Adrian Cockcroft of Battery Ventures and Christian Gheorghe, CEO of Tidemark, joined co-host Michael Coté and Alex Williams to discuss how executives are adopting the cloud and SaaS platform in particular. Noteworthy: their conversation about the rise of data science in the executive wing and what services management are adopting.
A lot of organizations have adopted SaaS, having moved on from their issues with cloud.
Marketing and Sales were early SaaS users, and now the CIO has become an end-user of SaaS-based tools for monitoring, app dynamics, etc.
Mainstream IT is not only trying to keep up but also is struggling to remain relevant. Previously, IT departments provided bulk of research, procurement, installation, testing and integration of on-premise applications. The cloud-enabled stack elevates the user experience and transparency at the edge of the organization, driving value. Agile IT departments will shift focus to customizing this new software to suit enterprise goals, as enterprises have crossed over to SaaS en masse within the past year.
Adrian observes that a few interesting companies are doing “business process as a service,” or, a SaaS for building SaaS applications, providing “building blocks” with which to build custom applications using different data sources around the enterprise — Finance, HR, etc. (Michael suggests that another mini-singularity is coming where computer-literacy screening becomes a core management tool.)
Christian sees these new services as resolving the “problem with context” – executives are seeing more data than ever, but most of the things that matter to the business don’t live inside the general ledger, rather they live in data streams outside the walls of the enterprise. How to bring this into the context of planning activities, which are traditionally rooted in quarterly documentation and annual forecasting?
With context enabled at the edge of the organization, the end user can now assemble analytic processes rapidly, directly in an application, through modeling and collaboration, without going through a central command such as legacy systems required. These services could also lead to the demise of “Excel Hell” and “Powerpoint Hell.”
Traditional information services were concerned with careful curation and the quality of data that feeds into reporting. The new services quickly leverage and analyze data, helping executives harness those streams in order to pose unstructured questions that produce high-value answers.
Many of these unstructured questions can be put into narratives for easier understanding and discussion. Also, it’s not only about getting to the answer quickly but also it’s about what can be done with what is learned.
Michael sees the next step as a cultural shift away from performance- and presentation-mastery and toward better data analysis. Adrian sees hypotheses as the essence of testable ideas to meet the overwhelming volume of data. Christian agrees that making sense of the data that exists will empower enterprises into subsequent data-driven decisions.
Adrian’s research shows that while primary SaaS investment among startups goes to data and data analytics, it is also most recently going toward talent management, which may suggest a shortage of data scientists.
Christian says that the very popular SaaS application areas include profitability and workforce planning, as well as talent management, forecasting, and asset management. Adrian notes that traditionally conservative departments such as Finance are actively looking at SaaS applications, due to simplicity and price considerations.
The CFO has become a more active partner in strategic planning, Christian observes. This outgrowth has moved the data-driven decision-making away from the spreadsheet and toward the reality of what’s happening at the edge of the organization.
Could this be the rise of the new MBA, a new CFO rising from the developer and engineering community, or from sales and marketing?
Adrian sees the emergence of data science teams within the finance organization, and he believes that successful CFOs will at least be able to create a data science team if not understand data science themselves. Christian sees truly transformational CFOs as thirsty for data-driven decision analysis and actionability. Many have tried to do this for a long time but without the right tools. Now these executives can spend less time on pivot tables and Excel grids and more time with narrative-driven questions and natural-language discovery through highly collaborative user experiences.
Companies are moving toward dynamic, integrated platforms — technology platforms, business platforms, experience platforms. Adrian notes that, for example, most companies now have a Salesforce account, such that it becomes part of the automated, API-driven foundation.
Christian believes that “cloud-to-cloud consumption” is the higher standard that a true cloud solution provides, freeing the user to focus on the desired experience. Adrian observes that legacy data sources that don’t have APIs still require conversion. Now, just about every product has an API so everything demands this type of integration. Meanwhile, some chaos or messiness remains that must be embraced.
Leveraging the cloud as a computational platform optimized for financial and operational intelligence has long been one of Christian’s goals. Adrian thinks that the evolution is progressing apace, and that the barriers remaining are only on a case-by-case basis.
Christian feels that the user experience wins out, and that the responsibility for delivering it lies with the application providers. Adrian reminds that, “if you bring working code to an argument, it tends to win.”