As many of you know, I grew up as a BI and Data warehousing guy – I have implemented BI for a lot of users across the world . I have collected requirements from shipping clerks as well as CXOs , and in at least a dozen different languages. I have spent countless hours thinking and rethinking data models, how best to transform data and how best to present data to my users.
Along the way, I became a manager and then an executive, and thus became an active consumer of BI myself. But in the big companies like IBM and SAP that I worked at – I learned to live with someone else’s BI design. As far as I can remember, I never had to create significant new requirements . These were rather stable businesses that could be run with minor tweaks to existing BI capabilities.
And then few months ago, I joined MongoDB and my whole perspective on BI changed. We are for the most part still a startup. We don’t have a huge IT arm that can cater to endless requirements from me and other leaders of the business. Our IT landscape is almost completely SaaS based. If we can hire one more person – we would rather hire to fill a front line technical role to make the product and customer experience better, or a sales or channel type role to make the business better. For foreseeable future, I don’t expect that to change either.
We are a global business – and we are growing incredibly fast. And to keep that pace – we need good data, especially when it comes to customer facing business whether it is direct sales or channels (which I run) . Having grown up as a programmer and then a BI guy after that, I have a great affinity for making decisions by numbers. With the speed at which we grow and our lean policies, I don’t really have a lot of time to wait for information to see how things are going – which essentially means I need good quality operational BI at all times.
We use Salesforce.com for our CRM. I am a first time user of this solution – which might surprise a lot of people. My past experience with CRM has all been in Seibel and SAP CRM. The best part of salesforce.com was that I did not need any training to use it – none at all. My past experience was almost immediately transferable to use the system as a non-expert. My primary use is not as a transactional user who creates or updates opportunities etc. My main goal is that of gaining quick visibility into the aggregate opportunity to order process for channel business, with the ability to drill down into details as needed.
Once I got settled in my new role, and got to know my team better – my immediate priority was to get a full view of the global business. I mocked up initial requirements into spreadsheets and discussed it on phone with my partner manager Guillaume in Dublin, who is an experienced salesforce user. From my past consultant life – I estimated the effort required as a few months in the technologies I grew up with (assuming I got the most skilled people I could find). Next day morning, I saw Guillaume already had 3 dashboards ready for me which showed most of the information I needed. And then in 2 more daily scrums – I had the 6 dashboards I needed to view the business from every dimension I care about. That is much less than the time it would have taken me to write a proposal for a customer for this work in my past life.
What did I learn from this experience ?
A lot of good things for sure
1. Business users like Guillaume (and Luca, his boss who runs channels in EMEA for MongoDB) are better BI consultants than anyone I could have ever hired from outside. He not only knew the technology well, he knew my business well and could challenge my assumptions and give me new ideas. It has convinced me that rest of my team including me should step up our skills in salesforce.
2. The technology to build operational reports should be extremely simple so that business teams can iterate quickly. Till I saw it with my own eyes, I did not believe that it could be this easy.
3. From prior life as a programmer and a BI guy, I am well aware of the limitations in reporting – so I can minimize the churn in requirements gathering and make good compromises on what needs to be measured.
4. The simplicity of reports and the report writing technology – and my big time aversion to any transformations (having seen how data loses meaning way too many times) – helps us stay nimble and make changes on the fly.
There are also some areas of improvement of technology , which I am sure Alex Dayon and team will fix at some point, hopefully soon .
1. Charting and visualization is very limited – so when multiple graphs are put next to each other it is quite a strain to discern information quickly. Granted, the ease of changing things on the fly is more important to me than flashy reports.
2. Only 20 controls possible in a dashboard. I can compromise on it for now, but as business grows – this is a pretty serious limitation for me to get a global view across everything I need to monitor and act on.
3. Reporting across objects looks limited – but this could just be my lack of experience.
4. Operational reporting does not replace the need for a data warehouse . I still need some other place to combine the lead to order process with information from from Finance, HR etc. For my current purposes, I have work arounds – but if all the SaaS vendors for CRM, Finance, HR co-operated and built a BI solution to seamlessly provide me with integrated data – I will swipe my credit card happily to buy it.