Want Broader BI Usage? Crystal Reports Founders Offer Indicee

Mark Cunningham has reunited some of the team that built Crystal Reports (now part of SAP Business Objects) and launched Indicee, a SaaS-based BI reporting play that is pointed squarely at the continuing difficulty of extending BI beyond its seemingly permanent minority usage model.

It’s commonly understood that users continue to fend for themselves manually, moving data to spreadsheets for analytic manipulation because IT is unable to respond quickly enough to their needs. Indicee tackles this by re-using existing report and spreadsheet content (not surprisingly, Crystal reports lead the source list), moving it to the cloud for data mart-based interaction, and innovating a different approach to user interaction. It’s worth a look, and a free download for trial use sweetens the deal.

Indicee sees existing reports as a vehicle for self-service, and added some significant twists to the report mining model with its SaaS deployment model. In looking at today’s usage patterns in larger firms, Indicee found that business analysts and unit managers were opening reports from different packaged apps and mashing them up – but it took just as much time to do it the 2nd or 3rd time as it did the first time. Now they talk about these “data jockeys” as the landing spot, the beachhead from which they can expand within a firm. And in smaller and midmarket firms the analysts and data jockeys are one and the same.

At Crystal, Cunningham says, he wanted the product to be “easy enough that my mom would use it, but we quickly learned it was software developers and partners and OEMs that drove it forward – close to 1000 other products wound up using it in some fashion.” While that model will still be useful (more on that below), it’s interesting to see how inverting the model also has value: QuickBooks, Sage Accpac, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Adagio all become fodder for prebuilt “quickstart” data marts including some already canned reports. Immediacy is one result, especially in selling: “There is a big usage hit when it’s your own data – effectiveness of our demos is dramatically different,” Cunningham says.

From a value perspective, constraining the scope this way means the users get exactly what they wanted to work with already. “We’re not trying to solve all the corner cases – it’s the 80/20 rule,” Cunningham says. Indicee uses several report runs to build the quickstarts.  Do it yourself (DIY) also works for those with other apps – the system lets them load spreadsheets or CSVs in a guided wizard. One the model is in place, Indicee “tops up the data” by adding the following months’ reports in as they run.

Indicee is hardly alone in using existing reports as a source. Monarch has been doing this for years; see my post on them here. But there are additions, including a new style UI that avoids the ubiquitous drag and drop model. Cunningham has called it an “intelligent question interface;”  internally, the team calls it “guided Google.” It’s contextual and dynamic, based on completing sentences that describe the information desired – they’re getting the words from the underlying metadata layer constructed as the sources are ingested.Indicee's report builder

From there, users can switch to a visualization where the usual point and click metaphor applies. graphics

There’s also a pivot-table model; like many other new style tools, Indicee uses a Mondrian OLAP engine.  Dashboards may be built up based on the reports that have been created, and users can drill through to them to modify. Sharing and collaborating within groups is a newer feature. Right now, all collaborating users must have a license, but Indicee understands that market experience may drive some changes going forward.

Although Indicee is young, its team is experienced. The Cunningham Group, a family business in Vancouver, formed Crystal Services, the company that created Crystal Reports, building addon products running on MS-DOS for Accpac (now Sage.) This led to QuickReports, which became Crystal Reports, eventually acquired by Business Objects, now part of SAP. Jaded analysts like me may well look at the sizable, experienced executive team as being composed of serial entrepreneurs for whom exit strategy is as important as product. For example, in addition to Crystal experience, Craig Todd, Partner Development director, spent time with 90 Degree Software, whose Radius90 report writing platform was acquired by Microsoft in 2008. But in the here and now, Indicee is off to a good start. After early development funded by the core team, an $8M venture capital A round was secured at end of summer 2009. Cunningham is confident that the model is sound; the burn rate gives Indicee a long ramp, even if it weren’t already generating revenue above expectations, with a dozen clients already.

The company is learning how to use online search marketing and similar low-cost selling tools. The VAR channel is a promising one; opportunities for VARs include their ability to rebrand the product. The potential partners are very familiar to the ex-Crystal team; for example, in the QuickBooks world there is a well developed ecosystem of Pro Advisors, and  in the Crystal community there are many consultants very familiar with the Indicee team and its previous success.

For the new prospect, it’s a simple Freemium model: sign up online with quickstart solution, get your own data on the screen in less than 5 minutes. No salesperson involved.  That begins a 30 day trial – if you don’t use more than10 Mb of data, it stays that way. As more data is added, the cost scales: $69/mo for 100mb. The data is hosted using Amazon web services. Want more users? $149/mo for a workgroup (5 licenses). It’s a marketing-driven, not sales-driven, model.

Bottom line: Indicee is testing yet another way to tackle the usage problem, and it’s much too early to tell if it will succeed. But it represents an intriguing point of view about the market, and the barrier to entry is low.  I expect many organizations will try it out; execution, focus, funding and competition will determine what comes next. Indicee will need to tell a good story to IT in larger firms to avoid being labeled as an enabler of more chaos, and already has features and messages pointed at that. Reaching prospects is likely to be challenge #1 for 2010, and I suspect word of mouth will go a long way to meeting that one. I expect to see good results over the next few quarters from Vancouver.

Disclosures: Indicee is not a client of IT Market Strategy

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

2 Responses to Want Broader BI Usage? Crystal Reports Founders Offer Indicee

  1. Merv, great article, and thanks for turning us on to Indicee.

    As a “data” guy, I always struggle with the pressure from tools like this (BizObj and such)… and now Indicee. The pressure as you may know is to provide “access” and sometimes “open” access to data sources.. which can be another article in itself, not to mention how Data Governance will play in this game.

    The goal for the business execs and team is to have readily the key biz-metrics that go into measuring what is happening and project value or changes.

    Now, dont me wrong, I see value in this… Agility … a term we have to live with in our fast pace, ever changing world.

    What I am seeing, ( a good thing by the way), is the emergence of Indicee like solutions that “seek, find & connect” to the relevant data sources plus giving the analyst or business manager the opportunity to build an interface from the vast number of resources…

    We see lots of this in mashing technologies like IBM’s Mashup Center or Web 2.0 and now with Indicee…

    Always looking forward, it is good, that we see a niche becoming a standard… I only hope we figure out how to Govern these “up and coming” trends, while trying to Govern our current / evolving infrastructure 🙂

    Keep it up Merv…

  2. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks, Garnie. I have a foot in both camps: governance is an area I take great interest in, and in general, tools like Indicee can easily be misused by the ungoverned, but I started my own career in “end user computing” so I have great sympathy for those who find themselves stymied in getting at what they need. As long as users try to find ways to take matters into their hands, people will offer solutions for them.

    I only hinted at some of the things Indicee can do to help rein in the chaos, and in my conversations with them, it’s clear that with their deep background, they realize the issues. Governance is not something you can buy (although services players can help); it’s a cultural and organizational issue at least as much as a technical one.

    Realistically, Indicee doesn’t have the scope today to do much more than enable users, but they offer some controls that IT can use as adoption grows in a shop – and they will add more as they grow. They’re continuing to hire great folks in from the Crystal/BO days, most recently a former head of research there, and I expect more innovation this year.

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