Horses or Trucks? The Cloud Business Intelligence Lesson From The First World War

  • Ed Thompson, CTO
  • February 5, 2014

Horses or trucks? Lessons from WWI applicable to Cloud Business IntelligenceThis year—2014—is the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, a tragedy that cost millions of lives. The war also heralded a period of intense technological innovation, bringing about major advances in aircraft, vehicles and weaponry.

Before the war, for instance, aircraft were small, slow and unreliable. At the war’s end, military strategists had realised that air superiority was essential for victory.

But in any period of intense innovation, there are uncertainties surrounding which technology will ultimately come out as the best. Choices have to be made about which way to go—this technology, or that technology? Should we go with the new, or stay with the old?

And fascinatingly, just such a choice, at end of the First World War, turns out to have had a direct bearing on the family fortunes of Matillion’s founder, Matthew Scullion.

Riches from roads

Matthew’s great grandfather, apparently owned one of the UK’s largest haulage businesses, headquartered in the Lancashire cotton mill town of Stalybridge, then at the height of its economic fortunes.

Not surprisingly, then, Matthew’s great grandfather was a wealthy man. Indeed, according to Matthew’s aunt, the wealthiest man in Stalybridge.

But on the outbreak of war, many of the firm’s horses—which pulled the carts—were requisitioned for military purposes by the War Office, the forerunner of today’s Ministry of Defence.

Thanks for the help

And once the war was won, a grateful War Office got back in touch.

Would he like his horses back? Or, alternatively, they would happily substitute what they described as ‘mechanised vehicles’—or trucks, as we’d call them today.

Matthew’s great grandfather chose horses. Unfortunately, his biggest competitor chose mechanised vehicles, to make up a fleet which then comprised 1,580 horses and 46 mechanised vehicles.

Mechanised vehincles - the disruptive solution
‘Mechanised vehicles’. 1918 vintage Ford truck. Copyright, Ford Motor Company

But the winds of change were blowing. And ten years later, the fleet of mechanised vehicles had grown to 628, while just 509 horses remained.

The name of the competitor? Pickfords, based in the nearby village of Adlington. Yes, that same Pickfords which would grow to become a national force in household removals.

And Matthew’s great grandfather? Let’s just say that sticking with horses wasn’t his smartest decision.

Cloud vs. on-premise

Turn the clock forward to today, and businesses are being faced with a comparable decision—and being faced with that decision, what’s more, at a time of intense technological innovation.

Business Intelligence is a huge competitive enabler. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 75% of companies which ‘substantially outperform their peers financially’ also reported that data analysis was ‘very important or essential’ in their organizations.

But equally clearly, Business Intelligence comes in difference forms. Most significantly, there’s a choice to be made between traditional, on-premise models, and Cloud Business Intelligence.

Alas, Mr Stokes backed the wrong horse. Trucks won the day and horse drawn transport was soon obsolete.
Trucks won the day and horse drawn transport was soon obsolete.

Traditional on-premise Business Intelligence typically takes 12-24 months to deliver, and has a significant upfront cost in terms of licensing and implementation support.

And Cloud Business Intelligence? An implementation time of measured in weeks, a low-cost, fixed-price implementation cost, and an affordable monthly subscription thereafter.

You’d better be right

Choosing between competing technologies—especially at a time of intense technology change—is never easy.

But unfortunately, choices have to be made.

And as Matthew’s great grandfather found, history isn’t necessarily kind to those who make the wrong choice.

What makes for a winning technology? In other words, how can you avoid making the wrong choice?

It’s tricky. But adjectives such as ‘better’, ‘cheaper’, ‘faster’ and ‘more powerful’ are usually associated with technologies on the winning side of the equation.

On-premise, or Cloud Business Intelligence? Horse or truck? It’s your choice.

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