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?