Tuesday, January 30

Instant Messaging gets into BI

Just as I was looking for examples of Web 2.0 innovation in the BI space and having a hard time finding leaders (or even companies attempting to be leaders), along comes this post from Sales Technology - BI gets collaborative. They hit the nail on the head.

"The BI industry has offered little to directly address the collaboration environment."

The companies looking at integrating Web 2.0 and Instant Messaging are onto something. I can conceptually see how Instant Messaging (IM), which is typically used for social chatting between friends and co-workers, can foster new ideas for collaboration within a business environment and strictly for business reasons.

Could this replace printing financial reports that managers discuss over a conference call? What about holding performance meetings with a location-dispersed management team? It seems to me there is huge potential here -- not only from improving the efficiencies of a business but also financial savings.

So where are the leaders and what are they waiting for?

The downside to all this new technology will be keeping BI simple and easy-to-use so BI breaks the "used by only 20% of an organization" barrier. The last thing the industry needs is another era of complicated tools that only a few people can use.

Thursday, January 25

First BI mashup with Google Maps

Okay, being the first out of the gate with a new technology doesn't mean you will be the long term winner. But in this case, they could be. A mashup between BI and Google by using the open source, collaborative model gave Pentaho the edge they needed.

That collaborative model may also keep them the front-runners in the future. Instead of using only in-house IT people or consultants to build new products, the Open Source model uses hundreds and thousands of people outside of company walls, many of which are in the new Web 2.0 world, to design and build the next generation of software.

In this case, Pentaho mashed Google Maps with their graphical dashboards to display location-based metrics tied to geographic maps. And Google featured this as an innovative example in Google Code.

Here's an example,
"The combination of Pentaho’s charts and other graphically expressed metrics with visual geographic information can help companies rapidly identify regions associated with certain customer behaviors or spending patterns, (...) zero in on location-based business opportunities, and gain other insights that are difficult to see in a traditional report or spreadsheet."

So chalk this up as a win for the Open Source, collaborative model (and Pentaho, of course).

I'd like to continue with this topic of conversation and ask, "Have you come across other mashups that move BI closer to a Web 2.0 world?" Or know of new innovative features (or would like to suggest ideas for BI) that push the BI envelope to be more mobile, easy-to-use, or ways that would make BI utilized by more people within the organization? Let's hear from you.

Monday, January 15

Are BI appliances falling short?

The one truth that I know is that BI/DW appliances are here and penetrating the BI market. IBM, Teradata, Netezza, and DATAllegro are well known vendors.

But are they a viable solution for you?

Questions that come immediately to mind are: Will appliances be cheaper to implement? Do they have an overall lower cost because they combine hardware and software? Are they cheaper to support? Will I require specialized people to support an appliance?

[Quick description of BI appliances from a non-technology perspective: BI appliances are a combination of hardware and software that are packaged together to provide high-performing, streamlined BI solutions. BI appliances are relatively new to the market but promise a high price-to-performance ratio.]

To build a typical BI system, today you would have to find a hardware vendor, a BI software vendor, and a separate consulting partner (or internal resources) to implement your BI solution -- then you would tune for performance. This can be a complicated process but are using appliances any better?

Here is a link to DATAllegro's CIO Whitepaper Series where I read Bloor Research's Truth about DW appliances white paper by Philip Howard (head's up: he is a bit techy in his explanations). Thank you Fayu for passing this on to me.

In the past, I have questioned whether appliances are ready for prime time. Or are they best for a market niche. To help answer these questions, Philip's white paper suggests the following common myths (concerns) of appliances:
  1. Unfortunately, appliances are proprietary
  2. Only good for data marts, not Enterprise Data Warehouses
  3. It's easier to build your own appliance
  4. Support is split between the appliance and hardware vendors

Philip does give alternative perspectives to these concerns but I didn't walk away evangelistic about appliances. I think this whitepaper was meant to address 'typical' objections vendors try to overcome. So I may just need to hear from those working directly with BI appliances to understand all the great benefits.

Anyone with direct experience willing to comment?

But unless you know something I don't and you don't know whether you need an appliance, then you probably don't.

Tuesday, January 9

Biggle me this

Gartner has created a new word for us. They do this once in a while.

Biggle -- The intersection of BI and Google.

They call it the concept of easy-to-use BI where data warehouse software is sophisticated enough to relate similar concepts and products. I like the concept but is Biggle (the word) really innovative? As far as trend-setting, Gartner doesn't always hit the mark.

So let me take a stab at this. Google's search engine is being used by various BI vendors to give business people easier access to their information. And BI vendors, such as Cognos & SAS, have redesigned their web portals so people can use the familiar Google search bar. Is this telling BI vendors to focus on what they are great at, which is BI and not Web 2.0 applications?

(A quick aside) Business Week writes about BI uncovering $13M in improper Medicaid claims in New York. They say it could have been $3.8 Billion!

And the same article also talks about Biggle:

"For instance, if a business-unit leader searches for first quarter financial results, she might also get reports on the 10 largest customers by profit and revenues."

This post was a bit of a hodgepodge but the underlying message is this:

BI needs to be simplier so business people can accept and use it in a meaningful way.

Saturday, January 6

Building planes in the sky

So you have built a mature Business Intelligence offering that has supported your business for years. Everything is running relatively smoothly. Users are getting accurate information in a timely manner. You feel confident that you can reap the benefits of your hard work.

Or can you.

There is more to be done (there always is) but how do you accomplish this while your production system is being used by all those users?

Well here's how planes are built while in flight.

There is usually more that can/should be done. Whether it involves upgrading the software to the latest Web 2.0, content sharing, self sufficient reporting products. Or supplementing your implementation with executive reporting, financial planning models, or following up with users for their latest analytical needs.

But the question is how do you make this happen when you have a production system running. You want to keep the lights on for those using it. No downtime - 24x7x365. Maybe it would help by hearing from the different roles in a project (mostly in jest).

Project Managers: Determine the risks of upgrading, find the critical path, and add a contingency to the estimates. We can do this if we add more resources to the project plan.

Technologists: Use more hardware/software for multiple environments and after doing Agile development just switch all users to the new system. Simple.

Users: Um, we like what we have. What is this upgrade going to give us again?

Tuesday, January 2

Toyota presumed imperfect

For some, a New Year's resolution is all about planning and personal improvement. I decided against making a resolution after reading about Toyota's obsession with improvement. So maybe instead of signing up for that book diet or gym membership, you may want to take a page from Toyota -- Fast Company.

They don't set goals in the sense of striving to reach a plateau. The company is thriving, while the big three are suffering. Their culture is rooted in being self-critical with "a pervasive lack of complacency with whatever was accomplished yesterday."

Matthew E. May is the author of Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation and you can download a copy of Matthew E. May's manifesto on ChangeThis.

Will this approach to incremental improvement help your organization or BI engagement? I'm sure there are new innovative ways to impress management and customers. The goal shouldn't be to cross a finish line in one, unchanging step.

In fact, for Toyota, there is no finish line. Could each of your products or services be looked at with an eye to "how can we make this better today for us and our customers."

So how will you break the mold and continuously improve.