Is modern BI here yet? A Domo customer panel weighs in on data ownership, culture change, and the potential of data apps

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed March 31, 2022
What exactly is modern BI - and why does it make me irritable? A Domopalooza customer panel gave me the opportunity to push into BI project ROI, and hear views on Domo's Data Apps announcements. Then the discussion moved in an unexpected direction.

Jake Collins of UPMC, speaking at Domo
(Jake Collins of UPMC speaks)

Have I mentioned that I'm optimistic about modern BI? Have I also mentioned that I'm grouchy about modern BI?

At Domo's recent Domopalooza show, I probed further into this analytical dichotomy. One highlight: a stellar customer panel, presented as part of the Domo (virtual) analyst day event.

I define modern BI as: better BI tooling to address the original promise of BI. How? By putting data - and the power to manipulate data views - in the hands of business users.

I place Domo amongst a handful of BI vendors who are shaping the so-called modern BI conversation. How did Domo get on my short list? Via convincing customer stories. Stuart has a couple of those in our pipeline, see: Tacos and tech - how ‘damn good’ analytics from Domo is fuelling growth at Torchy’s Tacos. My all-time highlight: at a pre-pandemic Domo user event, I learned about an office secretary who changed how her company viewed her - and how her company viewed data - by creating her own Domo "cards."

The modern BI grouch - me

So why am I grouchy about modern BI? Three reasons:

1. BI tooling for business users has drastically improved, but we're not there yet. There is still an adoption and effectiveness gap.

2. Better tooling doesn't mean better decisions with better information. Better decisions should lead to bottom line results - and better treatment of customers. How many examples have we really seen of that, at enterprise scale? Better information isn't a given either. Yes, data cleansing and integration tools have improved, but data still lingers in silos.

3. Tools don't fix culture problems. A "single source of analytics truth" might limit spreadsheet chaos. It might end data arguments, but: it doesn't mean we will question our business agenda when the data proves otherwise.

Can data apps fill the traditional BI gap?

Look no further than Domo's centerpiece announcement: time to double down on data apps. (Domo Launches Data Apps to Fill the Gaps of Traditional BI and Analytics). CEO John Mellor acknowledged the modern BI problem - and explained why data apps could close that value/adoption gap.

It is time for organizations to move beyond thinking of data as charts and graphs and towards adopting customized intelligent apps that not only deliver insights but drive action and support the needs of workers right where the work gets done,” said John Mellor, Domo CEO. “Our focus with Data Apps is supporting the white spaces in organizations where traditional BI and enterprise software applications like CRM and ERP have traditionally not reached."

One way of thinking about data apps: instead of having business users look at data in dashboards, why not give it to them at the point of action/decision? But what do Domo's customers think? At the Domo customer panel, we pressed the question. First to chime in was Jake Collins, Director, Marketing Intelligence at UPMC, a 40 hospital, 800 outpatient center health care system based in western Pennsylvania. UPMC's footprint has a diverse international scope, which brings business user complexity right along with it. As Collins told us: 

I'm excited about it. We've done a fair amount of custom app development for just that reason. To see apps becoming a more standard part of the package, I think, is going to open up more opportunities for us to do that.

Collins sees the impact of moving beyond dashboards:

There will always be things where we want the dashboard, just because it provides some kind of cohesive worldview for folks, but I think a lot of what Domo is going to do with the apps will really facilitate some of the directions that we've been moving as an organization anyway.

Kelsey McMahon. Manager, Marketing Analytics at CME Group, added:

I totally agree. I'm so excited to see what it can do. Especially the accelerator piece of it; I'm excited to see what that will do for us. [Editor's note: as part of Domo's Data Apps news, Domo announced accelerator apps: "highly configurable Data Apps designed to support common business processes." The first four accelerator apps are for customers in retail, CPG and financial services. These can be viewed in the Domo Marketplace.]

Boyd Kezerian, Chief Transformation Officer with Walker Edison, welcomes Domo Apps as a central point of emphasis:

I would just echo the same thing: we're super excited about it. We use custom apps right now. It's sort of been on the fringes of what Domo's capabilities have been. We're really excited to see that as an integral part of the platform, and just really become more of an everyday-use type tool.

The ROI of BI - what metrics do Domo customers use?

Data Apps are a meaty initiative for Domo to execute on this year. For now, I had a different question for the panel: ROI.

As you get results from Domo and look to build momentum, you have to then go back to the business and make your case for further Domo investments. So my question is: what metrics do you like to use to measure the success of your Domo initiatives? Everything from ROI to more intangible things like employee morale and better adoption.

Collins of UPMC answered first:

Focusing on the use case that we used in the marketing department, which really helped us make a case for broader investment: when we started, our cost per acquisition was pretty much exactly at the industry average. Domo not only allowed us to bring in and aggregate all of our marketing stack data; it also made it so easy for the people who are responsible for our campaigns, to put their eyes on their data, and engage with how they were doing that.


We now have a cost per acquisition that is half the industry average. Basically, we took our entire marketing budget and made it work twice as hard. And we did that in an organization where we had Power BI, where we had Qlik, where we had everything. It wasn't until we brought in Domo that I really put the time and effort in, and some of the process that sits around the BI tool to do that.

Win business users over, and momentum builds: 

That obviously really got people's eyes on the tool and asking, 'Hey, how else could we be using that?' Between that, and as you said, some things that are less tangible than, say, ROI, we started to talk about the things that we could never do that now we were doing.

And also things like Domo Buzz, right? The ability to engage with people about the data, outside of having to send an email, all of those little things start to add up. And finally, it just created a different culture for how we look at and interact with data in the organization. And that's in an organization that's already very data-intensive, so you can imagine what it can do for other types of organizations.

When we discussed how to spread BI throughout an organization, the "BI results" question came up again. Kezerian spoke to board-level adoption:

We created a specific board meeting dashboard in Domo, and we utilize the platform real-time in the board meeting to discuss the data around the business. They were seeing and visualizing all of the reports in Domo, including financial statements, and key KPIs and metrics around the organization. So it was sort of a soft touch in a way. to get them engaged in Domo, through their questions and the things that they were asking.

Show-don't-tell does wonders:

We were very careful about this, but we would create cards. As you know, Domo has drill capabilities and other analytics that you can do real-time on the fly. When the board started to see that we could answer their questions with data, real-time, on the fly, that was the unlocking power that really made it what it is today.

When a customer uses the word "transformational," I sit up:

For us, it really has been transformational.

Okay, I'll bite. Why? Kezerian:

Every time a private equity firm looks at our company, or we bring in an outside board member, their jaws just drop at the amount of data and intelligence that we can just snap our fingers and have access to. It's been a real differentiator for us. It's accelerated our growth; it's accelerated the market opportunities.

The wrap - overcoming data silos, and facing the data ownership challenge

I wasn't able to ask that grouchy culture change question, but another analyst posed an interesting angle on that:

There's been a lot of talk about sharing data and democratizing data. But a big thing, when we're working with clients, we hear that teams want to hold on to their data, that the marketing team doesn't want to share their data, because who's responsible for that data?

Kezerian responded first:

The thing we found at Walker Edison was that we centralized the data - that was one of the first things we did. And then we built our entire organization around that centralization. That way, we didn't have the sales team owning their own data, the marketing team owning their data. That was a decision that myself and the CEO made. And we built a business intelligence team that manages that data.

That led to an important reveal. Each organization could tie their BI success to a BI center of excellence. Collins added:

People wanting to hold on to their data, not wanting to give up their tool, those are challenges that any organization faces... Honestly, we've almost moved to a center of excellence model, where we're pulling all of the different analytics groups together, and all of the different data owners together.

I would say the ability to move data back and forth into Domo very easily has opened up some of those conversations... It's created a lot of successful use cases where reaching across the aisle is a proven benefit.

McMahon from CME Group:

I couldn't agree more with Jake. We actually started to move to a center of excellence, because we couldn't get that ownership of the data that we needed. People want access to it; they never want to let it go. But they don't want to be the owner of it. They don't want to manage it. So we really took the center of excellence page... It's all centralized. We're all talking to one another. We're all trying to get each other's data, so fight it out amongst each other. And we're all sitting on one team this time. One team, one dream. We've all got to let it go and own it at the same time.

There is no perfect way to handle the culture change all worthwhile BI projects provoke. But when I hear customers bringing up "BI centers of excellence," I become a lot less grouchy. New technology needs a context. That context, to me, is about cultivating the right people, processes, and skills. If Domo Apps achieves the success envisioned, it will brings data into context for business users. But the governance and ownership of data doesn't go away. These stories don't answer all the questions - we didn't even touch on AI - but they provide direction.

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