When Nick Caldwell joined Looker as chief product officer in October, he found a business intelligence and data infrastructure built on the premise of increased data warehouse and cloud computing adoption over time.
In June, Google Cloud announced its intent to acquire Looker. Following regulatory approval, its service will roll into Google Cloud's infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platform as near-universal adoption of the cloud leads to more data-driven industries.
Looker and Google Cloud, now jointly, are playing a field marked by integration and interoperability. Looker will remain available to users regardless of which IaaS platform they're on.
"Providing enough flexibility and freedom is a common strategy," said Caldwell, a former Microsoft and Reddit executive, in an interview with CIO Dive. "That bonds us together."
Looker's acquisition by Google Cloud, as well as Salesforce's purchase of Tableau, signals three key trends in the business intelligence market: Data analytics is more ingrained in daily workflows, connects with more software as a service (SaaS) platforms and runs on more modern infrastructure.
But the future of BI will depend on vendors' ability to present differentiated BI tools to the enterprise in a format that resonates with them, and can equip all parts of an organization with data analytics capabilities.
1. Data goes to work
The flow of our daily life, from a last-minute Amazon purchase to the GPS-suggested routes taken to work, generates endless streams of data.
At the office, the same is happening, with data driving an increasing number of decisions.
In turn, data-dependent roles are emerging at companies across industries, Caldwell said. Business intelligence is "becoming operational in a way that anyone can use it."
Though, for some companies, this abundance of data has led to "analysis paralysis," according to Mukul Krishna, digital media global head of practice at Frost & Sullivan. Data is part of their process, but isn't yet helping describe or predict their outcomes.
"Most companies don't even visualize it," Krishna said, in an interview with CIO Dive. "They think they're doing something with data but they aren't."
2. SaaS applications abound
The pervasiveness of business intelligence pairs well with the rise in enterprise SaaS applications.
By the afternoon, Caldwell has used between 10 to 12 apps as part of his workflow.
"Looker as a whole uses 140 apps," he said. "Just think about how easy it is for people to sign up for an app."
In an average large enterprise, employees user more than 200 SaaS applications, according to SaaS management company Blissfully.
Synergy Research Group research found one-fifth of enterprise software spend is going to SaaS.
One example is the spike in collaboration software adoption, now viewed as the new normal in connected workplaces. Companies like Microsoft — which has 13 million users on Microsoft Teams — stand to capitalize on their reach with new ways to connect that user base with BI capabilities.
The downside to the uptick in SaaS adoption is that many of these apps become a data silo of their own, Caldwell said.
3. Modern infrastructure
Even when compared to just three years ago, modern massively parallel processing (MPP) data warehouses like Snowflake are bigger and faster, Caldwell said.
The evolution of this technology is letting companies make faster analyses by transforming data right in its warehouse.
All these elements are shaping a market where vendors will need to convince customers that their BI solution, and no other, can have a meaningful impact.
In a consolidating BI market, basic capabilities like database connectivity and data ingestion, security and data visualization have become the bare minimum, said Boris Evelson, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, in a recent report.
"As a result Forrester no longer evaluates all features of BI platforms but only what we consider differentiated capabilities," Evelson said. "Increased technology maturity and decreasing differentiation between BI platforms are driving the latest round of M&A in this market."
One way vendors can make their case is through the way insights are presented, not only to analysts, but to employees across an organization.
Features like Slack integrations and natural language processing, which offer more constrained but lightweight way to run queries, are becoming more appealing to staffers, Caldwell said.
"The future of BI won't be a BI tool," Caldwell said. "The future of BI is finding ways to empower everyone in the organization with data. Instead of having a dashboard, it's about pulling the data out of the platform and putting it into something people are more familiar with."
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Google's intended acquisition of Looker has not yet closed.