In this third year of CFO’s Tech Companies to Watch, we found a notable shift in the applications being offered by vendors. In every functional area of the companies that made our annual list — process management, recruiting, travel expenses, receivables management, and compliance among them — the goal is unearthing the real story behind the data to make more intelligent decisions.
The entirety of the list appears in the April/May 2019 edition of CFO magazine. We are revealing the first 10 companies on CFO.com, one per day. Our first six tech companies to watch were FortressIQ, Behavox, Completed.com, Yaypay, Yapta, and AuditBoard. Today, we cover Sisense’s data analytics software.
Business intelligence (BI) tools usually involved a trade-off: speed for data complexity. For example, an executive may want to analyze how strongly salespeople’s performance correlates with their commissions — and then ask that question by product line or by geography. That means taking information about sales, inventory, profits, and more, and mashing it all together before even pushing the button to get the results. Many BI solutions require the user to go to the IT department to request that the data sets be combined, stretching out the process for weeks.
Sisense, though, has developed technology that allows business users to do all of that themselves, on the fly. “We give users access to dynamic dashboards so they can slice and dice information about the business on their own,” says Sisense CEO Amir Orad.
The Sisense platform is able to do this because it uses ultra-fast cache memory on the central processing unit (in-chip architecture), as well as slower-to-access in-memory storage in RAM as a staging ground for its computations.
“Sisense has figured out a way to move data between RAM and the CPU faster than an operating system would do it on its own,” says Forrester principal analyst Boris Evelson. “The capability makes all types of calculations faster than most other BI platforms.” Sisense chief strategy officer Guy Levy-Yurista says the platform operates about 50 times faster than it would operate if it just used RAM.
Forrester named Sisense a “strong performer” in a 2017 market analysis, behind the “leader” category but in the company of larger BI players SAS and SAP. Likewise, Gartner dubbed Sisense a “visionary” in its February 2019 magic quadrant analysis of the analytics and business intelligence market.
Sisense has $200 million worth of funding and thousands of customers, including GE, Nasdaq, and Philips. About half of Sisense’s customers embed its solution to offer their own clients better analytics. Anaqua, for example, a leading provider of intellectual property management software, chose Sisense to enable its clients to get answers about how to treat their patents as assets.
In those use cases, “we allow the CFO to make financial decisions about whether they should renew, protect, buy, sell, or lease their patents,” says Orad. “With Sisense you can ask a question and get an answer on the spot without going and rebuilding your data repositories and databases.”
Sisense’s latest move is the commercial launch of a product called Sisense Hunch. It reduces terabytes of data to a few megabytes, delivering answers that are slightly less accurate but come faster. For instance, instead of knowing a sales figure is $10,500,327, the user might be satisfied to know that the answer is about $10,500,000. Because the data set is so much smaller and easier to work with (and uses a tiny fraction of the storage footprint), the user is able to get an answer in 1/1,000 of a second instead of 10 minutes.
Forrester’s Evelson is bullish on Hunch, and on Sisense in general, but he has a word of caution. “Sisense has great market traction and momentum, but so do the other 20-plus leading BI vendors that I track,” he says. “BI is a paradoxical animal. The supply side of the market is very mature, the demand side is not.” If nothing else, that means Sisense and its competitors have a lot of room for growth.