Last year at JOIN, Looker’s annual data conference, I talked about the three waves of BI.
The first wave started 30 years ago with monolithic stacks that were reliable but inflexible. You could only get answers to specific questions, but you could trust those answers. It was also the era of the data rich and the data poor, where those without access to data starved as they waited for someone to finally have time to help them.
That frustration led to the second wave: a revolution toward 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. Scattered 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. Enter data chaos.
Today, we’re in the third wave of business intelligence: the era of the data platform. In this new era, databases are fast so data can stay where it is, and users can begin to 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 for data, and no more chaos.
At this year’s JOIN conference we went deeper on the “Why”.
Why does this new wave matter?
Because this new wave, the third wave, is allowing companies to finally create data culture.
“Data culture” is a term we hear a lot. It describes the idea of everyone in an organization using data to make informed decisions rather than guesses based on a hunch or loud opinion. I remember talking to our first customers and they were telling us “Looker is changing our culture, we’re building a real culture based on data.” I turned to Lloyd, Founder and CTO of Looker, and I said, “We can never tell anyone that. People are going to think we’re crazy.”
But our customers kept telling us about this culture shift, and sure enough, we’ve actually seen it become real.
It’s becoming real because data is changing. It’s shifting from something that is used by pockets of the company to become something that is relied on throughout the organization. Data is finally driving conversations and decisions everywhere.
So what changed? How has the third wave changed cultures?
In hindsight, we can see that data bottlenecks and data chaos were holding people back. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: if you’re hungry you can’t focus on these higher value needs like self actualization.
If your people are hungry for data, then you aren’t fully actualizing your data’s potential in your organization. But what happens when the hunger for data is sated? It then becomes second nature to start asking more questions and expect to see data behind every decision. Then your culture changes.
When you put data in the hands of every person, not just the CEO or the CFO, allowing anyone to ask and answer their own questions with confidence. Then - and only then can - will you see this new data culture.
What’s even more interesting is that there is a new workforce emerging that is hungry for data and for this data-first environment. If the 1990s were about the Knowledge Worker, today is about the Instrumented Workplace, where people across the organization are plugged into all the data that drives the business. Whether it be Slack or Gainsight or Salesforce, Instrumented Workplaces are constantly connected. And this new workforce wants to use data to look for new efficiencies and new competitive opportunities to push the company to the next level. They are informing what they should be working on today by what the data is telling them, not by a hunch or by a directive from a HiPPo (Highest Paid Person).
These are people with titles like Growth Hacker, Customer Success Manager, and DevOps Engineer - all roles that we rarely saw even four or five years ago.
And the common denominator between all of this is data, which is running back and forth through all of these applications and workflows.
A data culture doesn’t happen on its own. This kind of change requires cultural leaders.
We see across our customers that the data people are becoming those leaders. These leaders are bringing data to meetings and using it to make and support their decisions. They’re responding to the questions of others with data that will not only answer the question but also inspire others to dig deeper, asking new questions and finding new answers and patterns. Being a data leader is not a title you see on a resume, it’s a way of working and inspiring those around you to work.