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Looker analytics platform adding app development capability

Amid its integration into the Google Cloud Platform portfolio, Looker continues to focus on adding new embedded BI tools and creating new features for application developers.

Looker is maintaining a focus on application development as it continues to add new features to its analytics platform six months after its last major release and three months after it finally joined forces with Google Cloud.

The vendor, which was founded in 2012 and is based in Santa Cruz, Calif., was acquired by Google for $2.6 billion in June 2019, just four days before Tableau was purchased by Salesforce for $15.7 billion. Unlike Tableau, however, which serves a largely on-premises customer base and delivers platform updates quarterly, Looker is entirely cloud-based and therefore, beyond its one major update each year, delivers new and upgraded features throughout the year.

Looker 7, released in November 2019, included a new application development framework and enhanced embedded BI capabilities. Since then, Looker has kept adding to its set of tools for application developers, enhancing the power of its no-code query capabilities and providing new ways to embed analytics into the applications customers use in their everyday workflows.

"Developers are their bread and butter," said Mike Leone, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "It's all about enabling developers to seamlessly, intelligently and rapidly incorporate analytics at scale into modern applications. This is and has been a top priority for Looker."

Meanwhile, as Looker has continued to build up its analytics platform, the vendor's acquisition was finalized. The purchase closed so recently, however, that there hasn't yet been any obvious evidence of collaboration between Looker and Google Cloud, analysts said.

Developers are their bread and butter. It's all about enabling developers to seamlessly, intelligently and rapidly incorporate analytics at scale into modern applications. This is and has been a top priority for Looker.
Mike LeoneSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

"I have not seen anything yet to suggest that they've made a dramatic change yet in their approach," said Dave Menninger, research director of data and analytics research at Ventana Research.

He added, however, that Looker and Google Cloud share a lot of similarities and the two are a natural fit. In particular, the way Looker uses its LookML language to enable developers to build applications without having to write complex code fits in with Google Cloud's focus.

"Looker has found a good partner in Google in the sense that Looker is really targeted at building custom apps," Menninger said. "Looker is all about the LookML language and constructing these analyses, these displays that are enhanced by the LookML language. And a large part of Google, the Google Cloud Platform division, is really focused on that developer community. So Looker fits into that family well."

Leone, meanwhile, also said he's still waiting to see Google's influence on Looker but added that he expects to hear more about their integration in the near future.

And collaboration, according to Pedro Arellano, Looker's vice president of product marketing, is indeed on the horizon. The two are working together on new features, and given that Looker is entirely cloud-based and that Looker and Google Cloud not only had a strong partnership before they joined forces but had 350 shared customers, Looker's integration into the Google Cloud portfolio is proceeding more rapidly than it might have had Looker had a host of on-premises customers.

"It's exciting to talk with the product teams and understand where the potential integration points are and think about these really exciting thing that we'll be able to develop, some things that I expect will be out in a relatively short amount of time," Arellano said. "That work case is happening, and it's absolutely something we're doing today."

As far as features Looker has added to the analytics platform since last fall, one of the key additions is the Slack integration the vendor unveiled at the time Looker 7 was released but was still in beta testing. The tool delivers insights directly into customers' Slack conversations.

Beyond the Slack integration, Looker has added to its extension network, which is its low-code/no-code tool set for developers. Among the latest new tools are the Data Dictionary, which pulls up metadata about fields built by developers using the LookML model and displays them in a digestible format, as well as tools that help developers customize user interfaces and create dashboard extensions such as adding a chat widget.

In terms of query power, Looker has developed what it calls aggregate awareness, a feature that uses augmented intelligence and machine learning to reduce the amount of time it takes a user to run a query and helps them run more focused queries.

"We really think of Looker as a platform for developing and building and deploying any kind of data experience that our customers might imagine," Arellano said. "We recognize that we can't anticipate all the data experiences they might come up with. We're very focused on the developers because these are the people that are building those experiences."

In addition to the new features Looker has added since the release of Looker 7, the vendor put together the Looker COVID-19 Data Block, a free hub for data related to the ongoing pandemic that includes data models and links to public sources such Johns Hopkins University, the New York Times and the COVID Tracking Project. The hub uses LookML to power frequent updates and deliver the data in prebuilt dashboards.

"This was an opportunity to do good things with technology and with data," Arellano said.

As Looker continues to enhance its analytics platform, one of its next areas the vendor says it will focus on will be the platform's mobile capabilities.

Mobile has long been a difficult medium for BI vendors with data difficult to digest on the small screens of phones and tablets. Many, as a result, have long ignored mobile. Recently, however, vendors such as Yellowfin and MicroStrategy have made significant investments in their mobile capabilities, and Arellano said that Looker plans to offer an improved mobile experience sometime in the second half of 2020.

That fits in with what Leone expects from Looker now that it's under the Google Cloud umbrella, which is a broadening of the vendor's focus and capabilities.

"I think, individually, they were behind a few of the leaders in the space, but the Google acquisition almost instantly brought them back on par with direct competition," he said. "Google's influence will be beneficial, especially around the ideas of democratizing analytics/insights, faster on-ramp and a much wider vision that incorporates a powerful AI vision."

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