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Business Intelligence for SMBs with Omni Co-founder, Jamie Davidson
[Editor’s Note: We are fortunate to have Silicon Valley veteran, Jamie Davidson, join us for this week’s industry leader Q&A. Jamie is the co-founder and president at Omni, a new generation of Business Intelligence and data analytics. Before Omni, he was an early executive at Looker leading the product management team. Prior to Looker, Jamie was a General Partner and early-stage technology investor at Redpoint Ventures where he championed Looker’s Series A investment and served as a board observer. Jamie began his career as a data scientist at Google, working in Ads, and as a part of the APM program, working on YouTube Search and Algorithmic Discovery.]
[MV] The software application industry was literally built on the back of Business Intelligence. Lotus 123 was the first killer app for the IBM PC and arguably the first BI tool. The Business Intelligence ecosystem has obviously evolved significantly since then. What does Business Intelligence mean to you in this era?
[JD] Business Intelligence is a bit of a nebulous term for defining a category. It’s a term that can often be confusing. Ultimately, the name is better than the features that have come to define the category like self-serve analytics or reporting. Simply put, Business Intelligence should be thought of as the software AND processes that allow an organization to better understand their business to make decisions to drive better outcomes. The power by which a management team derives intelligence or insights into their business.
Importantly, this encapsulates more than just reporting, ad hoc analysis, and pretty graphs and charts. It’s the infrastructure to track data, store, process, and critically find insight and take action. On the surface, this may seem more complicated than it is. With the rise of cloud computing and advances in technology, it’s never been easier or cheaper to be a data-driven business.
[MV] There was certainly no shortage of BI tools in the market before you started Omni. What was missing in the market? Why start a company and build a new product from scratch?
[JD] Historically, the products in this market had always been a tradeoff between power vs. ease of use or data engineers vs. business users. BI has classically alternated between easy, flexible workbook tools that inevitably result in a lack of consistency (take Excel as an extreme example) and more rigid tools with a single source of truth that require costly setup and maintenance. Omni was started to address data use cases holistically. We wanted to ensure that business users had the ability to do rapid intuitive analysis whenever needed with the data integrity and scalability that is required by more sophisticated data engineers. No matter where you are in your Business Intelligence journey, Omni is fit to serve your needs.
[MV] For most SMBs, it's not possible to hire a team of data analysts to run their BI tools. Is it possible for small businesses to take advantage of BI?
[JD] Absolutely! Business Intelligence is accessible to every company because it's more than just about buying expensive software. It’s about leveraging your people, processes, and systems to produce data-driven outcomes. At large enterprises, dedicated data teams create value through leverage. They don’t sell or generate revenue and they don’t build products, instead they provide value by enhancing the capabilities of the rest of the organization. For smaller companies, you won’t have a data team so the focus on creating leverage has to be built within the processes and mindset of your existing functions. By focusing on incrementally solving real problems, e.g. streamlining inventory management and logistics, managing marketing spend, or optimizing sales processes, you can easily find the motivation and ROI for investing in these tools (and people) that can provide you leverage.
[MV] BI tools run the risk of being expensive "shelfware." What are the best practices to ensure companies get the most out of their BI tools?
[JD] Before you even start down the path of investing in a BI tool, ask yourself: What questions do you want to be able to answer about your business? What data points do you wish you had to make better decisions? We always recommend that customers start with a real operational use case and problem to begin to invest in their data. Helping a sales organization better track leads and manage a sales process or allowing a finance team to more deeply understand trends and make strategic decisions means that BI becomes integrated with how people do their jobs. Your BI tool is only as good as the decisions it allows you to make. It may take a little time and effort to get started, but once you are answering questions and solving problems, you will wonder how you ever operated without it.
[MV] The end game for any BI tool is to help organizations make decisions. How have you seen BI improve decision making processes? Any examples you can provide?
[JD] Everyday! I studied operations research in undergrad and have always loved the problem space. My favorite examples are often helping teams optimize logistics, for example an ecommerce business that wants to understand demand, predict supply, and optimize inventory. Not only can you improve cash flow by better managing your inventory, but you can also deliver a better customer experience by ensuring no stock outs. One of our customers in the finance space uses Omni to enable intelligent underwriting, risk management, and reporting becoming a core part of how they run their business on a daily basis.
[MV] Do you have any favorite books or resources to share on BI that would be particularly valuable for a small business owner?
[JD] Omni board member Tomasz Tunguz and former Looker CEO Frank Bien wrote an excellent book Winning With Data that describes how to shape an organization to maximize leverage from data. It has practical advice and a number of examples that showcase how data can drive operations.
[MV] Thats a great rec. Thanks for providing your insight, Jamie!
[JD] My pleasure!