Looker Blog : Data Matters

Why A Data Platform

Daniel Mintz, Chief Data Evangelist at Looker

Feb 19, 2019

The world of business data has changed radically in the past decade. That might seem obvious by now, but it is worthwhile to understand exactly why and how things have changed. On the supply side, there’s simply more business data than ever before. Not a little bit more or a lot more, either—VASTLY more.

The average enterprise today uses more than 1,000 cloud applications, plus custom enterprise software and transactional systems. All of those applications are data applications in that they capture huge amounts of data and produce clouds of data exhaust.

At the same time, today’s workforce is hungrier for data than ever before because they see the enormous value in it. Marketers want to know which campaigns bring in the biggest customers. Sales managers want to understand pipeline coverage. Warehouse directors want to optimize utilization. FP&A wants to improve their forecasts. Product Managers want to better track bugs. And on and on.

Given this explosion in both data supply and demand, businesses need tools to connect the two. In 2019, the horsepower needed to manage all of this data is available. From Hadoop and Big Data systems to cloud MPP data warehouses like Redshift, BigQuery and Snowflake, data infrastructure has undergone a revolution in the last decade. These advances have made it fast, cheap, and easy to query terabytes of data.

But business intelligence tools haven’t kept up. Designed in a world where slow, expensive databases ruled, they can’t fully leverage the recent innovations in data infrastructure. As a result, these tools make it impossible to give broad data access or guarantee everyone is aligned around the precise definition of key business metrics.

This hole in the market is why Looker was founded.

Leveraging Modern Technologies

Looker is built for modern data engines using modern technology. It brings together the most important software development paradigms including Git version control, full REST API coverage, and robust development workflows. With Looker, analysts and developers can build and maintain the powerful data tools that enterprises need to bring all that data supply to their employees.

At an architectural level, Looker is built for today’s ever-evolving data ecosystem. Looker natively connects to more than 40 different databases and fully leverages each of their unique data-processing capabilities. So rather than locking customers into a monolithic stack, Looker gives them the freedom to build a best-of-breed stack that meets their specific needs.

Looker also allows teams to confidently build their stacks knowing they can adjust them as the business grows and needs change. The same data models you build to analyze sales on your MySQL database can power large-scale analysis when you move to Hive or start building predictive models with Spark.

The Silos From Single-Use Solutions

Most customers come to Looker because they have problems that their BI tool can’t solve. But a few years ago, customers started coming to us after going down an entirely different path. After outgrowing the “analytics” tabs that most of their SaaS apps offered, these companies had been buying off-the-shelf analytics tools to meet each need.

Mixpanel optimized their website funnel. Splunk monitored their servers. Gainsight helped drive customer success. InsightSquared analyzed their sales funnel. Adobe managed their marketing spend. On top of that, everyone needed Excel to manually stitch things together.

This approach had its advantages. Each tool is purpose-built for the type of person who’ll use it. Plus, because each vertically integrated solution does it all—capturing, storing, querying, and presenting the data—customers can get up and running in days or weeks.

But the approach had clear drawbacks, too. For one, buying multiple, specialized tools is expensive. Because each of these tools is a proprietary, all-in-one solution, buyers are also locked in. If you decide to switch from Mixpanel to Heap, the data and insight you built up in one can’t be easily transferred to the other.

But by far the biggest danger of this siloed approach is that it won’t actually deliver the insights that teams benefit from most. The most valuable insights—the ones that can radically shift the trajectory of a business—come from combining data. And that’s precisely what silos prevent.

When your server monitoring identifies a slew of errors in your ordering flow, it helps you find and fix them. What it doesn’t tell you: whether the errors impeded customers’ orders; the lost orders’ impact on the bottom line; any updates you need to make in your supply chain; and which impacted customers deserve a discount code for their trouble.

The only way to get 360° of insight into your business is unifying your data. That’s what a data platform does, and it’s how we see more and more customers using Looker. Looker provides a common data surface—a unified layer that brings together data from all your sources, transforms it into the insights you need, and sends those insights to whoever needs them, wherever they are.

A Platform For Purpose-Built Experiences

Looker isn’t a point solution that just serves one department or one industry, but a flexible suite of tools that can be used to make sense of any kind of data. Want to map website sessions to people on your marketing list and customer loyalty data? Looker can do that. Want to see how events in the sales process impact customer support and customer retention? Looker can do that too.

But all that technical capability needs to be married to intuitive, purpose-built interfaces that help people in every role. That’s why we’ve moved beyond traditional BI and are investing so much in Looker’s data platform.

Powering agile business intelligence and traditional dashboards is still a core part of what we provide to our customers. But by embedding and delivering analytics and insight wherever you need it—from dynamic pricing engines to machine learning models to customer lookup interfaces—we’re helping people in every role be more informed and effective.

With the Action Hub and custom visualization framework, we’re providing the hooks to make Looker the data engine that drives all the other applications you use. Plus, we’re building purpose-built data applications to address specific workflows, and giving you the tools—REST APIs, the Looker Blocks® Directory, and a powerful application framework—so you can build your own intuitive data experiences. Data experiences that make it possible for everyone in your company to do the best work of their careers.

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