ITís Role in Providing and Supporting Business Intelligence: A Spotlight Q&A with Ken Chow of LogiXML

Originally published October 29, 2012

This BeyeNETWORK spotlight features Ron Powell's interview with Ken Chow, CMO of LogiXML. Ron and Ken discuss a recently completed LogiXML BI/IT survey and how LogiXML helps address the business-IT disconnect.
Ken, LogiXML recently completed a survey of business intelligence from the IT perspective. Before we get into the results of that survey, can you tell us when the survey was conducted and how many responses you received?

Ken Chow:
We conducted the survey in the beginning of July, and we had more than 700 respondents.

I understand that you took a somewhat humorous approach to the questions. What was the reasoning behind that approach and why did you conduct the survey.

Ken Chow:
Well, we had a serious reason and then I'll discuss sort of the humorous approach. The serious reason is that for LogiXML, one of the key constituents that we work with in our market is IT. Our whole claim to fame is providing IT far greater productivity in one of their biggest areas of pain Ė creating and serving information apps for business end users, a lot of which we traditionally called business intelligence (BI). It's an ever-increasing problem, and because we live so close to IT, we really wanted to get their perspective on BI because the business end user perspective is what dominates the headlines. Everybody talks about the wonderful gains everyone gets when people are able to make intelligent decisions by having the right data. I donít think there's anybody who disagrees with that, and I donít think there's anybody who isnít sold on the efficacy of doing that for any business. But what you donít hear a lot about is how IT is solving this Ė or in many cases not solving this Ė and what kind of headaches this has created upstream and downstream in those environments that are preventing it from actually happening at the rate many people would expect?

Because we solve that problem and because we are so close to it on the IT side, we felt it was important to stake our claim in really being closer to understanding that end of the problem. The reason that we took the humorous slant on it was, in part, because of our customers. When we talk to them and they describe their problems to us, they often talk about how business end users are always changing their minds, or how the higher-ups often think that IT can just do more with less without fully appreciating or understanding the day-to-day struggles IT takes on.

We wanted to give it a humorous spin because a lot of it, quite frankly, lends itself to humor but also because it's important for us to not just point out a problem, but to point out potential solutions. The constituency we deal with, technical people, tend to have great senses of humor because it's sort of the way they have to look at the world because on a regular basis, we ask these people to do an awful lot without fully understanding ourselves what it is we're putting them up against.

Why do you think there's such a significant gap between IT and the business users?

Ken Chow: That's a great question. I think part of the gap occurs because the rate at which people are beginning to demand this information is growing exponentially. That's why we have the BI market; that's why it's one of the fastest growing segments in software. The other part that works to create that problem is that we have simply assumed that IT will take care of it. Typically, business users assume there must be a solution in place and donít understand why they can't immediately get what they request. The fact of the matter is that there arenít that many agile ways to do this stuff. Thus as the speed and the demand increases without IT having or at least knowing about a lot of options that make it easier for them to do it, you have this ever-increasing conflict. Add to that the fact that even if they find a solution, let's say they go to a traditional solution, these traditional solutions typically arenít able to adapt to changing business requirements, and that only adds to the problem. This big demand for BI is bad enough, but the fact that those requirements constantly change has put IT sort of on the hot seat.

When you look at the business intelligence industry, most companies are now focusing on business intelligence analysts and users. Why is LogiXML so focused on IT?

Ken Chow: It has to do with our value proposition. A lot of BI companies, including us, can produce fine visuals and analytics and so forth. We all take different approaches to it. In our particular case, we understand that at the end of the day you still have to have a system, there still has to be data stewardship, and without question this becomes IT's problem. So we're really going to the source implementers and providing them their weapon of choice in what is not a single project, but is going to be an ongoing burden for companies of all sizes. BI is not a one-and-done kind of proposition. These things are going to keep coming up, they're going to keep changing, different apps are going to be needed, different adaptations are coming along. So we think that we're really getting ahead of the game and serving the key implementer better than a lot of the other competitive solutions. Thatís why we focus on IT. Weíve now had 14 straight quarters of record growth so itís obvious that message is definitely resonating for us.

Do you think IT will always play a significant role in providing BI?

Ken Chow: No question about it. I think if you ask any number of CEOs, they all would want to try to do more with less. They would all like to have less required investment from IT. But you canít get around the fact that in business intelligence you have to get to the data, you have to have stewardship around the data, and you have to tailor things to what business users need. Now it would be great if there were solutions that allowed all those things to happen in the hands of business users, but I certainly haven't seen any evidence of that. There are a lot of wonderful desktop applications that business users like. Unfortunately, a lot of them donít provide the flexibility and the integration with systems to really make them a complete solution.

At the end of the day, IT is definitely going to be owning this problem and they're not going to go anywhere. It's sort of like the analogy we've put out before about the BI chocolate cake problem. IT has this problem of serving up what essentially amounts to all these different types of chocolate cake to a lot of impatient kids, i.e., their business end users, and they can't go out and buy big BI because that's like buying the whole factory. It's really expensive and takes forever. If they try to use toolsets, that's like baking from scratch every time and its difficult for them to redo it without starting all over again. Maybe they try desktop products, but that has the potential to make a mess of your data and it gets really, really expensive. So in essence, we're going to those cooks and giving them the greatest cake mix in the world so they can keep everybody happy. They can make all the different things they need to make, but it's not such an onerous proposition to change it, to do it again and to adapt moving forward. IT's going to have their fingers in business intelligence from now until forever.

Were there any findings that really surprised you in this survey?

Ken Chow: It wasnít really surprising. It confirmed a lot of thinking we've always had that we've never seen reflected in the industry information. As an example, we asked how many times business users changed their minds about what they wanted before the project was completed. Over 50% said that business users never know what they want or that business users donít know what they want until after the project is completed. Now, that's pretty startling because if you're relying on your IT department to bring a vital deliverable and IT is saying you donít know what you want, thatís a big problem. We saw a lot of findings that indicate this disconnect. For us, again, itís confirmation of what we already knew, but I think the fact that this gap exists should be alarming for everybody who's doing BI. Itís no surprise to us, but maybe it will be a surprise to others as they move forward trying to get BI functional across their companies.

Ken, I would concur that most business users have a general idea of what they want initially, but their perspective often changes once it is delivered.

Ken Chow: I think that's right. To be fair to business end users Ė of which I'm one Ė sometimes you really donít know what you want until you have something to push against, until there's a straw man. As long as IT and business go into it hand-in-hand with that understanding, that's great. And as long as IT has a way of reiterating, that's great. We have reviews with our customers after theyíve had our product for at least six months to one year. They tell us that one of the biggest gains they experience is that they are able to adapt applications after the first go-round in order to improve them. I think you're right. People have to have something to push against and thatís why the reiterative nature of developing these apps is critical.

Ken, based on the data you've collected, are trends such as mobile BI and ďbig dataĒ hype or reality?

Ken Chow: Ultimately, I think they're all reality. It's just the time schedule under which they're going to be realized. People were talking about mobile years ago, but really started to gain steam maybe two years ago. And now, quite frankly, we're seeing a lot of regular deployments of mobile. We expect the same thing to happen with big data. Both of these are inescapable macro trends. The smartphone isnít going anywhere. The tablet isnít going anywhere. They're just going to keep growing. I donít see the big data problem as hype. I donít see that as a temporary thing. Thatís a problem thatís simply going to increase due to the velocity of data. Everyone's talked about it, but now it's starting to become a very practical problem for companies Ė starting with B2C simply because the numbers they're dealing with are so huge. And now it's really coming home to roost in B2B because the data sets and the data you're able to capture on your customers and prospects is getting too big to manage. I see these both as reality, it's just a question of when theyíll be issues for every organization.

Right now we are seeing regular implementations in mobile, and we are starting to see big data not as a curious question, but as an important checkmark.

That pretty much parallels what we see too. It seems mobile has really become the next major platform for BI. I think we're in the earlier stages of big data, and I think you're right that over the next two or three years we'll see a greater adoption and a greater role for big data. Now when it comes to BI, how does LogiXML help IT with big data?

Ken Chow: The whole idea of big data is to reduce an immeasurably large problem to a tractable set. In practical terms that means that big data is there to do the mathematical heavy lifting, but you still need a human being to analyze the data. That's where LogiXML comes in. We're able to produce these types of analyses and visualizations, but the unique way that we do it that gives us an advantage is that we can run directly against that big data product without having to build any kind of intermediate model or data warehouse. A lot of traditional solutions can't do that and ultimately defeat the purpose of big data by forcing this very time-consuming intermediate step. Big data is supposed to add agility to formerly intractable problems. If you have to set up a big complicated system, youíve lost the whole point of being able to get to this data quickly. What we were able to do by virtue of our architecture is allow IT to very quickly generate applications, reports, and visualizations against big data sources without having to go through those intermediate steps Ė and to change them, adapt them, and run them again the next day if things change.

Ken, if someone wanted to access the survey is there a way that they can get to it?

Ken Chow: They can find it on our website at http://www.logixml.com/2012-bi-survey. They not only will find the aggregate data, but also the raw data for people who want to do their own slice and dice of the information. It will be anonymized. Obviously, we donít share any of our respondent's identifiable information, but we're happy to provide the data set to anybody else who wants to take a careful look.

Are you planning to conduct this survey on a regular basis?

Ken Chow: I think we'll probably be doing surveys like this on a regular basis. We'll be going out to IT professionals and asking for their opinions regarding trends and the gap between IT and the business.

Ken, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about LogiXML, the business-IT gap and your recent survey.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron, an independent analyst and consultant, has an extensive technology background in business intelligence, analytics and data warehousing. In 2005, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.† Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). Ron also has a wealth of consulting expertise in business intelligence, business management and marketing. He may be contacted by email at rpowell@wi.rr.com.

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel. Be sure to visit today!

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