Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pawn to King IV

I recently read (sorry it's in French ) that SAP and Jive had partnered up to offer BI in an Enterprise 2.0 context (aka enterprise social networking). The same happened in France with Dassault Systems and blueKiwi Software. I’ve also been following the new “BI for the masses” trend exemplified by offerings like PushBI and RoamBI. Then several weeks ago I saw the Google Wave presentation at I/O and thought to myself, geez wouldn’t it be cool if people could share and collaborate using data wavelets under management from a BI Wave “bot” dedicated to a specific community of users.

I think BI is on its way to becoming commoditized. I see it moving up from the technologists directly into the hands (and mobile devices) of the users. Years from now, people will look back on monolithic enterprise data warehouses and their infrastructures and wonder “how could people ever have lived like this?”

I think it’s really crucial for progressive companies in the BI space to ask themselves what their users will look like ten or twenty years down the line. It’s obviously important to understand current users, but doing so is relatively easy. Anticipating what today’s young people will purchase in 10-20 years as senior corporate buyers (and decision makers) is not so straightforward. But as today’s “kids” are the people you’ll be selling corporate BI to in the future, doesn’t it make sense to (1) analyze their mindset and (2) start reaching out to them now?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I worship Guy Kawasaki. In his book Reality Check, there’s a chapter called “Get a Clue: The Global Youth Market”. In it, he interviews Kathleen Gasperini, the cofounder of Label Networks. These folks analyze “global youth culture” for major corporations. It’s a fascinating read (as is most of the book).

You’re thinking great, what does selling Nike shoes or Levi Strauss jeans to kids have to do with pitching enterprise software to business intelligence users? I say a lot. Because if you understand the behavior and expectations of upcoming generations of BI buyers, you’ll understand your future BI customer and gain unfair competitive advantage in the process. Now, I don’t purport to understand current youth behavioral traits, but I do make the following subjective observations based on past experience.

Instant gratification. Immediacy has become a birth right. Expectations of “just-in-time” are prevalent in everything they do, purchase or share. I don’t think these people are the kind who will sit around the office waiting six months for a $4M BI project and associated resources to get provisioned, staffed, configured, and maybe then approved. These folks are going to want something up and running in days. Anyone not operating in the same timeframes will be left in the dust.

Social consciousness. Business is business, but “good” business wins points. A “good” business does not exist exclusively for pecuniary purposes. Making meaning (as Guy K. would say), as opposed to just making a quick buck, will matter. Being “green” will matter (not sure what that means but it’s a hot button). I know this sounds awfully naïve, but young people are experiencing the ability to “make a difference in the world” (something past generations may have missed out on) and respecting those who strive to do so. They’ll take that to the corporate world as well. Help them do so. They mean it.

24/7 Connectivity. Young people are constantly connected to the internet “matrix”. It’s a 24/7 world for them. Like an addiction, this isn’t a habit you casually kick with age. Accessing future BI buyers outside the realm of the “matrix” will be futile. Accessing or supporting users during “regular business hours” will get you laughed out of the market. Not reaching out to or monitoring social networks will be foolish at best. The thought of instant, always-on BI following users around on mobile devices 24/7 may make some people laugh, but this is how young people already live. There’s no reason they’ll leave this behind in the context of “the office” in years to come.

Do-it-yourself is the new mantra. Self-empowerment is alive and well. As Bob Marley used to sing, “when one door is closed, don’t you know, another is open”. Unless you provide the tools and infrastructure to “DIY” you probably won’t get much traction (we see this happening now with open source already). Empower users because they’ll be savvy and used to it.

The current economic turmoil and its endless revelations, combined with the technological advances that have shifted the way young people see, communicate with, and gauge the world around them, will translate into a new type of enterprise BI buyer in the coming decades. If I were running a BI company, I’d want to bring the “good word” into the schools now, and start cultivating my future clients in the dorms, in the research centers, in the classrooms and on their mobile devices.

I could be wrong on this, but my money is on the bet that the upcoming generation of BI buyers is an entirely different animal. In this business, like chess, it pays to think several moves ahead.

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