How We Built Our Own BI: When Off-The-Shelf Apps Won't Do

How We Built Our Own BI: When Off-The-Shelf Apps Won’t Do

How We Built Our Own BI: When Off-The-Shelf Apps Won't Do
Sagi Bakshi, GM of Digital Solutions for ironSource, needed a business intelligence application to meet all of his organization’s unique needs. When off-the-shelf options proved inadequate, his team decided to build its own layer on top of an existing system. Here’s how it did it — and the role IT played in the process.

In our industry, a sturdy business intelligence solution is key. It helps us power our data-driven platforms, analyze valuable consumer insights, and track our performance — all in near real-time. This last bit is especially important, considering that at ironSource — an online software distribution and monetization company with a complete ecosystem for downloadable applications — we process billions of data points monthly.

Our customer success managers — who, in a way, were our first customers — wanted to see how campaigns were performing in real-time, so they could easily adjust and optimize them on the fly.

Naturally, we looked into several major BI providers, hoping one of them would be able to address our strategic needs. BIScience, GoodData, and Qlik were among those we evaluated.

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None seemed to quite get the job done. There were a few critical metrics and KPIs missing from each.

[Don’t do it like this. Read 8 Ways to Fail at DevOps.]

So, we turned instead to building an additional layer on top of one of the existing BI platforms, and then adjusting it so it could support the essential business units and features we needed.

It took a while (six months to be exact) until we finally developed the perfect BI solution for us. Because we built it ourselves, we were able to add useful and industry-specific features. More on that later.

First, let’s talk about how, during the course of this project, our small BI team acted as salespeople, customer support, Q/A, and — of course — developers. At ironSource, it’s typical for our teams to wear many hats, so we were prepared.

In the beginning, our BI team presented our customer success managers with a trial version and asked them to use it and offer feedback. It was a struggle at first to get the customer success managers to adopt the new tool.

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It was an amusing role reversal — usually they’re the ones nudging external leads to use ironSource solutions. This time it was up to us, a group of developers, to get our internal clients to integrate our portal into their everyday routines.

We sent constant email reminders with functionality updates, animations, funny gifs — anything to catch their attention. We even enlisted the help of our in-house studio to design appealing graphics.

Truthfully, what really pushed the customer success managers to adopt the platform was showing them that our upper management team was using it, too. Our leadership demonstrated how important and necessary it was for them to start utilizing our BI portal.

Specifically, I’d send screen shots pulling numbers and statistics from the BI platform to the customer success managers and ask them to check up on certain campaigns. This way, they’d need to go into the portal in order to respond to and access the data.

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This helped us create a shared language for discussing performance, results, and expectations with clients, which can be key to both successful client management and company-wide unification. Since ironSource is made up of many divisions, this is a critical challenge for us.

Failure was a given. But as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In the beginning, as with most new platforms, there were discrepancies between the data our portal was presenting, and the actual data. Really, the only way we could fix this particular mistake was with the help of the customer success managers, who consistently flooded our email inbox with bugs and requests.

In fact, within a few days, we set up a WhatsApp group for support, so users could direct all their concerns to it, instead of emailing people individually. Customer support was critical.

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