as a standalone product.

Dean talked about how 30% of their business in recent years was direct, with the rest being OEM. At the same time, he mentioned that last year was around 50/50. That’s not a problem. What is an issue is that they don’t know why it was. Did sales focus on direct? Was one major direct client a large revenue outlier which skewed the results? They don’t seem to know.

That matters because the OEM and direct models are very different. With OEM, you let the other company deal with business messages. All you’re doing is presenting to them a good technical story and cost point compared do simpler products, a tiny segment of competition or doing nothing and losing out to their competitors.

Enterprise sales, on the other hand, require a focus on the end user, the folks using the products and the business issues they have. That is what’s missing from the presentation, their web site and the few pieces of collateral I reviewed.

One thing should also be said about the OEM to departments model. The cloud is changing the build v buy balance for many departments for the applications in which JReport is embedded, so I’m not sure how much longer this model will be of significant revenue.

Mr. Yao said they don’t do enterprise sales, but just sell to SMB and enterprise departments, so that means they’re not really competing against other BI vendors. A lot of the analysts on the call quickly jumped on that, pointed out that even one of the largest companies openly talks about its strategy of land and expand. “Just land” is not a long term strategy.

What’s that mean?

Right now the enterprise market is very fragmented, so there’s a space for a small company, but that won’t last long. Crystal Reports had a long run based on the technologies of the day, but it no longer is independent. Today, things are changing far more rapidly. The cloud is allowing BI firms to address small to global companies with similar products and the major players (and most smaller ones) are focused on that full business market.

Given the current product, JInfonet can go one of two ways. They can decide to completely focus on OEM, keep a technical message and just sell enterprise as it happens.

The other option, one I openly prefer, is that they realize that they have a very good product that does compete in the direct model and they need to focus more messaging. They can still provide to OEM, but that’s easier – it’s a subset of the full featured message.

The solution, though, resides in the folks who weren’t in Boulder: The founders. The company has been self-funded since 1998 and the founders are used to their control. I’ve seen companies fail because owners were unwilling to see that times have changed. They mistakenly think that pivoting markets says they did something wrong in the past, so they’re hesitant. It doesn’t say that, but only that the people have enough confidence to adapt to a new market with the same energy and intellect with which they addressed the original market.

JInfonet has great potential, but it will require a strong rethink and clarification of who they are in order to convert that to kinetic. From what I’ve seen of the product and two people, I hope they succeed.

Tableau at the BBBT: Strengthening the Business in Business Intelligence

Tableau was back at the BBBT last week. Last year’s presentation was a look ahead at v8.2. The latest visit was a look back at 2014 and a focus on v9.0. Francois Ajenstat, VP Product Management, was back again to lead us through product issues. The latest marketing presenter was Adriana Gil Miner, VP Corporate Communications.

Tableau Revenues

Ms. Gil Miner opened the morning with the look back at last year. The key point was thestrength of their growth. They are not only pleased with the year-over year growth, but thechart also shows last year’s revenue as a slice of revenue over Tableau’s lifetime. We’ll leave it simply as: They had a good year.

Another point in describing their size is that Adriana said they have 26,000 customer accounts. Some confusion with a later presentation number required clarification and this isn’t users, or even sites. We were told that the 26k is the number of paying company accounts. There were no numbers showing median account size or how far the outliers are on either extreme, but that’s a nice number for the BI space.

The final key point made by Adriana Gil Miner was localization. Modern companies almost all create products using unicode or other methods that allow for language localization, but Tableaus has made the strong push to provide localized software and data sets in multiple languages. My apologies for not listing them, there’s some weird glitch with my Adobe Reader that’s crashing only on their presentation while no other analyst is having the same problem, so I can’t provide a list. Please refer to your local Tableau rep for details.

Francois Ajenstat then took over. It was no surprise that his focus was on v9.0. He discussed it by focusing on nine points he views as key:

  • Access to more data sources
  • Answer more questions
  • Improve the user experience
  • Support analytics at scale
  • Performance as a differentiator
  • Support for mobile
  • Tableau Public redesign
  • Coming out next quarter

If you look at those, you might question why that many bullets? For instance, when it comes out is just a schedule issue and doesn’t rise to the level of the others. Tableau Public’s redesign just seems to be the obvious end of focusing on better user experience and performance.

However, a couple sound the same but should be differentiated. Analytics at scale and performance improvements overlap but aren’t identical. Francois showed both what they did to improve performance on clustered servers, helping both bigger data sources and more simultaneous users, and also demonstrating that they’ve done some great optimization in basic analytics for individuals.

One of the best parts was the honesty, now that they’re close enough to releasing v9.0, in admitting that early versions ran slowly. They showed quotes from beta testers talking about major performance improvements. In addition, Tableau Public is a great source of testing real-word analytics. Mr. Ajenstat pointed out that they took the 100 most accessed visualizations in Tableau Public and analyzed performand differences, seeing a 4x increase in performance on average. While it’s always important to generate internal tests to stress potential use, focusing on how business really use the tool is even more important in ensuring performance is seen as good in day-to-day usage by knowledge workers, not only in heavy loads by analysts doing discovery.

LOD Expressions

The one thing that really caught my eye about v9.0 is the incorporation of Level of Detail (LOD) expressions. BI firms have been adding drill-down analytics for a decade. Seeing a specific level of detail and then dropping down to a lower level is critical. However, that’s not enough.

What’s needed is to be able to visually compare the lower level details with overall numbers. For instance, a sales VP regularly wants to know not just how an individual sales person is doing, but also how that compares to the region and national numbers. Only within context can you gain insight.

Among the other things LODs help is the ability to bin aggregates. Again we can turn to sales to think about retail sales across categories while also comparing those to total sales or in a trend analysis.

While many companies are working to add more complex analysis, it’s clear that Tableau hasn’t only looked at how a very technical person can create an LOD. They’ve worked on an interface, that from the demo, has a simple and clean interface that business end users can user. Admittedly, that’s what demos are supposed to do, but I’ve seen some try and fail miserably. This seems to be a good attempt to understand business intelligence with an emphasis of the first word.

Summary

Some of the very new startups make the mistake of thinking even the first generation BI companies are too old to innovate. Those companies aren’t and are still a threat. However, Tableau is not even in the first generation and is still more nimble yet. They have their eyes on the ball and are moving forward. Even more importantly, while still focusing on their technology, as do many startups, they seem to have become mature enough to start shifting focus from the IT and business analysts to the information consumers.

Understanding what the business knowledge workers throughout the business hierarchy need, in data and performance, is what will drive the next growth spurt. Tableau seems to have them in target.

ClearStory at BBBT: Good, But Still A Bit Opaque

Clearstory Data presented to the BBBT last week. The company is presenting itself as an end-to-end BI company, providing data access through display. Their core is what they call Data Harmonization, or trying to better merge multiple data stores into a current whole.

Data Harmonization

The presentation started with Andrew Yeung, Director of Product Marketing, giving the overview slides. The company was founded by some folks from Aster Data and has about sixty people and its mission is to “Converge more data sources faster and enable frontline business users to do collaborative data exploration to ‘answer new questions.’” A key fact Andrew brought up was that 74% of business users need to access four or more data sources (from their own research). As I’ve mentioned before, the issue is more wide data than big data, and this company understands that.

If that sounds to you like ETL, you’ve got it. Everyone thinks they have to invent new terms and ETL is such an old one and has negative connotations, so they’re trying to rebrand. There’s nothing wrong with ETL, even if you rationalize its ELT or harmonization, it’s still important and the team has a good message.

The key differentiator is that they’re adding some fundamental data and metadata to improve the blending of the data sources. That will help lower the amount of IT involvement in creating the links and the resulting data store. Mr. Yeung talked about how the application inferred relationships between field based on both data and metadata to both link data sources and infer dimensions around the key data.

Andrew ended his segment with a couple of customer stories. I’ll point out that they were anonymous, always something in my book. When a firm trusts enough to let you use its name, you have a certain level of confidence. The two studies were a CPG company and a grocery chain, good indications of ClearStory’s ability to handle large data volumes.

Architecture

The presentation was then taken over by Kumar Srivastava, Senior Director of Product Management, for the architecture discussion.

ClearStory at BBBT - Architecture slide

ClearStory is a cloud service provider, with access to corporate systems but work is done on their servers. Mr. Srivastava started by stating that the harmonization level and higher are run in-memory on Apache Spark.

That led to the immediate question of security. Kumar gave all the right assurances on basic network security and was also quick to transition to, not hide, the additional security and compliance issues that might prevent some data from being moved from inside the firewall to the cloud. He also said the company suggests clients mask critical information but ClearStory doesn’t yet provide the service. He admitted they’re a young firm and still working out those issues with their early customer. That’s a perfectly reasonable answer and if you talk with the company, be sure to discuss your compliance needs and their progress.

Mr. Srivastava also made a big deal about collaborative analytics, but it’s something everyone’s working on, he said nothing really new and the demo didn’t show it. I think collaboration is now a checklist item, folks want to know a firm has it, but aren’t sure how to use it. There’s time to grow.

The last issue discussed by Kumar was storyboards, the latest buzzword in the industry. He talked about them being different then dashboards and then showed a slide that makes them look like dashboards. During the demo, they show as more dynamic dashboards, with more flexible drilldown and easy capture of new dashboard elements. It’s very important but the storyboard paradigm is seriously overblown.

Demo

The final presenter was Scott Anderson, Sales Engineer, for the demonstration. He started by showing they don’t have a local client but just use a browser. Everyone’s moving to HTML5 so it’s another checklist item.

While much of the demo flew by far too quickly to really see how good the interface was, there was one clear positive element – though some analysts will disagree. Based on the data, ClearStory chooses an initial virtualization. The customer can change that on the fly, but there’s no need to decide at the very front what you need the data to be. Some analysts and companies claim that is bad, that you can send the user in the wrong direction. That’s why some firms still make the user select an initial virtualization. That, to me, is wrong. Quickly getting a visualization up helps the business worker begin to immediately understand the data then fine tune what is needed.

At the end of the presentation, two issues were discussed that had important relevance to the in-memory method of working with data: They’re not good with changing data. If you pull in data and display results, then new data is loaded over it, the results change with no history or provenance for the data. This is something they’ll clearly have to work on to become more robust.

The other issue is the question of usability. They claim this is for end users, but the demo only showed Scott grabbing a spreadsheet off of his own computer. When you start a presentation talking about the number of data sources needed for most analysis, you need to show how the data is accessed. The odds are, this is a tool that requires IT and business analysts for more than the simplest information. That said, the company is young, as are many in the space.

Summary

ClearStory is a young company working to provide better access and blending of disparate data sources. Their focus is definitely on the challenge of accessing and merging data. Their virtualizations are good but they also work with pure BI virtualization tools on top of their harmonization. There was nothing that wowed me but also nothing that came out as a huge concern. It was a generic presentation that didn’t show much, gave some promise but left a number of questions.

They are a startup that knows the right things to say, but it’s most likely going to be bleeding edge companies who experiment with them in the short term. If they can provide what they claim, they’ll eventually get some names references and start moving towards the main market.

As they move forward, I hope to see more.