When the Sales Team Needs BI Tools, the IT Group May Be the Last to Know

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    Tensions Between IT and Business Leadership Force New Approach to Delivering Technology

    If circumventing the IT department is “kind of a given,” as one executive from a cloud services provider put it in a post I wrote earlier this month, it may be just as much of a given that what business units are most eager to acquire when they do circumvent the IT department are business intelligence and data analytics tools.

    I recently discussed this phenomenon in an email interview with Fred Shilmover, CEO of InsightSquared, a provider of cloud-based BI services in Cambridge, Mass. When I asked Shilmover if he’s finding that business units are circumventing the IT department in order to get the data analytics tools they need, Shilmover said they see it all the time among companies that have purchased a lot of cloud-hosted software, and he noted that the tools are often purchased by a new line-of-business leader:

    The consumerization of IT has resulted in line-of-business users frequently acquiring and using technology without interacting with the IT department, creating a lot of waste. Marketing and sales teams have traditionally treated the IT department as an obstacle to getting the technology they wanted, instead of a partner in building the business. Companies that help lines of business develop a strong relationship with IT get the technology they want, without losing compliance or risk management. The growth of Box has been a great example of how marketing and sales can get the technology they want—in that case, cloud storage and easy file sharing—by partnering with IT to deploy new solutions, instead of being enemies.

    So what should IT departments be doing that they’re not doing today to better serve the data analytics needs of the business units? Shilmover said they should remain open to buying off-the-shelf solutions, instead of trying to develop solutions internally:

    If they’re using a popular data platform like Salesforce, solutions like InsightSquared can offer incredible depth to data analytics. We have 20 developers focused on providing data analytics to lines of business, so buying a product like ours is like putting 20 developers to work on your own data. The results are phenomenal.

    I asked Shilmover if InsightSquared more typically targets the IT department with its marketing, or the business units directly. He said they go after the business units:

    We target line-of-business roles directly, specifically CEOs, CFOs, and their sales and marketing leaders, because InsightSquared solves their pain around forecasting and predictability. If I’m a sales VP, my biggest concern is, “Will my sales team hit the number?” I need to know the value of opportunities in my sales team’s pipeline, and how likely they are to close, and if that result will be enough for them to hit their number. Typically, organizations do not have the ability to answer questions like this with the data in their CRM. Sales VPs end up being forced to ask reps how they “feel” about their pipeline. Marketing managers evaluate campaigns based on the number of leads generated, but can’t track the conversion to bookings.

    I noted that InsightSquared positions itself as a “provider of business analytics software for small and midsize companies.” So I asked Shilmover why InsightSquared isn’t a suitable alternative for large companies. His response was refreshingly forthright:

    We are always going to have a solution for small businesses, as I started my career in IT support for SMBs, and believe that they should have the same tools and advantages as mid-market and enterprise organizations. The challenges we are solving also exist in medium and larger companies, and as our company and product mature, we will expand to serve the needs of larger and larger enterprises. Part of this growth will also be in the breadth of our product, as there are still many families of systems we need to be able to connect with and build a deep subject matter expertise in.

    On the question of what InsightSquared will be doing five years from now that it’s not doing today, Shilmover said he sees the company expanding the depth and breadth of the product:

    One area is broadening our report library with support for analytics and benchmarking. I see us broadening our data source options so that we can begin to service larger enterprises. This could include supporting additional CRMs and finance sources, marketing automation, and inbound APIs, or third-party connectors.

    Given that data analytics is such a hot field right now, I asked Shilmover what his strategy is for recruiting and retaining top data analytics talent. He said even though they’re an analytics company, they don’t exclusively bring on people with that type of background:

    We hire employees with different skill sets and backgrounds. That being said, retaining talent can be a challenge for any company. At InsightSquared, company culture is extremely important. This is the best place I’ve ever worked at, and when I started InsightSquared, I made it a goal to have every employee feel that way. Happy people stay at their jobs longer. By hiring people from different backgrounds, we also build advantages over other organizations that are more homogenous. They come in with very different experiences and problem-solving methods, and find solutions that probably would not have come up from a team of computer scientists. The Boston Business Journal named us one of the best places to work for the past two years, which is a good sign that employees here are happy. We give employees the autonomy to answer some of the biggest challenges in the SaaS and analytics industries. People come to InsightSquared to learn from the best engineers, product, sales, and marketing teams on the East Coast, and stay for the challenges and career growth.

    Finally, I asked Shilmover if there are any advantages to being based in Cambridge, as opposed to Silicon Valley. He said it’s all about finding the best talent:

    Cambridge and Boston are home to the best colleges and universities in the world, so when it comes to finding the best talent, we have a huge pool to select from. Cambridge is also a tech hub, with many startups establishing themselves in this city, some of which have matured into hugely successful enterprises. We’ve found that people who attend schools in the Cambridge area often have a stronger business background, as well, and become really compelling hires for our sales and marketing groups.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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