Data analytics startup SimpleQL suggests questions

SimpleQL learns about databases and applications to help non-specialists decide what to mine them for

SimpleQL thinks the best way to bring business intelligence to people who've never drilled into big data is to help them decide what they want to know.

At the heart of the startup's cloud-based offering, which will enter public beta on Thursday at Demo Enterprise in San Francisco, is a field where users can type in questions in a query language that's easy to use, according to CEO Scot Gensler. The interface looks like Google's search box and acts somewhat like it, too. Just as Google does, SimpleQL brings up other possible ways to complete the query.

From there, SimpleQL can answer queries with automatically generated charts. It can also be used to create alarms and regularly scheduled reports.

Other companies have been working on making useful data easier for average employees to extract, including through Google Search-like interfaces. SimpleQL says its approach can help non-technical people become familiar with doing data analytics and to come up with new and useful questions, Gensler said.

"It's all about the query interface that [presents] proactive suggestions that get smarter over time," he said.

While business intelligence tools have improved in recent years, they are still mostly used by IT departments and data analytics specialists who run queries or create tools for other employees to use, according to Gensler. "The fundamental workflows haven't changed," he said.

SimpleQL is designed to put the same kind of analytical power into the hands of people all over an organization. It works on standard Web browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari, and a dedicated mobile app is on the company's long-term radar.

The company breaks down analytical queries into building blocks, each of which is a unique code base, and reassembles those blocks based on the semantics of the underlying data source. Each database or application has its own semantics for deriving answers from the data contained within. SimpleQL can map its software to applications and public databases in advance and can do the same for most private databases in a matter of hours, Gensler said.

SimpleQL already works with Salesforce and Atlassian's Jira project management application, with Google Analytics coming soon. It also works with one public database, the CrunchBase repository of information on startups. To make the system work with private databases, SimpleQL spends about half a day analyzing the data and learning about the company's terminology and how they think about the data, Gensler said.

To continually improve suggestions, SimpleQL can aggregate queries made by users of specific applications.

"We now have tons of users in the system using Salesforce," Gensler said. "So we get a network effect of learning about, 'How is the language working for different functional executives?'"

When a user starts typing words into SimpleQL's search box, the system automatically completes potentially useful questions. Below those suggestions are relevant topic areas that the user can click on to generate still more suggested questions.

For example, a human resources executive might type "how many employees per salary range -50k-75k-100k-" to generate a pie chart that breaks down pay levels inside their company. SimpleQL would automatically generate other possible questions: From "how many," it might generate "departments with more than 10 female employees each with age > 50" and let the searcher scroll down to choose that query.

Over time, SimpleQL will use aggregated data from other users of applications or databases to generate more useful suggestions.

One company SimpleQL has been working with is a large telecommunications carrier with a proprietary field operations database. The database contains a wealth of information, such as how many times the carrier has visited a customer's home and what service was performed. Today, the carrier has a team of specialists dedicated to producing reports. SimpleQL would let customer service representatives, field managers and other employees draw up their own reports, Gensler said.

The company was founded about two years ago by two former Cisco Systems executives based in Israel, Yossi Shani and Tal Cohen, now the chief programming officer and head of engineering. It has just five employees and operates out of Runway, a coworking space in the same building as Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco. SimpleQL says it already has 10 enterprise customers signed on to use the product.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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