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Originally published 28 October 2011
BeyeNETWORK Spotlights focus on news, events and products in the business intelligence ecosystem that are poised to have a significant impact on the industry as a whole; on the enterprises that rely on business intelligence, analytics, performance management, data warehousing and/or data governance products to understand and act on the vital information that can be gleaned from their data; or on the providers of these mission-critical products.
Presented as a Q&A-style article, these interviews with leading voices in the industry including software vendors, end users and independent consultants are conducted by the BeyeNETWORK and present the behind-the-scene view that you won’t read in press releases.
This BeyeNetwork spotlight features Ron Powell’s interview with Scott Opitz, President and CEO of Altosoft. Ron and Scott discuss Altosoft’s philosphy that business intelligence does not have to be complex and how that philosophy influences Altosoft's approach to BI implementations.
On your website home page, I read that Altosoft provides business intelligence designed to fit your business. Before we get into the details of that, let's start by having you explain why the company is called Altosoft.
Scott Opitz: The word "alto" is derived from the Latin word for “high” and is intended to indicate our goal of constantly trying to raise the bar for software solutions that we deliver. To that end, we don't see any better goal than to be able to deliver solutions that are tailored to a customer's exact needs.
Can you tell us what you feel is required for a successful business intelligence implementation today?
Scott Optiz: Very simply put, a successful BI [business intelligence] implementation requires a solution that addresses all the dimensions of the problem without the complexity of trying to coordinate the use of multiple tools – each with its own separate learning curve and complexity. It's also absolutely critical that organizations are able to deliver these solutions quickly so they can meet the needs of the business, which increasingly includes the empowerment of end users to be able to do their own self-service BI.
It's no secret that there are big-name players in the business intelligence space that have spent years developing and fine-tuning their BI offerings. Can Altosoft deliver all of the capabilities of the traditional BI platforms?
Scott Optiz: Well, that's not exactly a simple question so bear with me. I think it's important to acknowledge these legacy BI companies have had many years to study the problem, and we shouldn't discount the lessons learned from that. The key lesson is that there many facets of a BI project, from data access and integration all the way through the delivery of dashboards and reports to end users.
At Altosoft, however, we don't share the opinion that the legacy BI providers have accomplished all that much in the way of fine-tuning. Most of these vendors struggle with what we call the multi-tool problem. Their offerings, if they are comprehensive, have generally evolved from the acquisition of products that were not originally designed to work together. This means it's up to the customer to either learn multiple products from the same vendor or, alternatively, to pick and choose so-called best-of-breed products across multiple vendors. Either way, the learning curve for their initial implementation as well as the long-term total cost of ownership related to maintaining and enhancing the environment is prohibitive.
In contrast, we believe that the most cost-effective and productive approach is implementing a BI solution through a unified product that can handle everything including data collection across multiple data sources and types; the inevitable cleansing and transformation of that data when combining data across these disparate sources; the definition of metrics and analytics that are required; the delivery of the results through any number of different delivery channels – for example, desktop browsers, mobile devices, Microsoft Office Web Services; and, ultimately, the empowerment of end users to do self-service BI so they're not subject to needing an IT staff member or expensive consultant to get what they need. We're very confident we can meet and exceed the offerings of these other vendors.
What can users expect when they select Altosoft?
Scott Optiz: Very often, a customer chooses Altosoft because they previously struggled with their BI efforts. In general, these customers fall into two groups. The first is largely comprised of customers who are still struggling with the big-name legacy BI vendors we spoke of a moment ago. In many cases, there is an effort to break away from the legacy vendor offerings in an attempt to improve their ability to deliver solutions more cost-effectively and more quickly. The second group is a more recent development and came about with the emergence of the self-service BI or so-called data discovery products. There's now a growing group of customers who have experimented with these tools and found that, unfortunately, the demo doesn't always translate into reality when they try to put these tools into action. This largely seems to be related to the surprising amount of technical complexity, coding, scripting and other capabilities required by these tools, as well as the fact that they lack a number of the critical elements necessary to scale to an enterprise level.
What a user can expect from Altosoft is a single unified solution that will allow them to quickly implement real-world solutions and was designed from the ground up to deliver enterprise scalable implementations. Most importantly, they don't have to worry about having to deal with complex SQL coding, or any other type of scripting or syntax required by these other tools when users try to do something beyond the simple demo.
You're very focused in healthcare and financial services and you've described some of your customers as thought leaders in their fields. I understand that you have a unique stipulation in your agreements with your customers. Can you tell us about that and how your thought-leader customers are using Altosoft to benefit their respective industries?
Scott Optiz: Sure. I believe you're referring to our Healthcare Vision Partners Program. The program is designed to allow participants to accelerate their success by having access to the collective knowledge of their peers who participate in this community. To gain this benefit, they have to be willing to contribute to the community. Since the majority of the organizations we work with in healthcare are nonprofit and generally already accustomed to the academic model of sharing information for the greater good, we have an extremely high participation rate. Given the many challenges we all recognize with respect to the need to fundamentally shift the healthcare cost curve, we see this program as a great example of how technology, combined with the experience and expertise of the professionals in these organizations, can be used to accelerate these improvements more cost effectively than under previous approaches. Candidly, I am truly impressed with the dedication we see in these organizations to advancing the industry as a whole.
Since we're talking about cost-effectiveness, we all know that the cost of services once a software solution is implemented can often exceed the purchase price because the products are so complicated. How does Altosoft fare in that regard?
Scott Optiz: Well, you’re hitting on what we consider to be probably the most important issue related to BI implementations. I would also not limit it just to post-implementation cost. We see the significant levels of services required to implement BI solutions as the single biggest issue standing in the way of the broader adoption of BI and supporting the delivery of true self-service BI.
Very simply, most products are just too hard to use. Altosoft's model of changing a BI implementation to a guided, no-coding approach is core to everything we do. The result is that the initial implementation as well as the longer-term maintenance and enhancement of a project require far less effort. Equally important is that because we don't require the complexity of a coding-oriented approach, this work can be done by non-developers and accelerates the implementation process simply because we're not as dependent upon what is, in fact, a very scarce resource.
You also have a product called MetricsMart. Can you explain that for our readers and describe how your customers use it?
Scott Opitz: Let me start by putting it in context. Our platform is really comprised of two logical pieces. There's MetricsMart, which is responsible for everything related to data integration, transformation, metrics and analytics. Then there's our Insight BI server, which is our Web-based module for designing and accessing our dashboards and our Insight mobile platform.
MetricsMart is really the workhorse of the platform. It was designed to allow for the integration of data from a wide variety of data sources including all of the databases that you would imagine – Web services, flat files and others. Its job is to manage all the interaction with these data sources; to execute the analysis that needs to be done to support the metrics that have been defined; and to provision, manage and optimize its underlying data mart. This includes a special type of analytics related to business processes, which we have not found in any other BI platform.
The design of MetricsMart is around the optimization of the delivery of data to our Insight BI server with extremely high performance. This is particularly important because it allows us to deliver sub-second response times without the costs or limitations of in-memory-only products. For the customer, the real power of MetricsMart is that it's configured with a graphical tool. It doesn't require the user to understand SQL or to be able to write any other code, script or syntax of any kind. This allows users to deal with the complexity of real-world data issues without having to accept the complexity of conventional tools.
Well, I usually wrap up these interviews with a question about the future of business intelligence – my “crystal ball” question. But I'm not going to ask you to peer into a crystal ball. Instead, I'd like you to tell us about Active Intelligence, something that you're going to announce in 2012.
Scott Optiz: Well, I don't want to steal too much thunder from our upcoming announcement, but I'll be happy to give you a little preview. Active Intelligence is a fundamental shift in the way BI technologies will deliver data to end users. Very important in what I just said is the word "deliver." We think that the status quo of end users being forced to search for data needs to give way to a new era of BI technologies that are smart enough to understand what data matters to end users and deliver it to them in a timely fashion. Active Intelligence also incorporates capabilities around what is more commonly being called collaborative BI, which promotes the ability of users to better communicate and cooperate to address business issues using timely, contextually relevant data. When you combine these two concepts, you can dramatically increase the value realized by end users.
It definitely sounds like a great solution, and we look forward to hearing more about Active Intelligence in 2012. Thank you, Scott, for the insight on Altosoft that you’ve provided for our readers.
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