Being the first to deliver all news, we heard recently that having left SAP BusinessObjects 2 years ago, Donald MacCormick, the former CTO of BusinessObjects who played an instrumental role in the acquisition of Xcelsius by BusienssObjects in 2003, is heading back to the world of BI to become the Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Antivia. Known for his ‘tell it like it is approach’ we manage to catch up with him to ask a few questions about his new role and outlook on BI! This is a great read, enjoy.
Q: For those who don’t know you, why don’t you tell us about your history with Xcelsius and BusinessObjects?
Donald: Back in October 2003, Roger Sanborn, one of the key product managers at Crystal, sent me an email suggesting I go to the site, www.infommersion.com. Infommersion were the creators of Xcelsius and as soon as I saw it, I was captivated by the concept. This was a couple of months before the acquisition of Crystal by BusinessObjects closed, which was fortunate timing as BusinessObjects was a much more acquisitive company than Crystal. I spend the next few months demoing Xcelsius to anyone in the organization who would listen,to the point where I think that some people thought I was on some sort of commission from the folks at Infommersion, but finally, about 18 months later, after a lot of hard work (mainly by Tom Schroeder and Mike Brooks), Xcelsius and the Infommersion team became part of BusinessObjects, and the fun really started.
Q: What exactly brought you back to Business Intelligence?
Donald: I left SAP BusinessObjects and the BI world two years ago for a fantastic opportunity to work at a mobile banking startup in California, but personal commitments meant I had to return to the UK and, as a result, I had to find something new. Having spent the previous 20 years in the BI community it was always likely that I would return to it sooner or later. I find the BI world fascinating, the use of information is universally acknowledged as a key activity for organizations, but it is hard to find organizations who do it really well. As a result, there is huge potential for both business impact and technical innovation which is an exciting combination. Additionally, BI is a market where there is hype and substance in almost equal measure, which makes the whole process of marketing BI tools an interesting one. So, when the opportunity arose to get involved in both product and marketing with a BI startup, it was not that hard a decision.
Q: Why did you choose to join Antivia in particular?
Donald: The genesis of Antivia’s XWIS product was at a meeting I had with Mark, Paul and Jason (three of the Antivia founders), where I was talking about an issue which had just caused the loss of an Xcelsius sale. They immediately said, “Give us a week, we think we could do something about that!” and sure enough a week later they gave me a demo of the first prototype of XWIS. Since then I have been involved with them as an advisor and board member, it has been amazing watching them take that initial pre-alpha of the product, flesh it out, sell it to their first customer and take it all the way through to the point now where many mainstream SAP customers around the world use XWIS to underpin their enterprise Xcelsius dashboards. Joining them full time felt like a natural next step. In addition, having worked for a California based start-up for the last two years, it feels like a nice balance to now be involved in the UK technology start-up world which is much more active than many people realize.
Q: What does Antivia’s XWIS add-on for Xcelsius actually do?
Donald: This is not really the forum for an advert, so if people want to find out I suggest they go to our website at www.antivia.com, but to give you a teaser Ryan Goodman from Centigon Solutions was kind enough to say recently, “I can vouch from personal experience that XWIS cuts [enterprise Xcelsius dashboard] development time by 10 to 20 times”!
Q: Does that not make it competitive with SAP?
Donald: Actually quite the contrary, XWIS is completely complimentary to the SAP product set, it helps SAP customers get more from their Xcelsius and BI Platform investments, it is a win for Antivia, SAP and our joint customers. As a platform, SAP BusinessObjects is always going to be at the heart of a strong ecosystem. Antivia is striving to be a key player in that ecosystem driving co-innovation with SAP products. We started with connectivity between Xcelsius and WebI, but have since expanded to off-line dashboard distribution and most recently, mobile dashboard delivery and have more co-innovations in the works for the rest of 2011 and beyond.
Q: So what do you think about the recent “Xclesius” name change?
Donald: Given the many strong opinions expressed on-line when they made the change it would have been hard not to notice, but knowing Xcelsius from before it was acquired by BusinessObjects I find it hard to call it anything else. I sympathize with the rationale for the change, but I am afraid that for me “Dashboard Designer” is a little too soulless for one of the more innovative software products of the last 10 years.
Q: Going back to BI, you talked earlier about “BI hype and substance in equal measure”, what did you mean by that?
Donald: The substance of BI is that it is universally accepted as a vital activity for organizations. After all, who doesn’t believe that there is value in better use of information? However, the art of BI is to tease this substance from the inevitable short term hype as new technologies emerge. A good example is the current buzz about “big-data”. Clearly there is an advantage to being able to analyze huge amounts of data and “big-data” sounds exciting, but we need to be careful, as with so many new BI technologies over the years, there is both hype and substance lurking. The hype of “big-data” is the idea that a few people in an organization can analyze large volumes of data and come up with magical, instantly transforming insights. The substance is that the results of deep analysis can be used to drive the right subsets of information into the hands of people right across the organization to help them be more efficient and effective in their everyday jobs.
Q: So, having just left the world of mobile banking, how do you see mobility affecting BI?
Donald: It is obvious that mobile will profoundly affect BI over the next few years, just as it will affect pretty much every other part of our lives. However, once again we need to be careful not to get carried away with the hype. To a large extent BI has been mobile for many years already, most of us travel with our laptops and so BI is already within easy reach. The question is what additional business value can BI offer if delivered on a tablet or a SmartPhone? Without answering this we risk spending a lot of time, money and energy mobilizing BI without getting a good return on that investment. Obviously the starting point will be to take existing BI content and mobilizing it, however, we need to find ways of making sure that this does not mean a redevelopment for every device, as that would be a lot of cost for little return (this is a key focus of the XWIS Anywhere product). Ultimately, there will be more to mobile BI than simply delivering content on the iPad, because it is easier to carry around than a laptop. Mobile offers a new real-time channel to end-users which can significantly amplify the benefits of BI, but only if we take the time to make sure that each user gets exactly the information they need to do their job, no more, no less.
Q: So now that you are back what is the best way for folks to follow or keep up with you?
Donald: The quickest way to connect to me is via twitter @donaldmac. Some folks have also been taking advantage of my free Xcelsius add-ons at http://xcomponents.blogspot.com/. Expect lots more in the upcoming months…
Soo Tang Yuk is the ‘Xcelsius Gurus Network” community manager and evangelist. To find out more about her, please visit the About Us page.