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Looker unveiled Looker 5 at its JOIN 2017 Data Conference in San Francisco today PHOTO: Chris Selland

When Looker opens its annual user conference JOIN 2017 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco today, 700 business intelligence (BI) enthusiasts will be in attendance to see what the latest version of the data platform, Looker 5, contains. 

The release comes on the heels of the 5-year-old Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company winning a place alongside BI giants like IBM, MicroStrategy, TIBCO and Qlik in the latest Forrester Wave for Enterprise BI Platforms

A 'Next-Generation' Data Platform

CMSWire spoke to Looker chief data evangelist Daniel Mintz to get the scoop on the new release earlier this week. Before going into specifics, it is worth reviewing what the BI platform is and does.

First off, Looker is a next-generation data platform that delivers data analytics and business insights to individual users, departments, applications and the enterprise as a whole. Users can then integrate the insights to support data-driven decision making in short order.

Analytics and data industry veteran Chris Selland, who currently leads strategic growth for Unifi software, told CMSWire that Looker approaches data in a heterogeneous way whether it is stored in legacy systems, data warehouses, the Cloud or in Cloud solutions like Salesforce or Marketo. Old school approaches to BI, according to Selland consisted of users making BI requests, IT preparing reports based on the requests and the information getting to analysts days or even weeks later, often after the moment of opportunity had expired.

Second generation BI solutions gave data querying power to analysts via their desktops which solved some problems but created new ones, such as five different users would come up with five different answers based on the data they used.

Looker's generation of BI products provide a single, consumer-like BI platform from which to glean insights almost regardless of where the data actually lives.

What's Inside Looker 5

That said, here is a high-level view of the innovations and advantages that Looker 5 will offer to its users when it is released in October. Note, most of the capabilities were available on Looker 4, but Mintz insisted there's a difference. 

“Looker 4 made things possible, Looker 5 makes them easy,” explained Mintz.

Looker Action Hub 

Getting from question, to data, to insight, to action in as few clicks as possible is a key to success in today’s always-on, competitive, data-driven world. That is what Looker’s Action Hub was designed to facilitate.

“It works by helping users find the insight, plug the insight into the opportunity and then taking action,” said Mintz. He cited an example in which a marketer wants to send pitches to individuals who had not made a purchase in six months. Looker can crunch the data and then deliver it straight into Marketo via middleware tools like Zapier or Segment. 

Similarly it could deliver them into Twilio which allows software developers to programmatically make and receive phone calls and send and receive text messages using its web service APIs. Direct delivery to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and others are available "out of the box."

Looker action hub
Looker Action Hub in Looker 5

Looker Blocks 

Looker 4 included the capability to build on the Looker platform. Looker 5 makes it easy via pre-built blocks. 

Viz Blocks, for example, provide 10 prebuilt visualization types out of the box. Data Blocks enable and make it simple to join a data analyst's data with data from weather and demographic data sets. Data Tools make it easy to provide highly curated experiences via a Google Analytics-like Web Analytics tool.

Mintz cited an example in which a ticket search engine, SeatGeek, combined its data with weather data and discovered that fewer people buy tickets (for future events) when the weather is bad. This data science effort took only two days.

Applications By Looker

In working with its customers, Looker discovered client sites were building many of the same applications. To save customers time and energy, Looker built solutions and workflows on and through Looker’s platform. Three of them are immediately available in Looker 5, Marketing Analytics By Looker, Event Analytics By Looker and IT/Operations By Looker.

Additional Enhancements

Looker customers will also find reasons to knock certain feature requests off of their wish lists including, but not limited to, a more powerful SQL runner, security enhancements, new landing pages, Druid support, 57 new statistical functions and more.