In a recent conversation with an ex-colleague of mine, he noted while I was demonstrating our platform that small and medium businesses can use it is a no frills tool for building a Data Warehouse (DWH). To be honest, I would have previously never associated that term with a B2B SaaS product. And when I was thinking about it afterwards, it started making sense.
Firstly, let’s start with the main objective of such a platform. The big names that would come to your mind when you hear this term are JetBlue, Norwegian, easyJet and Virgin America. What they successfully did was to make air travel available to the masses at very affordable price points.
If you look at the business world, small and medium enterprises/business (SME/SMB) face similarities when it comes to data analytics. The key players in the market mainly target large enterprises. And even with increasing popularity of the cloud, the cost of procuring a BI platform and building a fully functional DWH solution is still out of the reach of most small businesses. While we were shortlisting technologies to build our platform, many such large vendors didn’t even bother responding when we said we are less than 10 employees. Not because they are rude, but probably they knew we couldn’t afford them, so why bother and waste their time and our time.
Keep the technology out
Having been part of large BI/DWH implementations at many Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 enterprises, one thing we have noticed is that the cost of personnel involved is much more than the cost of the product license itself. For a no frills analytics platform to work, one would have to take technology out of the picture. If you don’t, then you need expensive BI consultants and given the demand for them, the cost would soon become prohibitive for small businesses. So the platform should enable business people (and not require technologists) to be able to load data, build business rules, create transformations and develop dashboards.
This is possible only if the platform works using natural business language and take syntax based programming out of the remit. Easier said than done, as the first version of our platform still needed some element of SQL syntax for building the outcome rules. Over the past three releases, we have done umpteen changes to overcome these challenges. Our secret sauce extracts lots of metadata and is a highly designed framework that enables modelling rules and visualisation with virtually no coding knowledge.
Like the budget airlines, one way to keep the cost affordable and low (and also simple to reduce IT involvement) is to offer just enough features as a fully functional platform. The key difference here though is, unlike a services business, the main cost here is to develop, enhance and maintain those additional features (whether customers subscribe to the extra features or not). I guess, this is where strict product development discipline comes handy. If something is not a bare essential functionality, stop building it at least until it becomes one.
Features that we can readily rule out include OLAP cubes, real time processing, report subscriptions, thousands of data connectors and exporting to different formats.
Having thought about how similar we are to a budget airline in these aspects, we are a no frills data analytics platform after all. Probably the use case of our platform as a stepping stone for small businesses on a data driven journey is a real possibility.
Image Source: Norwegian B737 LN-NGN by Aero Pixels on Flickr