If easy-to-use, scalable and high-performance data analytics apps aren't the hottest trend right now in all of enterprise IT, then the pope is a Protestant.
San Francisco-based startup Alpine Data on Sept. 24—the historic day Pope Francis addressed the Congress of the United States—became the latest company to unveil one of these solutions designed to be used by non-data science experts within the marketing, human resources or other administrative offices of an enterprise.
Accenture just launched a product in this genre Sept. 23. Cisco Systems, HP, Kyvos, SAS, Intel, ADP, Microsoft and IBM—the list goes much longer than this—have all come out with either new or augmented data analytics offerings in the last six months. You can read about all of them here in eWEEK.
Alpine Data introduced Alpine Touchpoints, a cloud-based application services layer that enables business users to interact with complex analytic assets and incorporate them into their existing activities and workflows. Key differentiator: Touchpoints provides predictive data analytics, something that most of the others do not yet provide. Any type of device also can be used.
No Need to Learn Data Science
Touchpoints connects business users to machine learning without requiring them to learn data science or retraining them to use new systems. The user interface guides them through the process. Enterprises can deploy task-specific Touchpoints in forms that are immediately recognizable, such as a text or email alert, or an interactive experience within an existing application. The interface is all about familiar computerisms.
Touchpoints originated in 2012 as a way to make the data analytics process simpler for data scientists themselves.
"What I realized what my data scientists needed was a way of doing analytics with big data platforms that wouldn't require them to write reams of SQL code or MapReduce code, or anything like that," Steven Hillion, Alpine Data's co-founder and chief product officer, told eWEEK. "I wanted them to focus on data science, not on programming.
"Conventional providers like SAS, IBM, along with a lot of newer companies, focus mostly on the algorithms, the mathematics. We think no other 'last mile' of analytics is as simple as a Web application."
Alpine, whose customers include Morgan Stanley and a number of other large enterprises, was built by the same folks who brought us Greenplum's open-source enterprise data warehouse IT, which was bought by EMC in 2010. While it was originally designed to run on big data platforms such as Greenplum and Hadoop and to be used by professional data scientists, Touchpoints has been developed and simplified to where it now can be used by many line-of-business (non-scientific or mathematical) employees—which takes in most of the world population.
Completing the 'Last Mile' of Enterprise Analytics
Touchpoints is multi-faceted. It enables business users to create predictive models without forcing them to learn the language of data science. At the same time, Alpine's main enterprise platform provides a place for data scientists to build complex models and for analysts to distribute these to a diverse set of roles within any company.
As a result, business analysts can now provide intuitive user interfaces on top of complex analytical models to as many end users as needed and put the syntax of a model in a format that can be more broadly put to use. Instead of going through an endless cycle of approaching siloed data science teams with a problem, business users can use Touchpoints to interact with a model and retrieve powerful results that can affect their day-to-day activities, Hillion said.
Touchpoints enables business analysts to:
--wrap analytic assets in use-case specific interfaces, which hide the complexity of the underlying models;
--place the output of analytic assets (or an Interactive Touchpoint) directly into a third-party environment, such as CRM, BI and logistics applications, or bespoke internal software; and
--make insights available in familiar mobile interfaces, such as Short Message Service (SMS) alerts and use case-driven applications.
Provides Constant Loop Between Users, Analysts
Touchpoints also provides a constant feedback loop between the end user and business analysts, Hillion said. Thus, business analysts can monitor and better understand which insights are being used and how they are consumed. By collecting metadata from employee activity, the analysts can constantly optimize the models and delivery of the insights.
Many IT shops are now installing either on-site or cloud-based data analytics apps, but once they are in place, the employees that need to use them often struggle with how to make them work inside their use cases.
"Too much has been invested in big data to reap such minimal business value," said Joe Otto, CEO of Alpine Data. "Everyone on the vendor side has been focused on the different ways to create insights with little regard for how to connect these insights into the business layer."
Touchpoints is available in Alpine 5.6 as a premium feature. Touchpoint vertical applications are being rolled out with a number of customers in financial services, telecom, manufacturing and health care, Hillion said.