Before moving your analytics environment to a new business intelligence platform, such as Looker, make sure you have taken the necessary steps to do it right from the start.

With more data coming into the business landscape, comes more need for the right business intelligence tool to help you analyze that data. Even if your data is in a good place, end users cannot use it to its full potential if they do not have the right tools. Migrating (or even starting from scratch) to a new business intelligence platform can seem daunting. So, what do you need to consider before migrating to a new business intelligence (BI) platform, such as Looker?

In this blog, we will introduce you to Looker, explain what makes Looker different, and best practices to get the migration started.

What is a Business Intelligence Migration?

A business intelligence migration simply means moving your analytics from your existing business intelligence environment to a new one. While the definition might be simple, planning and executing a migration plan can seem daunting if you have never done it before.

What is Looker?

Looker is a modern, cloud-based BI platform that allows data-driven businesses to explore, analyze, and share real-time business analytics with users seamlessly. It enables business users to create and share reports, dashboards, and charts easily. Its robust APIs allow it to integrate seamlessly with both internal and external business processes and applications, as well as allow you to securely embed into your internal or external sites. Looker is all of this, and more, while creating a true single source of governed truth.

Reasons to Consider Migrating to Looker

Companies often look to migrate their BI platform when there are changes in business demands or challenges with existing technology. Some common reasons we see for companies wanting to migrate to Looker include:

  • Modernizing Your Data and Analytics Infrastructure: Security, cost- and time-savings, scalability, and agility are just some of the benefits of modernizing your data architecture. The cherry on top (your BI platform) should not be any different. It should allow your end users to capitalize on all your data has to offer and set them up for success in the future. With its robust API capabilities, un-matched data governance, and collaboration capabilities, Looker offers a lot of features that will meet your modern data and analytics needs.
  • Moving to the Cloud: When migrating your environments to the cloud, your BI tool should not be left on the ground. Your business intelligence tool should allow you to take full advantage of your cloud infrastructure, not tether you to another server or desktop install you need to manage. The Looker platform was built in the cloud and for the cloud.
  • Enabling Self-Serve Analytics: Data democratization (when done properly) is crucial to allow the right people to have the right data at the right time. But when departments or decision makers are constantly queued in an IT backlog, or your current BI tool does not allow for any flexibility, end users cannot take full advantage of the data and use it to make informed decisions in a timely manner. Looker allows for organizations to have their cake and eat it too. End users can have access to do anything they want and need with their data, while doing it in an environment that has been vetted by IT. Allowing both sides to focus on the future, not the past—unless they want to.
  • Single Source of Truth: To ensure everyone in an organization is comparing apples to apples when it comes to data is critical. What good is having a state-of-the-art BI tool if multiple departments use the same data and come up with different results? The Looker platform allows for developers and the IT department to not only create a single source of truth for definitions, but if changes need to be made at some point, it will automatically traverse those changes throughout the entire environment.
  • Streamlining BI Tools Across the Organization: If you have multiple business intelligence tools for different business functions, it might be a good time to consider migrating to one BI platform for your entire organization. This will help streamline costs in licensing and support required to use each tool. Multiple business intelligence tools also usually mean multiple ways of looking at things. For all the points above, Looker can help not only standardize, but give departments the flexibility to do what they need to do as well.

Now, there are lots of options on the market when it comes to business intelligence platforms. Why makes Looker different?

What Makes Looker Different?

Although Looker can be stacked up against steep competition, it has many attributes that make it unique, as well as a top-rated business intelligence platform. It is currently defined as a Challenger in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms but poised to move up to Leader as it continues to evolve and set itself apart from its competition. Here are five things to know about Looker:

  • Based on SQL: From a back-end perspective, Looker is based on the SQL, which means the lead time from zero to being able to create and develop within Looker is shortened because there are so many people who know SQL; it is not a proprietary language.
  • End user ease of use: Front-end developers and end users do not need to know another language to create their analysis. With a few clicks, end users can create a complex set of analysis, collaborate with their co-workers, kick off a business process/action, and even share insights outside of their organization (if allowed). No coding is needed.
  • Application integrations and embedded capabilities: Using Looker’s robust API capabilities, organizations can not only embed easily (and white label easily) the platform can easily integrate with any other application—whether its intra/internet sites, Marketo, Salesforce, Slack, email, or even custom programs within your organization. Looker allows you to not only gain and give insights into your data but act on those insights as well.
  • Developer mindset: Looker is a big proponent of DRY coding, or not repeating yourself. Providing developers with mechanics to truly write code once and have it available throughout. If something needs to change, it automatically traverses that change throughout your environment. There is no need to make one-off changes in every dashboard or report. Looker handles that for you. On top of that, Looker’s GIT integration makes collaboration and version control on multi-developer projects a breeze.
  • Multicloud data platform: Being built in the cloud from the beginning, Looker can be put on top of any cloud (or on-premise) platform. This ensures that your organization isn’t vendor locked or tied to a legacy tool, enabling you to be poised to take on any challenge the future holds.

Best Practices for Moving to Looker

If you are ready to begin your business intelligence migration, here is a list of best practices for moving to Looker:

  • Map Out Your Existing Environment: Odds are, your existing environment has been live for some time now. Understanding all the nooks and crannies are essential to making sure you migrate everything correctly. Having a comprehensive view of what your landscape looks like now, will pay dividends in this effort down the road. Map out your existing environment by:
    • Taking stock of your data sources. Document databases, mapping tables, excel spreadsheets, and everything that goes into your current reports and analysis.
    • Knowing what transformations are happening and where they are happening. Are transformations happening outside of your data sources? Are they happening in each individual report? Are there fundamental differences in definitions depending on who you talk with? Knowing this information will help with the next steps.
    • Having a comprehensive understanding of what should be considered for a business intelligence migration will help shape the overall migration plan. Look at what analysis is currently happening in your environment and decide what are critical reports and dashboards. Ask what reports are being used and how often?
  • Map Out Your Data: From a foundational standpoint, you need look into how your data is being stored and how it is being transformed to decide which data makes the most sense to migrate. Decide what is crucial from a business standpoint and how you intend to use the data once it has been moved to Looker, and then decide how it will be governed. Documenting this process as well as defining clear roles and responsibilities can help to ensure work is completed efficiently and there are no conflicting or duplicate processes.
  • Include End Users Early and Often: Your end users are going to be the ones in your BI platform day in and day out. Including them every step of the way—be it process planning, business definitions, data quality, dashboard design—is critical. All these things are there to help the end users make an informed and timely decision. A new BI platform, no matter how functional, can still fail without user adoption. Ask questions around what they want to see, how they want to see it, and when they want to see it.
  • Map Out Your Future State: The adage “if we knew then what we know now” holds very much true for a business intelligence migration. Unless you have a very specific reason not too, this is the perfect opportunity to look at your current process and address the pain points, the flaws, and the not exactly perfect level of analysis. Map out your future state by:
    • Looking at the reports and analysis you have now and note what is being used.  How much can be combined, consolidated, or redone bigger and better? Completing a report rationalization will not only allow you to figure out commonly used reports, but also identify areas that are more priority than others, as well as help do some clean up.
    • Understanding and documenting the KPIs that are a must for migration. What are the definitions? Are there multiple opinions on how to calculate these? Now is the time to reconcile organization wide how to calculate and use these metrics.  Where will the business logic live? Who will have ability to change it? As much as possible, we want to push this business logic back to your back-end systems, but if it can’t be, what is the logic that needs to be replicated in Looker?
    • Plan out areas of analysis and who should see those areas. In Looker terms, what explores (or areas of analysis) should there be, and who needs to be able to use them?
  • Plan the Migration in Small Steps: Understanding all the sources, logic, reports, and nice-to-haves should help to prioritize and plan out multiple sprints. Do not try to tackle everything all at once. Have a plan, stick to the plan, and adapt as things come up.
  • Implement a Training Program: Change tends to scare people. That fear can be reduced (or even eliminated) with the proper training.
    • Train your end users: Looker has tons of training videos, classes, documentation, and everything needed to make sure they know how to use Looker to its full extent.
    • Train your developers and admins. As with above, there are tons of great resources available for them to get acquainted with the platform and how to use it effectively.

Migrating to a modern business intelligence tool doesn’t need to be difficult. Selecting a platform like Looker can help your organization realize the value of its data quickly, and efficiently.

Josh Goldner Josh is Analytic8’s Looker Practice Lead and is also a certified LookML Developer. Josh implements modern analytics solutions to help his clients get more value from their data. Josh is an avid outdoorsman and balances his professional work with hunting and teaching his coworkers how to fish.
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