Saturday, November 6

5 Ways to Save Organizations Millions

Update: I believe in giving credit where credit is due so it should be mentioned that this post was inspired by another blogger, David Crandall of Heroic Destiny ( and on Twitter: @davidcrandall. He has good content on growing your blog through interviews, which I have also found successful over the years through my 10 Q&A posts with executives. Thanks David!

Two Sides of the Same Coin

We've worked in the field of Business Intelligence for years, cumulatively decades. During that time, we've helped clients save millions of dollars.

We've also been in management positions as the recipient of information from Business Intelligence systems. During those times, we saw business people frustrated, limited, and spending millions of dollars on systems they didn’t have to.

You Are Not Alone

We believe passionately in efficient and effective businesses; and business people being empowered with their own information. Some of you might be thinking, “We have a Data Warehouse and cubes and reports! We have what we need so what are you talking about?”

Excellent question but first I want to share with you WHY I’m even bringing this up. We sat with a prospective client today talking about their current problems. I mentioned they weren’t alone, that I’ve seen this in many organizations, and proceeded to mention a few examples. Then it dawned on me.

I don’t want to tell people “you’re not alone” anymore. I don’t want to share examples of business disempowerment. Instead, I want to tell them they are one of the few left doing it that way!

So the best way to bring about this kind of change is to give away the knowledge. This is scary in an “information is power” industry but the gains/benefits/change out weigh the competitive edge we may lose.

Getting Back to Saving Millions

So what exactly are we giving away? We are sharing with you three ways to start the change within your own organization. We have five ways but we’re keeping two for some competitive advantage!

The goals are to a) save money by reducing costs and automating repetitive tasks, and b) make better decisions with readily available, fresh, accurate information.

Here are three specific ways that can change your organization and save money:

1. Identify significant points of interest

It’s more than asking what reports they need. People require different types of information to base their decisions upon. Look for places where it’s difficult to find answers. Analysts, key individuals, management are good places to start. They may not even know the points of interest they are missing so focus on what’s known first. When points of interest are identified, better decisions can be made.

2. Free people to do more creative work

When someone is doing repetitive tasks, the same task over and over, this is a candidate for automation. When tasks are automated, it frees people to do other creative work or spending time analyzing and producing answers. Find tasks that copy data into spreadsheets, use side of desk documents or databases, or manually aggregate numbers from reports. There is enough work for people without having to do repetitive tasks.

3. Aggregate One or More Sources

Bringing sources of data together will have roadblocks. Privacy of information,who controls the data, who has access to the data are hurdles that can be overcome with the right tack and skill. The benefit is being able to manipulate and translate the data into information. Data quality improvement and aggregating multiple sources can give more accurate answers but are not always needed.

Common sense should prevail for this point. And lots of it! I’m reminded of the adage, “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. So keep in mind a centralized data warehouse isn’t always the answer. If one already exists, adding to it isn’t always the answer either. Think: efficiency, value versus cost, and that the business is constantly changing. Typically data warehouses are unable to keep up to business change.

And here's a bonus point for 3.5 ways that we're giving away.

Different Tools for Different Roles

Finding the available tools in the Business Intelligence market is hard. There are so many. However, choosing the ‘best fit’ tool can be even harder when you include the politics, costs, and persuasive sales people. We’ll talk more about this in a later post.

You may have realized while reading this post that these techniques do more than just save money, they also help your decision makers. We find when we go through this process with clients, they come away with a focus on what they really need to know and the importance of giving decision makers and analysts access to the information.

Tuesday, October 27

LucidEra a casualty of poor design

The rumors could be more than rumors for the SaaS BI company that focused on analytics for LucidEra used a variety of open source BI software to address a market need. People wanted SaaS BI and were paying for it. So what was the problem?

If you haven't heard, the rumor is that LucidEra is no longer in business.

I want to say rumor until someone from the company verifies it. However I've heard from a couple sources now, which is good enough for me to publish this post. Plus their blog is down. Some customers are looking for BI vendors again. And senior executives have moved onto other companies.

What went wrong?

Rumor #1: LucidEra had more servers than NetSuite!

One advantage that SaaS should bring to the table is ease of scalability. Without that you're just on-premise software in someone else's data center adding servers for new customers. SaaS architecture needs to have automated scalability.

Rumor #2: Not a multi-tenant architecture.

A few things could have taken them away from a pure multi-tenant architecture. The open source BI software, like Mondrian, may not have lended itself well to multi-tenancy. (Maybe someone technically savvy could verify or refute this?) Another issue can be the data model design. Replicating data models for each new customer isn't multi-tenancy. I'm not sure why or where LucidEra moved away from a pure SaaS model. But that's what I'm hearing.

Rumor #3: Customers loved them and their product.

If you want to please your customers, find out how LucidEra did their sales and customer support. They are an example of how a SaaS business needs excellent sales and customer support AND savvy engineers and architects.

At least this casualty wasn't because of the economy or so the rumors go.

Monday, August 10

BI only used by 8%, what is the point

It's hard to hear about the proverbial glass ceiling with the Business Intelligence (and data warehousing) industry. This ceiling acts as an invisible force stopping the industry from moving up or beyond it's current paradigm. Perhaps the holy grail is on the other side; or maybe this is the end. And really there are only two choices: assume the ceiling cannot be broken and live happily or innovate around it breaking past the barrier and into more chaos and opportunity.

Shawn Dolley mentioned Netezza's new blog, Previously Impossible. They quote a survey that shows just over 8 percent of employees actually use BI tools. And this is for BI-using organizations! The article also talks about the inflated usage statistics by BI vendors (they want to show value and sell more user licenses - usage is a must-have metric).

Many people mention the high cost of BI/DW. I wouldn't mind that so much if there was equal value in the results, the ROI. I think any MBA would be hard pressed to find positive ROI with only 8 percent of employees using such a costly system. However, companies pay for large BI/DW initiatives either out of necessity or ignorance.

Let's say it's out of necessity with the mounds of data being captured daily.

Now what. There is a need for information but there is still much pain with BI pre and post implementation. Some vendors will jump on the "low cost" wagon with starter kits, blueprints, configuration tools, cheaper hardware, etc. The problem I hope more people are looking at, the real glass ceiling problem, is addressing the question, "why are so few using BI?"

Look at how many people use Google to research or find information. Google's search success is because it's easy and quick! When my father who is 73 can find stuff that's a testimonial! Alternatively BI is still too confusing for the general employee. Dashboards. Analytical cubes. Reports. Forecasts. Anytime you need more than a few hours training (and re-training when you haven't used it for a month), it's too much. This, of course, assumes "BI for the masses".

So will BI ever get to the ease and simplicity where my father could determine the best deal of potato chips and dip mix combination near his location?

Tuesday, June 16

10 Questions with Bruce Armstrong, CEO Kickfire

When you talk with a person who has worked for successful companies and spent time as a venture capitalist sitting on multiple boards, you tend to actively listen to the stories and glean what insight you can. When I spoke with Bruce Armstrong, CEO of Kickfire, it was such a conversation.

Bruce is looking to take Kickfire and disrupt the data warehouse market. Their product, as Bruce put it, helps bridge MySQL (which doesn't understand data warehousing) with data warehousing (which doesn't understand open source). He is now in the midst of a David and Goliath battle with Teradata -- his former employer.

Question: Hi Bruce. Care to describe this battle with Teradata?

Answer: Actually, Tom, we believe the battle is less with Teradata’s existing high-end data warehouse business and more for the vast, under-served data warehouse “mass” market out there. As such, we don’t plan on taking the battle directly to Teradata or anyone else, but rather create a new market by providing affordable, easy-to-deploy data warehouse and data mart appliances for the mass market. The mass market for data warehousing includes rapidly growing small & medium businesses as well as departments in larger organizations who simply can’t afford either their own Teradata machine or in a lot of cases even the charge-backs from central IT to time share on a Teradata machine. So, we hope to be complementary to Teradata, but realize there may be some skirmishes for budget dollars in the market today!

Question: You started as employee #16 at Teradata who boasts Walmart as a customer. Was that your start that brought you to running Kickfire today?

Answer: Yes, I was at Teradata for 15 years, Tom. I worked my way up from programmer to President after we went public and were acquired by NCR/AT&T. I spent almost 10 years in the field working with customers – including Walmart – so I developed a pretty good idea of what they are looking for at the high end. After Teradata, I was GM of the Server Group at Sybase where one of the products I launched was Sybase IQ, the first column-store database on the market. Later, I was EVP of Sales & Marketing at Broadbase – the second column-store database on the market and a pioneer of data marts. Since then, I have been involved in doing due diligence for a lot of the data warehouse startups, including Netezza, Greenplum, and Vertica.

Question: What did you learn from Teradata back then that you are applying to Kickfire today?

Answer: While I learned many things at Teradata that are applicable to Kickfire, the key concept for me was just how different the data warehousing high end is from the mass market. At the high end, once you’re able to break into the market with a new approach, it quickly becomes less about technology and more about services and support. Large customers just simply demand more hand holding. In the mass market, it’s just the opposite. Customers in the mass market expect the product to be highly packaged – easy to buy, install, and manage. They simply can’t afford lots of services and support, so the product needs to deliver high performance in a plug-and-play way.

Question: You have years of history in the data warehouse industry. Care to explain what makes you think the data warehouse industry needs changing?

Answer: While I believe every sector of the data warehouse market is looking for more performance, faster deployments, and lower cost, our goal at Kickfire is not necessarily to change the data warehouse industry but rather to enable more people in the market to take advantage of the benefits that come from data warehousing. Again, we’re going after an under-served market with rapidly growing small and medium sized businesses and departments in enterprises that simply can’t afford Teradata or Netezza. The change that’s required to enable the mass market is to get high-end performance out of a mass-market machine. Kickfire achieves this through our patented parallel-processing SQL chip. In a single chip, we are able to get the performance of dozens of general purpose CPUs. So, in the same way that NVIDIA has radically changed the dynamics of the graphics industry by encoding the graphics processing language in silicon, Kickfire has the same opportunity in the data warehouse industry.

Question: There have been recent acquisitions. Sun purchased MySQL. Then Oracle purchased Sun. Should the MySQL community be concerned?

Answer: We do not think so. We believe that with Solaris, Java, and MySQL, Oracle now has the kind of assets they will need to truly make Microsoft worry. With MySQL, Oracle will finally be able to undercut Microsoft as well as to dominate the high end in databases. As such, we think Oracle is going to continue to invest in MySQL. In fact, Oracle has already proven to be a good steward for InnoDB, the most popular MySQL storage engine they bought several years ago.

Question: About Kickfire, how does this chip technology bridge MySQL with data warehousing?

Answer: MySQL has become the de facto standard for online businesses by virtue of its open source business model and the fact that it has increasingly become production-ready for transaction processing applications. For data warehousing applications, though, MySQL remains very primitive. As such, customers struggle with database volumes as small as 50GB when it comes to reporting and analytics. The primary technical issue with MySQL regarding data warehousing is that MySQL does not have any query parallelization capabilities. This is where Kickfire comes in: using MySQL’s pluggable storage engine API, Kickfire takes over a query from MySQL and provides parallel-processing with the SQL chip allowing queries to run 10x – 1000x faster.

Question: Are you getting any response from the MySQL or data warehouse communities? Are they seeing potential benefit?

Answer: Yes! We have a large and rapidly growing pipeline of opportunities in the MySQL community. One of our early customers, Mamasource, has been using MySQL for years to drive their online community website. However, when it came to analyzing the clickstream data about their community in order to improve the user experience and increase ad revenue, MySQL hit the wall at less than 30GB of data. With Kickfire, Mamasource is now able to run their queries on average 20x faster and up to 600x faster for complex queries. More importantly, Mamasource can now scale their data warehouse to over 300GB, which allows them to increase from just one month of data to a full year.

Question: It's hard to ignore Microsoft. How does Microsoft with SQL Server fit in the Kickfire world view?

Answer: Microsoft and Oracle are the predominant databases in the mass market today. As MySQL continues to penetrate the market (at a rate of 70,000 downloads a day, by the way), Kickfire will be brought into more and more Microsoft and Oracle shops. As such, one could imagine us building more specific features to co-exist with those databases in addition to MySQL.

Question: You spent time as a Venture Capitalist. We won't hold that against you but what are your take-aways from being a VC?

Answer: My time as a venture capitalist was really more about board work than investing. As an operator, the VC firm I was with was interested in my ability to help identify interesting spaces, provide input on business plans and teams, and then work with portfolio companies from a board perspective in order to help generate value for shareholders. A lot of what I did was to dive deep into each function (sales, marketing, development, etc) of the portfolio companies and provide input to the boards (including the CEO’s) on where things could improve. Having served on 20+ boards, I got a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t work in start-ups and rapidly growing companies. The lessons I learned were really quite simple:
  1. make sure you have a big market opportunity;
  2. understand very clearly who your customer is and why they should buy from you;
  3. build a very high quality product;
  4. regularly assess your market position and look for ways to change the game in your favor;
  5. don’t be afraid to tell the truth about the business – there’s always more than one way to create a market leader.

Question: It’s been a pleasure talking with you Bruce. Do you have any additional links or information about Kickfire you want to share?

Answer: Thank you – the pleasure’s all mine. Please come visit us at!

Monday, March 16

13% achieve BI objectives

I'm tired of reading posts about business intelligence needing "an army of consultants", concerns about "losing control over our BI system to a third party", and only 13% achieved their business intelligence objectives.

Or Boris Evelson's quote, "Business intelligence is still an art much more than a science."

Or Hound of the BI-skervilles stating that data is safer inside a company's firewall than outside in a professional data center.

Based on these comments, the way business intelligence is being done today just doesn't make the grade.   There are all kinds of statistics to support this.

So where will the change come from?  The generation of young people coming into the workforce has the power of change behind them.  They do things differently.  Chat, instant messenger, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter are their tools.  They are information consumers with search, investigation, collaboration skills.

So what about those people and companies wanting to keep and hold onto the status quo.

They say improve and maintain.
I say destroy what we know and reimagine!

They say, "BI needs an army of consultants."
I say, "your scope is too large and unrealistic."

They say, "you need control over our technology."
I say, "leverage the internet and don't reinvent the wheel."

They say that "BI is more an art than a science."
I say, "find repeatability and gain from economies of scale or be one of the 87% of unsuccessful projects."

They say, "we have people with years of experience in business intelligence."
I say, "I love smart, innovative, talented, internet saavy people wanting to turn BI upside down."

They say, "data is safer behind your company firewall."
I say, "what are they smoking. Data centers specialize in security."

They say, "users have a fear of the technology."
I say, "you're using the wrong technology for that audience."

They say, "radical change takes a decade."
I say, "radical change takes a minute.  Those hanging onto the past want it to take longer."

They say this is a rant.
I say this is our reality.

Thursday, March 12

The Net Generation

Don Tapscott is entertaining to watch.  He always is pitching his latest book.  An eternal salesperson.  Today it was Grown Up Digital.  Don is calling the Net Generation the generation of kids after Gen X.  These kids have grown up with the internet, Facebook, and Twitter.  Now that 80 million of them are coming into the workforce, they will have the power to change business and our way of life.

This will affect companies and governments in significant ways.  I was inspired to write about change in the healthcare industry.

More from Don's book.  In 1983, only 7% of households owned computers.  By 2004, the number had grown to 44% and a whopping 60% of those households had children.  Now 100% of American schools provide internet access.  75% of teenagers between 12 and 17 years old have mobile phones.

Technology is like the air for Net Gen children.  Technology has fostered a new way of communicating, accessing information, and entertaining oneself.  They are not obsessed with technology and in fact use it as we would use the tv.  It's just where you go for news and entertainment, except the internet is where they go for interactive fun, friends, and communication.

So where does this leave business intelligence?

Well, Net Gen kids have had to search for, rather than simply look at, information.  This forces them to develop thinking and investigative skills.  Unfortunately the tools they use are nothing like pivot tables, analytical cubes, reports, forecasting models, or statistical tools.  Their tools are collaborative.  The internet and its global reach is unique.  And the world is enabling global communication.

Maybe you will say BI 2.0 is the answer.  Although I'm not sure I have seen a truely collaborative platform for corporate data.  Sure, some products allow you to tag reports and provide comments.  However true collaboration in business intelligence I have yet to see.

Tuesday, February 24

Can BI be recession proof

Seems 2008 was a good year for business intelligence companies.  Some of you may not want to read that others are prospering, while many struggle (or at least worry about the future) but business intelligence could be a beacon of light for IT companies.

Here is a small sampling of growth numbers for traditional on-premise vendors that I found.  The article also said the business intelligence market is larger than Forrester's estimation of $8.5 billion.
  • SAP Business Objects posts double digit growth.
  • IBM Cognos reported 12% revenue growth for first nine months.
  • Microstrategy growth at 8%.
  • SAS Institute growth at 5%.
For many companies, these could look like great numbers in these economic times!  I hope you are apart of this growth in some shape or form.

Then I thought about the numbers (briefly).  Typically B2B sales take several months, maybe 6 - 10 months or longer to complete.  Meaning these growth numbers are from sales initiated in 2007 or early 2008.  Really not when the recession was causing havoc.  So the true test to the resilience of business intelligence will be the 2009 numbers.

"Is anyone looking to buy in 2009?", is the real test.

While growth numbers may or may not be interesting.  What could be very interesting would be to compare SaaS BI company growth with traditional on-premise.  Get the real numbers out there.  Of course, the size of revenues may be apples vs oranges but the percent growth would be interesting, yes?

Here are the 60 fastest growing companies, which SaaS vendors comprise much of this growth.  The link is near the end of the post, if you're not interested in healthcare on the internet.  Unfortunately I haven't found comparable numbers I could use (send some along if you know of any - we could do quick collaborative analysis).

As an aside, I am reading more and more about business intelligence being an add-on to ERP packages.  The first link above mentions the BI market of $8.5 billion doesn't include BI tools packaged with ERP, HR, and customer analytics applications.

I think it's inevitable that on-premise BI's future will be an attachment for ERPs.  Where that leaves enterprise-wide BI, I'm not sure.  Perhaps the value of enterprise-wide BI will be for large organizations with deep pockets to pay for the on-going costs.

If you're looking for emerging bright light technologies, check out:
  • predictive analytics
  • business activity monitoring (or complex event processing)
  • text analytics
  • column-based databases

Wednesday, February 4

Don't live in the past, predict the future

If Jethro Tull is "living in the past".  And hindsight is 20/20.  Then you're reading this blog in the moment to learn how to predict the future.  From a business intelligence perspective, that is.

Thanks to Accutate for providing this short article on Predictive Analytics.

"Predictive analysis can be an extremely useful tool for many different types of businesses. In fact, where there is any type of data warehousing there should be implementation of a business intelligence program that includes predictive analysis. However, in order to learn how your business can profit from this facet of business intelligence, you are going to have to understand exactly how and why predictive analysis works.  

The main idea of predictive analysis is to use current and past data to predict future events. The goal of the statistical techniques used in predictive analysis is to determine market patterns, identify risks, and predict potential opportunities for growth. In addition, data relationships can be reordered to determine the most plausible outcome of possible solutions and patterns can be recognized that might have the power to alter the outcome of a probable event.  

One of the most important aspects to reliable predictive analysis is data quality. The information provided by predictive analysis can only be as effective as the abundance and accuracy of data available. Data quality is absolutely necessary to the process of predictive analysis. In order to attain accurate business intelligence, companies must maintain quality data.  Predictive analysis requires both past and current data about many different things including customers, businesses, products, and the economy. All of this information is used to draw relationships and patterns between sets of data. If the data is accurate and well maintained, then the business intelligence produced will be high quality as well.   

In the past, predictive analysis was mainly used for newly emerging technologies. However, in recent years these practices have quickly started to become common for mainstream businesses. There are a few differences between the ways that these techniques are currently used and how they were used in the past. One of the main reasons for these differences is why companies use predictive analysis. In the past, these techniques were used for long-term analysis of market and consumer trends. However, in recent years, the mainstream implementation of predictive analysis techniques has tended to focus more on immediate, tactical uses. Because of the “real-time” nature of this business intelligence, more and more companies are using predictive analysis as standard in making predictions about particular industry markets and consumer trends.  

Some of the industries that have started utilizing these business intelligence techniques include telecom, insurance, pharmaceutical, and financial industries. All of the companies in these different business sectors have been able to use predictive analysis to make the right decisions to move their businesses in a positive direction. These processes can help with economic predictions as well as predicting the behavior of businesses and consumers. This type of information, made available in an efficient manner by business intelligence, is understandably invaluable. It can turn a simple prediction into intelligence that is more precise than even the most educated guesses. Predictive analysis with appropriate attention paid to data quality has made it easier than ever for businesses to make accurate market and consumer predictions and thus smarter decisions for the growth of their company."

Thursday, January 29

Microsoft bundles BI software - what they are doing unveiled

The inevitable nature of big companies is to lock customers into their suite of products. For instance, Oracle started with databases, now bundles financial and integration software with their database. Customers are told it's easier to use their add-on, value-add products than use another vendor and get into compatibility issues. Add-on, value-add products are sometimes free, enticing you even more.

So it comes to no surprise that Microsoft has announced they have tightly bundled their BI software, PerformancePoint Server, with their document management software, Sharepoint. Joined at the hip, you cannot buy one without getting the other.

Comparatively to other BI vendors, Microsoft has the only bundled BI, document management, workflow, collaboration software on the market (I think). IBM Cognos, SAP Business Objects, and Oracle Hyperion are behind with this endeavour - they haven't tightly integrated BI with their other software.

Each of these competitors to Microsoft have similar software breadth but Microsoft's tight integration is a step ahead. It may take years for IBM, SAP, and Oracle to properly integrate BI, document management, workflow and collaboration.

But what about the customers? On the surface, the tight bundling can be viewed as positive. You could be using Sharepoint and now want some BI reporting. Or maybe you have PerformancePoint reports and need to manage documents.

Tackling both BI and document management pieces is challenging.  Without considering planning, governance, and skillsets, you will most certainly encounter serious setbacks.  Or worse your vision is restricted to an unimpressive rollout.

Here are some problems you may encounter with tight bundling of BI and document management.
  1. Standardizing on Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP technologies requires highly paid IT resources and/or consultants (not great for this economic climate)
  2. Very different skillsets are required to build Sharepoint sites vs PerformancePoint reports (need to hire more staff and/or pay for more IT training)
  3. Goverenance and best practices are very different for managing BI vs documents (different knowledge needed, so twice the effort)
  4. Locked into sole-source agreements (difficult switching BI or document mgmt products for a better and more cost effective product in the future)
Putting those concerns aside, there are positives in Microsoft's story.  Microsoft's price point is unbeatable when compared to other on-premise vendors.  This can offset additional costs (see points above) and make your entrance into Document Management and Business Intelligence a little easier.

The question is whether the competitors - Oracle, SAP, IBM - will compete directly by integrating their products with BI.  Here's my thoughts on where these companies are going.
  • In the case of SAP Business Objects, it's natural direction would be to simply use Business Objects as the reporting engine for the SAP application (do away with SAP's current BW).  Perhaps keep Business Objects as a stand-alone BI product set... perhaps.
  • Hyperion is a natural fit for Oracle Financials.  Hyperion was deeply entrenched within the financials of large companies.  But Oracle has many other products that could work along side Hyperion's BI.  For instance, SOA/messaging integration replacing traditional ETL (or parts of it).
  • As for IBM... guessing where they are going is just a gamble.  I don't have any insiders that could give me hints.  IBM and Cognos were working together prior to the acquisition and you look at the breadth of products, consulting division and R&D coming out of IBM... well your guess is probably as good or better than mine.

Friday, January 2

Why the auto industry sells lemons

Let's start the year off with something fun.  And Happy New Year everyone.

I was sent this Calvin & Hobbs comic strip about lemonade stands and business [you can find the full strip below]. After I had a good chuckle, it got me thinking. How often is the 'lemonade stand' used as an example for business? Surprisingly quite a few.

In Donald Trump's "The Apprentice", Donald gave each team $250 dollars to start a lemonade stand. There are 3,233 book results from Amazon for 'lemonade stand'. Countless blogs on the subject -- how to be a Lemonaire and Umpqua Bank funding kids starting a lemonade stand.

However Calvin's lemonade stand highlights well known problems with business. One could apply this to the automobile, financial and oil & gas industries. Companies in these industries are either having troubles currently or problems are looming (of course unless your government simply bails your company out).

What are the problems through Calvin's eyes?
  • Stockholders demand monstrous profit for their investments.

  • Presidents and CEOs demand exorbitant salaries.

  • Employees demand high wages and all sorts of company benefits.
Not to be flippant using a comic strip from 10+ years ago to emphasize problems with business today but one must admit there is truth in Calvin's statements.

Here's an idea for those who can navigate Web 2.0, mashup, and BI. The SEC is requesting company filings via XBRL and making them freely available online.   What if BI was applied to analyze executive salaries across companies and industries. Or compare financial costs of employee salaries and benefits.

Would there be answers to why the Ford company didn't take the bail out but GM and Chrysler did?

Why would someone do this?

Think of the comparisons that can be done. Comparing trend increases or decreases of salaries. Have union salaries and benefits brought down GM and Chrysler? How does the auto industry compare to the oil & gas industry for executive salaries? Could predictions of bankruptcy be made for other companies because of the comparison made with GM and Chrysler?

[this post used copyrighted Calvin & Hobbs material]

Thursday, December 18

Is Business Objects losing ground?

"Urgent: Time is running out". The title to an email today from Business Objects, an SAP company. I'm on their mailing list so I get emails once in a while.

But what was so urgent that I couldn't miss out on today? Perhaps they were informing me of a Christmas charity that needed donations to save the Congo children. Maybe a holiday offer of free software licenses? They say it is urgent so it must be important.

Where's the value

So what did I get that required me to jump out of my seat and click on the link in the email before time ran out? I have now "opt-in to receive emails from BO". Wow, time truly was of the essence (I'm trying to contain my sarcasm). I will receive "announcements, events, product offers, technical tips, and other vital information for SAP customers." [I thought I was already signed up, which is how I received the email in the first place??]

Lame campaign

Anyway, this was a lame marketing campaign from BO's marketing department (maybe this is from SAP's marketing department...). Anyway the technique of inducing urgency and fear is decades old and rubs people the wrong way. Our time is valuable, so if it's "urgent", it had better be.

Fear within Business Objects

This could also point to a fear coming from within BO/SAP, although I cannot substantiate this claim. I base this on history where fear marketing comes from companies that are losing ground to competitors. Or they simply go delusional (like the automakers who continued marketing the same gas guzzling vehicles when the economy and environment were screaming for change). They are detached from their customers.

I suspect Business Objects has a strong revenue base from existing customers and services so I'm not trying to induce fear that BO will be asking for Federal bailout money. But maybe they are seeing declines in new customers and new license revenue.

For instance, I think it is safe to say they failed with their Insight Portal (sorry I can't find the link), failing with their Information On Demand, and I don't see them getting much uptake from their BI On Demand web portal.

Until something more substantial comes out, I'll wait for future correspondence from BO like a 7 year old child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Strategy for starting Business Intelligence

There is much focus needed by different skilled people to create a new Business Intelligence system. Sometimes we get lost in the details ('forest through the trees'). More importantly, if your boat isn't set in the right direction from the beginning, you may end up sailing around for far too long and costing you more than it should.

I was reminded of this recently by Mark Fillmore from Actuate. Below is an article that talks about starting a Business Intelligence strategy. Obviously it's best to use strategic thinking from the start but even with an existing BI system, these thoughts can help refocus your BI plans.

Making Business Intelligence Work for You

Companies large and small can benefit from a well thought out business intelligence strategy, but developing that strategy can sometimes be more challenging than implementing a business intelligence program. To make sure that your company is getting the most out of your BI program, make sure that you define your goals and have a plan for the information you generate before you start collecting and analyzing data.

First Steps

Assess your current system of data collection. How you collect your data will make a difference in how complete your information is, which will in turn affect the results of your business intelligence program. Make sure that if you need historical data on your company or customers that you know where it is and how to access it. You’ll also need to take some time to understand your business needs and make a rough road map for how you would like your business to transform. Focus your attention on a few operational objective that can be achieved both short and long term.

Planning Your Strategy

Start with your vision of where you would like your company to be in 3 to 5 years. Pick specific goals that can be achieved with the assistance of a good business intelligence program. These goals should have measurable success rates or key performance indicators. You will use your key performance indicators (KPIs) as milestones for how close you are to accomplishing your goals. You can then set up your information infrastructure to collect the necessary data that can be analyzed and turned into information, which can be used to make effective decisions for your company.

In order to pick the most worthwhile goals, you must understand what the desired end result is. You will have to ask yourself what you will do with the business intelligence information your program generates once you have it. Otherwise, you will have a vast amount of information and no way to strategize around it. In companies without a comprehensive long-term plan, decision makers react to the information they get from their data without understanding the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

Another important thing to think about before you implement your program is what your options are once you have the information. Often companies have an idea of how they want to move forward and are looking to the business intelligence information generated by their BI program to support their current strategy. They soon learn that the information is not always in line with their current plan. Brainstorm all possible outcomes of your business intelligence program and think of ways that your company can improve based on the different results. You probably won’t be able to come up with every single possibility, but you will be prepared to think creatively when your BI program starts to generate useful information.

Lastly, remember why you are implementing this program. Business intelligence can be a huge asset to your business, but if you focus on the data and not on what the data can do for your company, your energy is misplaced. Before you become overwhelmed with data warehousing and data integration initiatives, take a step back and refocus on your company’s goals.

Thursday, December 4

Everything as a Service

The trend has been coming for some time, so I've decided to coin the term "Everything as a Service".  It started with SaaS (software as a service), which Salesforce made popular, and the "as a Service" has found it's way into many marketing tag lines.  Do a Google search just to see what turns up...
And you can quickly go from "as a Service" to cloud computing conversations these days.  It is turning into an elite club who use jargon to create this new technology industry.  I'm not slamming the concepts, just the proliferation of marketing "as a Service".   And I would say they all sell their "services" the same way.  We're cheaper than traditional.  We have the expertise, so you don't need it.  Just plug us in and leave anytime.

Marketing campaigns aside, of particular interest is Information as a Service (IaaS?).  DM Review explains IaaS as:

"Information as a Service, means you can deliver Business Intelligence snippets to a wide variety of applications and users, when they need it. Rather than 10 or 20 percent of your company's employees accessing your BI repositories, all of your employees can gain access to it — and not just through a query and reporting tool."

In my opinion, IaaS by this definition is one path BI should move towards.  Imagine a world where data is no longer viewed in tabular reports or analytical cubes.  A world where analysts and IT are not the keepers of information.  Analysts and IT need to play a part absolutely.  I'm saying it just needs to be easier to access for business people and relevant to one's job.

Yes, we still need the ability to ad hoc report and analyze data.  Because sometimes you just don't know exactly what you're looking for.  But for most people, you just need the simple answer.

So does IaaS only pertain to Business Intelligence?

According to IBM, IaaS is about SOA.  Another collision between traditional BI from DM Review and SOA thinkers like IBM.  I would tend to agree with SOA as being IaaS enabled.  There just isn't much out there about requesting data from your BI system as a service.  You consume BI through desktop or web reporting tools.  That's it.  So IBM may be more correct.

However we do have SaaS BI.  Here BI can fit within the software space and be hosted on the web, where BI is a service, of sorts.  Not the greatest option in my opinion.  How long will it take before acquires a SaaS BI vendor and makes them simply a reporting tool for Salesforce CRM?  Don't you think it's easy to think of SaaS BI as an attachment to applications, like SAP, Oracle Financials, and such?  In fact, that is what happened with the on-premise space with Cognos, BO, and Hyperion.  Soon these BI toolsets will cease to be open BI platforms.  Once IBM, SAP and Oracle make them more proprietary, the choices will be narrowed.

Now back to my "Everything as a Service".

Do you think we are going there?  Where everything we want - software, information, SQL, cloud computing - can be purchased for a monthly fee and plugged in when needed?  I see the giants, like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Sun, etc using their merger & acquisition engines to be that one stop shop for web computing, similar to what IBM, Oracle, and SAP did with the on-premise BI vendors.

Where BI fits into this picture is still unwritten.  How much of a player BI will be, well that may already be written based on the recent on-premise acquisitions.  So we can only wait and see how it plays out in the web, cloud, "as a Service" world for BI.

Monday, November 17

Worst practices, who's got them

Learning from the mistakes of others is the way to go. No need to blaze a new path. It's all been done before. And BI has years of this "experience"; DW has "failures" from decades prior too.

This is backed up by Madan Sheina's article:
  • 87% of BI projects in the UK don't live up to expectations.
  • 25% of those projects are going over budget.
  • Only 50% of end users were satisfied with the BI system
Maybe you're planning to implement BI in your organization. Perhaps you have a BI system but you're not getting the benefits you expect. It's an unruly world in the BI space. Data is a major problem. Tools are another. It's costly and takes lots of your time and effort.

So what are you going to do about it?

You could read Peter Graham's posts about Kevin Quinn's "Worst Practices" whitepaper (saving you from signing up your email address).

Or read the following, which incorporates Kevin's ideas of worst practices but stays away from the marketing of a toolset vendor.

Let's start with the customers, or more specifically the business user. After all this is who BI is meant for. I figure adoption of BI tools is really low. I don't have a specific statistic but I find them difficult to use. People don't have the time to learn a new tool AND don't have the time to understand how to interpret the data.

Apply Tom's Spandex Rule: Just because you can wear spandex shorts, doesn't mean you should! (you know who you are)

Match what the people are asking for and reign in your project team. They can do it all given enough time. A zillion reports. Lots of dimensions, filters, and ranges. However, your BI system should provide what is being asked for. Stay away from the "it would be cool if..." until several years later when people want more.

Ah Excel.

Should you force people away from Excel to use this new BI system? Maybe. Maybe not. Some say Excel is preferred because of it's familiarity and simplicity. Well I think the majority of people who have used Excel don't know how to create a pivot table or know why they should use one.

So in my opinion, Excel is used because it is quick! No involvement from IT. They can do it themselves until it works for them. Typically they are looking to solve a business problem, they just need the evidence.

BI just made their lives a whole lot more complicated. Now they need to write a request for what they want. Then when they get it, it's in this strange BI tool. At which point they copy it into Excel and continue on. Granted they probably have more data than before and cleaner data for sure.

Which brings us to the data warehouse. Yes, a storage area for internal data. What about data external to the organization? Many would caution the use of external sources because of inconsistencies, not having control of the quality, difficulties aligning with the data warehouse, etc.

Let me ask you, "who is the biggest data provider in the world?" Google. What do they do differently? They allow the consumer to determine whether the data is relevant and give them access to everything. They've empowered people with information access.

We need to let it go. The days of the data warehouse or BI team or IT department controlling all the data should come to an end. The business should get access to information they want and need, internal or external, in a BI tool or Excel and when they want/need it.

For instance, Chevron has 200,000 employees worldwide and uses MSFT BI to deliver specific, targeted information to many of them. Starbucks uses Microstrategy to publish in-store metrics to every store manager. Boeing uses MSFT BI to provide manufacturing performance metrics for managers.

These are all extremely large organizations and yet they aren't pushing out tons of cubes, reports, and dashboards. BI is not a central focus for their employees but it does give them targeted information specific to their needs.

Remember Tom's Spandex Rule. Just because they could, doesn't mean they did.

Friday, November 7

10 Questions with Mark Windrim

The "data warehouse for anyone who needs it" has gone open source.  I previously talked with Miriam Tuerk, Infobright’s CEO, when the company launched.  Recently I spoke with Mark Windrim, VP of Community for Infobright, who is at the helm promoting their open source data warehouse, Infobright Community Edition (ICE).  Mark, as I discovered, has a history of spearheading initiatives from their infancy.

In the 90s, Mark started a community called MAGIC while working at Apple Computer. MAGIC grew quickly into one of the largest ISPs serving the Toronto, Canada region. At that time MAGIC was the largest Macintosh user group in the world. He left to join Newstar Technologies in 1996 (where he met Miriam). Newstar evolved and became BCE Emergis.

Now his focus is set squarely on building an open source community for Infobright. It won't be easy. Starting a community in an established company with an existing product - a paid product at that – can be even more challenging.

Question: So Mark, let's get right to it. Why did Infobright decide to go open source?

Answer: As you may know, Infobright built its technology underneath MySQL so we have always had open source roots. Open source has always been part of our plan. In terms of timing, we wanted to prove out our technology with early customers before releasing an open source version. We wanted to make sure it was highly scalable, easy to download and implement, and robust - not an immature project. We see a large untapped opportunity in the market to bring an ultra low-cost, easy-to-use data warehouse to many companies who don’t have the big budgets and resources needed to implement traditional solutions. Open source is the best way to enable them to try it.

Question: What does your community ecosystem look like today?

Answer: We’ve got our main site that contains information about ICE. It supports a Wiki and forums where users can mingle and get support directly from Infobright and other community members. We have a great relationship with MySQL/Sun and continue to work closely with them in supporting the open source data warehousing community with ICE. Additionally, we are building partnerships with many organizations. Today, those partners include Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Talend, and we work with their communities in addition to our own.

Infobright also started to build out our integration communities through relationships with OpenBI in Chicago and Lincube in Stockholm, Sweden. Many more are to come. Both OpenBI and Lincube have extensive experience in implementing BI Solutions with open source offerings.

Question: What is the planned direction for your new open source community over the next few years?

Answer: We will be adding a great deal of educational content about data warehousing. The Infobright software itself will be enhanced and updated on a monthly basis. Since the ICE launch, we have already added a 32-bit version of the product and a new release has been posted to the community.

The goal is to create an environment where people can go to be introduced to data warehousing, as well as receive help both from Infobright and the community itself. We’ve begun offering free webinars as an introduction to data warehousing, and the response (and attendance, I might add) has been very good. Many of our community members are turning to us because their current platform is no longer able to meet their requirements, and they’re starting to build data warehouses as a result. Normally that is a very expensive proposition but open source, and ICE, has made it available to the masses. We want to be that go-to location when individuals and businesses need to know how to build these systems.

Infobright will also be adding content about implementing an open source data warehouse through support of our partners. We’re already moving down that path and recently announced an open source bundle with Jaspersoft. Shortly you will see more of this as we try and make the on ramp to open source data warehousing as easy as possible.

Question: What challenges have you encountered starting an open source model within a company selling a paid product?

Answer: We had to engage the entire Infobright team in the vision of a different kind of company. Everyone’s job was going to change in some way and the venture would only be successful with 100 percent employee participation. To be honest, that education process was fairly complex. We implemented a comprehensive plan for the entire company over six months to ensure that everyone was on the same page, and that we had everything absolutely ready. We also researched other open source projects – both successful and unsuccessful ones to understand the best practices of open source. Those learnings have impacted everyone in some manner and through them we have developed guidelines for all to follow.

Question: Infobright's open source database was released in September 2008. So far, what has been the response?

Answer: Response to Infobright’s open source announcement has been incredible! Immediately after launch it became apparent that the community wanted a 32-bit version of ICE, even though we had previously thought that the software needed more memory in the form of a 64-bit version. We responded immediately by offering a 32-bit version, and it quickly became the hottest download on the site. Infobright is also receiving reports from community members that they are using ICE in ways that we never would have thought was a great fit for us, but the sheer volume of people using the platform is giving us some fantastic new insights into where we need to focus our future efforts. I don’t think there is a day that goes by where there isn’t an “oh wow” comment coming from a community member that loves ICE. Now the community is asking us for Windows support, so you’ll be seeing that coming down the pipe shortly.

Question: How has the open source initiative affected Infobright as a company?

Answer: As I mentioned earlier, the way we do virtually everything has changed. community members commenting on code, or recommending new features, has a direct impact on our product roadmap. With many more people using Infobright’s software, we are discovering new ways people can benefit from its use not previously considered. For example, we are now looking into use cases that didn’t make sense to us six months ago - such exploration is a direct result of community members having an impact on the organization. From a business perspective, the last six weeks has been a hockey stick in terms of number of new customers and revenue. By the end of Q1, we expect to have surpassed most, if not all, of our competitors in terms of number of customers using our product. And more users result in a better product – we aspire to deliver the best product in the market!

Question: Has the direction of Infobright changed as a result of being an active part of the open source community?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. The expectations of the open source user are different than that of the commercial one. The open source user demands from a technical perspective are very high – you can’t hide issues and weaknesses; your bug list is entirely public. They’re doing a phenomenal amount of testing and performance stress testing. All these insights benefit every part of Infobright as we add new features to ICE. Such feedback is even changing the types of webinars we present, which user groups on which we focus, and what features we add to the product. We also closely monitor a variety of metrics in order to determine the best ways to support the community.

Question: There is probably the value proposition of lower cost, less implementation time, and less maintenance effort. However, can an organization really run an enterprise-wide data warehouse on open source?

Answer: Every aspect of a data warehouse infrastructure can utilize open source technologies. A company can utilize Linux as the operating system and integrate with open source ETL tools like Talend or Kettle (Pentaho). Many open source platforms will use their own home grown ETL processes built upon Python, Perl, or Ruby (or C/C++, for that matter). The data warehouse can be built upon ICE, and users can use BI tools like Jaspersoft or Pentaho. Support is readily available for purchase or for free through community forums. Every one of these platforms is extremely robust and stable. There is no reason that an organization could not run their data warehouse using open source technologies.

And businesses are recognizing this. Open source BI is a fact of life in enterprises across industry. A recent Gartner survey highlighted that by the end of this year 69 percent of enterprises surveyed either plan to have implemented and be using open source databases. And in the area of BI tools, the number is 34 percent (a 100 percent growth over the previous year). These statistics were gathered before the recent economic downturn. Now, companies are even more pressed to find the fastest and most cost effective way to deliver BI and data warehousing solutiuons to their businesses – and that way is open source.

Question: What is the benefit to your partners and developers of being a part of Infobright's open source community?

Answer: In addition to the obvious and huge benefit to end users, the data warehouse is a key enabler of many enterprise applications. As such, our partners and developers will be able to achieve great benefits to their businesses and products thru integration with Infobright. Now organizations can accelerate their business by reducing the cost and time required for the data warehouse component and focusing their value on the application. Additionally, our partners and developers not only support our community, but they cross pollinate each other’s communities as well. With open source, there is much more willingness among partners to support each other.

Question: It’s been a pleasure talking with you Mark. Do you have any additional links or information about Infobright's open source community you want to share?

Answer: We really encourage people to get involved in our forums ( There is a vast amount of information about ICE available there and we really appreciate reports on how people are using ICE. We’d also encourage people to look at Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Talend.

Friday, October 10


Thanks to Darren Cunningham for putting the word out on Wordle. It's a cute Java app that with the right words could give you something fun to play with.

Here's a link to the Wordle based on the BI for Business People blog.

Tuesday, October 7

BI in the year 2020

A theme heard throughout the Microsoft conference was "thinking bigger about BI". I'm not sure the people from companies who are struggling to get BI started were interested in thinking bigger but I can appreciate their visionary approach.

A panel discussion was setup with a group of senior Microsoft partners to discuss and debate where BI will be in the future, in the year 2020. Moderated by Bob Lokken, Senior Director of Business Intelligence for Microsoft, the panel included:
  • Greg Todd, Senior Executive, Accenture's Information Management Services practice
  • Andrew Horgett, Sr. Manager, Microsoft Alliance Team at Dell
  • Mike Fahey, Director, HP's Product Development
  • Todd Price, VP, Hitachi's National BI Practice
  • Terje Rugland, CTO, Profitbase

There were a couple comments about collaboration, social networking, and instant messaging but I would say that is a year or two away from mainstream. Not exactly 2020. They talked about data mining, optimization of the DW, and being proactive. Sigh. These are current topics being worked out by innovative companies today.

However here are the top 10 predictions/recommendations I gathered from the discussion. I'll let you comment on whether you feel these are in line with what you see.
  1. 90% of BI will be delivered on mobile devices.
  2. Much larger volumes of data, beyond terabytes, will need to be handled changing the hardware and software paradigm.
  3. Information will be managed by business professionals and not technology professionals.
  4. Do not listen to BI best practices that say "18 months to deliver" and "high costs for licenses/services". We need to think out of the box.
  5. Envision a new role within an organization called the Information Architect (based from a Data Architect). This person understands the entire life cycle of information from where it comes from to where it ends up.
  6. Better adoption of BI will happen when BI is integrated within productivity suites, like Office. BI will be an extension of business productivity.
  7. BI should not be packaged with ERPs because the role for BI should be to integrate disparate systems. However Performance Management should be packaged with ERPs.
  8. BI should be considered a service for business people.  Business is used to leveraging services already.  However IT is not yet matured to the point of understanding this role.
  9. SaaS BI's success will be based on two serious roadblocks: Data Quality and Data Security.
  10. Organizations will have 2 application footprints:  ERP systems for capturing information and IRP (information resource planning) systems for massaging and delivering information.

Did this help with your future BI plans and 5-year implementation roadmap?

[Other MS BI Conference posts:
ETL World Record and 150 TB Fact Tables and
Ben Stein talks about BI]

Ben Stein talks about BI

How many funny, engaging stories can someone tell in their first 10 minutes of getting on stage? Well Ben Stein surely approached the limit. Ben Stein has done many things on tv and off, been a lawyer, is a well established economist, writer, and columnist.

However for the MS BI Conference crowd of several hundred, his clarity on the financial crisis drew feelings of frustration over the financial community and government mismanagement. He referred to how the financial community could have used a little Business Intelligence -- and could definitely use some now. His clear chronological overview of how the financial community got into this mess (and brought us along with them) was responded to with claps and a few hoots of support.

Briefly Ben lays out the crisis with this:
  1. "It started with the liberals wanting equal housing opportunities for every American."
  2. "Greenspan pushed interest rates down and then banks couldn't make much money from normal mortgages, so they had to be creative."
  3. "Banks came up with Side Bets. Basically banks bet on whether or not mortgage bonds would be paid or failed to be paid." -- Yes banks bet on whether you will pay off your mortgage.
  4. "When house prices fell, costs of price swaps (the side bets) went up. This created such a huge loss that it dwarfed the financial impact from defaulted loans."
  5. "Side bets are the Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction allowed by the Bush administration."
He summarized with "Wall Street has taken trillions out of the economy from everyday people over the years". Needless to say he doesn't agree with the people taking on the risk by giving billions in a bailout package.

Ben Stein also had good things to say but it was clear he was there for his entertainment and inspirational value... a BI tech talk he was not about to do. If you haven't seen him, then he is just like he is on his tv shows, like "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "America's Most Smartest Model".

[Other MS BI Conference posts: ETL World Record and 150 TB Fact Tables and
BI in the year 2020]

Monday, October 6

ETL World Record and 150TB fact tables

At the Microsoft BI conference in Seattle today and wanted to give you highlights as I jump from session to session. One point will be about the world record.

MS Message: Think Bigger about BI

MS goal: accelerate decision making using structured and unstructured information.

Trends: Despite BI being on top of CIO spending list, there are less than 20% of people using BI? Why? Still not easy for people to use BI to get their job done.

MS Prediction: BI won't be on top of CIO spending list in the coming 3 years.

Okay about the world record. Microsoft recently set an ETL world record. I didn't even realize there were Olympics for BI but I guess there are. So by using SQL Server, they loaded 1 TB of data within 30 minutes. To put this in context, Oracle's last record was 1 TB within 45 minutes. Of course they are using SQL Server 2008 to accomplish this.

And on that note, Project Madison! If you're interested in large, large volumes of data, this could be the next big leap. An R&D partnership with DATAllegro who produces DW hardware, is building a combination of SQL Server and DATAllegro using massively parallel processing (MPP). They have loaded 150 TB of data with 1 trillion fact table rows using 14 servers. The live demonstration showed response times from Analysis Services reporting within seconds. Impressive.

More as I come across anything that is excellent.

[Other MS BI Conference posts: Ben Stein talks about BI and
BI in the year 2020]

Wednesday, September 24

10 Questions with Glen Rabie

Being in the finance industry may seem boring to many but in Glen Rabie's case it gave him a unique perspective on the challenges a large financial company was having with their information.

Then a life changing event inspired him to become an innovative entrepreneur. Glen founded a company called Yellowfin where they are all about making it easy for people to get access to information.

Question 1: Hi Glen. So what motivated you to do something about improving the BI industry?

Answer: The light went on whilst working on a large data warehouse project for a global financial institution. The project, budgeted at $30M, only rolled out 300 licenses of the BI tool to an organization of 50,000 employees. This is where we saw the opportunity. Reduce the complexity and cost of deploying BI so that every person that needs access to data and analysis, to do their job effectively, can do so.

Question 2: Let's talk about the market. You had an interesting take on the recent acquisitions of Cognos, BO, and Hyperion. What should we expect to see from them with innovations?

Answer: The acquisitions and the high multipliers paid for them put the new owners in a delicate situation. Their primary concern will be to generate a return on their investment, which to do so will mean that additional investment in those products is likely to be stymied. What we have seen since the acquisitions is a greater focus on rationalization of product set rather than news of product improvements. I think this is what we can continue to expect in the short to medium term.

Question 3: Has Cognos, BO, and Hyperion already won the BI tools market? Is there room for new products?

Answer: The top 5 players only own 70% of the market. This compared with most IT markets, such as the database market, can be considered to be highly disaggregated. As for the remaining 30% this is the growing segment. The BI landscape is changing from the traditional high cost but smaller power user deployments to mass deployments. I do not believe that BO, Cognos or Hyperion have the business model to support this change, both in terms of pricing and deployment complexity. It is this which is creating the new opportunity for vendors of easy to deploy, price scalable and browser based solutions.

Question 4: Interesting that BI doesn't have a gorilla in the market. How does that affect our customers?

Answer: In reality BI tools are a critical piece of IT infrastructure. Making a strategic choice is crucial since not all BI tools are a fit for all business scenarios. Without a Gorilla in the market I think it forces customers to evaluate solutions and make business / technical decisions based on their needs. If a gorilla exists then there is a tendency towards ‘me to’ buying behavior. So the current state of play is actually good for customers.

Question 5: You think that BI is complicated but is making the tools easier to use the solution?

Answer: It is part of the solution. There are aspects that will continue to be challenging – not matter the size of deployment you still have to invest in the design of and build the back end processes to support front end analysis. So in terms of ROI the more users of your BI solution the better. Having easy to use tools that can be rolled out with little to no training to many, who then in turn utilize the BI infrastructure to drive business benefit is key. This is where Yellowfin focuses its efforts – it is not just about being easier to use per se, but also easier to deploy (via a browser), easier to administer and manage security etc.

Question 6: The BI industry promotes methodology for an enterprise view and consolidating across the enterprise (e.g. customers across marketing, sales, finance). Does this make sense for the management team?

Answer: Yes and No. The reality is that even in Global organizations Senior Management and the executive team are primarily responsible for and remunerated on their performance within their area of the business. Consolidating data, such as a single view of the customer may have little to no actionable impact for these Managers (Great for analytical Marketing and Customer relationship Managers).

However, for management having a single consolidated view of business performance is critical. The data may exist in data silos but the delivery and presentation may well be consolidated to provide a global view of the organization. This is a large distinction – consolidation of data versus consolidation of presentation.

Question 7: Where are you positioning Yellowfin in the market?

Answer: Yellowfin is positioned as a viable alternative to the traditional vendors – Cognos, Business Objects, Hyperion etc. Our focus though is purely on the presentation layer. We are not building a BI stack. There are plenty of great specialized BI components for ETL, Budgeting and Forecasting which is not our area of specialization. So for we are driven by developing very easy to use presentation layer which can be deployed for 100s and 1000’s of users. It is in this space that we excel.

Question 8: Should learning to use a BI system be as quick and simple as, say, CRM or even Google?

Answer: Yes – for too long there has been this aura surrounding BI that it is a hugely complex undertaking, but let’s be honest with ourselves – when it boils down to it BI is just charts and tables. Well Ok maybe a bit more complex but the mind set has to change, from being a hugely difficult task to making it easy. End users are becoming more analytical and demanding greater access to data - going forward embedded BI applications are going to be seamless to the end user. They will use these tools almost without being aware of them. For companies are not going to have the time or the capability to train the vast majority of day-to-day users in how to use their BI tools – they will have to be easy and intuitive to use.

Question 9: Where do you envision the BI market going over the next 5 or even 10 years?

Answer: he biggest change in the BI market will be the emergence and dominance of Embedded BI. BI as a standalone application is going to be a very small segment of the market.

Embedded BI is needed to support the 1000’s of organizational information stakeholders. Process oriented workers and customers want access to BI at the point when they need it to complete their tasks within the application that they are using for transactional purposes – they do not want to access an alternate application for their reports and data. It is this area of embedded BI that is really going to make BI pervasive, bite size, tailored to the business process and rich in collaborative functionality.

Question 10: Excellent talking with you Glen. Do you have any additional links or information about Yellowfin you want to share?

Answer: Thanks Tom, it’s been a pleasure. If you want to find out more then go to

Friday, September 12

Introducing Business Intelligence Soapbox

Started a website for people who believe that BI can be done better. This is in infancy stage but Gerad has already posted a very informative discussion. I hope you'll check it out.

Have a complaint? Air it. Have an idea? Share it. Start a discussion. Whatever, it’s up to you. Choose a topic and get involved.

Check out Business Intelligence Soapbox:

Monday, August 25

Stitch your information together

The future is getting brighter for industries and non-tech people. There are numerous examples of complex technologies presented in a simple fashion and easy to use -- the iPhone and Google Earth are two examples that my 70 yr old father has picked up.

And thanks to Rick Rogers for showing the latest technology from Microsoft Live Labs (and University of Washington) that stitches 2D photos into a 3D view for people with little technology know-how -- Photosynth and here's a YouTube demo.

It's easy. Take photos of a room, for example. Select the photos you want for Photosynth. Photosynth then stitches each photo together to create a 3D view of the room. Easily move around the room in your new 3D world.

It's so easy I may even ask my 70 yr old father to do some "synthing".

However this isn't a review of the Photosynth tool, it's about innovation and improvement... for BI.

Now imagine what BI would be like if you could simply stitch your information together? Pull your customers. Drag sales volumes. Drop products into an information pot. Then BI does the rest. You then navigate the answers. Repeat with new information when ever you need to.

The question is could BI be made simple enough to support business people making decisions in a timely manner? (because it isn't that easy to use today) What if a CFO for a trucking company saw fuel prices starting to skyrocket (we know this can happen in an unpredictable way). The holy grail for BI would allow the CFO to drag a few information pieces together effectively helping decide within minutes whether to increase prices and by how much?

The point being that it's simple enough for a CxO.

Sure we can, you're saying. Just design those questions into the model and push the results into a cube and presto. Well what happens when the business doesn't know all the questions they could ask in the future? The issue comes down to flexibility.

Then more challenges are raised when businesses need to state their questions up front. The reality is business changes. New products, new objectives, new competition. In fact, this inflexibility is, in my opinion, the Achilles heel for BI and many integration styled technologies.

Realistically however, what can really be done about this. Who will overcome the data quality issue. What about conforming dimensions (i.e. people, places, things) across the enterprise. There are many challenges that are taken care of under the BI covers.

So where does that leave us. Can simplicity, real simplicity, be reached through new innovations or will the historical challenges impede progress. We may need more than new toolsets, it may require an entire paradigm shift in thinking.

Challenge the status quo and ask why things are done this way today. Could there be a better way? Let's pave the way forward to a less challenging, less expensive, yet timely way of providing information to those who want it.

Friday, July 18

"I'd rather be wrong..."

The point I've heard a few times is, "I'd rather have a wrong number and work out a way to improve (move forward), than spend hours arguing/debating/analyzing what the right number is."

On one occurrence, a client asked me to sit in a mgmt meeting, while I was helping with their business re-org.

They reviewed departmental financial performance reports and a dept head, my client, disagreed with the result of one measure. Swore it couldn't be that low and below target. After a couple minutes of clenched-fists-in-the-air attitude with "I'm going to find out the right answer!", his senior exec boss speaks up briefly with the quote above (or something like it).

I don't know how you feel about this but I'm sure some of you are cringing at the thought of knowing numbers could be wrong in the warehouse and that you were asked not to find the problem. I could just see the perceived value of their BI solution going straight into the crapper.

However, there is something here worth investigating. In the senior executive's eyes, the value of the "historical" performance report, specifically the poorly performing measure, wasn't the accuracy of the number but the identification of poor performance. It was agreed that the number probably wasn't inaccurate enough to make the measure a strong performer.

[I know, red flags are going up but bare with me.]

Could they be sure the measure was a poor performer? No. To confirm this, it would involve the BI group and department managers/staff to verify. I.e. time consuming.

Are they making fact based decisions? Partially. They are moving into the planning stage based on a poorly performing measure.

Is the mgmt team doing what executives do? Absolutely. They are taking the facts as they know them and making a decision (gut-feel perhaps). But they are focused on moving the company forward.

And here falls one dilemma for BI to overcome.

In this example, BI ended at the report or chart or visualization. There was no integration into the management cycle to continue into planning. I'm not talking about the financial genius building a model to show various projections. I mean the outcomes of planning... tasks, deliverables, goals/objectives, etc. BI only comes back into the picture when new reports are needed.

For me, without better integration into the business processes and mgmt cycle, BI will forever by a reporting tool on steroids.

Another dilemma for BI?

The pain to verify numbers. The time/cost to produce new numbers. Anytime you need to involve your ETL developer or cube/report developer to explain how a number was generated costs time and money. It's not their fault, it's the tools they are forced to work with.

BI needs to move more into the "configuration" space. At least needs to move up a level or two in usability to where application building is today. With all the toolboxes, components, and hosted technology available, I feel that "I" could almost write a Web 2.0 app! (okay a very simple one... maybe).

The point being is the technologist's tools need another layer of abstraction/architecture (okay not sure exactly what to call this) to allow quicker time to value.

Caveat: Now don't get me wrong. I think BI has future potential and can provide value. (now here comes the tough love speech) But BI has problems and poor results are seen repeatedly. I want BI to improve so I'm not picking it apart because I have another agenda; I truly want success. Success through learning and change.