RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Lyza Empowers New Class of Business Intelligence Consumers

Lyza runs completely on the desktop, so there's no administration and minimal IT overhead. The result, officials claim, is an empowered user class.

To hear start-up Lyzasoft Inc. tell it, there's a big bloc of potential business intelligence (BI) consumers ill-served by existing products -- one-size-fits-all BI suites at one end of the spectrum and client spreadsheet tools at the other. The suites aren't flexible or customizable enough to accommodate business analysts, marketing analysts, and other potential users. Spreadsheets, on the other hand, are seen as contributing to spreadmart hell.

Lyzasoft officials say this big bloc of consumers has been mostly muddling through on its own. "The dirty little secret of BI is that most [business intelligence] happens outside of that traditional BI stack -- that is, people extracting data and going off on their own and doing whatever," says Lyzasoft founder and CEO Scott Davis.

"[T]he fact that a lot of people out at the edge of the organization or the edge of the formal BI community -- the fact that they're sort of doing stuff on their own -- is an irrefutable argument that there's something that they need to do which isn't terribly well-suited to the traditional business intelligence process. They need autonomy, they need flexibility."

Davis and Lyzasoft co-founder Brian Krasovec (who is responsible for product development) co-founded BI consultancy Eyeris. According to Davis, Lyza is the product of an in-the-trenches development process.

It's a familiar (if clichéd) product story: in their BI consulting work, Davis and Krasovec were surprised to discover a silent but struggling group of BI users who were either hamstrung by in-house BI tools or laboring ineffectually in spreadmart siloes.

The duo identified self-service -- i.e., software flexibility and user autonomy -- as the key to turning these constituents into consumers, and as a result developed Lyza, a product that balances two competing -- and seemingly contradictory -- requirements.

"This is a process of manipulating, visualizing, communicating, synthesizing, working with data in a way that a non-IT analyst can do on their own. It cannot use Structured Query Language. It can't rely on enterprise hardware because [these non-IT analysts] don't typically have access to that," he stresses.

"It has to be visual -- it has to be WYSIWYG. It allows people to do things on their own in a very flexible, modular way, but it isn't 'hack and stack on the desktop and build a spreadmart,' so nobody knows where those numbers came from. It isn't confined to a sandbox that you can slice and dice all that you want but you can't move outside the sandbox."

Its impetus is familiar, but Lyza itself is decidedly unfamiliar. It's an all-in-one BI tool, complete with integrated reporting, ad hoc query and analysis, dashboarding/presentation capabilities, and (mostly) self-service connectivity to back-end data sources, but it isn't an end-to-end BI suite: it's an entirely client-side solution. Everything -- even ad hoc query crunching -- runs on the client desktop.

More to the point, Davis stresses, it runs on either of two popular desktop environments: Windows and natively (not in Parallels, not in a virtual sandbox) on MacOS. Even though it runs on the desktop, it doesn't limit the kinds of data sources with which consumers can work; the size of working data sets; the counts of records or columns; or the complexity of the transformations or calculations they wish to perform.

What does all of this self-serviceability and autonomy get you? Why do business analysts, marketing analysts, campaign managers, and other potential BI users need full-fledged BI stacks on their desktops?

According to Davis, a tool like Lyza lets them address the one-off, seasonal, or "incremental" projects that take too long to get approved or which otherwise never get funded.

"We're talking $20,000 worth of incremental revenue, or $40,000 worth of incremental bottom line -- but that will never fund a project. If you write a business case for that, it'll never get funded. However, incrementally, it all adds up," he says. "What we need to do is give these guys a tool that allows them to do their own data collection, their own data synthesis, their own enrichment of that data, and to do it quickly and independently."

Lyza isn't a spreadmart-type solution, Davis insists.

"Everything that they do to a file, everything that they do to a chart, it's all captured in a business rules XML document. What that means is that we have metadata on every business rule manipulation from the beginning to the end. That is unique. That is not going to be replicated by anybody using spreadsheets or joint tools," he says. "There is never a point at which somebody says, 'Where did this number come from?' That's a big deal for analysts. It gives them a completely new notion of what something means."

It's precisely Lyza's desktop-centric pitch that could endear it to business users -- and pave the way for out-of-band deployments around IT, says one industry watcher.

"The thing is, it's desktop. No admins have to worry about anything. It can be a direct end-user sales model. IT need not apply. They'll still complain, but this is a [lot] better than screwing around with people using Excel invisibly," says Mark Madsen, a principal with BI and data warehousing (DW) consultancy Third Nature. Madsen, a veteran DW architect, says Lyzasoft is the first vendor out of the gate in what's shaping up to be a burgeoning BI-on-the-desktop revival.

"They will have some competition … this fall, but for now they're first. Market size is hard to gauge. The thing is, the tool is all-in-one, and that means it's a hell of a lot easier to use than Excel, or any other BI tool including Qlikview," he concludes.

"It's aimed at analysts. Every company has several people in different departments who do analysis. They have lousy tools, and BI tools don't do this type of thing. That means the segment appears crowded, but is actually empty."

That's just the kind of view that should make Lyzasoft's founders happy.

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