The key theme stressed by Vella, in his first presentation at the company’s big customer event since replacing the founder and longtime CEO this year, is that Information Builders is committed to redesigning processes that allow for true scalability by ensuring data is trusted, so that tools will actually be used.
ORLANDO – CEOs kicking off the lead keynotes at customer event outlining their vision for the audience are as integral to these events as the motivational speaker in the final keynote that concludes them. Some of these CEO keynotes are, however, more important than others. This was one of those, because it was Frank Vella’s first Information Builders Summit as CEO. He joined the company in November 2017 as Chief Operations Officer, and became CEO this January, with founder and longtime CEO Gerald Cohen moving to a senior advisor role. Accordingly, at this 40th Information Builders Summit, the approximately 1000 customers and partners in attendance were eager to hear what Vella had to say.
“This is the first time ever that someone other than a founder of the company is the CEO,” Vella said. “We are committed to extending that legacy, the greatness that is here, and building upon what we have here.”
Vella noted that the tagline around this event was ‘Experience the Future of Data and Analytics.’
“The key is experience it,” he said. “We’ve been working on a lot of great cool stuff that affects your organization’s ability to be prepared. These include machine learning and AI, and how we have incorporated them in our software stack to make it more robust and easier to use.”
Vella addressed the significant changes that have been going on at the company, with the understanding that change can sometimes make people nervous.
“There’s a lot of change going on at Information Builders, and many of you have felt that, and for the most part, you have said it is positive change,” he said. “But some things won’t change. One is being a customer-centric organization. We were doing customer success before any organization had a customer service organization. It’s in our DNA.
“At our core we are engineers and we have innovated,” Vella added. “We have to do a better job at some of the ‘how,’ and at some of the deployment aspects. We respect our heritage, but we push the organization to look to the future.”
Vella then reviewed what has been going on, highlighting last fall’s complete redesign of the WebFOCUS platform to replace its dated interface with a state-of-the art one.
“We have heard you tell us we need to be easier to upgrade, easier to deploy and easier to maintain,” he said. “We got it. Last year, the first thing I wanted to tackle was ease of use. As we focused on scale, and handling complexity, all the things that make us enterprise grade, we could have done better on look and feel and usability. To those who had to defend our look and feel, you won’t have to do that any more. We have emerged as a progressive player in this space that others will compare themselves to.
“The first thing we did was address the ‘price of admissions’ items,” he continued. “Simplicity has to be at the core. Our release last October was well received. It no longer looks like a green screen app with a nice veneer. But easy as a functional core has to be easy to connect, to deploy, to use, to manage, to upgrade and maintain. If we do all those in a cloud-first format, we become the platform on which any future endeavor is robust and relevant.”
Another huge change has been the restructuring of the company’s go-to-market strategy to make channel partners more critical to the model than ever before. That included a major redesign of the partner program to give it structure, and to make partners a strong extension of Information Builders’ own sales efforts rather than folks who occasionally brought in sales on an opportunistic basis.
“We had already had partners as elements of our ecosystem, but we are doubling down on partners,” Vella stated. “It’s something that we are really investing in. We are helping them grow their business on our business with a customer-centric solution platform.”
All these components are part of the means to a larger end.
“What’s our vision of the future?” Vella asked rhetorically. “It’s around data and analytics and what it brings to our business. It’s important to understand the relationship between data and an organization and how it’s changing. It used to be ‘one to few’ or ‘few to few’ – databases in a few places distributed to a few users – and they made decisions quarterly. That was once the pace of business. Now it’s an infinite series of possibilities. Getting a quantity of data is no longer an issue. Data now comes from an infinite number of sources and now distributed to many people or all people in an organization, as well as to customers and intelligent devices. It will extend to all processes and services in an organization. Harnessing that data for value is the differentiator.”
The problem is that while every company in the enterprise software business today echoes that theme and its importance, most of them are still early on the road to making it a reality.
“The reality is that data is difficult to access,” Vella said. “It’s not trusted. You need to know the lineage of data. If you don’t, tools are hitting the wall and not being deployed. Analytics tools are only used by 17 per cent of employees in most orgs, according to BARC [enterprise software industry analysts]. They also say that Information Builders is one of the most widely deployed out there. We’ve been quiet about that.” WebFOCUS scores in the 40 per cent range, including 17 top rankings and 14 other leading positions out of 60 categories.
Vella concluded by connecting dots between trusted data and effective scalability.
“As you think about the future, there are things we have to understand about how we build today,” he told customers. “Scale is such an overused word in all businesses, but especially ours, and you need to test it and question it. It’s not just about supporting a greater number of users, and speed in point-of-time apps. That’s missing the boat. Scale is all about integrating data from every single relevant source to you – and about the complexities of making that data trusted.”