Howie Liu spoke at the 2022 Airtable Leaders Forum about how organizations can bridge the gaps of siloed data that leave their industries vulnerable to disruption
When we launched Airtable nearly ten years ago people were just starting to say that “software is eating the world”. We set out to give people the ability to create their own software and shape it to fit their businesses. Since then, software has pervaded the value chain of every single industry. Yet no single technology company is capable of building the hundreds of millions of applications required to power the unique processes inside every team and organization around the world. That's why we created Airtable: so the people closest to the real-world details of their businesses could begin creating customized apps themselves. Over the past decade our customers have done that and so much more, revealing a new generation of software creators in every line of business.
Today enterprises are facing a new problem. It’s never been more imperative or challenging for a company to coordinate at scale. Siloed data, misalignment between departments, and disconnected processes restrain organizations from moving quickly and in lock step. Companies not only need apps that are customized and functional at a team level. They need apps that are connected, organization-wide, to bridge the fractures that threaten their future success.
The Problem: An Inability To Coordinate In An Accelerating World
Decades ago, businesses were constrained by what they were physically able to produce. Now, they’re constrained by how quickly they can make decisions and get many teams to coordinate and act as one.
A failure to adapt is fatal. Think about Blockbuster, Sears, or Kodak. They had immense incumbent advantages. Yet those companies proved unable to evolve. The question facing every organization today is: who’s next?
Just as every organization needs to move faster and faster to meet evolving market demands, knowledge work is getting more and more fractured. Companies have amassed countless new software tools, each yielding disconnected data and fragmenting collaboration. Overcoming these obstacles is more than a matter of convenience – it’s a question of survival.
Companies need a way to unify their teams and connect their data. To enable autonomy and agility in every corner of the organization, and at the same time act in coordinated fashion, even across many thousands of employees.
The Solution: Connected Apps Enable the Organization to Move in Unison
Airtable’s Connected Apps Platform doubles down on our original vision of helping people closest to the work build apps that fit the needs of their businesses.
Going forward, Airtable will enable organizations to build entire connected ecosystems of customized apps on top of your most valuable data. Connected apps will operationalize data, making it accessible and actionable across the enterprise. Updates and changes are propagated in real time, breaking down walls between teams and enabling them with the most up-to-date information they need to do great work.
Connected apps will power critical workflows in ways that are unique to how organizations operate – like product roadmaps, research and UX operations, marketing campaigns, sales programs, and more. Linked together on a common platform, connected apps will help even the largest organizations move in unison.
The Future of Connected Apps is Already in Motion
It’s easy for us to imagine this future, because Airtable customers are pioneering this way of working right now. That’s especially true for a company familiar that took center stage during the pandemic—Netflix. For years, Netflix has produced original content at a massive, global scale. When the team turned to Airtable a few years ago they needed a single source of truth that could power each step in the content production process.
Netflix built a rich dataset in Airtable, where every show title was a single point of origin. Each component of a new episode or film, like casting, location, budget, and beyond, were connected in one place. This enabled teams to create their own apps and workflows, on top of this shared data. With access to live and reliable information, teams had the autonomy they needed to produce great content faster – all coordinated behind the scenes.
The marketing team leverages title metadata to plan a year of campaigns, programs, and channel investments, with the information about the title being launched. Regional teams are able to manage shoot locations based on the setting of the scripts and scenes. And the legal department can manage rights across thousands of shows and movies.
Equinox is another company on the leading edge of this connected apps vision. In 2019, they were preparing to unveil Equinox+, a hub for digital fitness content. With six months until the app’s planned launch at South by Southwest, the team was racing to produce content. Despite being sent to work from home due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Equinox+ still launched on schedule. But a big challenge for the team was how to resolve dozens of outstanding errors while being physically apart. A lot of the content was being manually input and managed in spreadsheets and docs, which led to human error. The on-screen instructor would say one thing but the user in class would see something else.
Using Airtable, Lindsey Puccio, a product manager on the initiative, created apps for each Equinox brand. Teams had personalized views based on where they stood in the content supply chain. That meant people could focus on and update information that pertained to them. Equinox now publishes content 400% faster in Airtable. They created more than 4,500 classes worldwide across nine brands.
Customers like Equinox and Netflix offer a glimpse into what a connected enterprise looks like. They demonstrate how organizations can move faster and stay coordinated – responding to fast-changing market conditions and driving extraordinary business outcomes. At Airtable, we're committing our product roadmap to make this vision an even more powerful reality for enterprises. Whether it’s a pair of shoes, an issue of a magazine or a new show, the speed and quality of the output are dramatically better when the organizations behind them are connected around shared data.
The future is clear. Just as software began to decide a company’s fate ten years ago, the way people use software to inform our decisions and actions will define the next ten. Airtable’s Connected Apps Platform responds to the existential threats facing every industry today. Inspired by our most innovative customers, we intend to forge a new way of working – both for disruptors and for companies transforming themselves from within.
About the author
Howie LiuHowie serves as CEO and is responsible for Airtable’s overall direction and strategy. He co-founded the company in 2013 to share the magic of building software with more people. That original inspiration—formed by his own experience learning to code and building useful applications—continues to drive Airtable today. He remains passionate about pushing the product to serve an increasing expanse of needs across Airtable’s diverse customer base.