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.