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.