Thursday, December 13

Enterprise-wide data warehousing, duh

From recent talks with organizations on preferred techniques when building their BI/DW visions, I heard a rainbow of responses. I'm sure there are many schools of thought so I spoke with a friend Dave Hewlett, an architect and BI practitioner for years.

"...In my opinion, anything under the category of “data warehouse” absolutely has to be planned enterprise wide. It really doesn’t matter if you are implementing Kimball or Inmon to be honest. The less you plan the more you have to refactor/rebuild as you develop and grow the warehouse. As it gets bigger the refactoring cycles get larger and larger requiring more and more “rebuild from scratch”. It basically turns your warehouse into an upside down pyramid of growing effort. Quick wins up front result in massive complexity down the road."

This means organizations designing their first data mart or silo from one source system or focusing on a single Line Of Business (LOB) are going to cause themselves additional re-work and budget increases while growing their enterprise BI/DW -- not to mention difficulties keeping up with a changing business.

I equate Dave's analogy to building a house. First an architect does up the plans based on your needs, wants, desires. Then a builder plans out the execution and schedules resources. All this before anything is built. You don't design and build one room in the house, then move to the next room to design & build.

That would be one funky house, if it could even be finished!

So why do organizations design one source system or data mart, instead of a big-picture view? Man, what are they thinking...? Well here is what some are thinking:

  • It's easier for me to ask for and receive a smaller initial budget. I can ask for more next year when I've proven our team can deliver.
  • My risks of making a mistake are reduced. I don't want to promote enterprise BI to management when I cannot be sure we will be successful.
  • I want the vendor to prove themselves first. I've heard of failed BI projects before with license and consulting fees going through the roof.
  • The consulting firm suggested starting small, then building it out.
These are responses from a few leaders I've spoken with - legitimate, definitely. In my mind, this thinking is similar to building software.

We all have been affected by this vis a vis monthly software upgrades. A software company builds a basic software product and gets it out the door in a rush. Then hopefully with feedback from customers, they continue to release newer versions, each one inching the product closer to the overall product vision.

Incremental building causing redesign as they go. Customers suffer the pain of not having a final product. In BI, some call this stovepipes. Others would say poor design.

So what works best for BI/DW?

  1. Up-front design, best practices for enterprise-wide BI.
  2. Or incremental design, budget-easing, risk-adverse data marts towards enterprise BI.
You may want to say, "Tom, we could use Master Data Management (MDM) as a way to tie together (conform) our data marts." I'm sure MDM could help in some circumstances but this does feel like a band-aid approach (unless you designed with MDM in mind from the beginning).

I think you need to design & build based on the business need.

If (or should I say when) your business needs to improve performance, are you concentrating on the entire business or a Line Of Business? If you want silos or reports or cubes or KPIs for one Line of Business, you are only focusing on operational improvements for that one LOB.

You're not looking at how that LOB performance supports the organizational strategy and goals. Which, if that is all you need to do, then you're off to the races. Then go deliver!

But... if you feel this is only the beginning and other LOB's would want something similar... the management team may want performance from their perspective... you may share common dimensions across the organization...

...then I would say you should be looking enterprise-wide design.

Friday, November 30

Acquisitions bad for customers

In the short term at least. Acquisitions can kill R&D funding and unfocus company direction during the internal integration process. Then there is all the time and effort spent on a new company message announcing the "new" product and service offerings - marketing, architectures, training.

Thank you Fayu for sending in this IT Week article about acquisitions in BI will stem innovation.

As well, it could be that during the Oracle, SAP, and IBM acquisition/integration efforts, it may create a vacuum while these big three BI vendors (geez I guess they are now) focus on internal integration. This downtime vacuum may open up a space in the market for the entrepreneurially minded. I hope it does!

Sure business for the acquired (BO, Cognos, Hyperion) will continue to sell licenses. However I agree with the article that behind the scenes people are going to be pulled into committees, working groups and potentially let go, okay, re-shuffled.

This all equates to not pushing the envelope nor being laser-focused on customer needs and the competition. Unfortunate for them... Opportunity for others!

Friday, November 16

Who's Next

Who's next in acquisition fever?

Yes, there is already debate on who's to be acquired next. I guess it could be the natural progression of things but more likely the herd mentality is cropping up. I know, I know, BI is hot right now.

But like speculators on the stock exchange who drive prices up, make their money by selling at the top, and watch the prices fall on those unaware investors... aka us normal folk who are just trying to make a buck...

I've noticed attention being focused on the remaining tier 1 independent BI vendors - but I don't want to jump on the propaganda band-wagon for companies that didn't really standout before. Not meant as an insult but there are excellent reasons why Cognos, Business Objects, and Hyperion were acquired first (I would also include Microsoft with these best of breed companies).

Then I read the typical "watch for the up & comers" called tier 2 vendors. I believe both these tier 1 & 2 vendors should all be considered either "up & comers" or "been-there-and-done-that'ers".

The question is, if we sober up from our high on acquisitions, down deep in places we don't mention in polite company, "do you really feel the need for the industry to continue consolidating?"

I think not! Any acquisition now would come across as a follower in a sea of leaders. I may exclude acquiring SAS from that list, although there are post-acquisition, merger problems with a privately owned company such as SAS.

Alas where people, investors, acquisition-hungry companies should focus their attention on are innovative, thinking-out-of-the-box companies, technologies or people that will shift BI away from lengthy, costly implementations; allowing BI to permeate throughout a company delivering on the "BI Promise"!

Otherwise BI will be downgraded to simply a component or attachment to an ERP initiative, perceived as the second-cousin, something we will do later after the "must-haves" are complete. You know, similar to what operational reporting is today. There are winners to this downgrade... IBM, SAP, and Oracle's of the world win by having a complete solution to offer, where customers can go shopping in one place for everything they need.

Another word for this... WALMART!

And how do you compete with Walmart? Carefully, not head-on and not on price. Luckily IBM, SAP, and Oracle are not selling cheap commodities - their prices are high. In stark contrast, Microsoft's licensing model is built for growth... huge growth.

So where does this leave us as customers, consultants, and practitioners? With options.

As competitors consider how you will be competitive within this consolidated BI world.

As customers consider how you will win with either the Walmart's or the up & comers.

And a final up-lifting note on market change for up & comers. A market that is squeezed into a corner has high magnitude potential for paradigm shifts and innovative ideas to alter the status quo... sometimes in a significant way!

Here's a TED video of Larry Lessig telling 3 great stories of change.

Tuesday, November 13

Final acquisition - IBM

The story has hit the airwaves. One of the more obvious acquisitions in recent months completes the trend that has taken place in the Business Intelligence industry for several months/years now.

What this means for the industry specifically is too hard to tell at the moment. So as a CIO or business manager will you jump for joy or go running for the door.

IBM acquired the Canadian-made Cognos yesterday for $5 billion. This Wallstreet Journal article states Cognos is No. 3 in the BI industry following SAS (No. 2) and BO (No. 1). The IBM price is slightly less than SAP's BO ($6.78B) and more than Oracle's Hyperion ($3B).

Some may say IBM's hand was forced with the industry consolidation by competitors Oracle and SAP. However I think the IBM-Cognos deal was in the works for some time.

Cognos and IBM have 'played' together on large government projects. IBM tested Cognos tools in their performance lab. IBM and Cognos have done joint whitepapers. IBM consulting services has people focused on Cognos. I think the writing was on the wall -- just when and how much.

Plus you don't make a $5B decision in cash over a couple months because of pressure from your competition. At least I couldn't (my cheques don't have the space to write that many zeroes).


IBM is known for going after the "big and scary projects that no one can do" -- in IBM's words. Cognos is known for selling to large companies and governments. Probably a match made in heaven.

But let's take a step back for a moment. We know the acquisitions of BI companies will change the landscape of the industry. BI could simply slide into being another component of ERP vendors. Or BI may continue to stand on it's own as a business improvement driver by gauging performance.

The big picture question is, "with independent BI companies gone, where will BI go?"

Just like most acquisitions, the ecosystem of toolset vendors, consultants, customers, and 3rd party vendors can change dramatically. How? I would like to think our drive to improve BI for the betterment of organizations and people is the underlying goal. But that may get in the way of profits, selling licenses, and implementing large BI projects because they can.

Don't let them tell you "nothing will change; it is status quo" -- it will change.

Don't let them tell you "more benefits exist by being acquired" -- there can be huge drawbacks.

Don't let them charge more because "IBM, Oracle or SAP specialists are doing your BI" -- the business problem and expertise have not changed.

Don't let them tell you "this is the only way to do BI" -- get a second opinion from someone independant.

And welcome to the confusing jungle of seriously large companies where BI is just one line item on their financial plan.

Thursday, October 18

BI in just 24 hours

What I've always liked about the offering was the ease in which a person or company could start using CRM software - "pure" SaaS. You could use CRM without even talking to a salesperson or IT person -- sign up, load your contact data and start using CRM.

Can BI be done in the same way? From my experience in multiple industries with SMEs to large government departments, the business of analysis and gauging performance really isn't... well, that different. Ironically though, people usually feel their business is unique until you open their eyes to the similarities.

So where is an equivalent "pure" SaaS offering for BI?

Aaron Burnett recently shared with me how SeaTab picked up $9M in second round funding muchly based on their innovative approach to BI and PivotLink Now -- their "pure" SaaS suite of BI tools.

Their innovative approach brings the "full power of Pivotlink BI to customers in 24 hours". They are hoping the price point is disruptive to the marketplace. And they impress with their proprietary technology querying billions of rows in less than 5 seconds.

Even if you're only slightly intrigued you may want to check out their online, live demo (use the Test Drive link). I like that you can test drive the tools with actual information. No flashy sales videos. Real hands on test drive. I'll leave the review and impression of their tools in your hands.

The BI industry is changing in many ways with cookie cutter "pure" SaaS BI and significant acquisitions to make this a changing landscape -- far from the old Decision Support System days.

This begs a question in my mind. Where is the next big innovative, paradim shifting, Web 2.0, BI 2.0, multi-billion dollar valuation going to come from within BI?

Wednesday, October 17

Transform your carbon emissions

I was in an airport recently listening to this guy ranting about how air travel, and hence capitalism, was so bad for the environment. Did he know he was in an international terminal drinking a Starbucks coffee? I was tempted to point out the obvious and ask why he was flying. But there is just no reasoning with people like that.

Then this week Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts towards planetary climate change.

Then yesterday, Laura Wang, Editor and Chief Architect of Business Object's Insight collaboration community, spoke with me about their Carbon Offset Challenge and user conference on this week.

Three times in a short period couldn't be a coincidence.

My point is, have you ever been to a conference and flown or drove hundreds of miles along with hundreds and thousands of others? Sure. However you probably haven't thought of carbon emissions produced from everyone traveling -- me either.

Laura was at Insight's Orlando conference yesterday where Business Objects paid to offset attendee carbon dioxide emissions from traveling. They did this by purchasing Green Tags from Bonneville Environmental Foundation using a formula:
  • Number of miles flown multiplied by 1.36 = Number of lbs. of CO2 emitted
  • 1400 lbs of CO2 emitted = One Green Tag

Then you take the total number of attendees and mode of travel. Total miles traveled by all attendees is 3,802,796 miles. Business Objects ended up paying for 3,991 Green Tags. This is equivalent to planting acres of trees nearly the size of Central Park in NYC. Well done!

To put the travel by all attendees to this conference into perspective:

  • Total attendee travel is equivalent to one person traveling around the earth 152 times.
  • Even more striking, the distance from the earth to the moon is 238,712 miles, so attendee travel is equivalent to 8 roundtrips to the moon and back.
We all like our conferences and those corporations (or people), which are environmentally conscious -- or want to make a statement -- can reduce their guilt and support a global problem by purchasing Green Tags. Alternatively, you could take Insight's collaboration community up on their future challenges and contribute your personal time.

Wednesday, October 10

Analysis of your competitors

Being able to monitor the performance of your business is vital. But what is more important is tracking your competitors and how the market is responding to them. You're looking for gaps in their offering, weaknesses and strengths. Anything to give you an edge.

In this day of Web 2.0, collaborative, social-networking, comment-generation, community-controlled content, do you know how your company is fairing in the market? Do you know your website popularity? It would be great knowing whether you are driving more traffic than your competitors, wouldn't it?

Whether you're a vendor trying to build an online community (like BO's Insight) or you want to know the site visited by the most people for BI information (aside from this blog, of course), doing this analysis is challenging especially when you don't know where to start.

Look no further.

Rich McIver sent me this post about "25 Tools to Compile an In-Depth Dossier on a Competitors' Site". This is the most comprehensive list (with descriptions for the less technically savvy people like myself) of analytical websites giving you intelligence on:
  • Who owns a domain name
  • Analyzing website traffic
  • Hosting information
  • Marketing and advertizing spending
  • Trademarks and filings
  • Public relations
  • Finacials
  • Browser compatibility, accessiblity and website security
To test drive this oracle of information, I did a simple website traffic analysis of Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion (see the picture at the top of this post) using I'll leave the analysis to yourself.

Tuesday, October 9

BO takeover made public @ 20% premium

The agreed to takeover of Business Objects at a 20% premium or $6.8B by SAP is now public knowledge. The news articles read as per expected; synergies between their companies will benefit customers. Click on the diagram showing how SAP and BO complement each other.

The question is How will they benefit customers?

It has been an acquisition frenzy lately. SAP purchased OutlookSoft (performance mgmt), Pilot Software (analytics), and now Business Objects (suite of tools). Plus BO recently purchased Cartesis (performance mgmt).

And with all this growth, BO has been spending years integrating the original BO package and Crystal engines. Cartesis hasn't been fully integrated prior to this acquisition so the challenge will be how to sensibly pull together four different products into a clear product offering from SAP.

Then take the overlap with SAP's own Business Warehouse product. From my experience BW had difficulties being received by customers -- the takeovers/acquisitions definitely give SAP a strong BI offering for their business process solutions. They should simply replace their Business Warehouse tools completely with tools that work.

Will SAP embed their acquired analytics into their transactional applications?

Perhaps the question is When. You can expect SAP to provide an integrated SAP/BI solution where the new analytics will be embedded within the business process tools. Which is another challenge. Will SAP embed their new BI tools and still offer a separate BI suite of tools? BO, as with the others, are vendor neutral - meaning the tools can sit on a variety of vendor databases.

And with BO's revenues of $1.25B last year, disupting that source of income just to have BI embedded within SAP so you can sell a packaged solution, would be suicide. Unless the management team thinks the world revolves around business process and is unable to see the vendor-neutral potential of BI.

The merging portfolio's of two multi-billion-dollar companies give this takeover huge complications in vision and direction. I'm sure existing Business Objects customers will be watching closely.

Now that leaves Cognos to be purchased by EMC, HP or IBM. Any friendly bets on who takes Cognos to new heights?

Friday, September 28

Beating them at "their" game

Hearing someone talk about one of the big BI vendors usually doesn't grab my attention. Except when I hear Cognos being coined the "Elder Statesman of the Canadian software sector"! I was a little shocked that Cognos was considered in those ranks so I listened. Here are a few tid bits:

Meaning: Elder Statesman is any influential person (company) whose advice is highly respected.

Rob Ashe: "almost all of our sales are from outside of Canada."

Acquisition: Cognos has the "intention" to acquire Applix for $339 Mln. The deal has been compared to the Hyperion acquisition by Oracle, in part, because of Applix's financial focus.

Rumour: Business Objects is on the block to be acquired. Oracle passed them up, so now who else is looking for BO?

Looking Over their Shoulder: Cognos. Trying to grow fast enough organically and through acquisitions to hold off the wolfs.

How?: Through license sales, services, and maintenance fees. This year Cognos earned 12% growth on license fees, with revenues of $252 Mln and $87 Mln in license sales.

Cognos is established and was conceived in 1979 where they started with their PowerHouse product; then produced reporting and analytical products, and now flog a full suite of web-based BI tools.

Oddly they recently partnered with Informatica where the deal has Cognos reselling Informatica products. I can only conclude that Cognos is admitting their ETL tool is substandard - why else would you resell a competitor's product? (Great for Informatica who doesn't really have a home.)

In my opinion and all that being said about elder statesman status, Cognos still has high-end license fees and products with a plethora of functionality (does anyone use half the buttons in PowerPlay cubes? Really. Honestly.)

I'm still looking for BI tools with ease of use for business users who don't have to be techies at heart. However today, is anyone beating Cognos at "their" game?

Monday, September 10

On-demand BI fits Casual Male

Here's a story about a retailer making the cultural and mindset shift from using mainframes to looking outside their walls for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) BI to handle their planning and reporting needs. Not only is that a serious shift for any organization and IT department, the retailer, Casual Male, "needed a better way to plan inventory" and "understand customer buying behaviour". And they did what most companies do and "looked at traditional BI software but balked at the price."

Where have we heard this before.

As I'm reading the article from Search Data Management and preparing to rant about the high price for license fees and on-going maintenance contracts (another 10% - 15% annually), I made it to the bottom of the article.

What I found interesting was a mention of the big BI vendors seeing the benefits of SaaS BI. Initially I thought SaaS BI was more of a competitor, however Cognos and BO have acquired smaller SaaS BI companies Celequest, NSite, and Applix. While SAS built in five on-demand BI modules last year.

So what does this do to the traditional software licensing vendors business model, you may ask? Won't offering a pay for service solution cut into their high margin license sales?

And the answer looks like yes... on the surface. So why are they doing it? In my mind, because they are expanding their business to include small to mid-sized customers. The traditional licensing costs are out of reach for these customers (Casual Male sited the same concern over price). By having a BI solution that is now affordable, the big BI vendors now have another revenue stream offering SaaS BI as the service. By having two-tiers for BI solutions, they can reach a more complete range of customers from large to small.

If this is their strategy, they will need to keep the two-tiers separate in the minds of customers. When customers perceive cost and functionality overlapping on both tiers, confusion will build in the minds of customers. They will wonder, "What is the difference between your two products?"

That would be not be a great market strategy.

So you then push the tiers even further apart. Now does that mean increase license fees and provide additional functionality for traditional software? What about reducing the functionality for those low-end customers who cannot afford the expensive tools?

The various ways the big BI vendors may approach this will be interesting. Expect more direct competition between Cognos and BO. And expect an offering to come from the other major players.

And I almost forgot. Those traditional software vendors getting into SaaS BI will need to dive into the hosting business, which brings with it a different business model and mindset for sales and infrastructure. Software-as-a-Service was touted as the traditional software killer back in the day. Now the traditional software pure-plays are becoming hybrids.

Tuesday, September 4

The role of business vs IT

Business Intelligence crosses both the business and IT boundaries -- unfortunately for some it is seen strictly as an IT initiative. Frank Buytendijk's post makes an excellent point: "you are not delivering 20 reports", you are helping "business users make really good decisions".

Check out Frank's blog site (he is the VP of Corporate Strategy at Hyperion/Oracle), *new* since Oracle's acquisition of Hyperion.

He goes on to say how the business has bargained (actually leveraged) themselves to the point of 'no responsibility' for initiatives that involve IT support. IT writes the business case for a system to improve the business. IT is responsible for project deadlines and budgets. And who has to live with the results?

The Business.

So wouldn't you want more influence, control, and input into something you have to live with for years, maybe a decade? When I want a vehicle to drive, I don't ask the mechanic to find one for me. Although I'm sure the car would be great under the hood. Because maybe I want my unique style, colour, prestige, the right growl to the engine. Aesthetics. Generally not a mechanic's forte.

So why rely on IT to be responsible for your system's initiative.

Saying that, IT brings much to the table. Such as, people who know what is technically possible, IT project managers, and support staff to keep the lights on once it is built. What they don't bring to the table, which you can, is this:
  • Business knowledge and how the business really works.
  • What information is important to you.
  • How you want to measure your business.
  • How a system should improve your processes.
  • How a system impacts the bottom line.
  • Senior business executive sponsorship.
IT initiatives that only have IT support and little business buy-in is doomed for failure. Maybe not the day the system is released; but months down the line when the business realizes the system doesn't meet their needs.

Monday, August 20

Cannot justify BI purchase?

Frank Dravis' post on SaaS, how it fits shares the typical and not so typical reasons for why you may want to consider SaaS BI for your company.

  • Startup-costs are less
  • Focus on outsourcing non-critical applications
  • Lack of internal technical resources
  • Lack of technical expertise
Not so typical:
  • Reduced risk of deploying in-house
  • Less data volumes
  • Fills short term gaps with IT plan (business must go on)

Search not found - BI videos lacking

Videos and the Internet... what an excellent way to get your name and company out there for all to see. Express your brand awareness. Gauge the market response of your new idea. Or simply be entertaining and go viral.

So I searched for entertaining BI videos on the usual sites. What I found lacking was entertaining, viral, innovative BI videos. Well, not exactly true. I did find this one, which lead me to the Swats site. More on this below... back to my rant.

Is BI really that boring?

Where are those creative-minded, marketing-inspired, forward-thinking, viral-focused people who can show how impressive BI can be? Are we not more than the sum of our software parts? More than moving data from point A to point B and performance reporting?

There are impressive examples out there about business improvement or increasing employee effectiveness, to name two. Where are the videos to energize us about these accomplishments.

In an attempt to inspire you, review Technorati's everything in the known universe about BI videos, albeit all from YouTube from what I can see.

Any videos, company ads, marketing campaigns, slogans, even jingles you care to share? Post a comment or send me an email.


Okay back to this Swats site, which is a bit corny but actually has videos. Their manifesto is to improve the IT experience for business users. They are trying to buck the negative IT stigma by following 7 initiatives:

  1. Align IT with business processes,

  2. Accelerate innovation,

  3. Facilitate decision making,

  4. Increase flexibility,

  5. Manage knowledge captial,

  6. Favor exchanges, and

  7. Guarantee trust.

They could be onto something. I'll let you make your own opinion on whether they will be successful (or even if they were entertaining).

Friday, August 10

10 Questions with Steven Schneider

I work in an industry where the potential to provide value to a customer is great; and equally great is the potential for new innovations in technology and business models. Steven Schneider is doing both - innovating within the BI industry and providing value to customers. He does this as President of OnDemandIQ Inc by using their unique SaaS BI approach and unlocking the data companies have in a valuable way.

Sending your data to an external company to be properly hosted and delivered securely back to your employees is just one benefit. Steven shares 10 more excellent reasons to utilize SaaS BI for your organization.

  1. Question: What really differentiates OnDemandIQ from other SaaS BI companies?

    Answer: First, ease of use. Second, we provide a low cost of entry.

    The primary users of our system are business users that have very basic needs – reports with real-time data, a dashboard that tracks the 4-5 metrics they care about, and some drill down/analysis capabilities. While we have more sophisticated capabilities and configurations, these can all be hidden by the administrator so as not to overwhelm the end user. There is one client we are working with for example that was able to setup their data feed, add their users, create 4-5 frequently accessed reports and a full graphical dashboard for their management team in just a few days. Before, they had an analyst that was manually creating these types of reports every time they were needed.

    Our application also has a low cost of entry – with per-user pricing and base subscriptions starting at just a few hundred dollars a month. This allows organizations to start small before making substantial investments.

  2. Question: How do you help clients use BI to become more competitive themselves?

    Answer: In a general sense it is all about unlocking the information contained in the data they already have. Now that is a pretty general claim – but what is different about our approach is that we focus on getting the information to the person on the front line that can change their behavior or take action. All too often BI implementations give analysts the capabilities to really dig into the data, but something becomes lost on the way to the person that does something with it.

  3. Question: It is a well known challenge/goal to have BI proliferated throughout an organization. How are you being successful in this area?

    Answer: In my experience these types of initiatives often fail because they try to do too much – envisioning that all of their business end-users want all of the complex slicing and dicing capabilities. What we’ve found is that in many cases, the end-users want to look at very specific metrics and/or slices of information, and they don’t want to hunt around to try and find it.

    We’ve had a lot of success with sales organizations in giving each user a pre-configured dashboard that reflects the metrics they care about – the ones they are paid on, and a set of 4-5 reports that they need to do their job. Everything is pre-set and configured for them so they can get in, get the information they need, and get out.

  4. Question: What do you see as the biggest hurdle for SaaS BI or even simply the BI industry?

    Answer: A major hurdle for BI SaaS vendors is that BI is in some way or another, inherently custom. It only really works when integrated with the data, typically from multiple sources, that a company generates. Many of the traditional BI software vendors really just sell toolkits that I.T. departments and/or consultants use to construct a solution. SaaS vendors are really just now trying to find the right mix of static software vs. consulting customizations.

    For the BI space as a whole, the threat from existing players is really cannibalization. The small-mid market has been, for the most part, ignored by major players because the licensing price point necessary to serve this market is too low and would threaten the business from their existing customers. With gaining popularity of SaaS catering to this market at a reasonable price point, there will be a growing threat from smaller companies, in particular SaaS.

  5. Question: What made you start on this business endeavor?

    Answer: We started as a consulting company to the life sciences industry – and what we saw was that sales representatives were overwhelmed with data from different systems, covering different time periods, etc. We saw a real opportunity to distill data from multiple places into actionable information that sales representatives could actually use.

  6. Question: What are three significant benefits SaaS BI and hence onDemandIQ provides customers over traditional BI?


    • Easy to Use & Setup

    • Low entry point with limited risk

    • Few I.T. requirements

  7. Question: Are companies concerned about hosting their data outside the firewall? How do you address concerns in this area?

    Answer: This is usually less of an issue than you would expect. Many of the companies that come to us are already distributing information to business users in various geographies, so the data is already out there in excel spreadsheets on laptops, personal databases and on emails. Having the data hosted in a security facility with proper authentication, access logging, and encryption is a step in the right direction.

  8. Question: You mention wanting to meet "80% out of the box". Care to explain?

    Answer: We provide many of the high-value BI capabilities that small-mid sized companies desire – such as ad-hoc reporting, dashboards, and simple analytics out of the box. We have a generic, flexible data model for data such as sales transactions, accounts, and activities that can model many different types of data sets and provide a whole host of custom metrics. Most of our clients are sales organizations, retail, or manufacturing.

    While taking this more generic approach allows us to offer a more cost-effective and easy to setup solution to a wide range of customers, it does mean that we might not be a fit for clients with very specific and unique needs.

  9. Question: Where do you see onDemandIQ going into the future with the SaaS model?

    Answer: I think for us, and for the industry as a whole, you will see a blending of the lines between what is software and what is service. In most cases the ‘Problem’ that BI is solving is a lack of access to information and that requires two parts – access and analysis. While we address the first part of the problem, we only partially solve the analysis piece by providing tools that people can use. There is still a missing piece that requires a human element for more sophisticated analysis.

    For example, for clients in the Life Sciences vertical we have taken on the role of an outsourced analyst function, providing services in the areas of forecasting, compensation, and more advanced analytics. It is all about solving the problem, and the mechanics really don’t matter.

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

    Answer: Sure – I’d suggest the following links:

    Article: Hosted BI: New Options for Small-Medium Businesses


Tuesday, July 31

2007 leader for BI

This year the Gartner's BI Excellence award goes to a Police Department. BI for geospatial analysis of crime trends, visualization, and statistical analysis.

And the Brain Food Blogger on Intelligent Weblog makes a good point about considering other quadrants aside from the BI Platform quadrant, including Corporate Performance Management and integration.

I don't want to keep you in suspense any longer (if the picture didn't give it away already). The Gartner 2007 BI Platforms magic quadrant courtesy of Business Objects. One look at the quadrant and you'll understand why BO is being generous.

Wake up call for Air Canada

How many times do you need to hear something before it sinks in and you take action. When people ask for it - respond. Air Canada did, partially. As a decentralized organization using Excel spreadsheets for reporting, you can imagine how effective they were back in 2002. However their initial challenge wasn't building a BI centre of excellence, envisioning a one shared truth, or a well-thought-out technical architecture.

It was making BI easy and useful for the novice user (rather than just the power-users).

Briony Smith wrote an article in IT World Canada about Air Canada using IBI WebFocus because of the cheaper price point, high usability, and visualization tools.

But this is not about tools. Less than 20% of people in an organization use BI. Why could that be. Take away the bad implementations, insufficient toolset functionality, and untrained developers & project mgrs. What you're left with is approach and understanding the business problem.

Briony's article speaks of business intelligence competency centres as a way to bring together IT and business people to "break down the walls". Air Canada resisted this centralized approach (and I think missing out on improved collaboration and communication).

So many times have I seen projects boil down to technology, architecture and design. Important yes. Technologist focused yes. Incomplete picture yes.

The C-level execs are taking back control of IT decisions. You can see this with more and more IT professionals being left out of the decision-making loop. This makes delivering successful BI projects a challenge, no? Creating a competency centre (i.e. committee) in and of itself doesn't make a success.

IT professionals are left out of decisions because the needs of the business are not being met from IT projects. Having IT at a decision-making meeting is perceived as having little value. Knowing architecture, dimensions and toolsets is not big value to the final decision.

So here are 3.5 ways to add value and get invited back into that meeting:

    1. Be more than just technologists. I'm not saying go out and get an MBA, but at least speak their language. Save the tech talk for your friends. Slowly changing dimensions really don't matter.

    2. Provide value by meeting business people's needs. BI is for the business, first and foremost. Understand their business problems from their perspective - not the vendors.

    3. Solve their business problems with an easy to use result. They shouldn't need the same toolset training as you have to extract the results they need.

    3.5. Make decisions based on what's best for the organization and employees. The vendor your friend works for is probably not the best choice.

As a side note, Westjet (Air Canada's main competitor for readers outside of Canada) has a large BI centre and also moved away from a plethora of Excel spreadsheets. The approach Westjet took was taking the BI technologists around to watch employees interact with customers and do their jobs with Excel. Hands-on requirements gathering.

Tuesday, July 10

10 Questions with Aaron Burnett

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a serious strategy and business model for software leaders like Sales and Sharp Analytics. Saas for business intelligence is expanding and breaking traditional assumptions about the industry.

SaaS means.... You don't need hardware. No need to install software. Much better ROI and less up front costs.

Now take this one step further by removing the intensive effort of building a traditional ETL layer – the layer that moves and translates information from your systems to a data warehouse.

Now what if you could accomplish SaaS for BI without that ETL layer?

When I came across Seatab Software, I was skeptical. However, their unique, innovative approach may dramatically change the way business intelligence is delivered for organizations and employees.

I spoke with Aaron Burnett, VP of Marketing for SeaTab, one morning about what they are doing that is breaking our traditional thinking about BI.

  1. Question: Good morning Aaron. Let’s start with what makes you and SeaTab passionate about BI? Tell us how SeaTab got its start.

    Answer: From its founding in 1998, SeaTab Software has been dedicated to provided SaaS business intelligence solutions. The company’s founder (Ching Wan) spent years leading deployments of massive data warehouses and complex BI solutions as a Data Warehouse Practice Lead for Cambridge Technology Partners. Through his experience, it became clear to Ching that then-available data warehouse and BI solutions were failing many of the customers who needed them. Too often, customers spent millions of dollars and months or even years of work, only to find that the inflexibility of the solution they deployed precluded the analysis they needed, relegated BI to the hands of a few “power users” and wedded them to large internal support costs or expensive and ongoing professional services fees.

    Ching’s realization that, “there is a better way” marked the genesis of SeaTab and our SaaS business intelligence solutions. Our mission, then and today, is around providing every end user who needs it with the full power of business intelligence and enabling these users to create the custom/personalized BI environment that best suits their needs – all without requiring extensive IT support. We’re also dedicated to providing solutions that can be rapidly deployed (we deploy in 30 days on average) and preserve ongoing operational flexibility (additional data sources, changes in underlying business operations, etc). Again, the focus here is to provide these capabilities without requiring extensive IT support or outside professional services.

    The more than 12,000 companies using our solutions gives some indication of our success at delivering on our mission.

  2. Question: You mentioned SeaTab is being a "quiet success.” What did you mean by this?

    Answer: One of the amazing things about SeaTab is that, until October of 2006, the company had no formal marketing function. Our customers are consistently passionate about the value our BI solutions have provided and created a great, informal network of SeaTab “evangelists.” As a result, new customers came to us almost exclusively through word-of-mouth.

    In the last year, SeaTab has experienced significant growth, with staff expanding from eight to 25 employees and sales increasing more than four-fold so far. In addition, we obviously now have a formal marketing function!

  3. Question: Word of mouth can be quite effective marketing. So what is behind the dramatic difference with SeaTab’s approach, no ETL or dimensional models?

    Answer: In the main, dimensional models were created to overcome the inability of relational databases to support analytical queries. We knew from the start that a powerful SaaS BI solution couldn’t be built on a relational database. And by not relying on a relational database, we also don’t have to create and rely on dimensional models (cubes). As I know you understand, this has opened tremendous avenues of both operational and analytical freedom—for our customers and for us.

    In a similar fashion, formal ETL tools and processes are required to support the physical data structures inherent in the relational database/dimensional model world. Again, we don’t employ physical data structures. We use logical modeling instead. Therefore, no physical data structures and no formal ETL. That’s not to say that we don’t have to model the data at all, we do. But we do it only once (when we first deploy) and we work with data in its original, “denormalized” structure.

    By the way, we also deliver query response times that are typically much faster than those delivered by conventional BI solutions. That’s also helped our word-of-mouth marketing!

  4. Question: I have found that BI isn't always pervasive throughout an organization. The information and tools are used by a small percentage of employees. You're trying to change this?

    Answer: SeaTab’s technology puts the full power of BI in the hands of every user. This means every user has the ability to create custom reports, scorecards, KPI’s, dashboards and even custom calculations without requiring IT involvement. Part of the reason we can do this gets back to the data modeling approach I described in answer to your previous question. Because we store all customer data in a single, unified table and don’t have to build subject area cubes or adhere to dimensional models, we can easily provide end-users with the kind of analytical freedom such end-user access and control necessitates.

    Some of this also has to do with ease of use. Our user interface is intuitive and requires very little training. In fact, training typically requires fewer than 30 minutes, and in many instances is accomplished virtually via WebEx or a recorded training session.

    We’re typically deployed both broadly and deeply within our customer organizations. For example, Car Toys, a leading specialty retailer of mobile electronics and wireless services has more than 1,200 users ranging from the CFO and CEO (who stays logged in all day) to hundreds of seasonal retail employees who use PivotLink OnDemand as an integral part of the company’s ordering and provisioning processes.

  5. Question: Let’s talk about companies who have benefited from your approach and PivotLink OnDemand. Car Toys CIO, Tom Lockwood, said, "[SeaTab was] the best and most important IT investment Car Toys ever made." Care to explain Tom’s quote?

    Answer: Sure. Our deployment with Car Toys is a great example of the kind of operational flexibility I referred to earlier.

    In addition to 50 company-owned retail locations, Car Toys operates more than 350 kiosks selling wireless services within major retail locations in the U.S. Maintaining onsite inventory levels for all of these locations is a monumental task. To address this need, we integrated PivotLink OnDemand with Car Toys’ ERP system. Now PivotLink OnDemand continuously monitors sales activity and inventory levels, automatically triggering orders to replenish inventory at any of the company’s 400 retail locations.

    Lockwood (Car Toys’ CIO) says the following, “Without this system, it would take an army to calculate and manage our inventory orders. Now we're automatically generating thousands of purchase orders every week instead of undertaking this monumental task manually."

  6. Question: Talking about ROI, CIO’s and companies building BI systems want to know the TCO and ROI. Can the PivotLink tool show decent Total Cost of Ownership and Return on Investment numbers?

    Answer: Actually, our TCO and ROI numbers are pretty stunning. I’ll give you two examples, the first from an ROI-driven study of one of our customers that IDC conducted and the second from facts another of our customers has provided to a number of interested reporters.

    EXAMPLE #1: SeaTab provides enterprise-wide business intelligence for Zones, Inc., $600 million/year, publicly traded, multi-channel retailer of more than 150,000 name-brand information technology products. More than 400 of Zones’ 650 total employees use PivotLink OnDemand on a daily basis – from CEO to customer care representative. More than the three-plus years since our deployment, these employees collectively have created more than 4,700 custom reports. And yet, Zones estimates their total internal support cost for PivotLink OnDemand at $25K (20 percent of one IT staff member’s time). In addition, IDC documented a payback period of just 42 days on their purchase of PivotLink OnDemand and found a 50 percent increase in sales productivity.

    EXAMPLE #2: REI is a billion dollar retailer as the leading provider of quality outdoor gear. We provide REI with business intelligence solutions including merchandising, inventory management and sales. REI’s own internal assessment of the ROI PivotLink OnDemand brings includes:
    • 9 percent increase in topline sales

    • 1.6 percent increase in profit

    • 2 percent increase of in-stock performance

  7. Question: With your approach and your tool, PivotLink, can you really keep up with the on-going changes within a business and the volumes of information an organization captures?

    Answer: Absolutely. Ongoing operational flexibility and an ability to rapidly integrate and accommodate changes in business operations are strengths in our solution. Because we don’t have to build physical data structures (data cubes), we also don’t have to tear down those structures when business operations change or when new data sources need to be integrated. Such events are trivial for us.

  8. Question: Now for a competitor question. If you had to pick the top 2 items of what sets you apart from the competition, what would those be?

    Answer: I would have to say,
    1. End-user access and control.

    2. Powerful BI performance at an unexpectedly low price. We provide price performance economics that no one in the marketplace can match.

  9. Question: And now for the future vision of SeaTab. Where do you see yourselves going in the market, and what is your biggest hurdle?

    Answer: We see ourselves as being the dominant SaaS player for the mid-market. Our biggest hurdle is overcoming the preconceived notions of how difficult and expensive BI implementations are.

  10. Question: It was excellent to talk with you Aaron and hearing about your innovative approach to BI. To wrap this up, you mentioned you would have articles and stories for our readers. Can you send me links about SeaTab you want to share?

    Answer: Thank you as well Tom. It was also good to meet with you.

    SeaTab Web site:

    IDC Report:
    Link to an IDC report that outlines how multi-channel retailer Zones, Inc. (, achieved a 50 percent increase in sales productivity and ROI of 1,065 percent by implementing SeaTab Software's PivotLink SaaS (Software as a Service) Business Intelligence solution.

    News Articles:
    Multi-channel Merchant:
    Resource Guide: Business Intelligence Solutions
    CRM Buyer:
    Web Services on Steroids

    STORES Magazine:
    Smooth Sailing; Anchor Blue unlocks its database with help from SeaTab Software

Tuesday, May 29

Featured on ebizQ!

Featured Blogger at BI in Action
The blogosphere is expanding and the BI-related content is improving. BI blogs are growing past strictly vendor marketing and traditional data warehousing techniques. I guess the industry is realizing that business users really don't care whether it's Kimball versus Inmon or OLAP versus MOLAP.

There is an increased focus towards consumers and users of BI -- the business side of business intelligence -- solving business problems and improving efficiencies.

Case in point, with over 100,000 members and a 37,000-subscriber newsletter has initiated a website called BI in Action. They sponsor Featured Bloggers, most recently yours truly (see the Blog Buzz section), and podcast roundtables.

They have setup a BI Virtual Conference (June 20-21) with keynotes from Gartner (Driving Business Performance) and Forrester (Current State of BI Market).

Saturday, May 26

90 Partners with MS

When you partner with a company, it should be a win-win for both sides. In the dotcom era, many organizations made partnerships. Though both parties wanted 2 + 2 to equal 5, they ended up with 3 instead. When you partner, you want improved cash flow, increased revenues and lowered costs.

Michael Matrick, CEO of 90 Degree Software, talks about their Microsoft partnership. On the surface, the obvious objective is to offer new BI products and reach out to more customers.

Download here the conversation Michael has with Microsoft's Director of Product Marketing, Francois Ajenstat.

However, reading this Q&A, you'll come away with two additional points:
  • Improved training and end-user adoption as a way to lower the costs for organizations,
  • Envisioning BI to all employees by lowering the cost of BI licenses.
As Francois says, "we've dramatically changed the economics of BI so that it is within reach of the end-users and within the reach of organizations, large or small."

One of the significant influences I see Microsoft having on the BI landscape is by changing the way vendors offer licensing. The traditional cost of $1500 per user is seen as a major roadblock by organizations.

Cognos, BO, Hyperion, MicroStrategy, (and others) take note.

One may think Microsoft is making BI a commodity by selling their tools relatively cheaply. Before you rush to judgement, it's true Microsoft may be using this to gain market share; however, real benefits will be seen by organizations and not just in reduced costs but in the ability to deliver BI to more employees.

And isn't that a top tier goal for BI. BI needs to get out of its niche market of analysts and technology-saavy managers. Because information should be available to everyone.

Monday, May 14

MS BI conference update

Day 3 of the Microsoft BI conference. This inaugural BI conference provided superb keynote speeches from Jeff Raikes, Michael Treacy, Ted Kummert, Dr. Robert Kaplan, and with CEO Steve Ballmer wrapping up Day 3.

With hands-on labs, client war stories, and demonstrations, we were kept busy. The various types of tracks focused attendess on technical, business, client ROI, and partner. And the after hours parties were entertaining showing off Seattle's best.

However to summarize 3 days into one post, here are my top 3.5 take-away messages from the conference:

1. The Microsoft message was obvious; they are here to compete.

They have the tools to match or beat other vendors (ie. Business Objects, Cognos, MicroStrategy, etc). And they have an unmatched Total Cost of Ownership. The pack leaders don't have to look far to feel the Microsoft Juggernaut on their backs.

Sure the conference itself could have been better in a few areas but in typical Microsoft fashion: next time will be much better and the time after that will be really impressive.

Their BI play is much the same. They are about a year away from "really impressive" however today's Microsoft BI tools made me take serious notice. ProClarity provides analysis in easy-to-visualize formats (huge improvements for presenting information compared with typical vendor "cube" views). Business Scorecard Manager and PerformancePoint are clean and concise tools for dashboards, scorecards, and KPI analysis.

2. But the sum of the parts is less than the parts combined as a whole.

(I'm trying not to use 'synergy' here because it is over-used)

Now you can take the BI tools and seamlessly wrap them with SharePoint for your enterprise-wide, information sharing, collaboration tool. The best part about SharePoint is it's ability to fit outside of BI using document mgmt, search, and collaboration features. This is one major advantage Microsoft has over almost every competitor.

If you don't see it, Microsoft is amassing a total package that hits almost every point in your business.

3. Who's going to support the vendors with similar tools to Microsoft?

There were several, and I mean many, vendors that built products very, very similar to Microsoft's existing offering. Many started prior to the ProClarity acquisition when there were gaps in the BI offering. Now it begs the question,

How many analysis tools and report graphing tools that "integrate seamlessly with SQL Server" can the market support?

I'm sure many of their business plans used to say, "Microsoft to buy us out at year 3". Many of those are changing to say, "If Microsoft is a competitor and has no need to buy us out, can we compete?"

3.5 Seriously considering Microsoft BI?

It is not only the SQL Server product anymore. A full suite tools with a price point that allows you to spend more money on customizations. This makes business people (the end users) very happy indeed.

Have you ever heard from other BI vendors the pitch that licensing costs and implementation costs are about 50/50. That is, 50% of your BI implementation is spent on licenses. That doesn't leave much room for building BI to fit your business needs.

Wednesday, May 2

"BO no longer a BI company"

This is a quote from CEO John Schwarz himself in this webcast.

Business Objects is rebranding itself. You mean they do more than Crystal reports? Okay, maybe that was a cheap shot but it is about time BO did something significant about their image. John's quote refers to BO no longer being a BI toolset company but a company that helps other companies gain insight into their information.

It is subtle but significant.

Their product offerings have expanded to include mobile/Blackberry, Xcelcius and On-Demand BI connectors. As well the Cartesis acquision for performance management and financial consolidation.

The downside is this.

This may be a reaction by management to the recent Oracle-Hyperion deal (that doesn't mean this isn't the right step for BO). Then consider the time/effort to consolidate acquired products and companies. In fact, Cartesis acquired several firms in 2005 and is probably still trying to integrate their acquired tools. Then BO just got through integrating their Crystal and BO to the new XI platform. And now BO will have to integrate Cartesis with XI.

That is a lot of change. But definitely a leap forwards and a shot over the bow of the competition. Makes you wonder who has the next big thing.

Saturday, April 28

Sybase late to the party

Pretty much every vendor has a tool to move information into a data warehouse - an ETL (extract, transform, load) tool. More recently with Oracle and Sunopsis, they have a competing offering with E-L-T tools. And some vendors offer ETLT, like Microsoft's SSIS.

So isn't Sybase late to this party by announcing they are adding to their suite an ETL tool? Unfortunately it does look similar to Oracle's approach of an embedded ETL tool within their database. I'm sure there are technical differences and I'm sure some would say the Sybase IQ ETL tool is separate from and can be used independantly from their Sybase ASE database.

But what's the point?!?

The question if I were a company or IT department looking for ETL is, "if I don't have the Sybase database, why would I look at Sybase ETL tools?" Oracle has a similar problem. I have never heard of Oracle's ETL tools (or any Oracle BI tools) being used with anything but Oracle databases.

It's one of the major drawbacks of having an integrated database with BI/DW tools. Yes, there are advantages to being tightly coupled but aren't they just technical. Are there "true" advantages for companies having an all Oracle or Sybase or Microsoft shop?

Their mantra: the synergy of our single vendor offering is in the overall value, where the value is more than the sum of the pieces (one plus one is three).

But what about doing a 'mix and match' by taking the best tools from the best vendors? Our society wants choice, your company should also have choice. Choosing the tools that meet your company's critieria, such as price, functionality, and ease of use, would reduce your risks of relying on one vendor.
The moral: Purchase tools based on your specific meaningful criteria and don't be caught up with the 'we have that tool as well' sales game.

At least having a choice will ensure you get what you asked for. And you never know, that may be from one vendor afterall.

Monday, April 23

Best BI Workplaces in Canada

More than 20,000 employees from companies across Canada participated in the 2007 “Best Workplaces in Canada” survey. The list of Best Workplaces in Canada 2007 was published in the April 23rd's issue of Canadian Business.

I went through the list searching for any BI-related companies and found these:

19th Microsoft Canada
28th Online Business Systems
37th Deloitte and Touche

Not a great showing for BI vendors, except for Microsoft BI where their Canadian BI group is gaining momentum with mid to large installations. I'm sure they are looking forward to their PerformancePoint 2007 release.

Online Business Systems has a BI and integration consulting practice throughout Canada and US. And Deloitte and Touche also has BI practitioners but probably wants to focus more on business transformation, strategy and business cases around BI and DW.

Typically companies that have the "right" culture, like Canada's 50 best, attract the best and brightest people. Who wants to spend time working for a "bad boss" or a company with a culture of holding back their people?

What I'm getting at is the companies that can hire the "best people" will probably give you the best products and services in the end. If you're interested in doing BI, then I would start with these best.

It would be great to see more BI companies on that list but these 3 are a beginning.

Wednesday, April 11

BI Success Checklist

Excellent post by Timo Elliott about the five fatal flaws of BI. I would use these for any and every BI project. Are you starting BI internally and what to be successful? Use Timo's list as your guide.

Because I work on different projects for various organizations, having a checklist like Timo's would help me focus my efforts in the direction of success each and every time.

Friday, April 6

Finally a MS BI conference

Microsoft's first ever BI conference is in Seattle from May 9 - 11. I'm going so I can get an in-depth understanding of the ways Microsoft is being innovative for BI. Specifically whether PerformancePoint 2007 will compete with the industry's entrenched competitors. I'm also going to see what companies are attending as exhibitors and sponsors, as this should show who's fully on board with the Microsoft play.

The conference is expecting 2500 people but if you're there, I hope we can catch up. Drop me an email if you're going.

Tuesday, March 20

The first SaaS BI company acquired

Thank you Stan Pugsley for passing on news of a new BI acquisition. Sharp Analytics, the forward thinking SaaS BI company, was acquired by iCrossing, a digital marketing agency. Seems my 10 Q&A with Chuck Sharp was timely (the acquisition was unknown to me at the time).

So why would a marketing agency acquire a subscription-based BI company?

Sure. There is the marketing alignment between the two companies. The synergy between sharing the same clients. But for a marketing agency to get into ETL, data integration, statistical analysis, and cleansing of data seems to be a detour from it's core competency.

What were they thinking.

iCrossing provides pay-per-click, search optimization, and landing page services that improve the success of a company's marketing campaign. Target specific demographics. Media placement. And once a campaign is run, the result produces boat loads of data.

But it's only data.

How well did the campaign perform? What demographics bought what products? Did the campaign make money? There are no actionable insights. Where's the BI? Actually Sharp Analytics offers this analysis. Search keyword analysis. Track search rankings. Click fraud reports. Paid search analysis.

Marketing BI.

Now iCrossing with Sharp Analytics can offer a full range of services to their clients.

I guess that was their thinking.

Monday, March 19

The end of BI

The end, at least as we know it, touts Information Week. Thanks Janaki Gopalan for these articles.

Oracle's purchase of Hyperion leaves just two big BI vendors, Business Objects and Cognos. Many think they will be acquired but are they good acquisitions?

Here's what their CEOs have to say, Business Objects, Cognos CEOs Speak Out On Hyperion Acquisition.

Oracle's deal to buy Hyperion Solutions is changing the market landscape for customers, vendors and partners. To further explain, Information Week writes, It's The End Of The Business Intelligence World As We Know It.

So what does all this mean? The market is consolidating. Okay. The big players are serioulsy interested in BI. Excellent. And will this increase value to the business and give timely information to employees and mgmt?

Oh that.

Yes, while the vendors & acquirers are calculating the best combination of stock options & cash, who's delivering for customers? The IDC chart above puts the top 3 analysis vendors as Business Objects, Cognos, and Microsoft. But in the same article said SAS has the largest revenues of $1.9B. While Hyperion seems to focus on financial departments.

The question for those thinking about BI or those already using BI is this,

"What vendor has the toolset functionality, capability to improve their product line, and the implementation partners to give me the ROI, on-going business value and monthly performance answers our company deserves?"

Unfortunately for customers, consolidation means less choice, especially if major companies continue to acquire the major BI players. On the bright side, there will be more room for new entrants into the vendor market -- you know, those that offer innovative ways to bring BI to business people.

Thursday, March 15

10 Questions for Michael Matrick

When you bring together former senior leaders from some of the leading BI vendors, you'll probably find them creating innovative, Web 2.0 products with a fresh new approach to a common problem. When customers need, almost demand, that they gain immediate value from their existing BI system, 90 Degree Software has a unique collaborative approach for building reports and dashboards that I haven't seen in any other product.

When I was given a demonstration of what their tools could do, I had to share this with you. So I spoke with Michael Matrick, co-founder and President, about what they are doing over at 90 Degree Software up in Vancouver, BC Canada (which is the host city of the next Winter Olympics 2010).
  1. Question: So what made you think the industry needed another reporting product?

    Answer: The industry was in need of change. We believed that reporting products have had little innovation in the past number of years. It seems that the vendors are more interested in selling servers and BI platforms versus focusing on the actual users. Reporting is the most critical element of a BI solution. If the users can’t adapt to the reporting solution, the solution will end up failing. I will add that it was our customers and partners who we’ve worked with over the past decade that helped us to realize that change was mandatory, someone needed to step up and introduce innovation.

  2. Question: You and others left some of the biggest BI vendors to be entrepreneurs competing in the same field. Where did you come from and what's your edge?

    Answer: I think we all feel fortunate having had the opportunity to work for such large BI organizations (Crystal - BOBJ, Cognos and Microsoft) and gain the experience we did. Collectively as a company, we have over 100 years of BI experience. This includes - product development, sales & marketing and executive leadership. It was this experience that’s given us the opportunity to bring to market a much better way of reporting. I myself started my career with the early Crystal and ended it with Microsoft. In between there was a stint in where I ran a BI services company, focused on developing BI solutions. Lots of good times!

  3. Question: What does your product solve for customers?

    Answer: Simply put - We developed Radius90 for people who create reports. Creators and users of reports are driven to use tools that are either too complex or too simple in nature (meaning not enough). In between there is a large opportunity to bring to market a reporting solution that works to benefit both users, using a single, clean and consistent interface. Radius90, I’m happy to note is doing just this. We have brought to market the first Officetm based reporting solution.

  4. Question: Typical BI software puts report builders in the IT department. What is different with Radius90? Who can, or should, be using Radius90?

    Answer: Yes…and this is the problem. Radius90 provides a consistent designer that looks and feels just like Office. We all spend our days creating documents, spreadsheets or PowerPoint’s…why do we need to learn a new user interface to create a report. Creating a report should maintain the same work flows and behave just as any other Office product. People who create or consume reports are Office users. With this, organizations can lower their costs by reducing training costs and time to create reports.

  5. Question: When you mentioned that management uses Radius90 like "lego blocks", what did you mean by that?

    Answer: Ahh…yes. Radius90 has a very unique feature called “Radius90 Library.” Radius90 provides users with this ability to decompose their reports or reports of others so that these report components (fragments) can then be used to construct new reports. This feature is a real blockbuster, as it enables people to assemble reporting using existing content (data connections, queries, parameters, charts, tables, matrices, etc…). to some they may say – so…think about it. Do you like recreating the same report more than once, just to tweak it or customize it for someone…I would guess the answer would be no. This is where we can realize that too much time is spent copying reports only to recreate the same report a different way. Now think about it – doing it that way means…managing 2, 3, 4, 5, 100 different reports. What happens when a change needs to occur? Using the library, users can reuse report content and leverage our semantic engine to offer version controls and centralized management. This means, IT can own the data and take the risk out of the equation for their users. Business or power users can simply leverage these existing report components and feel confident knowing that the data is accurate. For those who understand “RAD” (rapid application development) this will make a lot of sense.

  6. Question: So a management team could collaborate to come up with their monthly management reports?

    Answer: Yes. The library is a key collaborative feature of Radius90. Management can search their library or the library of others and pull together a business view/perspective without ever having to know anything about SQL or anything of that nature. They know they want a sales pipeline chart by sales person. This fragment of information already exists so why not repurpose this information. Users like managers or others always think of what they want then try to build it. Usually they hand the request off, only to be disappointed by the results as it didn’t meet their requirement. Interpretation is usually what breaks down during this process.

  7. Question: For those technology-minded, what sets Radius90 apart from all the other proprietary products?

    Answer: It’s a Rapid Application Development environment for building reports. Radius90 provides a rich semantic layer that allows for report content to be tagged and reused, making report creation faster. I don’t know any technically minded report designers who don’t love this feature. Radius90 also provides an extensibility model that allows developers to build report templates / theme’s, which we call report “add-ins.” This allows developers to integrate their LOB application right into the report designer. Not a runtime version of a report viewer. We are talking about a fully functioning reporting solution, leveraging your application logic giving the users the ability to customize or personalize reports.

  8. Question: Microsoft's published RDL (Report Definition Language) is good for customers, why?

    Answer: I believe so. The days of managed report formats or vendor controlled binaries are over. We’ve seemed to make such changes in all other software manors – for example, XML – why not with report formats? Users are looking for more open standard approaches to data storage, specifically file formats. Microsoft RDL provides an open report format that empowers organizations like us to roll out feature rich solutions without having to manage the format. Microsoft makes this format available as part of their SQL Server offering meaning customers get a scalable BI reporting platform that they can make available to enterprise customers. We feel fortunate to have the relationships with Microsoft that we do, allowing us to participate in early adopter panels, forums allowing us to prepare for any changes.

  9. Question: What does the future have in store for 90 Degree Software?

    Answer: To become the new report designer of choice for all report developers, users and consumers. It’s bold but definitely possible.

  10. Question: Where can others find out about 90 Degree Software?

    Answer: You can find more information from our website 90 Degree Software. As well, we had a booth at Convergence 2007 – San Diego – we were the hit of the show. We’ll be at the Microsoft BI conference in May and the WW Partner Conference in July, please come check us out!

Thursday, March 8

3.5 reasons why Hyperion is great

The recent news about Hyperion lead me to ask,

What makes them so good?

Oracle saw something in the company and its people but is there anything there for business people looking for a BI vendor? From your organizations perspective, are they any good? Not having worked with them, I have no direct experience but you can tell much from a company that shares information and how they share it.

Frank Buytendijk, VP of Corporate Strategy, and Richard Cox from Hyperion kindly sent me what I think are 3.5 reasons why Hyperion is a great company.

Reason 1
Expert Insights from Leaders
At this link, Hyperion executives and other thought leaders offer their insights about best practices, BPM strategy and the industry as a whole. You will find a new series of Expert Insights, called the CIO Dilemmas, providing an interesting perspective on using dilemma-based thinking to fuel new approaches to problems.

Reason 2
Educational Partnerships
At this link, they’re working on bringing BPM to the classroom. At Educational Partnerships you can see new developments and partnerships that Hyperion has with business schools worldwide.

Reason 3
Frank Buytendijk’s Blog
This blog from Frank, Hyperion’s VP of Corporate Strategy and well known player in BI and performance management circles from his previous role as a Gartner analyst, covers a spectrum of topics in BI, BPM, CPM and data warehousing. Frank’s also known to throw a few light-hearted posts in there from time to time about anything from Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru to how BI could help him in his weight loss efforts.

Reason 3.5
Where Hyperion is taking BI
This great little piece of interactive media is entertaining and informative for anyone. The best viral media I've seen from a BI company to date.

Tuesday, March 6

BO denied; Hyperion now Oracle

In a previous post, it was rumoured that Oracle would purchase Business Objects to improve it's BI offering through M&A.

That intel was inaccurate.

Hyperion was the object of Oracle's desires as The Data Doghouse explains. And with hindsight, I see how Oracle/Hyperion makes more sense. Acquiring Hyperion gives Oracle deeper customer relationships with financial departments where they can expand their ERP. And Hyperion will sit Oracle next to SAP clients (supposedly because many SAP clients use Hyperion for their BI) for further the competition between SAP and Oracle.

The Data Doghouse shares 5 Q&As about Oracle, Hyperion, and the competition with SAP.

This acquisition will almost for sure heat up the M&A fever for other BI vendors. Although I'm not sure it will be Business Objects or Cognos. The question I keep asking myself is, "What do they have to offer a large ERP vendor?" There are some big ERP players that want to enhance their BI offerings but what BI vendor has the track record for large, complex businesses with large volumes of data?

To further substantiate the fever of M&A, the Wall Street Journal published an article "Update: Oracle Buy Could Spur New M&A In Business Intel Mkt".

Tuesday, February 27

Explain why BI 2.0

What I know about BI 2.0 is this -- decision-centric business intelligence or as the IDC's recent trends report outlines (I would like to have the actual report to share with you, I really would but $4500 is more than I'm willing to spend), BI 2.0 is for customers interested in providing their employees with advanced decision support that solves specific business problems.

That's not really descriptive enough, so my BI 2.0 would:
  • track business events
  • make decisions in close to real-time
  • use SOA and Web 2.0 technologies
Then IDC goes on with a new term business analytics; "software for tracking, storing, analyzing, modeling, and delivering data in support of automating decision-making and reporting processes."

IDC says business analytics, I'm assuming the software, is the cornerstone for the newly emerging BI 2.0 concept -- giving us decision-centric BI. Sounds like this will give business people the automated support they need from their BI system!

But don't get juiced up just yet. These waters are muddy. Here are other statements muddying the market around BI 2.0:
  • BI 2.0 sounds similar to Enterprise Decision Mgmt: the automation and improvement of operational business decisions.
  • "It is also interesting to note that BI 2.0 is complementary and supportive of many of the requirements of BPM 2.0." - Craig Schiff's BPM article
  • "Operational analytics is a key component of the next wave of business performance management, as described in Craig Schiff's recent article Performance Management 2.0.
Could we confuse the market anymore? Luckily there are differences between market trends that last (maybe that's BI 2.0, for sure it is Web 2.0) and the fads that are shortterm that no one remembers (probably anything else ending in "2.0").

Saturday, February 24

Integrated performance management

Integrating the various components of your corporate performance management initiative is going to be challenging. But sometimes the best organizational improvements you make are the most difficult. Increase the effectiveness by going beyond just measuring past performance for the sake of measurement -- integrate individual compensation, recognition and rewards into the overall process.

This CPM blog explains it nicely. And thanks to Frank Buytendijk, Hyperion's VP of Corporate Strategy, for his performance management blog.

So why link people to the high level performance measures?

One word -- effective-motivated-employees!

Having key performance indicators is a start but typically are abstract to the point where the employee doesn't understand where their contribution to the company fits into the performance strategy. The hard part is taking the process from a strategic level to an operational level and clearly linking individual performance to the overall corporate goals.

But once there, you will realize the benefits of your hard work!

Here's a YouTube clip about combat readiness for an underperforming navel vessel. And how the captain used communication to improve productivity.

Now go and integrate individual performance to the overall corporate strategy so employees understand why they are spending most of their day at work!