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More AI, ease of use will shape Sisense analytics platform

After spending three years at Alteryx most recently, Ashley Kramer is now Sisense's new chief product officer. In an interview, she discusses her vision for the vendor's platform.

The Sisense analytics platform is known for its augmented analytics capabilities and ease of use, and as it moves forward it will do so with a new leader in charge of its product development.

Just over a year after its acquisition of Periscope Data, a purchase that added capabilities aimed at data scientists to the features geared toward business users Sisense was already know for, the New York-based vendor is focused on third-generation analytics in which AI and business intelligence embedded throughout the workflow will be prominent.

Most recently, Sisense updated its analytics platform with new natural language query capabilities and introduced Knowledge Graph, a graph analytics engine the vendor developed that was trained on more than 650 billion past analytic events and informs the machine learning capabilities of the query tool.

Now, to help shape its vision, Sisense has added Ashley Kramer as its first chief product officer.

Ashley Kramer, chief product and marketing officer at SisenseAshley Kramer

Kramer began her career as a software engineering manager at NASA. After stops at Cerner Corporation, Oracle and Amazon at the time AWS was being developed, she was then at Tableau for four years and served as head of cloud before moving to Alteryx for three years where she most recently served as senior vice president of product. Now, as chief product and marketing officer at Sisense, Kramer is one of the few women helping shape software development at a major business intelligence and analytics vendor.

Kramer recently discussed her decision to leave Alteryx, her vision for what the Sisense analytics platform can become, how her past has readied her for her new role and what it's like being one of the few women in a leadership role in technology.

What led you to the decision to leave Alteryx and move to Sisense to head the development of its analytics platform?

Ashley Kramer: What was really interesting to me about Sisense was the approach they took from the beginning, which was to give agility to customers. That means being able to do analytics the way that they need -- the Periscope acquisition means it can be code first or drag-and-drop -- and being able to allow people to leverage analytics wherever they need, whether that's embedded deeply within a product, whether that's in an internal portal, or whether that's a dashboard that you deploy. In addition, I have a lot of cloud experience, and I understand what works and what doesn't, and Sisense took a really unique approach here a year ago to say, 'Let's rewrite our products to be more of a Linux microservices-based architecture,' so that as companies scale in the cloud and as they leverage different complex data scenarios, we can grow with them. We can meet them where they are today, and we can grow with them as they go into the future, and that was truly unique to me and super exciting.

My background seems to be a perfect fit for where Sisense is today and where I know we can go in the future.

What is the dynamic between you as chief product officer and chief technology officer Guy Boyangu?

Kramer: He deeply understands the architecture, both where it was and where it's come, and what we collaborate on is around the AI space. We have something called the Knowledge Graph that gathers all kinds of intelligence so we can give our customers smartness out of the box when we deliver our analytics, so what Guy and I collaborate on is on the under-the-hood side of where Sisense goes next.

I'm the product strategist and visionary working with the entire team, and Guy is able to take that and say, 'OK, technology-wise, this can be our strategy.' It's a really good partnership that we have together.

As you come to Sisense, what is your vision for where the analytics platform will be in two or three years?

Kramer: There are a lot of places we can go, and we need to focus those efforts so we can make sure we're delivering what customers need. But I can really break this down into further investments in three different areas.

First, how will we continue to scale across clouds? If you think about [many] of the other vendors in this space, they're mostly part of a cloud ecosystem -- Looker and Google, Tableau and Salesforce, Power BI always being part of Microsoft -- and we're a cross-could platform, we can work with data analytics cross-cloud, so we want to continue innovating there and scaling to make sure we work seamlessly with all of the different services that all of the different clouds provide. The second is more intelligence. How do we continue to do deeper smartness within the platform, so automated recommendations and automated decisions, alerting, those types of things. And of course we have natural language querying so you type a sentence and get your results. There are many more things we can do to make analytics easier for everybody involved and get more people involved in analytics.

And that brings me to the last one, which is if you look at statistics on the different usage and adoption of analytics it tends to be pretty low in general within organizations, and I truly believe that's for one reason -- most BI platforms assume people will unnaturally leave their everyday workflows and processes and look at a dashboard and then come back. With our API-driven platform and approach, we can bring analytics to the salesperson that spends their entire day in whatever sales platform or CRM (customer relationship management) platform they use, and for someone like me that's always on the go, send it to my cellphone. By continuing to innovate in that area, I think we can start to see adoption go up and really start seeing organizations make data-driven decisions, and then of course as an end result have better business outcomes.

What are some trends you see in BI and analytics that Sisense is responding to and are helping drive Sisense's roadmap?

Kramer: The first trend is we're finally starting to see people migrate their data to the cloud. It's been something people have been talking about, but we're really seeing it come to life. The second is adoption -- different statistics say that only about a third of an organization are actually using the analytics to make decisions. And the next one is a huge trend around AI and augmented analytics, so how do we not just allow people to make a decision about what's happening right now, build a dashboard and see sales are down in the west, but how do we actually start to help them predict what to do next and prescribe how to take the action. A lot of the things we're doing with our Knowledge Graph and a lot of the features we've released and have planned as part of our roadmap will start getting people out of just descriptive and taking them to those next two steps of predictive and prescriptive analytics.

How did your time at Oracle, Tableau, Alteryx and other organizations prepare you for your new role at Sisense?

Kramer: My early career at Oracle and NASA was valuable because I was a programmer, so I understand technology pretty deeply, and I understand how sometimes a product team can dream up something but it might actually be a hard engineering challenge. That was helpful for me to understand how to be a better product leader. My time at Amazon helped me understand the crazy importance of the cloud. They were the early innovators in that area. Tableau was really interesting because Tableau started coming into the market with cloud analytics right at the cusp of when it was happening, so I got to learn a lot about the early market and then see how it evolved. And of course when you're one of the earliest to arrive you don't get everything right, and that's okay. You learn lessons and figure out how to do it better next time. And at Alteryx it was trying to understand what the more data-science part of the world needs.

As a product leader it's super important to understand what is possible for engineering and what is not, understanding the cloud is important because we're cross-cloud here at Sisense, and then understanding where people want to go next with analytics by actually scaling it across the organization and taking that next step to be predictive. So, this really was the perfect role.

As chief product officer at Sisense you are now one of the few women helping shape the product development of a leading BI vendor. Did you face barriers on your path to Sisense?

Kramer: I was always interested in technology growing up -- even in the early days, the Oregon Trail days. Fast-forward to high school and I was in the very first computer science class taught by my physical education teacher, which is crazy when you think about it. It doesn't make any sense, but at least my school was thinking about offering computer science. I was a senior and the only woman in a class of 10 people. I was very fortunate to have people to encourage me to continue on this path. Move on to college, and in my graduating class there were three to five women in the class. Since then, I think what the world has done a better job of is have things like Girls Who Code, different programs to push the importance of STEM and make girls and women be a part of that. The world has changed and evolved, but it wasn't really there when I was coming to my professional stage of my career.

What have you found following school in your professional life?

Kramer: As far as the glass ceiling, I feel like I've had a lot of great mentors along the way, some of them were women and some of them were men, and I think sometimes we undervalue the importance of what we can do for each other. Women can get together and I can go to every women leadership CPO dinner that exists, but we need men there too supporting us. We need them to be part of the conversation. Something that's super attractive to me about Sisense is that not only is 50% of our core operational team reporting to the CEO women, but also [CEO] Amir Orad's wife is a CEO [of LimitScreen Inc.]. He definitely understands the value of women in these leadership roles. Everyone has an equal voice, and I think that's really powerful.

It's been interesting. I've seen a trend with my generation and there are other women CPOs -- there aren't many, but even at my last company there was a woman chief strategy officer and we were really big supporters of each other. There was a historic thing in the past that there could only be one woman in the room, but that didn't exist at any of the companies I've been. I feel fortunate to not have to have lived in that world. The more women in the room at leadership levels, the better, so I don't feel like I have to speak up or be the alpha woman because that doesn't exist anymore.

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

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