Confluent EMEA SVP, Richard Timperlake - ‘We’ve got technology buy-in, now it’s time to sell to the business’

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 2, 2024
Summary:
Confluent’s recent announcements put it in a position where it is now ready to take its data streaming story to the business side of the organization.

Vector business teams statistics with data. Concept of data storytelling with co workers. Business meeting in the open space office © hand idea - Shutterstock
(© hand idea - Shutterstock)

At the recent Kafka Summit in London, diginomica highlighted how data streaming vendor Confluent is seeking to unite the two sides of the enterprise data house (operations and analytics) with the introduction of its Tableflow feature, which transforms Apache Kafka topics and schemas to Iceberg tables. I wrote at the time that the combination of Confluent’s processing engine Flink, alongside Tableflow, signals a new moment in time for the vendor - one whereby it has a fuller platform to go to market with. 

Key to this is Confluent creating a more compelling message for business users. Given its open source roots, it’s not hard to understand why data streaming has often been confined to the technology department, most often looked after by developers and engineers. Those teams have done a solid job of campaigning for the benefits of streaming in the enterprise and deploying use cases that have compelled further investment. 

However, as Confluent has bolstered its cloud offering and as data investments become a higher boardroom priority, the vendor is recognizing the need to bring an understanding of data streaming use cases to business users too. For streaming to go enterprise-wide - and for it to become the ‘central nervous system’ of organizations, as Confluent hopes - that business buy-in is essential. 

We got the chance to sit down with Confluent’s SVP of EMEA, Richard Timperlake, who spoke to this point. He said: 

What we have to do is ensure we are bridging the gap between the technology organization and the business organization, because they're linked. And I think streaming is becoming more prevalent. 

Three prongs

Timperlake described how the recent challenges in the macroeconomic environment have created a level of conservatism amongst buyers in recent months and years, but that this is now lifting. He said that the strength of the US economy, combined with an expectation that interest rates will soon fall, as well as the hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence, has meant that buyers are now more optimistic about making strategic investments. He said: 

I think, for us, we're very fortunate in that we're in a very hot space - data. AI has generated a lot of interest and that will continue to happen. Organizations are constantly focused on, how do I drive more cost out? How do I drive more profitability? And those two equations are always things we can help with. I'm hugely bullish on this year and I think we're starting to see that with organizations as well.

I’ve written previously on Confluent’s opportunity in the AI market, particularly as it relates to governance and access to real-time data. However, for that proposition to be clear, business users need to understand why data streaming could play a crucial role for its AI investments and for AI applications. So, how does Confluent plan to get that message across? The top level business case is quite an easy one to articulate. Timperlake said: 

I see Confluent as the bedrock of all data for an organization. The streaming, the processing, the governance - those are all things we do a really good job of. And then you can build different applications to access that data. 

And that's highly compelling, because if I'm sitting out in the business and I'm getting the wrong data, I'm going to be pretty hacked off about it. I need to be able to rely on the data. I need to know it's clean, it's accurate, and it's reflective of where the business is. If I don't get that, then it's a real problem. 

But how does Confluent envisage getting this message across in a way that’s tangible for business users, who may or may not understand how their data infrastructure works and the impact that data streaming could have on future opportunities? The strategy is three-fold for the vendor: working with customers to bring teams together to identify use cases; working with the partner and SI community; and getting customers to talk openly about the use cases they’ve seen success with. 

On the first prong of the strategy, Timperlake highlights an approach Confluent has been using with buyers called ‘event storming’. He explained: 

What we do is we sit in a room with an architect, a programme manager, somebody from the business. And obviously, we'll be there as well. Then we'll take a business process where there's a piece of pain, right? So a great example, we're talking to a retailer and they were losing $70-80 million in perishable food, because they had a problem in their supply chain. 

What we did is we all sat in the room and we drew up the business process. The data works because it's going fast at one point, but then it's got to go to a batch process, which when you're selling food, you lose 12 to 24 hours. If we could stream elements of this business process, what would the value be? From that $80 million, you could probably reduce it to $5 million. 

When selling Confluent out to the business users, that event storming motion I think is really key. 

The second prong of the strategy is of course working with the partner community. This isn’t uncommon amongst platform vendors, which make their underlying capabilities available for SI companies to either specialize in specific industries, or encourage them to build applications with domain expertise. We’ve seen the likes of Salesforce and ServiceNow have great success in building an ecosystem around their platforms, which creates a flywheel effect in terms of adoption. Confluent CEO Jay Kreps told diginomica recently that it wouldn’t be building specific business applications on top of its platform anytime soon - for areas such as finance or HR - but it would be encouraging other companies to do so. 

The third approach, however, is encouraging Confluent customers to be more vocal about their use cases. Timperlake said: 

Something else we want to continue to drive is just sharing between customers. JP Morgan, for example, they process a trillion dollars of payments through Confluent. Sharing that with other banks immediately gets attention. Other banks want to know, what are they doing? Why are they doing it? 

If you're a bank, you can't afford for a payment not to happen, because that's fundamentally your core business. So there's a lot of infrastructure we can put in place to support that. It’s sharing those use cases across different organizations. In retail, it might be personalization. In healthcare, it could be patient pathway. 

They become self fulfilling. One of our retail customers, they've got 700 use cases. That's the power of data streaming - if you ingrain it in the DNA of the business, it provides a competitive differentiation, it can help reduce costs, it can help improve profit. And that's what people want. Bringing it alive is a really powerful thing. 

My take

As hinted in my recent coverage of Confluent, this is the approach I’ve been anticipating and hoping for. The vendor has done a very proficient and necessary job of selling the technological capabilities of data streaming to its audience, but a shift towards business users should now be a priority. Data is now an agenda at the highest level of organizations across the world, thanks to the sudden wave of AI hype. And vendors across the spectrum are seeking to capitalize on that opportunity. Confluent’s offering, however, speaks to some of the key issues with renewed data strategies - governance and ensuring data accuracy. If it can develop a cogent business story that speaks to these issues, focus on enterprise pain points and highlight the use cases effectively, there’s plenty of room for success in the coming years. 

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