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HP deriving value from data with ThoughtSpot

After experimenting with a variety of BI platforms, the computer giant found success with the analytics vendor's platform given its ability to handle scale.

LAS VEGAS -- After years struggling to get value from its data, HP finally found success with ThoughtSpot.

HP Inc., founded in 1939 and based in Palo Alto, Calif., is comprised of the hardware device, software and services divisions of the former Hewlett-Packard, which was split in 2015 with the company's enterprise product and business services divisions renamed Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

As of January 2021, HP was the world's second-largest PC vendor in terms of sales, trailing only Lenovo, and in 2021 it ranked 56th on the Fortune 500, just behind Prudential Financial and ahead of Raytheon Technologies.

ThoughtSpot, meanwhile, is an analytics vendor founded in 2012 and based in Sunnyvale, Calif., whose software uses augmented intelligence and machine learning to enable customers to search and gain insights from data using natural language.

The journey

Despite its history of technological innovation, in 2018 HP was grappling with the problem of how to derive value from its data and turn it into actionable insights.

With its massive size, the company produces copious amounts of data, and analytics platform after analytics platform was unable to handle HP's scale, according to Juergen Kallinger, vice president and head of reporting and analytics at HP.

"We knew the existing tools were not working," he said.

HP tried Qlik, Microsoft Power BI and Tableau in succession, according to Kallinger, first loading all of HP's Excel data into Qlik, then moving much of it to Power BI, and finally moving some of it to Tableau.

But each time, because of the amount of data HP was generating, the vendor was being forced to downsize its dashboards to make them fit within the limits of what the different BI platforms could handle. In addition, HP was dissatisfied with the user experience of its BI platforms, Kallinger noted.

"Finally, we said, 'This needs to stop,'" he said. "We didn't want to introduce another tool, but at the same time, we knew the current approach wasn't working. We were just creating more and more reports, and the existing tools weren't able to handle the volume of data."

By chance, four years ago, Kallinger received a marketing email from ThoughtSpot. And given the struggles HP had been having with a succession of vendors, he decided to respond and began an exploratory conversation with ThoughtSpot.

We're on the path to turn ThoughtSpot into an enterprise-wide standard.
Juergen KallingerVice president and head of reporting and analytics, HP

ThoughtSpot told HP it could handle data at any scale. In addition, the analytics vendor's natural language search user experience was intriguing, so Kallinger decided to give ThoughtSpot a chance.

But rather than fully migrate to ThoughtSpot and move yet again from one BI platform to another, HP decided to start slowly while continuing to work with its other vendors.

HP's relationship with ThoughtSpot began with a proof-of-concept experiment, and after some initial success, HP added more applications. And now, four years later, HP is nearing the point at which it is ready to make ThoughtSpot its primary BI platform.

"We're on the path to turn ThoughtSpot into an enterprise-wide standard," Kallinger said.

Increased speed

What HP has found since first experimenting with ThoughtSpot is increased speed, according to Kallinger.

ThoughtSpot promised speed no matter the amount of data, but because of HP's past experience, Kallinger wanted to see the platform in action. And quickly, with that first proof-of-concept project and subsequent experiments, Kallinger said he found that ThoughtSpot could deliver on its promise.

"Even if we sent large amounts of data, it could still handle it without any kind of performance limitations," Kallinger said. "That was the first good sign, because usually [size] was where we would struggle with other tools."

Beyond the performance of the platform itself, ThoughtSpot's user experience has been a benefit to HP. The lack of complexity has enabled HP to execute projects much faster than it was able to with other platforms, reducing what had previously taken months to just a few days, according to Kallinger.

Juergen Kallinger, vice president and head of reporting and analytics at HP, speaks at ThoughtSpot Beyond 2022.
Juergen Kallinger (right), vice president and head of reporting and analytics at HP, speaks during a breakout session at ThoughtSpot Beyond 2022.

Before adopting ThoughtSpot, a typical analytics project -- HP launches 250 to 300 analytics projects per year, Kallinger said -- began with loading data and designing a dashboard over the course of about three months. Then came a lengthy feedback phase during which the dashboard got modified, and finally, about nine months after first launching the project, a finished dashboard was ready for consumption.

"Now, with ThoughtSpot, we're at the pace of days from idea to production," Kallinger said. "That, on its own, is why so many teams within HP are asking for more. It's the speed of delivery on top of the actual performance."

The result of drastically reducing the amount of time it takes to make data actionable is efficiency, according to Kallinger.

HP is now able to build more analytics reports and dashboards with fewer people, enabling employees who would have spent months modeling data for a dashboard or report to devote time to other tasks. And perhaps more importantly, it has enabled the people who would have been dedicated for months on a project -- employees who would have been working late to try to meet deadlines -- to have a better quality of life.

"One thing I've heard over the last two years is that we've given people their lives back," Kallinger said. "Everyone used to be working 24/7, so giving our delivery teams a tool that lets them deliver something within their normal workday is a big deal."

Future plans

Currently, HP has about 2,200 employees using ThoughtSpot, 900 of whom use the platform every week. Over the next few months, the computer giant plans to nearly double that to 4,000 users, with a goal of eventually having between 8,000 and 10,000 using ThoughtSpot by the end of 2023, according to Kallinger.

"We want it to be community grown and not just deploy it," he said. "We want users to ask for it before we deploy it, but we're seeing that demand. We've solved the problems of productivity and data insight and user experience, and ThoughtSpot has been the solution. But we're taking a different approach and not [forcing it on users]."

HP uses ThoughtSpot in a hybrid format. The analytics vendor catered exclusively to an on-premises customer base until 2020 when it overhauled its platform to make it cloud-first. HP, meanwhile, has eight decades of history, and though it is now using multiple cloud storage platforms, much of its data remains on premises, so it connects ThoughtSpot to both its on-premises databases as well as its cloud data storage repositories.

"We're going through a transformational effort with our cloud strategy and our reporting analytics strategy," Kallinger said. "We're trying to get rid of a vast majority of our tools to land on a small set of authoritative data sources."

ThoughtSpot won't be HP's only analytics platform going forward, but it will be one of most likely three. For example, HP will continue to use Power BI to deliver certain weekly reports. But for most of HP's other analytics needs, ThoughtSpot will be its platform of choice, according to Kallinger.

"For ad hoc insights, I see more and more going through ThoughtSpot," he said. "For everything other than specific, highly curated reports, I really see ThoughtSpot on the rise."

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