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Analytics Software

Tibco's Gentile takes hard-won lessons for new analytics era

As the former CEO and chairman of Jaspersoft, a high-flying analytics company that was sold a year ago to Tibco, you might expect Brian Gentile to be bullish about the boom in mining data for strategy-enriching ore. But when I question the rate of progress in what organisations have managed to glean from their information stores over the last quarter-century, he delivers a surprising mea culpa.

“It has always remained a top category for spending and has been on the top five list of things CIOs want to achieve every year since 1990,” says Gentile, who has also held roles at other firms in this broad space including Brio and Informatica. “I feel partially responsible and can’t help but feel circumspect about it, and I have dedicated the modern part of my career to fixing it.”

That’s maybe too much self-flagellation but it’s certainly true that disappointment, frustration and lots of investment have been salted in with the benefits of data analysis over the years. As far back as the 1980s, C-suite executives have been promised everything from executive information systems that will give them a dashboard on real-time operations and a periscope and chart for murkier waters further out. The frequent turnover of suppliers, extensive shelfware and many tales from CIOs suggest that buyers haven’t always had a satisfying outcome.

Many blame the complex, big-ticket tools and vendor hard selling. Others suggest that a lack of definition and promises of silver bullets and jam today, gravy tomorrow haven’t helped. Is the current mania for ‘analytics’ just another marketing phase?

“The term ‘analytics’ has become quite popular hasn’t it, and I think it’s reasonable because it creates this image of applied business intelligence for some specific purpose,” Gentile says. “When it’s applied to CRM analytics or supply-chain analytics or e-commerce analytics I think it makes more sense.”

The SVP of Tibco’s analytics business agrees, however, that in the rush to get a coating of pixie dust from the latest hit concept, too many waifs and strays are calling themselves analytics firms. These extend from those who do the basic lifting and shifting of data to those who make pretty pictures from numbers.

He’s also man enough to own up to personal and sector-wide missteps and those of the industry, notably in attempts to democratise analysis capabilities.

“We thought about it from the tool out and we thought populating desktops was the answer, so software ease of use was the focus. But the only way is to put intelligence into the tools users use every day.”

Still, even if there have been false dawns in the past, Gentile believes that the current perfect storm of Big Data, Hadoop, cheap hardware, cloud and visualisation means this is “a special period”.

In particular, he says, cloud architectures are becoming de facto and cloud as the consumption medium is becoming highly popular. Also, he still thinks that the pluralisation of access to analytics is the way to go. But that will go hand in hand with new workflows that don’t depend on users going into specialist programs to query information.

“It’s OK now but it won’t be in three, five or seven years,” he argues. “We want to reimagine analytics as a set of web services based on personas and roles. It will be cloud- architected (scale-out, shared nothing, mostly if not exclusively browser-based, any device), and probably cloud delivered. Pretty much everyone agrees cloud-architected is the way to go. Will I consume it as a service? Probably, not definitely, and the customer gets to decide.”

He also spies synergies with new pricing models and he hymns the pay-as-you-go model and ability to dip into and out of cloud power and analysis tools via cloud platforms where you can find Jaspersoft and Tibco’s other business intelligence product, Spotfire.

He’s particularly disposed, but not joined at the hip to, the Amazon Web Services cloud.

“I’m a huge fan because they’re innovating and pushing the market in a way no-one else could do and that’s because retailers approach the market in a way an IBM or even a new technology company wouldn’t. I’m awed by their ability to innovate despite their huge lead. That said, I’m a capitalist and therefore I want three or four real competitors. The transformational nature of this cloud computing world is so vast. We’re on [Azure] and we’re talking to Google and IBM and so on. “

A year on from the $185m agreement, Gentile says he is delighted by the way the Tibco deal has gone. This may be a case of ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ but he knows that it’s not always that way with mergers and acquisitions.

“At the end of this month it’ll be a year. It’s pretty uncommon for a technology acquisition to go well and it’s not uncommon for the courtship to go better than the marriage but really I couldn’t ask for much more. The Jaspersoft team has become quite influential inside Tibco and that has allowed us to create a more robust analytics division. Even though Tibco owns Spotfire, it’s a crazy market and a company needs a breadth of tools.”

Seemingly a staunch realist rather than a rose-tinted Pangloss, Gentile plumps for an “anti-example” when I prompt him for an example of where modern analytics is succeeding. He tells me about how a European airline recently lost his luggage and took a day to reinstate it after he had spent hundreds of dollars on a change in clothing and other necessities.

“Three or four weeks later I was at my home in San Francisco and there’s this dishevelled delivery boy with this baggage that’s three or four times larger than what I had and it looked nothing like it and had no relationship to me. Holy cow, whose luggage is that, how much money did it cost and what’s the reputational damage to the airline?”

Making fewer such mistakes and seeing more opportunities will require more than just software of course and Gentile foresees an imminent time when students major in data science and the rest of us have to learn it in the way we once learned how to use a QWERTY keyboard and a PC. Making sense of the new sea of data available from the Internet of Things will also help.

“There’s so much misuse of Big Data that you want to hit your forehead with your fists and say ‘how could I have missed this?’” he says. “It’s the power of sensors plus software.”

The question lingers, of course, as to whether the new opportunities will be grabbed or squandered but at least veterans of the data management and analytics sector like Gentile have hard-won experience to call on.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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