Ex-Business Objects CEO's startup focuses on workforce analytics

Visier's approach to BI starts from 'a clean sheet of paper,' says CEO John Schwarz

After leaving his post as CEO of SAP's Business Objects division about three years ago, John Schwarz had a revelation.

Before him, Schwarz said in a recent interview, was an opportunity to "redo BI from a clean sheet of paper." That thought led to the formation of Visier, an analytics software provider where Schwarz serves as CEO.

While Schwarz was at Business Objects, customer satisfaction surveys found that the vendor's BI software was well-liked among IT users, "but you talk to the actual business users and the results were far less satisfactory," he said. "IT could get the tools up and running, but then they flipped it over to the end user and they said, 'it's too difficult.'"

Visier's approach from the beginning was to "throw the whole BI technology idea out and start at the other end of the spectrum," Schwarz said. "Start with the user and go back to the data. As long as you can start up a browser, you can use our application."

Beyond creating an attractive user interface for Visier's cloud-based software, Schwarz and his team sought to boost user productivity by initially focusing on a single domain: workforce analytics.

With the launch this month of version 10 of Visier's software, the platform will contain some 300 prebuilt visualizations and analysis tools that cover "the top metrics and questions people have in the [human resources] world," he said.

For example, the Visier system can help human resources staffers analyze which current employees may be at most risk of leaving the company, based on historical data regarding the attributes of workers who previously left.

It's also possible to share the results of analyses with others by exporting information to slideshows.

Visier also promises customers a much speedier and happier experience on the implementation side. New customers can be up and running within four weeks, compared to more than a year for traditional on-premises BI projects, according to Schwarz.

The cost of Visier's software is also "an order of magnitude" lower than a traditional BI project, he said.

Later this year, Visier will release a new application for workforce planning, which will allow users to model, predict and assess future staffing scenarios. The company is also planning to create analytic applications for additional domains, such as sales, marketing and finance, Schwarz said.

In addition, Visier will seek out third parties to build on top of its platform, which uses MapReduce along with a range of homegrown technologies under the hood, along with HTML5 and Flash on the front end, according to Schwarz.

Visier has about two dozen customers, most of them larger companies such as ConAgra. While Visier is capable of running globally, the company won't have data center operations outside of North America until later this year, Schwarz said.

It competes with fellow workforce analytics specialist OrcaEyes, as well as products from BI platform providers such as SAP, Oracle and IBM.

While "it would be a bit of a stretch" to say customers can't get capabilities like Visier's anywhere else, the company has a "very strong product," said analyst Stephan Millard, vice president and research director at Ventana Research. "What they've done is prepackaged everything people want in human capital analytics."

One potential risk to customers is the possibility Visier will be acquired at some point by a larger vendor.

In general, the HCM (human capital management) software market "has been consolidating for a while," and it stands to reason Visier will get looked at by SAP, Oracle, Workday, he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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