What builders need to do to succeed, and how to do it

Your app is now a data app – here’s what you need to know

Sumeet Arora
© Shutterstock / Yurchanka Siarhei

The opportunities — and requirements — are clear. To deliver the experience customers and users want today, every app has to be envisioned and architected as a data app. A data application effectively leverages data and provides an integrated, actionable analytics experience that augments its core purpose.

The two most significant trends in technology today are on a collision course. On one hand, digital transformation has made data king of the castle. Data-driven insights are used to drive decision making, establish new processes and improve value chains. Simultaneously, we’ve reached a point where there’s almost literally an app for everything.

The opportunities — and requirements — are clear. To deliver the experience customers and users want today, every app has to be envisioned and architected as a data app. A data application effectively leverages data and provides an integrated, actionable analytics experience that augments its core purpose. Companies that have built data apps and effectively integrated actionable analytics into their app experience have unlocked massive value from the resulting automation, new revenue streams and new ways of interacting and engaging customers. Just look at Just Eat Takeaway, which owns GrubHub here in the US. Founder and former CEO wrote about how data was the single greatest element of their success, a journey we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of.

Where many companies stumble is over the assumption that data and insights should be used to inform decisions rather than drive action. Analytics are as much about action as they are about discovery. It’s helpful to have insight into what’s going on, but what if the user has a follow-up question? What if they understand the problem, but just don’t know what to do next? Application builders who prepare for those inevitabilities, with analytics and actions happening within the app itself, ensure the best possible customer experience. Static dashboards that provide a single response to an assumed question have no place in the modern app, nor does requiring your user to depart from your app to find additional answers. Data and analytics have to be embedded within the core of an application to deliver real value.

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So what are the essential requirements for a modern data application?

Modern apps should provide users with a direct line into the wisdom being actively shared through the application. This establishes a better standard for engaging users in three ways:

It allows them to benchmark against other users. How are other people and organizations getting value out of the products you use? When I get my PG&E bill each month, for example, it shows me my home’s carbon footprint against similar homes.

It allows personalized experiences for users. A differentiated data app experience means your customers can find insights and take action that’s specific to them. The recommendations are not based on aggregations or preset pathways, but based on their specific need or question.

It creates a stickier in-app experience that allows users to track progress over time. Think about any app you use in your personal life. The ability to track trends over time is valuable. Whether you’re comparing steps taken this year versus last, or tracking the availability of tickets left for a popular show to find the optimal time to buy — an app should provide historical context that informs decision making.

What builders need to do to succeed, and how to do it

Data and analytics aren’t a new topic, by any stretch. But there’s a renewed sense of urgency as the opportunity becomes a reality and an imperative. Today, we sit at the intersection of three technological building blocks that have enabled this emerging generation of data apps:

Cloud data, accessible in a highly performant fashion. Before the cloud became ubiquitous, apps were built and updated on-prem. Updates were painful, it took longer to get those updates into the hands of customers, and overall the apps were less useful. The limitation was the underlying data itself. Today, data is available in near real time, and there’s a lot more of it. Organizational silos come down in the cloud, and data from across the organization, or even third parties, is available to build on top of. With all of these new ingredients the recipes are seemingly endless, and infinitely more nuanced.

The growing availability of analytics services. These services, whether they’re analytics, AI-driven predictive capabilities, or some other future tech, create new ways to use data. Customers can do more today with their data than ever before. These services also enable analytics to be personalized.

The power of SaaS as a delivery model. Within that operating paradigm of SaaS are capabilities like rapid delivery or the ability to iterate frequently and add value in smaller increments. These, in turn, condense the customer feedback cycle and quicken the pace of innovation.

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What the customer should experience, and why

To capitalize on this opportunity, what do applications actually need to offer to be valuable? The recipe for success is fairly simple — at least in theory:

A wider aperture. You want your app to be usable by as large an audience as possible, not just specialized technologists. Users should be able to exploit and analyze data using a technique as simple and ubiquitous as basic search.

Live interactivity. Empower your users through live, interactive analytics so there are no dead ends. It’s impossible to anticipate all of your customers’ questions and needs, so pre-built charts or dashboards will always be limiting. The only way to truly give customers what they need is to focus on interactivity — interactivity through the front end, like search, and with live data on the backend. Data shouldn’t be aggregated or summarized, instead users should be allowed to interact with the available data in a dynamic way and satisfy unlimited curiosity.

Actionable insights. Enriching your product with analytics is about end-user empowerment. How much do you empower your end users to do? Building a data app that ends with an insight simply isn’t enough. Modern apps are so powerful because they connect together to drive workflows. Data apps should provide the same value — insights, operationalized.

Easy to build, maintain and scale. Provide simple building blocks for your customers that won’t penalize them for success. Like the data itself, their app needs to be a living, breathing, mutable entity. Inevitably, customers will want to add new data, new features and new test capabilities, and if doing any of those things breaks their app, we’re already behind.

Apps are everywhere, and as the world continues to digitize in increasing ways this trend will only accelerate. Velocity and user experience are the new currency for conducting business — and data apps enable both.


Sumeet Arora

Sumeet Arora is the Chief Development Officer at ThoughtSpot. Arora leads ThoughtSpot’s global Engineering and Product teams in continuously improving and scaling the AI-powered data analytics platform.

Prior to joining ThoughtSpot, Sumeet served as SVP and GM of Service Provider Networking at Cisco. In this role, he led the Engineering & Product management team for the Service Provider routing portfolio and was responsible for driving profitable market share growth of this multi-billion dollar business.

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