Put yourself back in the late 80s for a moment. Someone in the office needs to send a booking confirmation to a car rental company, supply chain partner or maybe even some quasi-non-governmental think tank that nobody’s heard of yet. With the age of the telex network gently slipping away, most users would have turned to look for the company fax machine.
But even the clunky old (occasionally loved, oft-loathed) fax machine would have its day. This was 1989 and the first release of Lotus Notes email had arrived as the predecessor to the golden age of email that shone throughout the 1990s, with Hotmail arriving in 1996 and many other ‘webmail’ stalwarts that we now take for granted such as Gmail and beyond.
People quickly got used to the idea of communicating via the never-quite-perfected standard that is email and a new die was cast.
Waves of Sea-Change
These so-called sea-change, paradigm-shift, platform-progression (call them what you will) developments often happen roughly every decade in information technology; users adopt new platforms, systems, form factors and products when their use case fits a core requirement in life, business, or both.
That same type of shift is happening in data and data analytics argues analytics cloud company ThoughtSpot. The organisation used its annual user, developer, customer and partner convention in Las Vegas this year to explain where its platform is extending, but perhaps more deeply, the company also used it as an attempt to validate the shape of the tide in this next sea-change movement.
ThoughtSpot’s mission centres around a thoughtful (pun not necessarily intended) move to put data analytics tools in the hands of practically every employee – and, deeper, into users’ hands inside educational institutions and nonprofits.
According to Ajeet Singh, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman for ThoughtSpot, the proliferation of cloud, mobile and new data sources over the last ten years have set the stage for transformational change for every business and sector in society. Now, the rise of new technologies like AI, Web3 and 5G are taking this transformation further than ever before, creating what he calls ‘a generational shift’ in power brought about by the way we use and interact with data at its core.
“The more we talk to customers, the more it’s clear they need an entirely new experience layer for data analytics if they want to realise the potential of the modern data stack,” says Singh.
Singh suggests that data analytics tools built for desktops thus far typically deliver comparatively static visualisations. Mostly detached from real time data workflows and live information streams, these analytics technologies generally require a copy of data to be moved from a database, to an analytics engine, which then subsequently feeds a data visualisation ‘dashboard-style’ presentation layer.
Dashboards are Dead
But dashboards are dead, claims the company’s promotional T-shirt pile at ThoughtSpot Beyond 2022. “They simply won’t cut it in the current decade of data,” explains Singh.
There’s our platform shift moment then i.e., if old school data dashboards are being consigned to the past, then we need to think about live analytics with simplified Google-like search for every user (within appropriately demarcated policy guidelines to govern information access privileges) as the new tier here.
This basic description explains ThoughtSpot’s technology proposition. Just as the move to the Apple iPad represented a change in form factor (in this case the actual physical shape and form of a device), this is what ThoughtSpot CEO Sudheesh Nair calls a change in the form factor of data analytics itself. It is ‘Google for numbers’ rather than words, pictures, maps or cat videos.
A Data Culture in Every Company
Where all of this work points to in the context of this story is the idea that every company will now develop a ‘data culture’. This term is meant to describe a human-level understanding and adoption of data analytics as a normal tool in the workplace. Just email came into all of our lives, Data Analytics as a Service differentiator now comes into all our lives from the cloud, at scale… and charged by the power of AI to make data search smarter.
Arguably nobody knows the shape of this shift better than ThoughtSpot’s Chief Data Strategy Officer Cindi Howson. With a job title somewhat perfectly scripted for this analysis, does Howson think we’re at the tipping point as data scientists now work to ‘operationalise’ data analytics for all of us to use?
Her answer is yes, but with gusto. In discussions at ThoughtSpot Beyond 2022 itself, Howson agreed that absolutely, every company (in every vertical) can now embrace the reality of a working functional data culture, perhaps, by the end of the decade, but in many cases, it is sooner, if not now. Current ThoughtSpot customers already evidencing this kind of work include hugely popular American chicken restaurant Chick-fil-A, German scientific conglomerate Siemens, CapitalOne and Coca-Cola. UK-specific customers include Nationwide Building Society, Robin Hood Energy, Iotatech (insurance) and Clarity (travel).
Experience is Not Enough
Where does this discussion – and Howson’s thoughts in particular – take us going forwards? “In an analogue, slow-moving world, intuition and experiences might have formed the basis for much decision-making because data was not readily available and the transactions were few. However, in a fast-paced digital world, there is no way experience alone is enough,” argues Howson.
She offers the example of a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company processing orders on a website and shipping inventory to a long-tail of distributors and customers around the world. These digital interactions mean that data is the only way to truly know and track the customer, the product and the supply chain. As organisations invest in programmes that celebrate evidence-based cultures and data fluency, data will not be this scary, technical thing. Instead, she argues, a data culture will be expected and recognised as the language of the business.
The message from Howson and team is simple: data plus experience is the winning combination in a digital economy. ThoughtSpot has also highlighted research conducted by Harvard Business Review, which found some 86% of business execs saying their frontline workers need better tech to make data-driven decisions.
“This requires a deliberate, dedicated approach to change management and the adoption of new processes at an organisational level, which remains the largest hurdle (44%). So first, we’re going to see those organisations only pretending to be data-driven rise and then spectacularly fail. Some have good data, technologies and the right minds making models and setting a smart agenda, but that key part, culture, doesn’t match up. That causes friction, slowing and then seizing up an otherwise well-executed analytics programme,” surmises Howson.
On the immediate road ahead, ThoughtSpot is working to now support AWS Redshift serverless. This move means that users can use its Modern Analytics Cloud to run and scale analytics on AWS without having to provision and manage data warehouse clusters.
The firm is also working with Snowflake on its technologies related to data warehousing, data lakes, data engineering, data science and data application development. It has forged a connection to the Snowflake Data Marketplace. To enable ThoughtSpot users to use the new Snowflake Data Explorer application, a software tool designed to create insights from third-party data that may reside in the Snowflake Data Marketplace.
Future Data Analytics Prototyping
Truly looking forwards, we will now see data scientists prototyping new kinds of AI-driven ML-enriched data analytics use cases for us. But this is not a top-down only technology stream with the C-suite and the IT function driving all of the plays. Given that we are democratising data analytics from the start here and aiming to foster a data culture, this is bottom-up user-driven development too.
If you’ve ever been just about to send a telex, feed through a fax, hit send on an email or call the old-fashioned data science team for some slow-moving number crunching, or perform some other post-millennial IT action or function, stop and think for a moment about the sexier future that might lie in wait.
Forget IT paradigm shifts, your next tech shift could be altogether more culturally enriching.
Featured image courtesy of ThoughtSpot.