It’s an Appy, Appy World!

In Analytics, SaaS
L ast month, Salesforce.com announced its first Wave analytic application – not surprisingly, it is around sales analytics. This is yet another positive development in a rapid shift from analytic tools to apps – now adopted by one of the pioneers of cloud enterprise solutions. And, it comes as no surprise to many of us who have seen an accelerating shift to cloud analytic apps over the last two years. As a product manager early on at Siebel Analytics, I got an opportunity to bring to market one of the first such apps that delivered rapid insights to data-driven, go-to-market teams.

In case you are wondering what exactly an analytic application is, let me define what it means. Unlike business intelligence (BI) and scorecarding or KPI tools, an analytic application is a purpose-built, role-focused software solution that combines technology capabilities with domain-specific business process knowledge. In the case of Salesforce and its new app, the domain is CRM, the role is focused on the sales manager, and the goal is to deliver insights to sales managers that help them close more revenue.

Analytic applications are built on a strong foundation of standardized data that is sourced from widespread operational applications, which needs to be cleansed, integrated and aggregated. Data then leads to basic and advanced metrics (such as forecasted revenues, percent of quota achieved or the likelihood of closing a deal) that reflect the performance of specific business processes such as the sales pipeline execution. Finally, and building upon the metrics, analytic applications provide pre-built dashboards and workflows that guide the user along a path of data exploration or investigation.

With data transformation at the core, analytic applications then encapsulate domain best practices, the experience and knowledge of hundreds of customers as recorded by product managers and converted into the solution by app developers. It is shaped by the wisdom of domain pioneers and their hard-earned learnings. As a result, you get a highly distilled version of the industry knowledge on applying data to decisions. And, once you adopt such an app, you contribute your own ideas to the wisdom of the crowd.

So, it’s great that these apps package intelligence for specific roles. But, the best part is that they deliver it without encumbering IT organizations with a long and arduous project involving a jambalaya of analytic tools, technologies and data integration routines, and thousands of hours of services. If the operational business processes are about 75 percent standardized, why in the name of economic sanity, would anyone undertake a build-from-scratch effort? Pre-built and cloud-based analytic applications are deployed in a matter of few days or weeks, even in the most ridiculous cases of heavy customizations and extensions.

Like their operational counterparts, analytic application providers focus on leveraging technology, data sciences (aka mathematics) and their domain expertise to create targeted and role-based solutions. Companies can then focus on getting to “Eureka moments” using sophisticated visualizations, predictive analytic algorithms based on broad set of data.

In today’s cloud-first world, there are a number of startups that have taken this approach and are thus easing the path to epiphany for business users. Which is a great relief for users, as they have rapidly adopted specialized, cloud-based apps that have created islands of data which trap critical business information. Numerify took this approach to deliver analytic applications to a highly underserved market of IT business leaders. The solutions are purpose built to solve issues for business managers across IT services, assets, projects and finance, who largely relied on spreadsheets to get their daily dose of “Aha moments.” This was very ironic given that IT teams have been deploying BI/DW applications for their business brethren.

Other companies include Beckon, OrigamiLogic and Birst Marketing Analytics for marketers and FusionOps for supply chain owners. Some companies, such as Clari and Lattice Engines focus on solving specific problems within sales and marketing using social and predictive analytics. In all cases, they have identified a specific line of business and their data deluge as well as the business problem and come up with an analytics driven application.

All that said, there is still a place for BI tools, especially the cloud-based ones, for building analytic solutions internally that are in non-standardized process, such as core product and services. For example, a financial services company would need to build a bespoke solution that combines data from their teller system, core banking system and proprietary asset management systems. Similarly, retailers often build their own data warehouse to be used for pricing, assortment and promotional optimizations.

Analytic applications are redefining the analytics industry by changing the economics of how insights are delivered to business users and hiding the mysterious arts of data sciences under nicely packaged solutions. This is just the beginning and I suspect that there will be a lot many companies emerging in this area. If you are business leader who is still grappling with spreadsheets or old BI tools, there’s hope around the corner – nicely packaged as a cloud based application built just for you, by people like you!

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