Interview: Jonathan Becher, CEO and President, Pilot Softwareby
With business intelligence (BI) fast rising up the corporate agenda, it looks feasible that the long awaited entry into the mainstream might finally happen. But how will it make its entry? Will it be through specialist players or through already mainstream applications vendors that add BI functionality to their existing CRM capabilities?
One other question of course is what we mean by BI which has become a somewhat convenient catch-all phrase to cover a mutitude of technologies, including analytics and potentially performance management. If we take the latter definition, then one of the significant names to consider will be Pilot Software.
"It is the nature of things that terminology is blurred," suggests Pilot CEO Jonathan Becher. "BI is analytics, but that form of BI is about digging through mountains of data to find out what has happened in the past. It’s driving forward with your attention focused on the rear view mirror. It’s not about telling you what’s going to happen with your business, which is what is really useful obviously.
"In addition, most BI doesn’t offer context. BI is all about hard facts and data, not about the context of the questions that produced that data. It doesn’t provide what people need which is goals, a programme that tells them how to get to those goals and then, and lastly, some metrics to measure success. BI is broken!"
Which is where performance management comes in. Its focus is on creating methodical and predictable ways to improve business results, or performance, across organisations. Simply put, performance management helps organisations achieve their strategic goals. Rather than discarding data accessibility, performance management harnesses it to help ensure that an organisation’s data works in service to goals to provide information that is actually useful in achieving them.
“You start by calculating what it is that you need to or want to accomplish.So in a call centre environment for example, do you want to reduce customer churn, increase customer satisfaction or improve cross-selling? Once you know that, then you can decide what data it is that you need to pull together in order to achieve that goal. If you just capture data without knowing what the goal is, then you just end up with lots of data. You also need to bear in mind that the kind of data that the HR department is going to need will be differnet to that of marketing as will their goals. They have different goals and will have different processes to pursue.”
Becher argues that the changing nature of modern organisations assists in achieving these objectives due to the breakdown of their traditionally hierarchical natures. The decentralised organisation does better because there is a commitment to other groups in the organisation.
There will also be changes in the market. Already CRM vendors, such as Siebel, offer built-in analytics capabilities. This evolution will continue, reckons Becher. "In 5 to10 years, every vendor will be a BI vendor. Everyone and everything will be subsumed in BI and analytics," he argues. "But we are not really BI. Our fundamental goal is to optimise the harnessing of data for business ends. Over the next 5 years or so there will be a corporate mentality that is less of 'do it faster' and more about do it more strategically."
This is the space in which Pilot plays. The company’s approach has won analyst approval. "Performance management continues to advance as a business approach that brings together people and processes to improve business results," notes Mark Smith, analyst with Ventana Research. "However, successful performance management requires software applications that can support it. Unfortunately most applications today try to assemble metrics by collecting data from every system in the enterprise.This is difficult if not impossible to do because the data the applications seek is scattered across many sources and stored in formats that require intervention by business professionals before they can be compared."
The flagship offering from Pilot in this respect is PilotWorks 2006. "The suite makes it possible to create an environment in which it is straightforward to gather data from existing systems," explains Smith. "Enabling management to examine projected analytics and determine whether improvements are occuring will help management to determine where further changes need to be made.For data management and access, organisations can now convert data in spreadsheets into files held on servers and driven by databases or into forms and datasheets that are easy to manage."