CEO Q&A: Why AI Is In Your Analytics Future
Thoughtspot CEO Sudheesh Nair explains why AI is the single most important emerging technology -- and why it's not enough for your success.
- By James E. Powell
- March 1, 2019
In our continuing Q&A series, we asked CEOs across the country about what they see as the most important current technology or methodology and what emerging technology shows the most promise. In this article, we explore artificial intelligence with the Sudheesh Nair, the CEO of ThoughtSpot, a company specializing in AI-driven enterprise analytics.
Upside: What technology or methodology must be part of an enterprise data strategy if it wants to be competitive today? Why?
Sudheesh Nair: Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming the "front end" for data and analytics in the modern enterprise. By making data and the tools for interacting with it more accessible and intuitive, AI helps enterprises turn their data and other fruits of digital transformation into real business value.
However, AI technology alone is not enough. To succeed, companies must also foster a culture of data literacy across the entire organization. In simple terms, it's about creating an environment where insights and decisions based on empirical data are always prioritized over intuition.
In a world increasingly driven by AI -- where new tools, technologies, and insights are becoming accessible to even the most non-technical employees for the first time -- data literacy is key to building an exceptional business. To make the most of new and rapidly improving business technology and to carve out a lasting competitive advantage, businesses must support the people who stand to generate the most value from using them, especially frontline workers. When companies expand access to data and empower teams to use it, they can understand their customers better, design more effective products and services, and improve organizational efficiency.
What one emerging technology are you most excited about and think has the greatest potential? What's so special about this technology?
Despite coming into existence more than 50 years ago, artificial intelligence remains the single most important emerging technology for enterprise companies today. Advances in computing and data, driven by the cloud in particular, have made AI an enterprise necessity rather than a science experiment.
In particular, AI stands to create step-change improvements in data and analytics. According to the latest research from McKinsey, two-thirds of the opportunities in AI revolve around advancing data analytics techniques. What's more, their researchers estimate that applying breakthroughs in AI to existing approaches to data and analytics has the potential to create as much as $5.8 trillion in value annually.
AI makes data and analytics both more powerful and more accessible. It enables organizations to comb through the growing mountains of data being created -- upwards of 2.5 quintillion bytes every day -- and distill insights that humans would never have the time to find on their own. What's more, it introduces new ways to interact with data -- one of the newest being voice-powered interfaces made possible by natural language processing. In fact, according to Gartner, 50 percent of analytical queries will be "generated via search, natural-language processing or voice, or will be automatically generated" by 2020.
What is the single biggest challenge enterprises face today? How do most enterprises respond (and is it working)?
Every company today wants to become more data-driven. As digital natives -- companies that are data-driven by their very nature -- continue disrupting industries far and wide, nobody wants to fall behind and become the next company to fail. Legacy enterprises such as these simply move too slow to keep up with the quixotic nature of modern business. Digital natives, meanwhile, leverage their tech advantage to quickly adapt to changing market conditions, consumer preferences, and the innovation landscape.
Enterprises everywhere are responding by investing heavily in technology. What sets success stories such as Best Buy and JD Sports apart is their commitment to making the product of their technology investments -- data and, ultimately, business insights -- available to the most important decision makers in their organizations: frontline employees.
Is there a new technology in data and analytics that is creating more challenges than most people realize? How should enterprises adjust their approach to it?
Artificial intelligence is both the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge in data and analytics today. Although it creates a great deal of opportunity for advancing data democratization from a technology perspective, taking full advantage of those opportunities requires significant organizational change, and that's never easy.
In addition to shifting the focus of data teams away from gatekeeping and towards education, support, and guidance, organizations need to find and appoint the right chief data officer (CDO) to spearhead the transformation. This individual is a leader who can balance the demands of new and existing analytics requirements, champion the use of data across the entire organization, and foster a culture of data literacy. That said, it's the responsibility of the entire executive team to champion this culture if the business wants to navigate the changes coming and come out thriving on the other side.
What do you look for in a CDO specifically? You want someone who understands the needs of both IT and the business, can see the larger picture while keeping an eye on the details, and has a natural ability to teach and inspire others. For data literacy to stick, people must both learn about the tools and technology as well as understand why adopting them is mission-critical for the business.
What initiative is your organization spending the most time/resources on today?
At ThoughtSpot, our entire team is intensely focused on creating a more fact-driven world. At the highest level, it's about bringing facts into every conversation -- both in business and in everyday life -- so that the ideas and decisions shaping the world around us are more clear, informed, and accurate.
For our customers and partners, that means advancing data to the front lines of business and bringing it to the very center of decision making. For our team internally, it's all about creating the most powerful and easy-to-use technology on the market to make it all possible.
Where do you see analytics and data management headed in 2019 and beyond? What's just over the horizon that we haven't heard much about yet?
Analytics and data management are heading to the front lines of business in 2019. After decades in the IT department, it's time for everyone in the organization to have access to the tools they need to become truly data-driven. Looking ahead, the arrival of new interfaces for working with data and analytics technology -- especially voice-powered interfaces -- will dramatically lower the barriers to entry in 2019 and help every company turn data into insights.
Describe your product/solution and the problem it solves for enterprises.
ThoughtSpot is a leader in search, voice, and AI-driven analytics for the enterprise, helping the largest companies in the world succeed in the digital era by putting the power of a thousand analysts in every business person's hands. With ThoughtSpot's next-generation analytics platform, business people can use Google-like search to easily analyze complex, large-scale enterprise data and get trusted insights to questions they didn't know to ask, automatically—all with a single click. ThoughtSpot connects with any on-premises, cloud, big data, or desktop data source, deploying 85 percent faster than legacy technologies.