Solving BI’s overcrowding problem


Mark Cunningham explains why the BI market is so crowded yet innovation is lacking.

Does the world need another analytics platform? The business intelligence (BI) market is undeniably crowded. Before launching our data analytics platform Stytch last month, my team liked to joke about becoming Yet Another BI Company (or ‘YABIC’ for short). And while it’s true that there seems to be a new analytics company popping up every week, we believe that there is not only room, but a clear market need, for greater innovation in BI. Here’s why…

Despite its maturity, the BI market is increasingly fragmented. We have yet to see a true market leader emerge with a single end-to-end solution for business teams (as opposed to IT teams) to manage their entire BI process. Many BI platform vendors have focused on improving the front-end of the BI process (reporting and visualization) but still have complex, technical data preparation tools for connecting, blending and modeling data, on the back-end. In some cases, the pure visualisation companies have no data preparation capabilities at all but rely on partners to fill the functionality gaps.

On the flipside, many of the vendors that have dug deep into trying to simplify the complex world of data preparation have sacrificed the reporting and visualization components completely. It leaves businesses in the tough position of having to choose between purchasing a single platform that handles their end-to- end BI needs but likely leaves data preparation in the hands of technical teams, versus purchasing multiple solutions that provide the best available self-service tools at every stage of the BI process but introduce additional expense and agility problems as a result of breaking up the analytics workflow across different solutions.

Getting insights from raw data has always been a complex business filled with technical challenges. It’s an ugly truth of BI that data is inherently messy. Thanks to the ‘SaaSification’ of the enterprise, data sits all over the business in different applications, in multiple formats, and maintained by different people. Stitching together that data for analysis has always been a complicated process. For this reason, BI has never truly been consumerised unlike in other enterprise software sectors. It’s widely recognised that adoption of BI has remained stuck at around 25 per cent for the past decade due to the complexity of the tools required, particularly around preparing data for analysis. For most companies, the process of consolidating, blending and relating data from multiple places across the business in order to do timely analysis continues to be the responsibility of the IT team, or in rarer cases, a time-consuming job for dedicated, technical data teams. According to the New York Times, data scientists spend from 50 per cent to 80 per cent of their time buried under the labour-intensive task of collecting and preparing unruly data before it can ever be explored.

Innovation is clearly still needed on making data preparation tools that are powerful enough to handle the complexity and variety of business data but simple enough to be used by business users—the people who actually use the data to make decisions. However, separating the complexity (the math) of BI from the business execution is simply a hard problem to solve. As a result, new analytics vendors continue to enter the market to address one aspect of BI, to try and simplify one bit of the process, while neglecting the other areas. The market has become fragmented, companies are using a multitude of BI tools to try and meet their needs, and there remains a large tooling, time, and skills chasm between the technical teams that prepare data for analysis and the business teams that eventually explore it.

However, we have reached the point where businesses are starting to look at consolidating their BI tools in an effort to achieve the same (or better) results with fewer technologies. I believe that over the next few years the general-purpose BI platform is going to be back in fashion as businesses demand end-to-end solutions that empower teams to get rapid insights from their data at a departmental level, as well as enable overall business performance reporting. Business leaders want to close this chasm between the technical teams and the business teams and the most cost effective and efficient way to achieve it is by using a single platform. I predict we’ll see some acquisitions in the BI space over the next two to three years as companies that have focused on the visualization side of the equation look to fill their gaps in data preparation, and vice versa. It won’t happen fast, however, and the path to creating a single, cohesive analytics experience through the convergence of technology platforms is likely to be challenging and produce mixed results.

As for current end-to-end BI platforms, clearly more innovation is needed to address the market demand for a fully self-service analytics platform that can be used by business teams for every step of the BI process – from data to dashboards. The market remains fragmented because although incremental improvements are being made, no-one is yet knocking it out of the park.

Which brings me to why I launched Stytch.

Stytch is an end-to-end data analytics platform for business teams. Without sacrificing sophistication for ease of use, or neglecting data preparation in favor of dashboarding, Stytch provides a one-stop-shop for business teams to get more insights out of their data, regardless of where that data sits.

One of the ways we’re innovating in the data preparation space is by connecting to the world’s largest business database from Dun & Bradstreet. This uniquely connects business teams to a global database of 250+ million business records directly from their analytics environment so they can much more easily match, validate and blend diverse business data before analysis. There isn’t another analytics company in the world that offers both a complete set of analytics capabilities as well as data. It’s an approach that has the potential to be game-changing for the industry as business teams increasingly need to be able to prepare their data rapidly and then analyse it with confidence in the underlying data quality.

The BI market is showing an intense demand and growing quickly. Investment in analytics companies is on the rise, in recognition of the huge opportunity for innovation. As traditional BI players lose ground, demand for more sophisticated self-service tools goes up, and enterprises are increasingly willing to look at the new breed of cloud-based, agile BI vendors to meet their data needs, we have the perfect environment for disruption in the industry.

We’re excited to be a part of it.

Mark Cunningham is founder and CEO of Stytch, a data analytics company based in Vancouver, BC. Cunningham is a thought leader and entrepreneur with more than 25 years’ experience in the business intelligence (BI) industry. He has been on the founding team of four successful analytics startups, including Indicee and Crystal Services.

Cunningham’s passion for solving data problems with technology began in 1991, when his family business began building the world’s first Windows-based reporting tool, Crystal Reports. Crystal grew to employ over 2000 employees and was eventually acquired by Business Objects for $820 million. Cunningham later founded cloud BI company Indicee, which was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet in 2014 to form the Dun & Bradstreet Cloud Innovation Center.

Cunningham launched Stytch in 2016 as the only analytics platform on the market that connects to the world’s largest commercial database from Dun & Bradstreet. Stytch provides business teams with everything they need to get more insights, faster – from data preparation to dashboards.