For years the promise of business intelligence (BI) tools has been a straightforward one that pretty much anyone can understand. And yet achieving it has been incredibly complicated.
Reduced to its basics, the promise goes like this: If you pay sufficiently close attention to your company’s day-to-day operating data – essentially what’s selling well and not selling well – you’ll discover new insights about your business that previously may not have been clear. And once discovered, they can lead you to actions that can either make you money or save you money.
And who doesn’t want to do either? It’s the sort of brass ring that MBA students dream about: A sudden discovery of an overlooked marketplace wrinkle leads to millions of dollars’ worth of new sales – or savings – leading to promotion in the workplace, big bonus payments, a Wall Street Journal write-up, and calls from big-shot headhunters.
Yet for all that dreaming, the reality of reaching that inspired moment has until recently has been a dreary one. Those career-making discoveries tend to be hidden deep inside data culled from ERP applications and poured into Excel spreadsheets that are at minimum days or weeks old.
However, a new generation of BI tools has started to challenge the tyranny of the spreadsheet and one that has gotten a lot of notice is Utah-based Domo.
After gaining a reputation for keeping its product secret, and also for the fundraising prowess of its founding CEO Josh James, Domo’s customers are starting to talk about how their deployments of the cloud-based, people-friendly data-sifting tool has made a meaningful dent in some nagging business problems.
I spent some time talking with executives of two Domo customers, Apria Healthcare and European Wax Center, and heard some interesting results.
Apria is a privately held company based in Lake Forest, Calif. that sells and supports home respirators and other medical equipment around the U.S. It sells both to hospitals and clinics, and manages service and billing relationships. James Slagle, its vice president for BI said that it deployed Domo after the company’s CFO Debra Morris identified a need to apply analytics capabilities company wide.
“We didn’t have an easily-conveyed way of understanding the components of a sale,” Slagle said.
A lot of those details – who the sales rep was, the name of the prescribing doctor, what illness the patient was being treated for – and other useful aspects related to a sale – were often gathered into reports built using “a heavy combination of spreadsheets and Microsoft Access.” Those reports generally lagged the sales process by at least two weeks, making it hard to make any needed changes in time to be effective.
During an initial deployment in three or four markets and related only to a single product, Apria’s field sales managers quickly got the hang of keeping detailed track of their performance. “We gave them a daily understanding of where they were in meeting their goals, where they were selling well and where they were deficient,” Slagle said. “They could see if they were making progress, and if not they could course-correct right away.” Soon Apria rolled Domo out to 59 more markets.
Domo’s more granular presentation of sales data helped shine a light on another complex business problem: Large and small insurance companies reimburse Apria at different rates and on varying schedules, all of which affected profit margins in ways that were difficult to grasp, but which Domo helped clarify. “It got us to think more strategically about our sales mix overall,” Slagle said. “That was a big win.”
Along the way, Apria discovered something else: Before Domo, different departments generated reports that tended to be tailored to their own priorities. “It was like there was a political spin to the data in each report,” depending on which department created it. “There was no single source of truth that everyone could agree on.”
Domo, he said, quickly became that source of truth. “There was some resistance to changing the way things had been done, but after a few months, if a report didn’t come from Domo, it didn’t have merit,” Slagle said.
At European Wax Center, a lifestyle and beauty company that operates more than 600 franchise locations around the U.S., data was analyzed using a set of homegrown tools built by a franchisee. “It was a good consolidation tool, and it gathered daily operational data, but it was flat, non-alive data,” says Bart Butler, chief technology and innovation officer.
The system also suffered difficulties importing data from the company’s point-of-sale (POS) terminals, Butler says. Domo scored points early in a demonstration where it connected to the POS network after about 15 minutes worth of work.
Soon data from EWC locations that had been “flat” took on new life in Domo. Franchisee associates and corporate employees could uses their own personal devices to track performance on sales goals against others at individual centers, and at the regional and national levels. “Within two clicks you can see how your center is doing. Center managers can see how their teams did in the morning, and make changes to what they’re doing in the afternoon,” Butler said.
Moreover, center managers and corporate level executives could discover previously unknown business patterns whether regional or seasonal, and act on them. “The way a center in California looks at information will be different in how a center in Pennsylvania or Boston does,” Butler says. “The people in those centers can make intelligent business decisions based on the weather or other factors.”
The results were unambiguous. Centers using Domo that participated in a company-sponsored challenge projected increases of at least 10 percent in their revenue and bottom line. The results were consistent across several different service offerings and products.
Butler says European Wax Center sees Domo as a strategic partner, but also sees itself as a demanding customer. “We see the power of this tool, and they see it too, but we think it has only scratched the surface of its potential. We think it can do more so we tell them we want new features every two to three weeks. And, Domo is delivering for us”