Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Birst Enables Roll-Your-Own Business Intelligence

Birst, the business intelligence start-up that I first wrote about last fall, is back today with an interesting new capability that combines data that resides in the cloud or on-premise into a single customized view.

We’ve all seen how attention to the business intelligence sector is quickening. There are scads of new companies arguing that the information you need to give your business a new edge already exists, if only you have the tools to properly harness it. There may be patterns you’re missing, or territories where you’re selling better than you think you are, or customer segments that need more attention. And big established software and IT companies like Oracle and SAP and IBM are reemphasizing their own capabilities in the area, as well.

Anyway, Birst — the first two letters stand for business intelligence — is one of these many, and is backed by investments from Sequoia Capital, Hummer Winblad and DAG Ventures.

Its approach to BI is sort of a hybrid of cloudy idealism and on-the-ground, on-premise reality. Having already become a player in the basic cloud-based BI business, the company noticed that most of the data that makes BI valuable in the first place doesn’t live in the cloud, but actually is used with applications that run behind the firewall.

Birst has a cloud-based service that when combined with an on-premise appliance can grab data from both environments and co-mingle it. That gives corporate users that ability to roll their own dashboard views, mixing data from applications that otherwise might not be able coexist. “There’s this chasm between people who own the data and people who want to use the data for something productive,” CEO Brad Peters told me yesterday. “What happens is that people who really want to use the data end up pulling it all into a spreadsheet and going rogue in the course of trying to do their jobs better. The problem is, it’s really hard to put the right sets of data together.”

For all the attention paid to putting business data in the cloud, Peters says, most of the really useful stuff still lives in the older on-premise applications. So the Birst appliance creates an on-premise instance of its cloud-based BI application. Data that exists in both places is treated like it’s all in the same place.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work