Here's an interesting concept to consider: If 80 percent of the data your enterprise is using was created in the past year, it means your enterprise is created four times more data in the past year than in its entire history before then.

That’s pretty good, right? Sure it is ... but only if you can get useful business insights from that data.

So how do you do that? Southard Jones, vice president of product strategy at Birst, is unambiguous about it. You need to focus on the business user, he said.

Judging by its position in this year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence as a borderline Challenger — Leader and  its position as a Leader in Nucleus’ market survey of business intelligence, Birst is doing just that and gaining some impressive market traction in the process.

It’s not that there aren’t other vendors doing the same. But Birst has been really pushing out the boat over the past year or so, as well as nailing down some interesting partnerships with the likes of Salesforce and Marketo.

Last month, it announced it had extended its partnership with NetSuite. The deal: it offered a free express edition of Birst Cloud BI to NetSuite users, which will be embedded in the main NetSuite interface. The offer created a bit of a stir and drew a lot of attention.

To find out what this is all about and what Birst is doing, we turned to Jones. We asked him about the business intelligence market generally — and how Birst, as a smaller, agile vendor, is surviving in a market dominated by a handful of BI gorillas.

Birst  Analtyics Sales Pipeline.jpg

Birst Analtyics Sales Pipeline

Jones explained that the "free" edition runs Google-like searches, which will throw up useful recommendations and insights based on data available through NetSuite. It’s not just BI analytics. Its agile and business user-friendly analytics that enables enterprise workers get the insights they need to carry out daily tasks.

However, this is more than just some kind of groovy love-in with NetSuite. It’s part of Birst’s ongoing drive to expand its reach across the entire enterprise.

BI Market Moves

A recent Gartner report, Market Share Analysis: Business Intelligence and Analytics Software, 2013 showed spending on BI is falling off. It also showed that at least half of the action in the BI space was controlled by smaller vendors, like Birst. In fact, according to Gartner’s Dan Sommer, the market is at a tipping point.

As the market shifts gear, we see a series of tipping points in 2014 that will accelerate adoption, but it may come from a different place. These tipping points are that half of BI and analytics spending will be business driven, half of new license spending will be driven by data discovery requirements, and half of organizations will consider deploying BI in the cloud, at least tactically.”

Gartner added that other, smaller vendors that offer analytics to manage the explosion of new information sources have been getting a lot of attention and experienced considerable growth over the past year, even if they created a smaller market footprint individually.

This was confirmed by February’s Magic Quadrant for BI, which showed Birst as one of the only two vendors in the Challengers that have moved close enough to the Leaders’ quadrant to eliminate most of the differences between them and the BI giants.

The progress it has been making in the market was confirmed only last week when it took the highest ranking in the Emerging Business Intelligence Vendor in the 2014 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study.

Birst channel marketing.jpg

Birst channel marketing

Data Access

But what’s Jones' take on all this? The core issue, he said, is data access as quickly and as easily as possible. However, data is not an end in itself and if the initial objective is to provide data access, the ultimate goal is to offer users business insights from that data. However, the kind of people that are looking for those insights is changing. He explained:

The people that are looking to access data and carry out analysis on it, is not your traditional financial analyst, or the data scientist. It’s the business user, product manager, or marketing manager. It’s basically people that are not doing anything too complex but who are just trying to answer basic business questions and those questions are becoming increasingly data driven. That’s where the [business intelligence] demand is coming from. If you are looking to explain why analytics is hot right now it’s not because of big data or small data. It’s because the average persona out there is becoming more data driven and they want to be able to access all the meaning in their data."

Agility and Governance

Jones echoed Gartner’s sentiments about the big, legacy vendors that are expensive, slow to deploy and not particularly attractive to enterprise departments, or small-to-medium (SMB) sized businesses that are looking for answers right now. There are two options available to companies at the moment, he said.

The first is that enterprises can go with one of the legacy guys. They can wait for a year and spend millions of dollars to turn on the platform, but after all that spend and all that time waiting, it [the BI platform] will already be obsolete by the time they turn it on.

It’s really painful. They’re great tools when they are actually up and running, but they’re way too heavy and slow to move at the speed of business today. You want to know what happed on LinkedIn today and yesterday, not what’s going to happen in three months. For most business users at the moment three months into the future is pretty much irrelevant.

The other choice is to go with the more discovery vendors. They’re basically BI on steroids and they’re great for business users, but the challenges is that they top out."

By this he means that while many of these vendors will provide basic insights into a single data set, if they want to mash it up with other data sets that are in their repository, then they are limited in what they can do.

These mash-ups, he points out, are an increasingly important aspect of business intelligence as more and more enterprises are using social media listening and data to work out what marketing campaigns worked, what ads contributed to bookings, and where orders are coming from.

It’s not just about orders it’s about the kinds of orders, or the kinds of people that came to an enterprise website. Business users want to know whether those that came to the site were big or small players, or whether they came back, whether they ordered a week later, what kind of products they ordered.

All these kinds of interrelated questions are not going to be answered by the e-discovery vendors as they just don’t have the architecture to do that. It’s in between these two extremes that we fit in."

If this kind of agility is one of the driving forces in the BI market, Jones warns against agility without responsibility, or governance.

Birst mobile analtyics.jpg

He says that business users are now demanding that all their applications are ‘agile applications because they’ve been offered a taste of agility by vendors like Birst and they like it. However, they also expect it along with the same kind of accuracy that they are used to getting with the larger systems.

Agility is definitely- a key driving force. The interesting thing about it is that business users expect agility now because they never had it before and they expect it to come with the same level of accuracy and completeness that they are used to [with legacy vendors]. That said, freedom without governance equals anarchy .If the pendulum swings completely to agility side that’s what you get. Somewhere in between is what Gartner calls governed data discovery. That’s what we provide."

BI Challenges

Finally, in answer to the question about the biggest challenges facing both users and vendors at the moment, Jones points out that many vendors forget that what they are trying to help enterprise with is improving business performance.

"After sifting through all the jargon, buyers need to ask themselves what business process they are trying to improve is, or what business case are they tackling. It’s not just doing analytics for the sake of it. That’s what data scientists do. Buyers often forget that though," he said.

The biggest problem for vendors, he says, is honesty with their customers. By this he means that they need to ensure that they are selling solutions that deal with the customers’ problems and not just selling technology for the sake of a sale.

Ultimately, the focus has to be the business user and customer success. Asked to point to one single thing that differentiates Birst from other vendors and he points to this. He said one of the keys to their ongoing development has been the creation of a specific team that focuses on the success of deployments.

By this he means that once the system is up and running they don’t just walk away. They follow-up to ensure that it successfully addresses the problem the customer originally came to them to solve. This has pushed Birsts’ business growth and something that is likely to push it into the future, he noted.