Organizations seem to have survived, and in some cases even thrived during, the rapid pivot to digital business during the pandemic. Many were well situated to make more progress in this area, but economic insecurity is having an effect on these plans, causing them to consider ROI and cost optimization over analytics capabilities.
At the 2023 Gartner Data & Analytics Summit, Cloud Data Insights (CDI) met with John Knieriemen (North America Business Lead, Exasol) and Solongo Erdenekhuyag (Global Head of Customer Success, Exasol). We talked about how they were approaching their customers, given the current economy, and guiding them through consolidation decisions and ROI evaluations.
(The interview has been revised for clarity and readability. See John Knieriemen and Solongo Erdenekhuyag’s bios at the end of this article.)
CDI: At last year’s Gartner Analytics & Data Summit, the main conversation was about the important role data played in adapting to pandemic business conditions. Now, companies are exploring how to rein in cloud computing costs. How have your customers’ needs or attitudes changed, given current economic conditions and post-pandemic digital transformation?
John: Rapid digital transformation forced businesses to get smarter about decision-making as they moved toward a more data-driven culture and processes for improved business operations. As data volumes exploded, organizations grappled with how to best manage and derive value and actionable insights from this data–in real time. In fact, Exasol research revealed that 84% of organizations were under increasing pressure to make faster decisions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet 58% lacked access to real-time insights.
We’ve made it through the quick pivot. Business leaders are realizing that digital transformation efforts have to be smart and cost-effective, and data analytics can make all the difference.
Today, businesses are challenged by their inability to harness data cohesively across the entire business–data is siloed across channels, and business leaders want to access and utilize the channels available, as well as those that become available. At the same time, markets are increasingly competitive, pushing businesses to adopt processes and invest in technologies to help gain a competitive edge, resulting in increased demand for data analytics. In the same vein, with a decentralized approach and organizations needing quick wins, they’re relying on multiple technologies, which can be costly. With these goals in mind, cost-effectiveness and flexibility quickly rise to the top as customers’ priority needs.
CDI: How are you responding? For example, are you shifting your approach to sales? Or have you adjusted your product strategy?
Solongo: For enterprises, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data management. Still, an effective data management strategy breaks down data barriers and provides insight into business processes, objectives, and a meaningful solution to deliver the best business outcomes. Without a well-defined data strategy, you’re inviting chaos and increasing the likelihood that people within your business won’t have the useful data they need to excel in their roles. You’re also putting your organization at a competitive disadvantage–in the absence of a clear data strategy aligned to business objectives, and organizations can fall into the trap of focusing solely on today’s tactical challenges. Instead of emerging as a market leader and thriving, the business could be reduced to reacting and surviving.
We’re seeing that businesses, CDOs, and data teams need technology solutions that can go in and work with what you have – and deliver more out of it. At Exasol, we’re working closely and collaboratively with our clients to uncover their pain points and co-brainstorming on a path forward of least resistance. To meet the challenges and complexities of the data ecosystem, we’re giving businesses a choice that enables scalability and flexibility, increases time to data, and does these things at a reasonable price. At the same time, we’re developing a data strategy playbook to help businesses understand the technical capabilities they need upfront to succeed in a world run by data, helping guide them along their data journey to achieve their specific business objectives.
Moving forward, so I have just been promoted as the new Global Head of Customer Success, and I’m responsible for the teams in North America, the UK, and Germany. As Global Head of Customer Success, I’m incredibly privileged to be in this position to bring customer-centricity into the organization. So, my philosophy is this: Bring the customer as our focal point and make them the driver for all decisions regarding product engineering support.
This first year is about getting situational awareness. It’s about understanding what works and what doesn’t work. We’re rolling out the Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. The data collected, especially around the top three reasons for dissatisfaction, is helping us make data-driven decisions.
John: Trust is extremely important with customers. They’re looking for somebody they can trust, not just with a one-time event but with a longer-term strategy. And so one of the things that we’re doing, as Solongo highlighted, is focusing on building and expanding that trust with our customers. A lot of our customers bring us in to solve a specific challenge issue with a BI report that’s running slow, or they’ve got a short-term decision they’ve got to make in a certain part of the business with marketing or finance. We deliver a quick win on that narrow challenge, but we also lay the foundation for long-term solutions that deliver ROI in making or saving money and align with business strategy.
CDI: Keeping with the theme of customers, what are the main technical challenges your customers face? Does this mark a change from a year ago?
Solongo: Today, businesses are trying to do more with less, with the need to optimize data management and data services growing. They are drowning in data, need answers quickly, and the systems they have in place do not support their business goals or objectives. Data use cases have changed from historical reporting (how much a retail business sold in the previous six months) to real-time reactive, enabling said retailer to adapt and prepare for future supply chain disruptions or decreased sales due to economic instability. Complexities in infrastructure, processes, and personnel have business leaders jumping through hurdles to understand what technical capabilities they need to focus on and the opportunities that will deliver an ideal business outcome.
John: To add to what Solongo just said, businesses need more data architecture choices. With three main cloud providers owning the market space, operational costs can be high and remain a key consideration for business decision-makers, especially given economic volatility. Flexibility is key to success.
While many organizations are jumping to the cloud, it’s essential to note where your organization is currently at with its architecture and decide if a complete shift to the cloud is worth the cost. If it’s not, organizations should consider a phased approach to the cloud-based approach considering again on flexibility and choice. Businesses seek balance in transitioning from a centralized approach to a decentralized world. It’s important to offer an opportunity for companies to innovate but have a centralized platform that provides structure and governance, which are critical.
CDI: Which emerging technology or business trend do you think will have the most impact on Exasol?
John: The need for rapid insights and an incredibly competitive landscape are leading to consolidation across industries. We’ve seen three primary cloud providers emerge and own the marketplace, with the promise of their capabilities lending itself to preventing vendor lock-in. However, to meet the growing demands of customers, these more prominent cloud players have to go outside the marketplace and spend more on tech to add value to what they provide their customers – rather than just their native solutions. Exasol works with customers’ current and future tech stack, providing choice and flexibility, improving time to data vs. cost.
Solongo: We coexist with others. And this is where the trusted advisor is a true trusted advisor. It means understanding the customer’s desired outcome and unique challenges. It takes time and energy to sit down and advise in their best interest. And that means sometimes we’re not the best solution. It means making a recommendation that is more suited, but in the long run, we gain that trust with the customer.
CDI: What are some of the conversations that you’re having around long-term customer goals and long-term relationships?
John: We’re seeing that there’s a large portion of organizations that desire more access to data and quicker access to data. About half of them feel that they are able to do that with what they’ve already designed. We’re also seeing trends toward a more decentralized model and approach. Which is a good thing, right? Because then, businesses are able to innovate quicker, but there’s also a strong desire for governance and stability. Every organization’s got to figure out the right balance.
Organizations tell us they want a strong foundation but then have the ability to innovate within that. One analogy that a CDO used was to have that Lego set with those nice little holes that fit very nicely together. You can design and re-design, but they still fit together nicely.
CDI: Several of the Gartner analysts and software executives have mentioned they’re seeing customers shift to consolidating technology, maybe going with a portfolio of products or a platform rather than working with a collection of best-in-class products. What are you seeing?
John: You don’t have to be stuck with an ROI you’re unhappy with. The tendency these days is to consolidate to a specific technology and optimize your spend. The problem is the technology may not be suited for near-real-time analytics and some of those other things that you might need. Instead of spending more on a technology that wasn’t designed to do a certain job, you can use different tools for the right job.
I see particularly large organizations with large cloud spends fall into the trap of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole which can lead to sticker shock. What makes me happy is working with our customers to help them do more with less and avoid those trade-offs between cost and capabilities.
But to do that, you have to be extremely empathetic towards the types of problems our customers face. Our approach is to really understand their entire data analytics maturity journey because every organization is on a journey. And as you know, it is not just technology; it’s people and processes, too. So we’re hyper-aware of that, and we try to conscientiously identify where they are in the journey so that we can help guide them and move them up, whether that’s improving data literacy or their approach to governance.
John Knieriemen, North America Business Lead, Exasol. John joined Exasol in 2022 and is responsible for strategically scaling Exasol’s North America business presence across industries and expanding the organization’s partner network. John has more than two decades of data analytics experience, with deep expertise in new logo acquisition, account management, and solutioning in the data warehousing, big data, and cloud analytics space. Before joining Exasol, John served as vice president and general manager at Teradata, spending over 11 years in senior management roles.
Solongo Erdenekhuyag, Global Head of Customer Success, Exasol. Solongo brings more than a decade of technical project and program management consulting experience across a diverse range of clients, both in the public and private sectors, locally and internationally, across various industries. She joined Exasol from Kinetica, where she held a leadership position in customer success, overseeing the company’s most significant and strategic analytics implementation projects.