Tag Archives: big data

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.

TDWI Best Practices Report on Hadoop: A good report for IT, not executives

The latest TDWI Best Practices Report is concerned with Hadoop. Philip Russom is the author and the article is worth a read. However, it has the usual issue I’ve seen with many TDWI reports, very strong on numbers but missing the real business point. In journalism, there’s an expression called burying the lede, hiding the most important part of a story down in the middle. Mr. Russom gets his analysis correct, bit I think the priorities or the focus needs work. It’s a great report to use as a source by IT, it’s not a report for executives.

Why am I cranky? The report starts with an Executive Summary. The problem is that it isn’t aimed at executives but is something that lets technical folks think they’re doing well. It doesn’t tell executives why they should care. What are the business benefits? What are the risks? Those things are missing.

First, let’s deal with the humorous marketing number. The report mentions the supposedly astounding figure that “Hadoop clusters in production are up 60% in two years.” That’s part of the executive summary. You have to slide down into the body to understand that only 16% of respondents said they have HDFS production. It’s easy for early adopters to grow a small percent to a slightly larger small percentage, it’s much tougher to get a larger slice of the pie.

Philip Russom accurately deals with why it will take a bit for Hadoop to grow larger, but it does it past the halfway point of the article. Two things: Security and SQL.

Executives are concerned that technology helps business. Security ensures that intellectual property remains within the firm. It also ensures that litigation is minimized by not having breaches that could be outside regulatory and contractual requirements. Mr. Russom accurately discusses the security risks with Hadoop, but that begins down on page 18 and doesn’t bubble up into the executive summary.

So too is the issue of SQL. After writing about the problems in staffing Hadoop, the author gives a brief but accurate mention of the need to link Hadoop into the rest of a business’ information infrastructure. It is happening, as a sidebar comment points out with “Hadoop is progressively integrated into complex multi-platform environments.” However, that progress needs to speed up for executives to see the analytics from Hadoop data integrated into the big picture the CxO suite demands.

The report gives IT a great picture of where Hadoop is right now. As expected from a technical organization, it weighs the need, influence and future of the mystical data scientist too highly, but the generalities are there to help mid-level management understand where Hadoop is today.

However, I’ve seen multiple generations of technology come in, and Hadoop is still at an early adopter phase where too many proponents are too technical to understand what executives need. It’s important to understand risks and rewards, not a technical snapshot; and the later is what the report is.

IT should read this report as valuable insight to what the market is doing. It’s, obviously, my personal bias, but the summary is just that, a summary. It’s not for executives. It’s something that each IT manager will use for its good resources to build their own messages to their executives.

MapR at BBBT: Supporting Hadoop and still learning

I’ve probably used this in other columns, but that’s life. MapR’s presentation to the BBBT reminded me of Yogi Berra’s statement that it feels like déjà vu all over again. Wait, if I think I’ve done this before, am I stuck in a déjà vu loop?

The presentation was a tag team effort of Steve Wooledge, VP Product Marketing, and Tomer Shiran, VP Product Management.

The Products and Their Aim

The first part of the déjà vu was good. People love to talk about freeware, but mission critical solution won’t be trusted on such. Even before Linux, before Unix, software came out and it took companies to package it with service and support to provide constancy and trust for widespread IT adoption. MapR is a key company doing that with Apache Hadoop, the primary open source technology for big data applications.

They’ve done the job well, putting together a strong company that, quite reasonably, has attracted some great investors and customers. Of course, because Hadoop is still in its infancy, even a leading company such as MapR only mentions 700 customer, companies paying for licenses; but that’s a statement about big data’s still fairly limited impact in operational systems not a knock on MapR.

Their vision statement is simple: “Empowering the As-it-happens business by speeding up the data-to-action cycle.” Note the key: Hadoop is batch oriented and all the players realize that real-time analysis matters for some key sales and marketing applications. Companies are now focusing on how fast they can get information out of the databases, not what it takes to get data in. A smart move but only half the equation.

One key part of the move to package open source into something trusted was pointed out by Steve Wooledge. When the company polled customers about why they chose MapR, the largest response was availability, the up time of the system. Better performance wasn’t far behind, but it’s clear that the company understands that availability is a critical business issue and they seem to be addressing it well.

Where the déjà vu hits in a not-so-positive way is the regular refrain of technologists still not quite getting business – even when they try. This isn’t a technology problem but an innovator’s problem. When you get so wrapped up in the cool things you’re doing, you think that you need to lead with the cool things, not necessarily what the market wants.

One example was when they were describing the complexity of the MapR packaging. Almost all the focus was on the cool buzzwords of open source. Almost lost in the mix was the mention that their software supports NFS. It was developed more than 30 years ago and helps find files on networks. That MapR helps link both the latest and the still voluminous data in existing file systems is a key point, something that can help businesses understand that Hadoop can be integrated into existing systems and infrastructure. However, it’s not cool so the information is buried.

The final thing I’ll mention about the existing products is that MapR has built a nice three product suite, providing open source, mid-tier and full enterprise versions. That’s the perfect way to address the open source conundrum and move folks along the customer curve.

Apache Drill: Has it Bitten Off Too Much?

Sorry, couldn’t help the drill bit reference. Tomer Shiran took the later part of the presentation to show off Apache’s latest data toy, Apache Drill, intended to bridge the two worlds of data. The problem I saw was one not limited to Tomer, MapR or even Apache, but to all folks with with what they think of as new technology: Over hype and an addiction to revolutionary rather than evolutionary words and messages. There were far too many phrases that denigrated IT and existing technology and implied Drill would replace things that weren’t needed. When questioned, Tomer admitted that it’s a compliment; but the unthinking words of many folks in the industry set out a pattern inimical to rapid adoption into the Global 1000’s critical information paths.

Backing up that was a reply given to one questioner: ““CIO of one of the largest tech companies said they can’t keep doing things the same way.” Tech companies tend to be bleeding edge by nature, they do not represent the fuller business world. More importantly, the idea that a CIO saying she needs to change doesn’t mean the CIO is planning on throwing out existing tools that work. It means she wants to expand and extend in a way to leverage all technology to provide better decision making capabilities to the rest of the CxO suite.

Another area of his talk finally brought forward, through a very robust discussion, of one terminology issue that many are having. Big data folks like to talk about “no schema” but that’s not really true. Even when they modify the statement to be “schema on read” it’s missing the point.

They seem to be confusing fixed layout, relational records with the theory of schemas. XML is a schema for data exchange. It’s very flexible and can be self-defined, but it’s a schema. As it came from SGML, it’s not even the first iteration of flexible schemas. The example Mr. Tomer gave was just like an XML schema. Both data source and data recipient have to know some basic information such as field names in order to make sense of data, so there’s a schema.

Flexible schemas not only aren’t new, they don’t obviate the need for flexible schemas. They’re just another technique for managing the wide variety of data that business wishes to turn into information. As long as big data folks misusing a term and acting as if they have something revolutionary, the longer they’ll retard their needed incursion into IT and business information.

Summary

Hadoop and big data aren’t going anywhere except forward. The question is at what speed. There are some great things happening in both the Apache open source world and MapR’s licensed support for that world, but the lack of understanding of existing IT and business is retarding adoption of the new and exciting technologies.

When statements such as “But the sales guy won’t do X” are used by folks who have never been in and don’t understand sales, they’re missing the market. Today’s sales person is looking for faster and more accurate information, and is using many tools people would have said the same thing about only ten years earlier. In the meantime, sales management and the CxO suite who provide guidance for the sales force are even more interested in big picture information coming from massaging large data sources.

The folks in the new arenas such as Hadoop need to realize that they are complementary to existing technologies and that can help both IT and business. When pointing that out, I was asked by one of the presenters if that meant he should do two case studies, one with Hadoop, flexible schema and one with old line uses, I gave a clear no. It should be one with new and one that shows new and existing data sources combining to give management a more holistic picture than previously possible.

Evolution is good. MapR can help. They need to do the tough part of technology and more their view from what they think is cool to what the market thinks is needed.

Revolution Analytics at BBBT: Vision and products for R need to mesh

Revolution Analytics presented to the BBBT last Friday. The company is focused on R with a stated corporate vision of “R: The De-facto standard for enterprise predictive analytics .” Bill Jacobs, VP, Product Marketing, did most of the talking while Steve Belcher, Sales Engineer, gave a presentation.

For those of you unfamiliar with R as anything other than a letter smack between Q and S, R is an open source programming language for statistics and analytics. The Wikipedia article on R points out it’s a combination of Scheme and S. As someone who programmed in Scheme many years ago, the code fragments I saw didn’t look like it but I did smile at the evolution. At the same time, the first thing I said when I saw Revolution’s interactive development environment (IDE) was that it reminded me of EMACS, only slightly more advanced in thirty years. The same wiki page referenced earlier also said that R is a GNU project, so now I know why.

Bill Jacobs was yet another vendor presenter who has mentioned his company realized that the growth of the Internet of Things (IOT) means a data explosion that leaves what is currently misnamed as big data in the dust as far as data volumes. He says Revolution wants to ensure that companies are able to effectively analyze IOT and other information and that his company’s R is the way to do so.

Revolution Analytics is following in the footsteps of many companies which have commercialized freeware over the years, including Sun with Unix and Red Hat with Linux. Open source software has some advantages, but corporate IT and business users require services including support, maintenance, training and more. Companies which can address those needs can build a strong business and Revolution is trying to do so with R.

GUI As Indicative Of Other Issues

I mentioned the GUI earlier. It is very simple and still aimed at very technical users, people doing heavy programming and who understand detailed statistics. I asked why and was told that they felt that was their audience. However, Bill had earlier talked about analytics moving forward from the data priests to business analysts and end users. That’s a dichotomy. The expressed movement is a reason for their vision and mission, but their product doesn’t seem to support that mission.

Even worse was the response when I pointed out that I’d worked on the Apple Macintosh before and after MPW was released and had worked at Gupta when it was the first 4GL language on the Windows platform. I received as long winded answer as to why going to a better and easier to use GUI wasn’t in the plans. Then Mr. Jacobs mentioned something to the effect of “You mentioned companies earlier and they don’t exist anymore.” Well, let’s forget for a minute that Gupta began a market, others such as Powersoft did well too for years, and then Microsoft came out with its Visual products to control the market but that there were many good years for other firms and the products are still there. Let’s focus on wondering when Apple ceased to exist.

It’s one thing to talk about a bigger market message in the higher points of a business presentation. It’s another, very different, thing to ensure that your vision runs through the entire company and product offering.

Along with the Vision mentioned above, Revolution Analytics presents a corporate mission to “Drive enterprise adoption of R by providing enhanced R products tailored to meet enterprise challenges.” Enterprise adoption will be hindered until the products reflect an ability to work for more than specialist programmers but can address a wider enterprise audience.

Part of the problem seems to be shown in the graphic below.

Revolution Analytics tech view of today

Revolution deserves credit for accurately representing the current BI space in snapshot. The problem is that it is a snapshot of today and there wasn’t an indication that the company understands how rapidly things change. Five to ten years ago, the middle column was the left column. Even today there’s a very technical need for the people who link the data to those products in order to begin analysis. In the same way, much of what is in the right column was in the middle. In only a few years, the left column will be in the middle and the middle will be on the right.

Software evolves rapidly, far more rapidly that physical manufacturing industries. Again, in order to address their enterprise mission, Revolution Analytics’ management is going to have to address what’s needed to move towards the right columns that mean an enterprise adoption.

Enterprise Scalability: A Good Start

One thing they’ve done very well is to build out the product suite to attract different sized businesses, individual departments and others with a scaled product suite to attract a wider audience.

Revolution Analytics product suite

Revolution Analytics product suite

They seem to have done a good job of providing a layered approach from free use of open source to enterprise weight support. Any interested person should talk with them about the full details.

Summary

R is a very useful analytical tool and Revolution Analytics is working hard to provide business with the ability to use R in ways that help leverage the technology. They’re working hard to support groups who want pure free open source and others who want true enterprise support in the way other open source companies have succeeded in previous decades.

Their tool does seem powerful, but it is still clearly and admittedly targeted at the very technical user, the data priests.

Revolution Analytics seems to have a start to a good corporate mission and I think they know where they want to end up. The problems is that they haven’t yet created a strategy that will get them to meet their vision and mission.

If you are interested in using R to perform complex analysis, you need to talk to Revolution Analytics. They are strong in the present. Just be aware that you will have to help nudge them into the future.

Webinar Review: Big Data addressed poorly

I’ve been in computing business for almost thirty five years, but until this year it was always working for vendors or systems integrators. As a newly minted analyst, I’ve stayed away from very negative reviews. I’ve watched a few bad webinars recently and made the choice not to blog about them. However, as I’ve seen more and more, I’ve realized that doesn’t help the industry and I can’t remain silent.

On Tuesday, I watched a webinar by David Loshin, President of Knowledge Integrity, and Ramesh Menon from Cray. It was not pretty.

Let’s take, for instance, David Loshin’s five points for big data:

  • Plan for scalability
  • Go heavy on Memory
  • Free your applications from the Hadoop 1.0 Execution Model
  • Real-time ingestion and integration
  • Feed the SQL need

The first item has been around since client/server application first came to the fore. Big data has grown, in part, because of its ability to scale large volumes of data. This is nothing new.

Memory? It was a great point years ago, with Tableau and others having pushed it for quite a while. However, the last year or two we’ve been hitting the limits of pure memory solutions and I’ve seen a number of presentations from vendors focused on better integrating memory and disk depending on data latency needs. David’s statement that ““We will start seeing more applications using memory rather than disk,” is wrong. We’ll see more applications better leveraging memory, but disk isn’t going anywhere.

The Hadoop organization’s release of Hadoop v2, YARN, is a clear indication of the limitations of 1.0 and why people have also been talking about it for years. However, in the presentation, leading with 2.0 would have been better than again being a laggard about the known issues with 1.0. Either people use Hadoop and already know the issues or haven’t yet used it and will start with 2.0.

It’s not real-time ingestion the critical issue and I would have liked to see him focus more on the second half of the fourth bullet. Real-time extractions of information are moving much more rapidly than the ability to integrate it with the rest of corporate information and to provide analytical to that information.

David’s final point is the only timely one. People have recently begun to remember that evolution is easier than revolution and I’ve seen a number of vendors begin to focus on providing access to the new data sources via SQL. A lot more people providing business insight to corporations know SQL and that needs to be made available. Ramesh Menon said it better, but the point is here.

The biggest problem I had was with Loshin’s forward looking statement. I’ll almost ignore that nonsense about data lake, he’s not the only one busy trying to use a new, supposedly fancier, term for the ODS, but I’ll mention it anyway. The issue was that he claimed he saw data management moving away from the data lake as we move to in-memory. Really? The ODS isn’t going anywhere. It’s nonsense to thing that every bit of corporate information needs to reside in memory, just in case it might be needed. The ODS is becoming the central source of all operational and business data. Individual business intelligence tools and needs will drive in-memory usage for near real-time needs of specific departmental, divisional or corporate level analytics needs, but there will always be a non-memory source for all that information in order to provide consistency, appropriate levels of control and to handle data governance issues.

Now we turn to Ramesh Menon. His presentation was better than David Loshin’s, but not by much. I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for someone who puts himself forward as a voice of the industry to not understand the difference between a premise and a premises. Considering he used premise correctly in his presentation, it was terrible that it was used three times before that while describing “on-premise” computing. Everyone in our industry needs to sit down, focus and practice saying the right word.

His customer use case was a very jumbled story and an overcrowded slide with the main point being “the customer had a lot of data.” I wouldn’t have guessed. He needs to talk more about solutions, how Cray address the data.

As mentioned above, Ramesh had a very clear point about the difference between data scientists and business analysts being one reason that Hadoop 2.0 is important. The move from batch to lower latency access is part of the difference between a data scientist, someone wanting to be the priest at the temple, and a business analyst, a much larger group working to provide wider access to business information. Updating Hadoop is critical to the ability to keep it relevant.

That was a key point, the problem is that Ramesh isn’t the analyst, he’s Cray’s spokesperson. The discussion shouldn’t have been about generalities but about how Cray must have focused on Hadoop 2.0 for the Urika-XA appliance – but that wasn’t made clear. It was in the data sheet images plopped into the presentation, but reasons and results should have been openly discussed.

I’ll end with the one very interesting point from Mr. Menon’s presentation. He had a slide where he discussed four phases in the analytics pipeline: ETL, algorithms, analysis and visualization. His point is that there are very different resource requirements for each phase of the pipeline. This could be an entire presentation itself and Ramesh could focus and expand this, explaining how Cray helps to address part or all of those requirements to help present Cray to the industry.

Summary

The analysis got a couple of things right, but was mostly too late or wrong. The corporate presentation didn’t clearly link Cray to the issues involved. Both presentation halves were far to generic and descriptive with almost no descriptive takeaways. Furthermore, you could tell that neither presenter seemed to have put much time and effort into the webinar by both the content and presentation styles.

People need to learn that “there’s no such thing as bad press” is only something said by entertainers. It’s not enough to have a webinar to get your name out there. Lots and lots of companies are doing that. Thought needs to go into the presentation and practice needs to go into delivery.

There were some good tidbits in the presentation, but overall it was a mess. I was very disappointed in the hour that I lost.

WhereScape at BBBT: Another Intriguing Product Without a Clear Message

Last Friday’s BBBT presentation was by Michael Whitehead, CEO, WhereScape. The company seems to have a very interesting and useful product, but there’s a huge communications gap that needs to be addressed.

What They Do

One marketing issue to start was that I got most of this section from my own experience and WhereScape’s web site, not from Michael’s presentation. When someone begins a presentation by proudly announcing it is ““guaranteed there’s no corporate marketing in the presentation at all” while you’re presenting to a group of analysts, there’s a disconnect and it shows.

WhereScape has two products, Red and 3D, to help build and maintain data structures. The message is focused on data warehouses, but I’ll discuss that more in the next section. One issue was that their demonstration didn’t work as there seemed to be a problem connecting between their tablet and the BBBT display system, so much of what I’m saying is theory rather than anything demonstrated.

Red is their tool to build data warehouses. Other tools exist and have been around for decades, Informatica being just one competing firm.

3D is where the differentiation comes in. Everyone in IT understands that nightmare that is upgrading major software installations such as ERP, CRM and EDW systems. Even migrating from one version to the next of a single vendor can involve months of planning, testing and building, followed by more months of parallel runs to be safe. A better way of analyzing and modifying data structures that can compress the time frame can have a large positive impact upon a corporation. That’s what WhereScape is attempting.

What They Say

However, their message is all “Automation! Automation! Automation!” and the short part of the demo that worked showed some automated analysis but a lot of clicks necessary to accomplish the task. From what I saw, it will definitely speed up the tasks, if as advertised, with clear time and money savings, but it’s not as automated as implied and I think a better message is needed.

In addition, their message is focused on data warehouses while Michael said “We’re in the automation business not the data warehouse business,” which really doesn’t say anything.

Michael did talk for a bit about the bigger data picture that includes data warehouses as part of the full solution, but again there’s no clear message. While saying that he doesn’t like the term Data Lake, he’s another that can’t admit that it’s just the ODS. There’s also a discussion of the logical data warehouse, also not something new.

One critical and important thing Mr. Whitehead mentioned was something I’ve heard from a few people recently, the point that Hadoop and other “unstructured databases” aren’t really unstructured, they support late binding, the ability to not have to define a structure a priori but to get the data and then understand and define a useable structure for analysis.

What They Need to Say

This is the tough one and not something I’m going to solve in a short column. The company is targeting a sweet spot. Data access has exploded and that includes EDW’s not going away, the misnamed concept of Big Data and much more. Many products have been created to build databases to manage that data but the business intelligence industry is still in the place packaged, back-end systems were in the 1990s. Building is easier than maintaining and upgrading. A firm that can help IT manage those tasks in an efficient, affordable and accurate way will do well.

WhereScape seems to be aimed at that. However, their existing two-fold focus on automation and data warehousing is wrong. First, it doesn’t seem all that automated yet and, even if it was, automation is the tool rather than the benefit. They need to focus on the ROI that the automation presents IT. Second, from what was discussed the application has wider applicability than just EDW’s. It can address data management issues for a wider area of business intelligence sources and the message needs to include that.

Summary

Though the presentation was very disjointed, WhereScape seems to have focused on a clearly relevant and necessary niche in the market: How to better maintain and upgrade the major data sources needed to gain business understanding.

Right now, while there is a marketing staff at the company, WhereScape’s message seems to be solely coming from the co-founder and CEO. While that was ok in the very early days, they have some good customer stories, having led with Tesco’s success in this presentation, and it’s time to leverage a stronger and clearer core message to the market.

Where the issue seems to be is the problem I’ve repeatedly seen about messaging. The speed of the industry has increased and business intelligence is, on a whole, crossing Jeffrey Moore’s chasm. That means even younger firms need to transition from a startup, technically focused, message to a broader one much more rapidly than vendors needed to do so in the past.

While WhereScape has what seems to be the strong underpinnings of a successful product, they need to do some seriously brainstorming in order to clarify and incorporate a business oriented messaged throughout their communications channels – including in presentations by founders.