I’ve often referred to the Looker Platform as the ‘3rd Wave’ of Business Intelligence. But as I talk to more and more companies that are winning with data, I realize that Looker is more than just another wave of BI. It actually represents the end of what we’ve come to know as BI altogether.
BI started with monolithic stacks, reliable but inflexible. It was the era of the data rich and the data poor, where those without access to data starved as they waited (and waited and waited) for someone to finally have time to help them. That frustration led to the second wave: a revolution toward a hodge-podge of disjointed self-service tools where users grabbed whatever data they could lay their hands on and threw it into data cleansing, blending, and visualization tools for analysis.
But that revolution came at a cost. For all the advantages of do-it-yourself analysis, the tools created a mess of silos that didn’t talk to each other, and you lost the ability to speak in a common language with anyone else at your company. You could no longer trust that your interpretation of the data was the same as your colleagues’. Enter data chaos.
But Looker represents something new: that 3rd wave of BI. Where users can access whatever data they need, from one central source of truth that provides a shared language for the entire company. One platform, one tool…no more waiting, no more hunger, and no more chaos.
This is where the magic comes in. When people are no longer starving for data, new potential opens up in what they can imagine doing. The reactive reporting on historical data, owned by a single group within the company becomes obsolete. Data becomes how you do your job, not just how you measure it with dashboards. BI, as we know it, dies.
Once the technical and knowledge barriers break down, the responsibility of looking at the data moves beyond the BI team. Everyone can start asking and answering their own questions and integrating data into their everyday workflows.
Data is no longer just a place to find answers. It’s the place where ideas originate. With every employee looking at the same numbers, sharing the same truth, they’re able to collectively make smarter, more informed business decisions.
Counsyl, for example, runs their billing operations directly from Looker. Each member of their billing team logs in every day to see their personalized dashboard showing where their cases are in the payment pipeline. This isn’t what you’d normally think of a “data-driven job” but at Counsyl it is. And because billers have a deep familiarity with their processes and access to the data, they’ve implemented new optimizations to their billing funnel, bringing more revenue into company.
HubSpot’s sales team can see their progress towards goal right in Salesforce where they work every day. This isn’t a cute visualization and it’s not a vanity metric - it’s the data they need to know to do their jobs and stay motivated, and it’s right there where they need it to be.
Cobbling together a bunch of siloed, single-purpose tools that don’t communicate with each other will not feed the masses. We know what happens when you ask users to log into four different tools to get four different types of information. They don’t log into any of them.
But when the data lives in one place, users can embrace their curiosity. Data is where the question starts, gets answered, sparks another question, and grows.
That’s the only way data can really work. It can’t be a place that questions go to wait in line until they die. Dashboards and reporting are no longer enough. Organizations that want to move beyond reporting so they can use data to drive questions, answers and everything in between, are turning to a data platform.
For this future to exist, every employee, in every department, needs access to a comprehensive view of the data. Data has to be part of the very fabric of your company, woven into every moment of every day. Then, the assumption in every conversation is that every argument can be backed up with data.
Because fundamentally, the thing that’s changing isn’t the way companies do BI. It’s the way they do business. They’re throwing out the old way of guessing at a solution, then checking next month’s report to see how things turned out. They’re moving to true, iterative, agile data cultures.
The transition can be a little scary at first, but ask the companies that are winning how it’s working out for them. They’ll tell you they feel fine.