Google: Business Intelligence, Its Next Ad Business

October 11, 2022

Google has been a busy beaver. One example popped out of a ho hum write up about Google management’s approach to freebies. The write up “Google’s CEO Faced Intense Pushback from Employees at a Town Hall. His 2-Sentence Response was Smart Leadership” contains a rather startling point, if the article is accurate. Here’s the passage which is presumably a direct quote from Sundar Pichai, the top Googler:

Look, I hope all of you are reading the news, externally. The fact that you know, we are being a bit more responsible through one of the toughest macroeconomic conditions underway in the past decade, I think it’s important that as a company, we pull together to get through moments like this.

Did you see the crazy admission: “being a bit more responsible”. Doesn’t this mean that the company has been irresponsible prior to this announcement. I find that amusing: More responsible. Does responsibility extend beyond Foosball and into transparency about alleged online ad fraud or the handling of personnel matters such as the Dr. Timnit Gebru example?

But to the business at hand: Business intelligence. Like enterprise search and artificial intelligence, I am not exactly sure what business intelligence means. To the people who use spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel, rows and columns of data are “business intelligence.” But there must be more than redos of Lotus 1-2-3?

Yes, there are different ways to “do” business intelligence. These range from listening in a coffee shop to buying data from a third party provider and stuffing the information into Maltego to spot previously unnoticed relationships. And there are, of course, companies eager to deliver search based applications to make finding a competitor’s proposal to a government agency easier than figuring out which Google Dork to use.

Google Days It’s Cracked the Code to Business Intelligence” explains that the Google is going to make BI as business intelligence is known to those in the know the King of the Mountain. I noted this passage:

In business intelligence [BI], “there was always this idea of governing BI and of self-service, and there was no reconciliation of the degree of trust and the degree of flexibility,” Google’s Gerrit Kazmaier told reporters last week, ahead of the Google Cloud Next conference. “At Google, I think we have cracked that code to how you get trust and confidence of data with the flexibility and agility of self-service.”

This buzzword infused statement raises several fascinating ideas. Let’s look at a couple of them, shall we?

First, the idea of “governance.” That’s a term to which I can say I don’t know what the heck it means. But the notion of “governance” and “trust” is that somehow the two glittering generalities are what Google has “cracked.” I must say, “What’s the meaning, Gerrit Kazmaier?”

Second, I noted three buzzwords strung together like faux silver skulls on a raver’s necklace: Trust, confidence,  flexibility, and agility. To me, these words mean that more users want a point-and-click solution to answer a question about a competitor or the downstream impacts of an event like sanctions on China. The reality is that like the first buzzword, these don’t communicate, they evoke. The intention is that Mother Google will deliver business intelligence.

The solution, however, is not one Google crafted. The company’s professionals could not develop a business intelligence solution. Google had to buy one. Thus, the code cracking was purchased in the form of a company called Looker. The appeal of the Looker solution is that the user does not have to figure out data sources, determine if the data are valid, wrestle to get the data normalized, run tests to determine if the data set meets the requirements of a first year statistics class problem, and figure out what one needs to know. Google will make these steps invisible and reduce knowledge work to clicking an icon. There you go. To be fair, other companies have similar goals. These range from well known US companies to small firms in Armenia. Everyone wants to generate money from easy business intelligence.

Google is an online advertising business. The company wants to knock Microsoft off its perch as the default vendor to business and government. The Department of Defense is going to embrace the Google Cloud. I am not sure that some DoD analysts will release their grip on Microsoft PowerPoint, however.

Can a company trust Google? Does Google have a mechanism for governance for data handling, managing its professional staff (hello, Dr. Gebru), and ensuring that automated advertising systems are straight and true? Does Google abandon projects without thinking too much about consequences (hello, Stadia developers and customers)?

My hunch is that reducing business intelligence from a craft to a mouse click sets the stage for:

  1. Potential embedded and intentional data bias
  2. Rapid ill-informed decisions by users
  3. A way to inject advertising into a service application and personalization.

Will the days of the free car washes return to the Google parking lot? Will having meetings in a tree house in the London office become a thing again? Will Google displace other vendors delivering search based applications which engage the user in performing thoughtful analyses?

Time will provide the answer or rather Looker will provide the answer. Google will collect the money.

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2022


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