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April 16, 2014

This ‘Bulldog’ CPO Aims to Help Pentaho Grow

Alex Woodie

The data explosion has made the reporting and analytics field a very busy place right now. The latest release of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant included 27 players in this market–with another 32 on the bubble. Smack dab in the middle of the pack is commercial open source software upstart Pentaho. With the hiring of chief product officer Christopher Dziekan–a BI veteran who’s been called a “bulldog”–the company signaled it’s ready for growth.

Pentaho’s recent appointment of Dziekan is important for two reasons. First, he brings credibility to Pentaho as it tries to crack the enterprise market. With so many BI and analytics players fighting for oxygen, having a BI veteran like Dziekan–who has 24 years of experience at IBM, Cognos, BusinessObjects, Hyperion, and Crystal Reports—tells prospective customers that Pentaho is serious about winning their business.

Dziekan, who has been called a “bulldog CPO” for his tenacity and predilection for extreme sports (he’s a 3rd degree black belt in karate and Taekwondo, a certified SCUBA trainer, and P90x devotee), will be asked to bring that energy and enthusiasm to help Pentaho make its way up in the BI and analytics world.

One week into his new gig, Dziekan (pronounced “ZEE-ken”) took some time to speak with Datanami about Pentaho, the company’s prospects, and trends in the big data analytics industry. One of the first things that struck Dziekan about Pentaho was the amount of progress the company had made signing large customers.

Pentaho CPO Chris Dziekan

“They’ve done some terrific work already to stand out,” Dziekan says. “When I look at the logos that are real customers in the enterprise and OEM embeddable market, they’re doing something right, that’s for sure… It surprised me, frankly when I showed up. I didn’t know this gem was sitting, waiting to be polished and expanded upon.”

Pentaho (pronounced “Pen-TAH-ho”), which was founded 10 years ago by Richard Daley (now its chief strategy officer), is transitioning from young start-up mode into becoming an established BI and analytics player ready for enterprise deployments. Dziekan, who will report to Pentaho CEO Quentin Gallivan, says he will concentrate on two things as CPO.

The first one is scaling the business. “How do we take the growth to date that’s had some pretty impressive metrics and scale that outward,” he says. “We also need to continue to sharpen and focus. When you’re a smaller company, you chase every individual deal and move like the wind back and forth. We’re at that point in scale now where we have to win market, and not just individual deals.”

Pentaho currently has about 1,200 commercial customers running more than 10,000 production deployments. “This is battle-tested. It’s in the real-world, making a real difference,” he says. “The growth numbers are absolutely amazing. If you take big data and the embedded analytics space, we’re growing [sales ] at about 83 percent per year.” As the company preps to win more enterprise customers, it will need to be patient with extended proof of concepts (POCs) and long procurement cycles. It may not come naturally to a company accustomed to doing fun things and pushing technological boundaries, but that’s just part of the game when it comes to enterprise software.

When it comes to Pentaho’s product, Dziekan likes what he sees. He’s particularly impressed with the “at the source data blending” feature that Pentaho unveiled with the version 5 release last year. Pentaho is at the forefront of the market when it comes to data blending, which is aimed at allowing business users to tackle data integration challenges that normally would have been IT’s domain.

“There still remains an unfortunate truth to the analytics market, which is that it’s still too hard,” he says. “When I left IBM a little bit ago and went and worked in own company (AnalyticsInside Inc.) at the ground level in $20-billion organizations, every project had the same challenge. It was, ‘I can’t get the data. I can’t blend it fast enough.’ This was the Achilles Heel, and as bright and shiny as the front-end object was, they couldn’t get to it because of the blending problem.”

While Pentaho sees a market for combining data integration and analytics into one platform, Dziekan has no plans to turn Pentaho into a Swiss Army knife for BI and analytics. The company will reach out to Hadoop or NoSQL when appropriate (it already has some specific connections for MongoDB). And when it comes to advanced analytics and machine learning, there’s no reason to recreate the algorithms that are already present in R.

“We won’t own the predictive engine,” he says. “We’ll leverage that predictive engine and figure out how to drop them in into that blend of information that’s so critical. That way we can have our users having both foresight and hindsight, because we know both are so important.”

Pentaho is in a crowded BI and analytics field, according to Gartner’s latest report

Pentaho will look to do several things really well—specifically, data blending, which is a trend that’s gaining steam in the market–and leave all the rest to others. “We’re not going to be everything,” Dziekan continues. “But we want to be brilliant at a specific set and that set to me is absolutely blending traditional and big data, and allowing that insight and analysis to happen, and pushing the envelope on what the skill set requires to make that scale out effectively.”

Last year’s launch of an internal development group called Pentaho Labs should accelerate the innovation occurring inside the company. That won’t stop a lot of work from being done in the open source community, however.

“Open source is interesting because it allows for a real rapid innovation to happen,” Dziekan says. “We know the stories of the mega vendors and how innovation starts to crawl. We know there are niche vendors that do their own internal innovation but start stalling as they start to add the enterprise tenants to the fast and fun things they used to do. But with open source [and Pentaho Labs], we have a combo deal. We’ve got our enterprise team that builds software, to bullet proof it and scale and conform it, and we have of course a very a vibrant community, to innovate both product and capacities that we can plug in.”

The analytic market is moving very fast right now, and there’s an incredible opportunity to gain market share with products that are advanced and easy to use. But as we saw with Intel’s sudden decision to leave the Hadoop market, there will be unexpected bumps along the road. Pentaho, with its combination of analytic technologies developed in the open source community, is poised to be one of the vendors with a good shot and strengthening during this critical growth period for data analytics.

Related Items:

Pentaho Goes All In with Big Data Blending

Eliminating Overhead Through Data Blending at the Source