One definition of successful innovation is taking a great concept, refining it iteratively, and adapting it to evolving technology and the ideas driving it. Fortunately, over the course of my storied career, I have seen this happen first-hand many, many times.
Early in my career 30 years ago, I witnessed the birth and evolution of business intelligence. At the time, I focused on marketing executive information systems (EIS), which later became a foundational pillar for BI. The executive suite found EIS to be easy to use, thanks to the technology’s visual and graphical interfaces and reporting capabilities. Very quickly, EIS evolved into executive support systems (ESS), which was part of a broader decision support system (DSS) structure and was widely hyped before it merged with BI.
These applications were very popular for a period of time – offering graphical interfaces, dynamic reporting, and integrated external and internal data and information. Timed with the explosion of the PC and the rise of a graphical user interface (GUI) with modern application builder tools, this brought information access to a newer, broader user community including the executive suite.
Ultimately, the standalone executive-focused solution converged with the broader use of BI and a mandate for more integrated reporting based on a standard set of data and information. As new technologies such in-memory computing, mobile and tablet devices, and highly visual interfaces emerged as well as the reality of real-time access and drill-down and flexible data-driven reporting, the initial vision for EIS and ESS actually came to fruition.
More than 25 years later, the introduction of the digital boardroom has taken these concepts to a whole new level. This juxtaposition of art and science is delivering a new degree of business insights to a C-level audience and beyond.
The digital boardroom: Everything that’s old is indeed new again
When SAP CEO Bill McDermott took the stage to deliver the opening keynote at the SAPPHIRE NOW conference, I had a distinct feeling of déjà vu as he discussed the challenges of today’s modern C-level executives and how they can benefit from access to real-time data:
- Insights into business trends
- Focus on linearity to avoid “hockey stick” performance
- Real-time information and feedback on the business
- Integration of data sources across an enterprise
- Use of Big Data and analytics innovation through simulation and prediction
The key themes of turning data into insights and insights into action have been fundamentally unchanged for close to 30 years.
Technology, such as the SAP Digital Boardroom solution, marries cost-effective flat-screen technology to large-area graphics that can be extended beyond the boardroom. Described as a “beautiful user experience” by McDermott, the solution provides mobile access to information, which allows executives to travel anywhere with the insight and functionality of a digital boardroom.
The concepts of top-level reporting and drill-down remain the same. We start with the highest view and dig into line items of any business area supported by the underlying detail – all in real time. The only difference is the elimination of staging data, which resulted from a practice of anticipating possible questions with precanned reports. With a digital boardroom, all of this can be done in real time and at a far more compelling price point with a much lower total cost of ownership.
A single version of the truth: Trusted and verified
The vision of the digital boardroom depends on the premise of a single version of the truth with incredible levels of detail available below top-level reporting – which EIS and ESS solutions lacked. According to SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, the technology behind the digital boardroom concept took seven years to be developed and introduced. It’s both art and science as great creativity has been applied along with the latest in technology, including in-memory database and modern analytics. Click here for some great insights from Hasso’s SAPPHIRE NOW keynote.
As my earlier experiences also included the birth of data warehousing, Hasso also made a case that in-memory technologies can make staged databases obsolete. One sign of a pioneer is the willingness to embark upon a brave new world, even if it cuts into an existing and established business.