A few weeks ago I got to catch up with Birst CEO Jay Larson about the cloud BI company's plans for becoming the next 'software giant' – read the storyhere. As often is the case with these things, even though Larson gave a decent interview, a CEO telling me how great his or her company is, isn't really that surprising. You only really get a feel for how great they're going to be (or not, as the case may be) by talking to their customers. So Birst's people went away and came back with a customer for me to talk to, which will hopefully be the first of many.
Larson spoke about how companies are struggling with 'silos' of data and have created islands of information that have been stored and analysed in a bunch of disparate applications over the years. He insists that Birst is just the tool to tap into these different data sources, pull them all together and then create easy to use dashboards for people to gain insights from. And that's just what appears to have happened with global Application-to-Person messaging and mobile billing specialist, Dialogue.
I spoke to Ben Rose, a project manager at the company, who explained to me that as the business has grown over the last twenty years and has expanded into new geographies outside of the UK, including Cape Town and Singapore, it has indeed developed these difficult to use islands of information. However, he said that as new CEO, Perry Offer, came on board a couple of years ago, he has been driving a top-down agenda to unify data across the organisation in a bid to get better insights and make better strategic decisions. Rose said:
We have created numerous applications to store information and we had growing silos of data here, there and everywhere. We wanted to get the information out of the systems we use and pair it with other data in a consistent way.
Senior managers and stakeholders within our teams used to all have different ways of pulling out information, it would be at their own will to get that data out and then share it across the company. There were so many contrasting ways of flagging that data and then comparing it with other data from other systems.
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As Dialogue was already heavily invested in the Salesforce.com platform for its CRM, it decided that it would try to use this platform to collect data from all of the company's sources and use the app's native analytics functions. However, what Rose and the rest of the team found was that although they were able to do more than they had previously by using Salesforce BI, they still couldn't fully utilise cross-function reporting. Data was still being kept in islands and Rose said that Salesforce also didn't deliver the complex reporting and forecasting that he had anticipated.
This led Dialogue to embark on a search for a new BI tool, which ultimately ended with Birst. Rose said that Birst ticked all the boxes on his scorecard, in that he was satisfied with the security, the ability for end-users to add their own reports, its ease of use, and that it could integrate directly into Salesforce and other workflows.
Just over a year ago now we looked at using something like Salesforce. We integrated it so that we had one platform that captured the majority of our operational data, but also captured the sales and finance data that it was already using. We just wanted to bring all that together in one place. Wanted the ability to start reporting on everything that we captured across the company and different countries.
We were able to produce more reports than we were able to do before, but we still hit the barrier of having billing data in our billing system and traffic data on our platform to process the SMS messages and couldn't really cross-functionally report across those databases.
It's the first time we have been able to integrate into other platforms – not only in Salesforce, but also comparing it to traffic data, to billing data. Really being able to utilise the customer record and everything that's around it.
We wanted a one stop shop for our customer value on an individual level, but then our next step is to completely redo our reporting across the company and redo all our KPIs throughout the business and to get dashboards to people within teams. Utilising data that we haven't had readily available to us before to make strategic management decisions. It's a big efficiency drive - a lot of automation of workflow within Salesforce, as well as integrating BI within those workflows, to reevaluate the efficiencies of the processes themselves.
The system has been live now for two months and took just eight weeks to implement, with the help of Birst partner Alto Intelligence. Rose said the implementation was relatively simple, once the team got used to the “quirks of the system”, but now the next job is to extend the reach of business intelligence outside of the department leads and technical users and get everyone in the company looking at dashboards to assess Dialogue's performance. This was the aim when rolling out Birst, as Dialogue has resisted creating a separate report writing function within the company, and would rather have BI embedded throughout the organisation. Rose said:
The next step is to take the reporting and KPIs that we do, and take it from the top of the business all the way down. Build reports throughout the company and get it into the hands of the all the end users.
The reason that we chose Birst was because of how easy it is to give to end users. We have been very keen to not produce a report writing service within the company, but to get people using Birst, train them to use the system, to get them to go away with the data and write their own reports. Initially we are starting with the team managers and obviously the more technical users have found it a lot easier, but we have found it will certainly be accessible to everyone.
“We are developing our own learning structures around Birst and it's also mostly down to us and how we model the data, so when it gets to the end users, its intuitive for them. So once we get the modelling right, I'm sure it's something that end users will find relatively straightforward.