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Looker, Google planning plenty of analytics collaborations

While collaboration with its parent company is prominent in Looker's plans, so are investments in analytics capabilities including embedded BI and natural language processing.

It's been close to a year since Google's acquisition of Looker finally closed more than eight months after it was first unveiled.

Looker, a cloud-based analytics vendor founded in 2012 and based in Santa Cruz, Calif., reached an agreement to be acquired by Google on June 6, 2019. The acquisition, however, was held up by a regulatory agency in the United Kingdom that essentially serves as its antitrust watchdog and finally received approval on Feb. 13, 2020.

In the time since then, the two vendors have been working to both integrate Looker's business into Google and develop technological integrations between Looker's analytics platform and Google's wide array of tools and features.

The first collaboration -- Looker's support for the Google Marketing Suite -- was revealed in August 2020 and has been well received by customers, according to Pedro Arellano, head of product marketing at Looker at Google. No new collaborations have been revealed since then, but a host of integrations between Looker and various Google products are in the works, Arellano said.

In a recent interview, Arellano discussed the progress Google and Looker have made since finally joining forces, including details on integrations that are expected this year.

In addition, he spoke about ongoing analytics trends and how Looker is working to meet them, as well as the vendor's product roadmap beyond its collaborations with the Google universe.

What are some ongoing analytics trends and how is Looker working to address them?

Pedro ArellanoPedro Arellano

Pedro Arellano: Organizations are going to rely more and more on real-time data, and that's something that's been core to the Looker platform since its inception. We've always been big believers in querying the data where it sits to provide as close to real-time information as possible to the consumer, to the user, as opposed to working with data extracts, which can get stale. That's an area that has been fundamental to Looker and will continue to be.

Push notifications are also something that are part of the Looker platform today that we're taking further with things like integrations with chat platforms like Slack, or integrations with other means that allow you to send text messages. There's a use case we have with a ride-hailing company that's a customer of ours. What they've done is use Looker to identify severe weather conditions, and if they detect that there's a passenger waiting for a ride and there's severe weather coming their way, the application automatically sends a text to the driver so they can optimize their route.

Process automation is also one that's caught my eye. For us, the exciting thing is that because Looker is an open platform and we can integrate via [application programming interfaces] with a number of different systems, we can automate workflows.

And what are some other trends you expect to be big in 2021 that are shaping Looker's product roadmap?

Arellano: Natural language is definitely an area we're going to be investing in in 2021. It's an area that has a tremendous amount of potential, specifically to lowering the barrier to entry for analytics. I think we're going to begin by focusing more on natural language query than natural language generation because we think there's a greater need there in terms of interacting with the data more than interpreting it. There's already some work going on there. We don't want to limit our vision of natural language to simply giving data analysts a new way of doing what they've always been doing. One of the things we've noticed is that the way natural language has been implemented in the market so far is a majority of it is still serving that same audience of data analysts. It's admittedly giving them a cooler, better way of doing what they've been doing so far. The potential here is to reach an audience that's been underserved and figure out how to use natural language to enable people who are not comfortable doing the dragging and dropping that analysts are used to doing.

Embedded analytics is another area that is just massive for us. We think of Looker not as a BI tool but as a platform for developing analytics applications, and one of those applications just happens to be our BI tool. We see what our customer base is doing, and nearly half of customers are using Looker in ways you would not define as conventional BI. They're building all these applications that we categorize as integrated insights where you are adding context to the information that's on the screen. We also categorize them as data-driven workflows, which is related to process automation. We are going to invest pretty significantly in continuing to push those capabilities in 2021.

What else is part of Looker's product plans in 2021?

Arellano: When you think of the Looker platform, we have the experiences layer, which is what the users interact with and consume, we have the platform layer in the middle, which are all the development capabilities in the middle that produce experiences and applications, and then there's the foundation at the bottom which is the architecture. We're investing in all those areas.

Now that we're part of Google Cloud, that doesn't mean we won't continue to support and optimize for other clouds and other databases.
Pedro ArellanoHead of product marketing, Looker at Google

Another thing is our continued commitment to multi-cloud. Now that we're part of Google Cloud, that doesn't mean we won't continue to support and optimize for other clouds and other databases. When you look at our customer base, there are a heterogeneous set of databases and clouds our customers want to use, and we want to continue giving them flexibility. We're also excited about getting into the low-code/no-code arena where we are going to be delivering this capability of building analytical workflows without having to write any code. It's almost templatizing analytics where you can build these custom starting points for people … geared toward making the analytical experience easier and more intuitive. In the area of augmented analytics, in addition to natural language we're investing in things like anomaly detection. And finally is what we call integrated workflows. Thanks to being part of Google Cloud, we have all these integration points we can take advantage of, and one that we're really looking at is Google Workspace.

Speaking of Google, it's now been almost a year since Google's acquisition of Looker closed -- where does the integration of Looker into Google stand at this point?

Arellano: I would describe it as very advanced. I think the team would describe themselves as very pleased with how the integration has gone, not just the rate of the integration but also the success of it. From a business perspective, despite the challenges everyone faced last year, we had the most successful year for our business that we've ever had. That's a testament to the work of the team, and also leveraging the benefits of the scale and the resources -- and just the support -- of a company like Google. Google Cloud has really embraced Looker. And from a product perspective, the challenge is that there is so much we want to do. There are a lot of integration opportunities with various product teams throughout not just Google Cloud but broader Google as well. From a business perspective and from a technology perspective, I would describe the integration as pretty successful.

In terms of integrations between Looker and Google, what's in the pipeline?

Arellano: One is in the area of AI and machine learning. Google brings some pretty special capabilities in that area that we're going to be taking advantage of. I mentioned anomaly detection and integrated workflows, which are the ability to create these seamless back-and-forth workflows between Looker and Google Workspace and Sheets and Slides. There are of course integration opportunities with BigQuery. Even though we already work well with BigQuery, we're looking at some projects to greatly accelerate the performance of Looker on top of BigQuery and deliver very fast response times on massive query volumes.

Lastly, the Google Marketing audience in particular is very important and there's enormous opportunity to continue giving that audience world-class analytics capabilities that perhaps they haven't had in the past.

When might the next collaboration between Looker and Google be revealed?

Arellano: You can definitely expect us to announce something in the first half of the year. Most of them will be in the second half, but we will be announcing something in the first half.

And concentrating just on the Looker platform, when can customers expect to see the next update?

Arellano: We're on a monthly release cadence. The first thing to look forward to is that we're making our ability to run on Microsoft Azure generally available. We're going to be announcing that soon to solidify our multi-cloud message. We run on Google Cloud, we run on AWS, and now we're solidifying Azure by bringing it to GA.

In the second quarter we're going to be talking about developer capabilities. Embedded analytics is a very important area for us, and we continue investing in what we call the extension framework which allows developers to build an application on Looker without having to worry about things like security, authentication, DevOps. We take care of all that stuff that's in the background, and all they have to worry about is the JavaScript and the application they're building. We do the rest. That's going to accelerate the way people can build applications in the platform.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Arellano: It's a very exciting time for the Looker team right now. Based on the success that we had last year, we are incredibly encouraged about what 2021 is going to bring. There are a lot of projects on the horizon, a lot of exciting releases to talk about. There's a great mood within Looker right now about what 2021 is going to bring.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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