Wednesday, November 29

Doghouse best in class

Not everyone needs best-in-class software. So why not purchase the best? Just because a vendor sits in the upper right quadrant doesn't make it the best choice for you. You may need to consider your budget, your culture of organic open source IT, or maybe you want to focus on your core competencies which isn't BI development.

Even the Fortune 1000 should look outside the typical "short-list" of BI vendors. And then there are the small to mid-sized businesses with typically limited IT resources.

Thank you Fayu for this post from The Data Doghouse giving options beyond the best-in-class vendors. Here's my shortened list of options.

BI with SaaS - cost effective, minimum internal IT resources required, All you can eat BI.

Open Source BI - cost effective, typical BI technical architecture, requires internal IT support, Open source validated.

BI appliances - simple solution from customers perspective, BI in a box that sits at your site.

Microsoft Excel - least expensive, inherent problems with taking this approach but works for some.

To help with others doing their research on these vendor categories, if you know of companies that fall within these categories, send them my way or post your own comment. I know I could learn something from these new offerings too.

Friday, October 20

Executive reporting? free ebook (for now)

Executive reporting is changing. Or rather the way executives are doing organization-wide reporting is. Consuming information is at an all time high. Executives want to act before they have to react to the market, competition, and other conditions.

This Executive Reporting ebook I'm publishing is not about selling you on one service or another. Nor does it recommend a product or tool. Instead it is about giving you tried ideas that worked for management groups in government and private firms. In a condensed, easily consumable form.

Download pdf here.

I'm sure this ebook is incomplete. But that's why I left the option open for future issues. I hope this encourages you to think and pay attention to what other organizations are doing. And it's free. And it is small enough to email to colleagues or post on your own site.

Thanks for reading.

Marketing matters

Many vendors don't get it. How many vendor demonstrations have you sat through and all you came away with was how their products are great. The best features. Better than the competition. I bet they are in the top right corner of the Gartner quadrants too.

It shouldn't be about how their product functions. Unless the "how" is what you want to know. Sometimes techies and vendor sales people focus on the technology when marketing to business people. Check out John Dodds post ("Geek Marketing"). Following even one or two of his top ten will help with not speaking geek. "Translate the creations of the uncommunicative (techies) into the needs of the untechnical (biz people)".

After all it should be about how the product can work for you or your business.

Tuesday, October 10

An Engineer, economist, and a marketer walk into a room

Eirik has a excellent riff on "When will a new technology break through?"

His "most important thing" is very important for BI users (I mean executives, analysts, managers, and frontline staff). Design, good design, will help with users accepting and using BI and business performance measurement and pretty much anything you want used by people.

Friday, October 6

Creative BI: people want it

Ever have the feeling that some people are reacting to BI with a "oh, it's that again" attitude. Ever heard a user say, "I get what I need, then I get out quick." Not in your department, you say?

BI could be getting stale for people. BI can be known as a difficult tool that provides more information than is really needed. And is delivered to far too few. Perhaps in some cases but there are ways to change that.

Impress users with the "wow" factor. But how?

Design and innovation. Chas Martin is finding that creative, innovative designers are increasingly more relevant within companies. With BI, it's about the user interaction portion. Use something other than the generic out-of-the-box functionality. Boring.

Find out what the winners of the TDWI Best Practices awards have done to impress. They raised their standards and the results benefited users.

BI can be more than pushing mounds of data to users. The experience can be about seeing the information you want quickly and easily. People don't have the luxury of spare time. By helping them get to the point in less time, they may use it more often next time.

Friday, September 29

Microsoft could cost you more

Good news for some; for the rest, it could take focus and money away from projects and improvements for performance measurement and BI systems.

The IDC study (paid by Microsoft) concluded that Microsoft's new Vista operating system (in the European Union) will require billions of dollars and more IT employees to focus on the upgrade. Some will argue the benefits of the new software outweigh the costs. Really?

Silicon Valley Sleuth shares their comments and here's the IDC study.

First some numbers. For every Euro that is spent on Windows Vista, companies on average will spend another 14 Euro on downstream economic activity (hardware, services and third party software applications). This is not going to be a simple upgrade of Windows. CIOs and IT budgets will feel the financial hit.

And that's a staggering proportion. If everytime a client came to me and asked for the latest and greatest and I told her "it will cost you 14 times the software costs to complete", I wouldn't have her as a client! But if I had a monopoly like Microsoft, then I guess she couldn't turn to anyone else.

Now the benefits. According to IDC, one of the positive impacts for the economy is the 50% increase in IT jobs needed for Vista-related work. More jobs are welcomed but realistically that will mean less IT people and budget focused on content and systems to support business people.

Some may argue that Vista benefits business people, but I haven't come across an executive yet that asked for the latest Windows patch.

For those who have some influence over IT spending, be informed (warned?) that business people may be the ones losing out with Microsoft's new Vista upgrade.

Wednesday, September 20

BI detects fraud

Some of us are willing to pay anything to have chiropractors fix our necks and backs. Then there are those who scam insurance companies with false claims of injury. I'm assuming this is a big business if you want to be on that side of the law. Fighting back are insurance companies using BI to track down fraudulent claims and unethical chiropractors.

This is what BI should be doing. Focusing on how to right a wrong. Learning how to help people in society. Protecting a business from economic downturns. Increasing market share of a business. What contribution is your information providing you, your organization, or society?

Tuesday, September 19

Executive reports on your Blackberry

When you need to check the performance (or under-performance) of a business unit, geographic region, or sales numbers for a department, it is difficult to do this on the road. Shawn writes that Cognos can now do this for your Blackberry.

Being less tied to your computer or laptop for information will keep you mobile (especially for those who spend a great deal of time traveling or going to meetings 8 hours a day). You want the "right" information pushed to you on a regular basis without involving a bunch of people or asking IT.

Information you want; when you need it.

The key will be giving executives information that works on the 3 inch Blackberry-type screens. The days of the "one-page-wonder" where all your information is on one report will be history. But replaced with simple, clear, concise, to-the-point, and actionable information.

People will become accustom to charts and data that relate to key performance information. When people are accountable and gauged on a small number of key performance measures, people tend to focus.

There is a downside to being too focused though. More about that later.

Where is your pipe dream

Lyndsay Wise writes how "business performance management (BPM) is the next generation of business intelligence". Not so sure this is true when Hyperion is already adding Google search to their BPM and BI toolsets.

The next wave for BI, which includes BPM, will probably focus on two objectives:

1) Simplify BI so non-tech people can actually use it. Google search is a start.

2) Once it is easier to use, BI will quickly be pushed out to more people within an organization.

BI and BPM can be a huge benefit to a business. At this point, only 20% of people gain this benefit.

Imagine your business using a pipe with two open ends. At one end, information enters the pipe. Invoices, customer support, case management... data goes in. The pipe makes the magic happen and information should come out the other end. (The pipe is a metaphor for BI technology, in case it wasn't clear.)

You want the information coming out to be at a good flow and the pipe at the correct width. I suspect most have the tap on too high. Or not enough flow. The point being that every organization has different needs. And people within a company also have different needs.

Do a quick check. Are your executives receiving the same flow of information as people on the front line? Different information and tools for different folks.

Friday, September 8

Getting started

Prospect: "We loved your pitch from yesterday for a BI solution and we want to start today."
Consultant: "Sorry but we don't have anyone available at this time. But we could start in 45 days."

Vendor: "If you liked our proposal, then we are ready to discuss moving forward today."
Client: "Your proposal is what we want and everyone here agrees with it. But we want to revisit the design."

Employee: "The client says they are ready to start so I'll need Bob to uncover details for a proposed plan."
Boss: "I don't think you need Bob yet. Wait until the project starts and we have a contract."
[the plan submitted was rejected due to inaccuracies.]

Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing to do even when all the writing is on the wall. Actual conversations (luckily not all mine) about the status quo and taking that next step.


There are 44,200,000 Google matches for "Information Management". "Business Intelligence" beats that with 55,600,000, while "Data Warehouse" is far behind with 12,600,000. "Performance Management" is in the middle with 21,600,000 matches.

Are you using these words to describe you or your company? You may not be so unique as you think you are, I'm guessing.

Compare that with Google matches for vendors. Business Objects at 9,100,000. Cognos at 4,630,000. Down to Microstrategy at 1,660,000 and Pentaho with 240,000.

Does more content suggest a better product? More matches suggest more installations? Being the loudest doesn't mean the best.

Thursday, August 31

Choosing from the top 10

With 90+ performance management vendors out there having a list of the top 10 is invaluable. Craig Schiff's criteria identifies good companies with good offerings. For you making a choice for that "one right" product will be challenging to say the least.

There are two ways to find that one great product that your organization will thank you for finding (or not).

1) Ask someone who says they are an expert in the field. They should guide you through a process of elimination. They should interpret what your organization needs and keep you on the right path.

2) Dive in yourself. A high learning curve but you'll know the product offerings intimately. Be warned. Not all marketing material reflects the "truth" about the products or companies.

Either way the process is the same. Determine the criteria that are important to you. Price. Functionality. Vendor support. Do your research. Which will lead to more research. See a few vendor demonstrations and watch the salesperson courting ritual.

Making a choice is easy when you have hindsight. If you don't have it, use someone else's.

Friday, August 11

Ownership over governance

Knightsbridge released their Top 10 trends in BI. The Whitepaper is brief but they point out that the business is best suited to own and manage the organization's data. Afterall the business supplies the information and consumes the information; taking ownership over how the information is governed for BI only makes sense.

Knightsbridge's "6 key dimensions" for a governance program sound a bit technology and data quality focused. I may supplement them with The Gatekeeper approach and the business committment to taking ownership, especially of meta-data and proliferation of reports.

The ability to bring together multiple business units under Enterprise-level BI will require strong leadership. The business needs to assign leaders who have the authority and influence to navigate the political landscape.

When building a governance model, as Aloys points out, you want to start off with a 70%-right governance model, require committment from stakeholders, and paint a good looking end-state to help stakeholders through change.

Jim Wirth writes a more in-depth post about the top 5 Knightbridge trends.

Wednesday, August 9

Aussi rules for BI

Thanks to Alex Cook for this Austrailian Building Commission website that makes analysis of their performance measures available to the public. You can understand their business just from the intuitive nature of the website.

6 reasons why this is a great site for promoting successful BI:
  1. Users are the public so the drill down analysis needs to be dead simple.
  2. Defintions for each measure are explained clearly and concisely (and short).
  3. Seamless integration between the web user interface and BI tools.
  4. The analysis and reports are displayed using Web presentation best practices (BI vendors could learn here for their own Portal product offerings).
  5. Performance is relative; they compare to 16 headline measures.
  6. You don't know what BI tool is being used or even that you are using a BI tool.

Thursday, August 3

All-you-can-eat BI

All you need is a web browser. No infrastructure. No BI resources or specialists. Then you pay monthly for your transformed BI. How do you have BI without any resources or infrastructure? Doing this would definitely lower the barriers of entry for more SME's to get into BI.

Sharp Analytics offers to do just that - outsource your BI saving you from having BI infrastructure and BI specialists. They started as a niche BI company for marketing data. Now they are providing affordable, web-based, external BI for marketing, financial, utilities and retail.

Their "data as a service" approach lowers the financial burden and removes the need for technical skillsets when operating a BI system. Prepare for this model of BI to take hold and be used by more organizations. The reduced capital spending on initial infrastructure and toolset licenses may be a key driver for many.

Tuesday, August 1

Put the V in your project

When there are a several choices of project managing lifecycles to choose from, which one suites you best.

Waterfall approach. Iterative cycles or spiral model. CMMI. Or the German V-Model.

The V-Model is an interesting concept from Germany. The left tail represents specifications; the right tail as the testing stream related to the specifications defined on the left. The V bottom represents the development stream.

Many projects fall short in the testing cycles. Either not enough or not enough of the right kind. The V-Model shows that testing needs to occur at all levels from the developers code to the business requirements.

Thursday, July 27

Informatica mashup

Morgan posts about the deal made between Informatica and -- bringing DW and SaaS together, or as Morgan says, "data as a service". Users access Informatica tools in a services setting to migrate, synchronize and profile CRM data.

The Internet is disrupting a traditional BI toolset race. Google is in the news lately with Cognos and Google Maps doing BI-specific mashups. Soon more companies will realize that this can be a serious avenue for revenue growth. Let the entrepreneurial thinking kick into high gear.

For those, like me, who are new to "web mashups".

0 to 1 Terabyte in 60 seconds

This isn't your grandparents' harvest-gold kitchen appliance. They say it will give you "two orders of magnitude better price-performance" for analyzing large volumes of data. This is hardware with open source software that, when tightly integrated together, improves the performance when querying hundreds of terabytes of data.

Clarise makes the point that enterprises are not investing in new infrastructure and technology. So did Sun and Greenplum waste time & money on a product no one can buy?

Companies have growing volumes of data and the need for timely access to their information. I think we'll see more specialized appliances for the BI industry.

Friday, July 21

BI affects so few

Putting BI in the hands of more users is our goal. Rob Ashe says only 20% of users access data through BI.

Now people are in search of better BI by integrating enterprise search capabilities with BI products.

Imagine typing in "Cases On Time" and getting results showing all the reports and OLAP cubes that match, the KPIs that are related to cases, and any user documentation on definitions and methodology.

You no longer need to remember where to look for information; you just need to know what you're looking for.

Wednesday, July 19

Rules for corporate reporting

There are a flood of reports being proliferated throughout the organization. Who knows what they are used for. And now the "On-Time Cases" KPI means something different to each department.

Hearing this within your organization? This could be a problem from lack of best practices and governance.

The use of "Content Clusters" for corporate reporting, as Aloys Hosman writes, is an approach to clearly define your governance rules, which could save your organization from this mess.

This technique, among many things, lays out who is responsible for meta data within centrally managed data warehouses -- The Gatekeepers. It is less about ownership of the actual data; instead the discussion is focused on ownership of the metadata.

What I would add is the suggestion of not to detail out the entire governance rulebook at the beginning. See what works for your organization; monitor the process and make improvements. The key is to continuously improve so you don't have to create the perfect end-state at the start.

Open source is validated by $8M

It is great to receive validation for what you work hard for. Venture capital funding to the tune of $13M over 8 months says there is a serious new competitor in town. This VC funding validates Pentaho's open source business model and potential to compete.

Interestingly, their product suite sounds similar to the existing BI vendors. "An integrated BI platform with OLAP, reporting, ETL, and data mining."

Tuesday, July 18

The idea of the Long-Tail

"Our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products." -- Long Tail 101

1. Make everything available.
2. Help me find it.
Chris Anderson, The Long Tail

The ideas in Chris' new book will be talked about for years. His fresh perspective helps you understand the success stories of companies such as, Amazon, Google, Lego, RealNetworks, Netflix, and iTunes.

"As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare."

One. BI vendors may benefit from the Long Tail thinking. Focusing on the market of lots of items that sell a few units can be as profitable as a market of a few items that sell a lot of units. Today the aim is generic products with each installation using the same rainbow of product offerings. Assumes all customers have the same needs.

Two. BI can "make everything (ie. data) available" to the users. Bi does this well. But do we do a good job with the "help me find it"? Users can be lost in a sea of information BI makes available to them. A double-edged sword.

Apply various design approaches to increase user's usability of BI. Portal design. Free text search. Simplified look and feel. Personalized information.

Monday, July 17

Try an interactive report card

Why are BI suites compared and graded on someone else's criteria, by someone who doesn't know our company's needs? We should be able to rank BI product suites based on what is important to us. I don't need Language support. Or ad hoc reporting.

As Burger King would say, "giving it to you the way you want it."

Well, now you can. Try BI Pipeline's interactive report card (scroll down in the article to find the Java Report Card picture on the left and play with the numbers).

Monday, July 10

Squeezed from all sides

A generic strategy for most companies attempting to increase market share would be to innovate with leading edge services or products and jump ahead of the competition. Not Google. With Google Spreadsheets, they replicate an existing product that has been around for years, Excel, and shune the fact that it was created by the world's largest software maker, Microsoft.

You may say Google has too much time and money on their hands and their programmers are bored with building Internet search. But this could be one small strategic step with a leading edge vision.

One: I like this move because you shoot Microsoft in their sweet spot, Office products. Yes others have tried, but Google is on the software as a service (SaaS) model and they have a massively well-known brand backing them.

Two: They are now going after market share other than the cool search/consumer industry.

Now, here's where we get to BI.

Combine Google's SaaS model with it's recent partnerships with BI vendors, which is their public attempt to reach the corporate market (and they will). Together, and given time, you get what, NetSuite, and ADP have done successfully in their industries for years but now in the BI space.

BI via software as a service.

Easy to use, Internet-based, BI paid by the month. No more unused licenses sitting on shelves. Increase or decrease users - only paying for what you need. You'd want configurable transformations and easy report building techniques.

Now before you discount the SaaS model or raise the privacy of information issues, consider this. Of all the companies that could leap frog the competition with leading edge innovation and technology, Google is a sure bet.

And it could be BI's time to take the next visionary leap.

Friday, July 7

9 things about BI from Google Trends

Google Trends can provide interesting results, as with Steve Rubel's 25 things in society's psyche post. So here are 9 BI industry trends.

1) Cognos and Business Objects are neck and neck, except Cognos is in the news more often.

2) There is double the popularity in DW than BI when in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Thailand.

3) And MIS jumps even higher in that area of the world.

4) Microsoft is still bigger than Oracle (both are searched more than IBM).

5) Almost no one has interest in ROLAP. Is OLAP now the winner?

6) Kimball is more popular than Inmon. Or is Kimball, the name, just more common.

7) Dominican Republic and Netherlands look for BPM more but overall BI searches are higher.

8) Informatica is untouchable, except when the giant SAS enters the picture.

9) Six Sigma out weighs Balance Scorecard by... well, alot. And India sure is looking for process improvement information.

And one from Steve's post...

Google is bigger than God?

Wednesday, June 28

Double dip marketing

You probably disapprove people taking a double dip with their chip in the party dip. But a similar technique is used by Microsoft and other software vendors. And Cognos is following suit. The marketing ploy generates a ton of money and word of mouth for the vendor. But are customers gaining any advantage with better quality products and services?

Certification programs and training classes. When software vendors promote training benchmarks to consulting and technology companies, who wins? And who's the real client?

Vendors like Microsoft, and now Cognos, double dip. Customers buy software (one dip). Consultants buy training (2nd dip). Consultants want to be reimbursed for this sunken cost. Customers buy consultants. Cognos gains marketing & word of mouth paid for by customers, employees and consultants (3rd dip?).

Granted vendors don't start there. They work hard to become successful to the point where people want their products (and are trained in their products). Shouldn't they reap the rewards of creating that base of customer/consultant demand? Just feed the pyramid and let others grow their business. Sounds like they have been reading Seth Godin's flipping the funnel ebook.

But customers benefit from higher skilled people, right? Sure, a skill benchmark is set. But set by the vendor - not exactly an independant assessment. And letters after your name look great on the resume (MSCE, PMP, MBA). But these certified people cost more to find, hire, and keep. And then certification alone doesn't reflect experience and quality of work.

The biggest vendors & products cost a premium. Highly skilled & certified people also come at a premium.

Pick the products that meet your specific business and technical needs. Think open source. Think young, eager BI companies nipping at the heals of the largest. Big doesn't always mean the best.

Quote bloggers live by, "Sorry this was so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter." -- Jefferson.

Saturday, June 24

1950's design

It may have been suggested to you as the latest and superior technique for building BI systems. The Iterative approach. Or RUP (Rational Unified Process). Or which ever cyclic methodology you follow, it isn't new.

Actually, these concepts have been around for decades. Plug into this 1950's YouTube video. The background music is classic. But the concepts they discuss using back then sound real familiar.

1. Define objectives.
2. Determine a theme boundary.
3. Many revisions and changes.
4. Sketch on paper then build 3D miniatures,
5. Then full-sized models.
6. Present for approval.

The question is, will we look back on our BI creations we build today and smile? Hopefully not the smile you get watching these 50's videos in fear that these styles will be retro and fashionable again. Gold-green shag carpet should be left in the past. As should Harvest-gold coloured kitchen appliances.

Can today's BI systems stand the test of time or are we producing our version of gold-green shag.

Here are other 1950's design videos for those reminiscing. One. Two.

Saturday, June 17

Other Best of Breed

To be fair to the "Other" category in the first survey, I've expanded that category. Those who voted for "Other" can now express their specific choice here. A quick click for those who picked "Other".

What people are saying about BI

When talking with people who "do" BI, I listen to what they think BI is. I hear: Analysis. MIS. OLAP. Reporting warehouse. Some people have just said, "we do Oracle BI", thinking the vendor/tools are what makes BI. And my favorite, "BI is BI" (assuming everyone knows what it means?).

So I used the Internet as a research tool and I can understand why there is confusion. Websites seem to have different definitions. MIS and BI are frequently used interchangeably but Wikipedia defines MIS differently than BI. Oracle's definition is tools focused, as expected. DM Review gives a decent business focused one. Which one do you grab onto?

It is true that the BI industry is getting more complex but the message being delivered is too. When talking with potential clients (internal or external) offer a consistent story that is authentic, entertaining, and enlightening. And offer it to the right audience.

If you're technically minded, deliver a clear message on the technology, its use, and limitations. Toolset/vendor specialists would do well with presenting an open minded view to gain an audience's trust. Delivering to the business may involve telling the advantages of performing better business decisions.

The message you deliver and to whom you deliver it are important.

Tuesday, June 13

Best-of-Breed winner

Many changes (improvements?) are happening in the BI space lately. Cognos has partnered with Google. Microsoft is embedding BI into their Office 2007 products. Oracle is the leading database vendor but losing ground.

But it's your perception of the BI products that is important. It is hard to beat word of mouth and see the results. Tell us if your IT group favours a specific vendor. Are users saying exemplary things about usability and features? Give your anonymous pick.

Sunday, June 4

BI on top of your agenda

Gartner's latest report mentions that CIOs and IT groups need to "shift the focus from technology that serves a small segment of decision-makers to a much broader initiative that puts people and business objectives first".

Business priorities:

Top technology priority is also Business Intelligence:

Here's the full Optimize Magazine's article that references Gartner's survey on Executive priorities.

The article hits on some good points. "Put people and business objectives first." "BI will become increasing pervasive across the business." But their is some traditional, old school thinking, which, in the past, has proven ineffective for many organizations. A competency centre ("BICC"). A mix of business and IT people from the company.

The challenge for organizations new to BI projects is a competency centre usually delivers below the mark because there is no BI experience ("competency") to rely on. Even with experienced BI organizations, many times the group is stale for new ideas and relies on existing infrastructure and concepts. Fix the bugs. Copy & paste through the company. Not their fault, as they usually have their "real" job to go back to.

People need the innovation and creativity to move a project forward. Find that person who will sponsor the project and keep the business design forward thinking. To design and innovate may be their only job. If the project is large enough for a committee, typically a transient group of members, perhaps a position for a Design and Innovation specialist should be created.

Friday, June 2

Until you see what is done

The design of BI is complicated. Not the technology architecture (although tough, just not what this post is about) but the innovative design that will meet the business needs. What should it look like on the screen? What is the best way to do this? Many times business people don't know what they want until they see it. Brian Sooy's Skeet shooting design woes tells the story.

The difficulty is how to work with the ambiguity without blowing your budget or spending more time & money than necessary. Or worse, not meeting the needs of your audience. ie. No one uses it.

Brian's definition of design:

Design consists of creating things for clients who may not know what they want, until they see what you've done, then they know exactly what they want, but it's not what you did.

So what do you do? Who should or could do the design? True business people and IT people think differently. It's why they are in their field of expertise. In some cases, organizations doing BI have instituted a middle-man to coordinate between business and IT. Unfortunately, these positions are dumped on from both sides and rarely carry the authority to make decisions.

An interior designer for building a house isn't there to facilitate between the contractor and the owner. The designer interepts the owner's wants & needs into the language the contractor will understand; but knows the contraints the contractor is restricted by. If you've even looked for a house, you will have seen someone's self-designed interior. The wall colours seemingly picked randomly. The furniture from Ikea and the local-artistic-funky furniture company. The carpet from the 20's. No vision, just ideas from magazine flipping.

For your BI project, find someone who can see both sides - business vision and the technology constraints. It's not important that they know 'how' it will get built in the end. Let them be creative and innovative with the authority to make design choices.

Friday, May 26

Look for a different approach

Seth Godin has a way of clearly showing the way through change. When starting a new BI initiative or building on your existing BI offering, improvements on the status quo can be helpful, but looking for what makes your project different will engage people. From the business sponsors to the IT group.

Excitement for BI can be seen in most organizations. Momentum to move a project forward is usually lacking. Or how to create and maintain that momentum is.

Find ways to move the next step closer to the vision. There is an unending list of issues that seem to need to be resolved before proceeding. Don't resolve them. Re-juggle tasks. Re-prioritize. Use a mini-project for the team to gain confidence and answer questions.

What ever it takes.

What visible results can be done this week? Can we mock up screens or create databases? Can we build relationships to lower any political roadblocks?

Here's a true story about a company wanting BI. It has been months, if not a year, since a couple internal people began educating and pushing for BI. The value to the company was very apparent. Time savings. Accuracy of information. Tons of data but no way of analyzing (or even accessing it!).

The next step was to involve someone from IT. But then IT raised so many issues and concerns that many felt it was not feasible. In my experience, IT usually raises many issues because they are the ones that need to live with doing the heavy lifting. But they are all, yes all, solvable.

They are now stuck waiting for IT to research and resolve the technical issues. Stalled, spending time & money without producing visible results. Many do it this way.

Or you could think "different" and present something each week that engages the business-side. BI is for the business after all. Write a business case or value proposition. No technical infrastructure? Use free or trial version software and create something relevant on your computer. Show your boss. Your boss' boss.

There's always a way to move forward.

Friday, May 19

Leadership, on or off the bus

Organizations new to BI are typically excited and see the value of BI. So why do they hold themselves back from getting started? A recent engagement with a large organization has left me wondering if they are willing to do what it takes to benefit themselves. Realistically, I expect some resistence at the beginning. There's change involved. Many unanswered questions. Budget approvals.

But once you've started down the path and people are ramping up, either get on the bus and help steer it towards success. Or get out of the way.

Here's where I'm coming from: (names altered to protect the innocent)
Executive levels gave all approvals necessary for the externally hired BI team to begin. The business sponsor, Stan, gave the nod to start with his source system. Access to data was needed and it took 4 days before Stan talked to an IT guy, Paul.

Another 4 days before the team finds out that Paul's manager didn't have authority to give access and didn't say anything. So we find the proper manager, Lara. But she cannot authorize without Stan's approval. Another 5 days later. Stan gives approval to Lara and Lara sends an email to, yes, Paul.

Over 13 days after the project kick-off the BI team starts. This is shaping up to be one drawn out project.

Saturday, May 13

Success is a series of singles and doubles

Hitting the home run in BI (successfully delivering your BI initiative) is similar to Seth Godin's baseball analogy for marketing success. Baseball games are won by hitting singles and doubles to load the bases. Then you hit a homerun and you've maximized the effort you spent loading those bases. Then. Do it all over again.

Successful BI initiatives utilize a similar approach. "Think big; act in small, iterative cycles". Hitting the home run in the first inning, on the surface, can be sexy and rally the troupes. But in BI, this holds a high risk of your project not even getting off the ground.

A good approach is focusing on educating yourself and your company or team (you can start by using the BI for Business People lens) on what is important to you, what should happen initially, and what the goal could be for your organization. And not that you need to make it a concensus building exercise (unless your organization has that type of culture). And find expertise from people who have "been there and done that". Learn from them. Nothing can replace proven experience.

Three quick ones to get started:

Determine if BI can solve the problem. This should be a quick step using someone who has some depth of BI experience. Watch that you don't fall into one of two ruts: "as a hammer, everything looks like a nail" and at the opposite side of the spectrum, "analysis-paralysis".

Which team or business unit can put time towards supporting the project. This effort from business users ensures that the technical team doesn't guess and delivers value to the business. After all, BI is for the business. This committment of bodies will also demonstrate who is willing and able to move forward. No committment? Not a high priority.

Have you seen what the toolsets can do? Usually I would hesitate to suggest bringing in vendors to pitch their products. Most will say 'yes, our products can do everything you want'. Talk to an unbiased consultant (toolset agnostic). Talk to companies who have done BI. Attend webinars.

Education can be a powerful ally; but make sure you're executing as well.

Friday, May 12

Visualize your data creatively

Ever find yourself stuck creating an endless number of bar graphs for your management PowerPoint presentations? Graphs were meant to catch your eye and deliver relevant information quickly (and perhaps prevent the audience from dozing off).

Here are some inspirational graphs by Karl Hartig that have been taken to an art form and published in the Wall Street Journal.

Then there are cartograms where the size of the country changes according to a variable. For example, compare all countries in the world to their the GDP or number of people with AIDS.

Thursday, May 11

Cool tool and perhaps real analysis

The latest from Google.

Very interesting way of trending Internet data but can someone use it to learn remarkable and helpful information. Using the tool is easy and fun.

Possibly a great way to bring BI (or at least analysis) to the masses. Software should make our lives easier and this is a major step in that direction. The next will be to drop Google Trends on top of your data and let your people learn more about your business.

Monday, May 8

Do we really affect so few

After re-listening to a recent interview with Cognos CEO Rob Ashe, he mentioned a statistic that I missed the first time through.
"Only 15% - 20% of users actually access data through BI."

I understand that stats such as this are usually twisted and bent to meet the need of the audience. And in this case, he was promoting their partnership with Google to create "easy enterprise BI search" capabilities. This statistic would definitely support the Cognos/Google partnership, but the low number was surprising to me. Taking a quick head count of previous projects, the math didn't match. The number of named user licenses sold seemed to far out number Rob's 20% of the organization. Could Cognos, a per user licensor, reach $877 million annual revenues in 2005 with just 20% of users?

So has Rob hit the mark? Do oil digging companies with workers on oil rigs, construction firms filled with trades people, and law firms, meet that low percentage of BI users? Probably. As most employees are in the field. But information soaked companies that rely on analyzing data to do their business need easy access to accurate and timely information. You may even see your senior management using BI tools to get their answers.

Are there any readers that can substantiate (or debunk) his claim from an industry study or their own research?

Thursday, May 4

Modus operandi in the world of BI

McKinsey has just released, An executive take on the top business trends: A McKinsey Global Survey, in which "executives report an accelerating pace of change in an increasingly competitive business environment, driven by knowledge and information trends and the forces of globalization."

One of the factors that contributed to the accelerating pace of change was, "greater ease of obtaining information, developing knowledge". And 76% of executives recognized this as "very important" to the profitability of their business. BI should respond nicely to that need.

The executive respondents ranked the number one contributing factor to accelerating change was, "innovation in products, services, business models". An epiphany? Not really. But emphasizes the need for more than "good enough". More than the typical services. More than the same boring products. So we should be witnessing a buzz of innovative services and next generation BI products. Can you name any atypical companies being innovative? I was hard pressed to name more than a few.

Be valuable and noteworthy and create something new for your business. Take heart in the knowledge that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Thoreau.

Monday, May 1

Google does BI

Google and Cognos team up to offer Google-styled text searching of BI content.

You may not agree with freely entering text to search BI content but isn't the goal to have more people use BI? This mashup of technologies is moving BI into a space where people can do analysis using the familiar Google text box. Less training (or even none). Because who has taken any training to use Google and surf the web?

Thursday, April 27

Coming to a project near you

The open source movement is gaining speed within the BI space. The typical argument of open source vs proprietary talks about ownership costs and savings, operational and strategic alignment and legal violations, to name a few. I wonder if the same analysis is done when organizations are purchasing solely proprietary software?

Many times it comes down to the "trust" a company has. The result of mega cash and time spent on branding, marketing, and advertizing. Cognos. Microsoft. Informatica. Oracle. Well known names that come with a certain amount of trust, even prestige, and even envangelism. Does that "trust" give their products stability and quality?

The marketing babble aside, here is an open source company that is on the right track. Pentaho

And thanks to Joeseph and Clarise for providing these Pentaho podcasts.

And finally, a little news on Pentaho's growth.

Tuesday, April 25

Say no to being average

Ever need some motivation and ideas for improving your BI engagement or project?

Here Guy Kawaski lists ideas to drive your competition crazy.

And Seth Godin on a company leader who makes it happen.

BI can be much more than building analytical products, reports, and project management. What is your team's motivation?

Friday, April 21

Business is from Mars, IT is from Venus

An article from Rick Sherman questioning whether BI tools and people's skills have improved.
"Every four years someone introduces a new approach to data integration. But the approaches aren't new."
After reading this article, the feeling is the BI profession is going in circles by providing little improvements for the business. Rick explains:

* Multiple "single versions of the truth"
* Data shadow systems are breeding like rabbits
* Business is from Mars, IT is from Venus
* It's not the tools; it's the data
* People still don't understand data warehousing
* The silver bullet solution

Is there potential for BI projects to have these problems today? Absolutely. But let's consider, for example, that building BI is different than typical software application development. An application can be built, and when done well, meets users needs.

Should BI be any different?

BI projects of some size & complexity are scary beasts. The horror stories of the "big bang approach" have been heard, so most project managers take an incremental approach, knowing not all requirements may be met. Of course, if there's the time and money, all user's needs can be met and many of the issues above would disappear. But practically speaking, budgets end and the IT department will move into maintenance mode.

So can "multiple single versions of the truth", "people still don't understand DW", and other problems ever be solved? I believe yes. Experience of teams will grow and vendors will improve their toolsets to meet the complexities of business.

But in the meantime, BI can still answer the most important business questions for a portion of users. And accept that some users will use Excel to fill their analytical gaps. But by focusing on delivering BI projects successfully and not worrying about answering all questions for all people, over time, incrementally, these problems will be eliminated.

Tuesday, April 18

Be clear when reporting performance

The process for performance reporting may be rot with manual effort, costs, time and money but the end result, the monthly, quarterly or annual report, should be presented with a clear and relevant message.

Yesterday, I was given a set of principles for performance reporting used by a state level government. These principles are used as guidelines to produce quarterly/annual reports for public consumption. This guide could be used for internal publications too.

(liberties taken to protect the innocent)

Explain the organization - the why, what, who, how but also how its services are delivered and how it conducts its work. Let the public know the significance of the performance information being reported.

Link goals and results - what the organization intended to achieve and whether they are on track. Provide information where the public can make reasonable judgments about government performance.

Focus on a few critical aspects - limit the goals, objectives, and measures to a critical few that show key issues. The public will have a clear and concise picture of the performance and areas for improvement.

Link resources, strategies, and results - link financial and performance information to show how resources and strategies influence results. This leads to discussions about the choices that government makes and the impact of choices on the people it serves.

Provide comparative information - put expected future results in context by comparing past information and performance of other similar organizations or industry benchmarks. Trend information can help the audience tell whether there is improvements, deterioration, or static performance.

Present credible information - information is based on quantitative and qualitative information that should be fairly interpreted. It should be relevant and reliable, consistent and understandable.

Disclose the basis for judgements - should disclose how the information has been prepared and the limitations that apply to its use. The public will better understand how the performance report should be used.

Thursday, April 13

Incentive for better BI

A quote from Elvis on making BI happen... (thanks to Tom Asacker for providing this)

"A little less conversation, a little more action please.
All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me.
A little more bite and a little less bark.
A little less fight and a little more spark.
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me.
Satisfy me baby."

Focus on moving forward. The goal is to finish. The other goal is to keep completing the smaller tasks that will get you there.

Making change happen

"It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be." -- Isaac Asimov on change.

How many new initiatives in corporate and government environments meet their potential? The culture in many large organizations confines internal initiatives within a box of comfort where risk is minimized and so is the potential for greatness. But when companies make massive leaps in vision and execute their objectives, they become industry leaders and reap the rewards and benefits. Just look at Google or Apple for what they have accomplished.

The challenge is not (just) having BI in your organization. It should be more than that. Envisioning something bigger may include:

(Self Sufficient) - Make it quick and easy for users to access information they need (more than what they have today) with no IT support.

(Culture) - Enable a performance-based culture where users spend time analyzing and asking questions, instead of trying to figure out what the report means.

(One Shared Truth) - Company performance, analytical detail, and operational reporting should be reported from the same source. And more than just the same source but all BI aspects should find the exact same answers when asking the same questions.

(Evangelism) - Users at all altitudes of an organization should be beyond being on-board with the BI project. Internal leaders can make users aware of how BI can improve their daily work and even build interest in how the business works by using BI.

Change starts with small steps initially but drive and determination will make greater visions become reality in any organization.

Thursday, April 6

Can Microsoft compete

Microsoft has released re-built products for Business Intelligence and Performance Management tools (again). Their previous round of tools were uncompetitive (although inexpensive) compared with the BI industry giants.

Round 1: Functionality and maturity won out over cheap tools.

Ready for Round 2?

Don't count Microsoft out (yet). As with most new software products, there is that maturing period after a release where the early technology adopters (these companies are the ones comfortable taking the bumpy road of frequent releases and finding functionality that doesn't work) jump in. Based on their response, the masses may beat down Microsoft's door to make them a BI leader.

Microsoft isn't taking the BI industry lightly. But a recommendation to use their BI products for companies looking at large, complex BI implementations isn't there. But time will tell whether their second kick-at-the-can is successful for them and their customers.

Tuesday, April 4

Are you prepared

Being prepared when undertaking a BI project will considerably increase your chances of success and maximize the return on your time, effort and finances you'll be spending.

1) Do you have a strong Business Sponsor willing to stand behind your BI project?

2) Do you have the staff available to work on this project? Time from business users is a must.

3) Where in your organization will see the biggest benefits from BI?

4) What software toolset has the features that will meet your needs today? Going into tomorrow?

5) And seek information from people who have "been there & done that". Find BI experts, consultants, or other companies with a track record and learn from them.

Thursday, March 30

Overloaded with too much

The vehicle to deliver BI to the masses is a mixture between the right information, presented by the right tools. And this is based from the needs of users.

Sometimes when we provide more than what's needed, we end up giving less. Overloading what the vehicle should deliver, can bring your BI project to the brink of unsuccessfulness in the eyes of users.

"This is too complicated to learn." "Too many dimensions or metrics to grasp." "Too many tools. I don't know when to use which one." "I'm just more comfortable using my tabular reports and Excel."

The advantage of creating "just enough", can leave the feeling of wanting more. Deliver just enough functionality and information to users and they'll be more comfortable learning it and using what is delivered. Building in phases isn't just for the project team. And just building a BI system doesn't mean success.

The litmus test of success is found within the usage of a BI system.

Tuesday, March 28

For Form or Function

Brammo Motorsports gives a prime example of function over form. This car is all about function - only the necessary pieces. Although some (those engineering minds) may enjoy it for its looks, this car is for a unique group of people.

Should BI be built with form or function in mind? Why not both. Easy for users to access information but enough depth in information for users to grow into BI as they become "advanced".

Friday, March 24

Got a Dashboard?

A recent survey/article stated "Such technology is sorely needed". Many companies are on their first generation of dashboard or performance management project. Some have 'pockets' of implementations within divisions with the long-term goal of a corporate dashboard.

The graph above shows the Oracle User Group's survey on what clients are replacing on their dashboard projects.

The technology, for the most part, is now available and mature (not all vendors are at the same maturity though). The business has been waiting for easy-to-understand views into their executive information for as long as some people have waited for the 80's fashion styles to come back.

So where are the dashboards?

Most are still using spreadsheets and paper-based reports (according to Oracle users). All that effort put into strategic & financial planning only to show the leaders in your company an Excel spreadsheet? You say you don't have any other tools? But what a great position to be in for initiating your own dashboard project. Ask a vendor to show you a demo. Ask an executive what she would like. And get people in your company excited. That's a start.

Wednesday, March 15

Packaging BI

Microsoft confirms it produced iPod parody video.

How BI is packaged or presented is as important as how Microsoft and Apple package their off the shelf products. Does a clean, simple packaging (like Apple) best suit potential clients or users of the finished project? Or should they know all the details, requirements, and features?

Many would say the higher the user or client's altitude in the company, the simplier it should be. And for those techies, give them all the details to wade through.

For me, a simple message is better. This goes for everyone, including technology people. The easier someone understands the message or deliverable or project, the quicker they will become a proponent for your BI solution. There will be time later to explain all the cool features that were added once they are on board.

Saturday, March 11

Flexible tools

You may have heard the words. "Excel-hell".

Defn: The proliferation of Excel spreadsheets through an organization hindering people with their unmanageable and error-prone nature. Usually a band-aid solution used for budgeting or reporting when staff have no other option. Okay, and it's almost free.

But the BI industry has been steering companies away from this for years. BI tools provide all the benefits that Excel doesn't, like distributing web-based reports to many people or programmatically pulling data from disparate sources. So why is Excel still used by so many?

Because Excel is highly flexible and the layout can be changed on a whim. And people rely on what they know best. See Cindi Howson's article comparing Excel.

An executive asks for her numbers to be summed on the monthly report and graphed. It's done in a couple steps. While this seems terrific on the face, this leads a business down the rabbit hole (Excel-hell) where it lacks all the benefits that BI tools provide.

Find the right tool that meets your unique business needs and the needs of the business people.

Thursday, March 9

Pass the sales pitch for toolsets

You think you want BI and now you are looking for the best BI tool for you. What does that look like? Well, that's a "it depends".

First find the toolset(s) that give you what you need. Some features to consider are flexibility, distribution and automation. Flexibility to meet the ever changing landscape of your business. The distribution and automation features to make reporting easy and consistent for so many in your organization.

Want a list of vendors you should look at and the questions to ask?

Hint (in no particular order): Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion, MicroStrategy, Informatica, or Microsoft.

5 questions to ask vendors to get you past their standard sales pitch.

1) Ask for reference sites. Talk to both successful installs and unhappy customers. Learn from their experiences.

2) Ask for a demonstration. And keep bringing them back to how their tools provide flexibility for users to make changes or to the criteria you've identified for your organization.

3) Ask how it will improve your business. Many times a sales pitch only explains the functionality of their tools. Ask them to be specific to your needs.

4) Always negotiate the price of software. Not quite a question but important to remember.

5) Ask which local development partners they have. Strong vendors will have consulting firms or software development companies they've worked with in the past. Regardless if they have their own internal consulting services unit.

Are we still using Excel

Here’s an article by Rick Sherman that shows over the past many years, after all these BI projects, and these fabulous new vendor tools, users are still using, or reverting back to, Excel to gather information and creating new reports that meet their needs.

You could walk away from this article and think BI isn’t meeting user’s needs. We could look to the vendors and say their tools are too complicated. We could talk to the IT group and consultants that run the BI projects. Or do users not understand how to use what they have?

History is showing that organizations are benefiting from successful BI projects. Remember, BI is for the business, its strategies and performance. Identify your project's goals for success and list “end user usage” as one of the measures your project aims for.

Sunday, March 5

Comfortable with status quo

I convinced my family to convert our phone service to Vonage VOIP phone service. Although we were comfortable paying $100 in monthly bills for less features to the local provider, we needed to make a change.

Compare my small personal story and Seth's post on inspiring change to initiating change for large organizations. I've heard companies spending $10k to create a performance report for an executive group. It was highly complex and detailed and gave them exactly what they wanted.

What was surprising was the number of similar requests over the years that could be made to the IT department. It was time for IT and management groups to take that step back and start asking, "would we be better off moving to an efficient reporting or BI system? Would we save money and have our people be more efficient in the long run? Could we make money leveraging our data?"

Our new phone service saves us more than 50% on our monthly bills but we had to initiate change. A company should realize financial, business process, and cultural benefits when building a business intelligence or performance management system.

Ask yourself, what are your costs for reporting? Are you getting the information you need (want)? How timely do you receive your requested information? Within a day? A week? A month?

It could be time to think of making that change.