I have not written much about analytics and business intelligence of late because I have been busy on project work, and have become increasingly frustrated with what I have seen in the market place. Since Big Data became the technology of the moment in this space, it appears that vendors have once more reverted to selling technology, rather than solutions. I see so many people building Hadoop clusters, and pouring masses of data in, and then sitting back in expectation of some miracle to occur, with a great, breakthrough finding to spring out. Unfortunately, instead they face months of heart breaking technical toil, and very little that tells them very much that they did not already know. As I work on delivering BI solutions, and do not spend all of my life talking to analysts and marketers, I have a very different view of the world to most of the people who operate in this space.
Companies already have far more capability than they really know what to do with, and what they really need is not more capability, but better solutions. A solution is technology harnessed to address a clear and definable business problem, one which results in a readily realisable decrease in costs, or increase in profit, that is clearly sign posted and can be enacted without excessive cost.There is much talk about the need for data scientists, but they only exist in small numbers, and the process of identifying and educating them is not something that can be achieved readily. In the real world most of the big companies are desperately trying to cut costs, so they are not going to support costly education programmes, and are also reluctant to pay a premium for staff, even when the need can be demonstrated. The answer from business to their current perception of problems in technology is to move things off-shore to reduce costs. This is in despite of evidence that shows that the up front cost saving on day rates rarely translates into a real cost saving, because of the delays in delivering and the problems in communication, but if you do not look for those you will not see them.
So it came as a very pleasant surprise to see two solutions that are addressing the issues of business that I see every day with answers that match my criteria for a successful solution. They lie at different ends of the spectrum of BI capability, but I want to discuss them together because I feel they illustrate what for me is the way to go.
I have been looking at the GrayMatter dashboard solution for Aviation for a number of weeks. We are all used to vendors offering vertical solutions that illustrate a modicum of tailoring to a specific vertical, and them then offering consulting services to take the out of the box functionality and adapt it to your specific needs. This is all well and good, but is ultimately slow and therefore expensive. So it comes as a shock to see a dashboard that is comprehensive, and to then spend several sessions exploring just how comprehensive, and realising that this is an elegant solution, with great depth, allowing a problem to be drilled down into and explored as you would in real life and a not a just a demonstration of capability. GrayMatter are focussing on addressing the fundamental questions of What, Why, When, and Where? .
They have specific solutions for Airports, Insurance, Finance and Manufacturing; I spent my time looking at the solution for managing an Airport. GrayMatter, since their inception, realised that BI and analytics has to be more pervasive (everyone needs to be better informed), more visual (we are not all able to understand tabular data readily), closer to real time (we cannot wait weeks to find answers), and proactive (we need to intervene whilst issues are still hot and not comment after the event). They have worked very closely with Pentaho, who you will know if you have read past posts are a company I hold in high esteem, and have expanded their footprint to include BO and Oracle as well as ProcessMaker in the BPM technology. However technology is not their focus; what is, is enabling decision making, and enhancing collaboration. Dashboards are the most vital of tools: they bridge the divide between technology and the business.
I think many of the leading vendors are offering very good enabling technology, and have some impressive demo material, but rarely have I seen such a well realised dashboard environment as GrayMatter is able to show. I would encourage more people to look at what they are doing, and to think about how that could fundamentally change the way that BI and analytics is consumed within their organisation.
Over the last few years there has been a big opening up of the data mining market. Fundamental to this has been a shift in the core technology, shifting towards things like R that are used in universities and that allowed new entrants to establish a foothold. As the university students are trained in R there is a ready pool of talented, affordable skills to call upon. However, whilst many of these new entrants were very successful in helping to reduce the costs of these technologies compared to the established players, they still tended to play the same game of offering an enabling technology, which requires either your own pool of expensive data scientists to exploit, or the consulting arm of the vendor, or one of the big SIs to exploit. So these vendors were cheaper, but are still not really a breakthrough in terms of time and cost to a solution.
I first became aware of Guavus about a year ago, and was impressed because they were offering Telcos real solutions that I could recognise as things that I see being done everywhere time and time again with bespoke projects, with varying amounts of success. Their focus is on operational intelligence, focussing on real time, data-centric decision making. They are able to address the scale of Big Data, they address the need to integrate across multiple silos and streams of data, and they can do that close to real time. These are all attributes that people really need to be competitive.
Essentially, for me, Guavus do not just do discovery; it’s about action. So it's not just flagging that here is something that might be of interest; instead it's look at this! you need to do something, and do it now! So the sorts of use cases they can illustrate cover Marketing with detailed segmentations designed to drive highly targeted campaigns, their capability is addressing both the segmentation and the optimisation processes. The point is that only by doing that can the offers that are made be limited to those both with a clearly identified need and the highest likelihood to act.
In customer care they can show worked examples of the proactive identification of issues, and the use of the 360-degree view to improve loyalty and up sell. In both marketing and customer care they are showing that the key is precision and relevance. Its not just a list of more likely than not candidates, who should be interested in this at some point, it's clearly saying these are candidates because of these reasons and the time to act is now! In Network Operations they are focussing on time to resolve, by applying proactive problem solving, looking for faults that are about to occur rather than detecting after the event. In capacity and network planning their approach is based on the intelligent linking of devices and application usage to traffic patterns. Throughout the portfolio of use cases they can show there is a big focus on monetisation, which, with 4G, is a big topic. People are now using data so much, but that is historically a commodity that was virtually given away for free; so how do you get them to now pay?! The answer again is to focus on for the right things at the right time to the right people, so they are seen as valuable. To me this is closing the loop, it’s using the analysis to find the right action to find the right outcome. In these things real closed loop action orientated analysis I see Guavus as a real market leader.
Both of these vendors are showing the way that BI and analytics must evolve. It cannot just be about a vanilla capability, linked to expensive T&M consulting, it needs to offer focussed relevant out of the box functionality that provides a rapid return, by focussing on outcomes, not on technological enablers. I would recommend anyone looking at dashboards and analytics to take a look at these two vendors, and start to ask can my incumbents match that?