Thursday, December 18

Is Business Objects losing ground?

"Urgent: Time is running out". The title to an email today from Business Objects, an SAP company. I'm on their mailing list so I get emails once in a while.

But what was so urgent that I couldn't miss out on today? Perhaps they were informing me of a Christmas charity that needed donations to save the Congo children. Maybe a holiday offer of free software licenses? They say it is urgent so it must be important.

Where's the value

So what did I get that required me to jump out of my seat and click on the link in the email before time ran out? I have now "opt-in to receive emails from BO". Wow, time truly was of the essence (I'm trying to contain my sarcasm). I will receive "announcements, events, product offers, technical tips, and other vital information for SAP customers." [I thought I was already signed up, which is how I received the email in the first place??]

Lame campaign

Anyway, this was a lame marketing campaign from BO's marketing department (maybe this is from SAP's marketing department...). Anyway the technique of inducing urgency and fear is decades old and rubs people the wrong way. Our time is valuable, so if it's "urgent", it had better be.

Fear within Business Objects

This could also point to a fear coming from within BO/SAP, although I cannot substantiate this claim. I base this on history where fear marketing comes from companies that are losing ground to competitors. Or they simply go delusional (like the automakers who continued marketing the same gas guzzling vehicles when the economy and environment were screaming for change). They are detached from their customers.

I suspect Business Objects has a strong revenue base from existing customers and services so I'm not trying to induce fear that BO will be asking for Federal bailout money. But maybe they are seeing declines in new customers and new license revenue.

For instance, I think it is safe to say they failed with their Insight Portal (sorry I can't find the link), failing with their Information On Demand, and I don't see them getting much uptake from their BI On Demand web portal.

Until something more substantial comes out, I'll wait for future correspondence from BO like a 7 year old child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Strategy for starting Business Intelligence

There is much focus needed by different skilled people to create a new Business Intelligence system. Sometimes we get lost in the details ('forest through the trees'). More importantly, if your boat isn't set in the right direction from the beginning, you may end up sailing around for far too long and costing you more than it should.

I was reminded of this recently by Mark Fillmore from Actuate. Below is an article that talks about starting a Business Intelligence strategy. Obviously it's best to use strategic thinking from the start but even with an existing BI system, these thoughts can help refocus your BI plans.

Making Business Intelligence Work for You

Companies large and small can benefit from a well thought out business intelligence strategy, but developing that strategy can sometimes be more challenging than implementing a business intelligence program. To make sure that your company is getting the most out of your BI program, make sure that you define your goals and have a plan for the information you generate before you start collecting and analyzing data.

First Steps

Assess your current system of data collection. How you collect your data will make a difference in how complete your information is, which will in turn affect the results of your business intelligence program. Make sure that if you need historical data on your company or customers that you know where it is and how to access it. You’ll also need to take some time to understand your business needs and make a rough road map for how you would like your business to transform. Focus your attention on a few operational objective that can be achieved both short and long term.

Planning Your Strategy

Start with your vision of where you would like your company to be in 3 to 5 years. Pick specific goals that can be achieved with the assistance of a good business intelligence program. These goals should have measurable success rates or key performance indicators. You will use your key performance indicators (KPIs) as milestones for how close you are to accomplishing your goals. You can then set up your information infrastructure to collect the necessary data that can be analyzed and turned into information, which can be used to make effective decisions for your company.

In order to pick the most worthwhile goals, you must understand what the desired end result is. You will have to ask yourself what you will do with the business intelligence information your program generates once you have it. Otherwise, you will have a vast amount of information and no way to strategize around it. In companies without a comprehensive long-term plan, decision makers react to the information they get from their data without understanding the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

Another important thing to think about before you implement your program is what your options are once you have the information. Often companies have an idea of how they want to move forward and are looking to the business intelligence information generated by their BI program to support their current strategy. They soon learn that the information is not always in line with their current plan. Brainstorm all possible outcomes of your business intelligence program and think of ways that your company can improve based on the different results. You probably won’t be able to come up with every single possibility, but you will be prepared to think creatively when your BI program starts to generate useful information.

Lastly, remember why you are implementing this program. Business intelligence can be a huge asset to your business, but if you focus on the data and not on what the data can do for your company, your energy is misplaced. Before you become overwhelmed with data warehousing and data integration initiatives, take a step back and refocus on your company’s goals.

Thursday, December 4

Everything as a Service

The trend has been coming for some time, so I've decided to coin the term "Everything as a Service".  It started with SaaS (software as a service), which Salesforce made popular, and the "as a Service" has found it's way into many marketing tag lines.  Do a Google search just to see what turns up...
And you can quickly go from "as a Service" to cloud computing conversations these days.  It is turning into an elite club who use jargon to create this new technology industry.  I'm not slamming the concepts, just the proliferation of marketing "as a Service".   And I would say they all sell their "services" the same way.  We're cheaper than traditional.  We have the expertise, so you don't need it.  Just plug us in and leave anytime.

Marketing campaigns aside, of particular interest is Information as a Service (IaaS?).  DM Review explains IaaS as:

"Information as a Service, means you can deliver Business Intelligence snippets to a wide variety of applications and users, when they need it. Rather than 10 or 20 percent of your company's employees accessing your BI repositories, all of your employees can gain access to it — and not just through a query and reporting tool."

In my opinion, IaaS by this definition is one path BI should move towards.  Imagine a world where data is no longer viewed in tabular reports or analytical cubes.  A world where analysts and IT are not the keepers of information.  Analysts and IT need to play a part absolutely.  I'm saying it just needs to be easier to access for business people and relevant to one's job.

Yes, we still need the ability to ad hoc report and analyze data.  Because sometimes you just don't know exactly what you're looking for.  But for most people, you just need the simple answer.

So does IaaS only pertain to Business Intelligence?

According to IBM, IaaS is about SOA.  Another collision between traditional BI from DM Review and SOA thinkers like IBM.  I would tend to agree with SOA as being IaaS enabled.  There just isn't much out there about requesting data from your BI system as a service.  You consume BI through desktop or web reporting tools.  That's it.  So IBM may be more correct.

However we do have SaaS BI.  Here BI can fit within the software space and be hosted on the web, where BI is a service, of sorts.  Not the greatest option in my opinion.  How long will it take before acquires a SaaS BI vendor and makes them simply a reporting tool for Salesforce CRM?  Don't you think it's easy to think of SaaS BI as an attachment to applications, like SAP, Oracle Financials, and such?  In fact, that is what happened with the on-premise space with Cognos, BO, and Hyperion.  Soon these BI toolsets will cease to be open BI platforms.  Once IBM, SAP and Oracle make them more proprietary, the choices will be narrowed.

Now back to my "Everything as a Service".

Do you think we are going there?  Where everything we want - software, information, SQL, cloud computing - can be purchased for a monthly fee and plugged in when needed?  I see the giants, like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Sun, etc using their merger & acquisition engines to be that one stop shop for web computing, similar to what IBM, Oracle, and SAP did with the on-premise BI vendors.

Where BI fits into this picture is still unwritten.  How much of a player BI will be, well that may already be written based on the recent on-premise acquisitions.  So we can only wait and see how it plays out in the web, cloud, "as a Service" world for BI.

Monday, November 17

Worst practices, who's got them

Learning from the mistakes of others is the way to go. No need to blaze a new path. It's all been done before. And BI has years of this "experience"; DW has "failures" from decades prior too.

This is backed up by Madan Sheina's article:
  • 87% of BI projects in the UK don't live up to expectations.
  • 25% of those projects are going over budget.
  • Only 50% of end users were satisfied with the BI system
Maybe you're planning to implement BI in your organization. Perhaps you have a BI system but you're not getting the benefits you expect. It's an unruly world in the BI space. Data is a major problem. Tools are another. It's costly and takes lots of your time and effort.

So what are you going to do about it?

You could read Peter Graham's posts about Kevin Quinn's "Worst Practices" whitepaper (saving you from signing up your email address).

Or read the following, which incorporates Kevin's ideas of worst practices but stays away from the marketing of a toolset vendor.

Let's start with the customers, or more specifically the business user. After all this is who BI is meant for. I figure adoption of BI tools is really low. I don't have a specific statistic but I find them difficult to use. People don't have the time to learn a new tool AND don't have the time to understand how to interpret the data.

Apply Tom's Spandex Rule: Just because you can wear spandex shorts, doesn't mean you should! (you know who you are)

Match what the people are asking for and reign in your project team. They can do it all given enough time. A zillion reports. Lots of dimensions, filters, and ranges. However, your BI system should provide what is being asked for. Stay away from the "it would be cool if..." until several years later when people want more.

Ah Excel.

Should you force people away from Excel to use this new BI system? Maybe. Maybe not. Some say Excel is preferred because of it's familiarity and simplicity. Well I think the majority of people who have used Excel don't know how to create a pivot table or know why they should use one.

So in my opinion, Excel is used because it is quick! No involvement from IT. They can do it themselves until it works for them. Typically they are looking to solve a business problem, they just need the evidence.

BI just made their lives a whole lot more complicated. Now they need to write a request for what they want. Then when they get it, it's in this strange BI tool. At which point they copy it into Excel and continue on. Granted they probably have more data than before and cleaner data for sure.

Which brings us to the data warehouse. Yes, a storage area for internal data. What about data external to the organization? Many would caution the use of external sources because of inconsistencies, not having control of the quality, difficulties aligning with the data warehouse, etc.

Let me ask you, "who is the biggest data provider in the world?" Google. What do they do differently? They allow the consumer to determine whether the data is relevant and give them access to everything. They've empowered people with information access.

We need to let it go. The days of the data warehouse or BI team or IT department controlling all the data should come to an end. The business should get access to information they want and need, internal or external, in a BI tool or Excel and when they want/need it.

For instance, Chevron has 200,000 employees worldwide and uses MSFT BI to deliver specific, targeted information to many of them. Starbucks uses Microstrategy to publish in-store metrics to every store manager. Boeing uses MSFT BI to provide manufacturing performance metrics for managers.

These are all extremely large organizations and yet they aren't pushing out tons of cubes, reports, and dashboards. BI is not a central focus for their employees but it does give them targeted information specific to their needs.

Remember Tom's Spandex Rule. Just because they could, doesn't mean they did.

Friday, November 7

10 Questions with Mark Windrim

The "data warehouse for anyone who needs it" has gone open source.  I previously talked with Miriam Tuerk, Infobright’s CEO, when the company launched.  Recently I spoke with Mark Windrim, VP of Community for Infobright, who is at the helm promoting their open source data warehouse, Infobright Community Edition (ICE).  Mark, as I discovered, has a history of spearheading initiatives from their infancy.

In the 90s, Mark started a community called MAGIC while working at Apple Computer. MAGIC grew quickly into one of the largest ISPs serving the Toronto, Canada region. At that time MAGIC was the largest Macintosh user group in the world. He left to join Newstar Technologies in 1996 (where he met Miriam). Newstar evolved and became BCE Emergis.

Now his focus is set squarely on building an open source community for Infobright. It won't be easy. Starting a community in an established company with an existing product - a paid product at that – can be even more challenging.

Question: So Mark, let's get right to it. Why did Infobright decide to go open source?

Answer: As you may know, Infobright built its technology underneath MySQL so we have always had open source roots. Open source has always been part of our plan. In terms of timing, we wanted to prove out our technology with early customers before releasing an open source version. We wanted to make sure it was highly scalable, easy to download and implement, and robust - not an immature project. We see a large untapped opportunity in the market to bring an ultra low-cost, easy-to-use data warehouse to many companies who don’t have the big budgets and resources needed to implement traditional solutions. Open source is the best way to enable them to try it.

Question: What does your community ecosystem look like today?

Answer: We’ve got our main site that contains information about ICE. It supports a Wiki and forums where users can mingle and get support directly from Infobright and other community members. We have a great relationship with MySQL/Sun and continue to work closely with them in supporting the open source data warehousing community with ICE. Additionally, we are building partnerships with many organizations. Today, those partners include Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Talend, and we work with their communities in addition to our own.

Infobright also started to build out our integration communities through relationships with OpenBI in Chicago and Lincube in Stockholm, Sweden. Many more are to come. Both OpenBI and Lincube have extensive experience in implementing BI Solutions with open source offerings.

Question: What is the planned direction for your new open source community over the next few years?

Answer: We will be adding a great deal of educational content about data warehousing. The Infobright software itself will be enhanced and updated on a monthly basis. Since the ICE launch, we have already added a 32-bit version of the product and a new release has been posted to the community.

The goal is to create an environment where people can go to be introduced to data warehousing, as well as receive help both from Infobright and the community itself. We’ve begun offering free webinars as an introduction to data warehousing, and the response (and attendance, I might add) has been very good. Many of our community members are turning to us because their current platform is no longer able to meet their requirements, and they’re starting to build data warehouses as a result. Normally that is a very expensive proposition but open source, and ICE, has made it available to the masses. We want to be that go-to location when individuals and businesses need to know how to build these systems.

Infobright will also be adding content about implementing an open source data warehouse through support of our partners. We’re already moving down that path and recently announced an open source bundle with Jaspersoft. Shortly you will see more of this as we try and make the on ramp to open source data warehousing as easy as possible.

Question: What challenges have you encountered starting an open source model within a company selling a paid product?

Answer: We had to engage the entire Infobright team in the vision of a different kind of company. Everyone’s job was going to change in some way and the venture would only be successful with 100 percent employee participation. To be honest, that education process was fairly complex. We implemented a comprehensive plan for the entire company over six months to ensure that everyone was on the same page, and that we had everything absolutely ready. We also researched other open source projects – both successful and unsuccessful ones to understand the best practices of open source. Those learnings have impacted everyone in some manner and through them we have developed guidelines for all to follow.

Question: Infobright's open source database was released in September 2008. So far, what has been the response?

Answer: Response to Infobright’s open source announcement has been incredible! Immediately after launch it became apparent that the community wanted a 32-bit version of ICE, even though we had previously thought that the software needed more memory in the form of a 64-bit version. We responded immediately by offering a 32-bit version, and it quickly became the hottest download on the site. Infobright is also receiving reports from community members that they are using ICE in ways that we never would have thought was a great fit for us, but the sheer volume of people using the platform is giving us some fantastic new insights into where we need to focus our future efforts. I don’t think there is a day that goes by where there isn’t an “oh wow” comment coming from a community member that loves ICE. Now the community is asking us for Windows support, so you’ll be seeing that coming down the pipe shortly.

Question: How has the open source initiative affected Infobright as a company?

Answer: As I mentioned earlier, the way we do virtually everything has changed. community members commenting on code, or recommending new features, has a direct impact on our product roadmap. With many more people using Infobright’s software, we are discovering new ways people can benefit from its use not previously considered. For example, we are now looking into use cases that didn’t make sense to us six months ago - such exploration is a direct result of community members having an impact on the organization. From a business perspective, the last six weeks has been a hockey stick in terms of number of new customers and revenue. By the end of Q1, we expect to have surpassed most, if not all, of our competitors in terms of number of customers using our product. And more users result in a better product – we aspire to deliver the best product in the market!

Question: Has the direction of Infobright changed as a result of being an active part of the open source community?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. The expectations of the open source user are different than that of the commercial one. The open source user demands from a technical perspective are very high – you can’t hide issues and weaknesses; your bug list is entirely public. They’re doing a phenomenal amount of testing and performance stress testing. All these insights benefit every part of Infobright as we add new features to ICE. Such feedback is even changing the types of webinars we present, which user groups on which we focus, and what features we add to the product. We also closely monitor a variety of metrics in order to determine the best ways to support the community.

Question: There is probably the value proposition of lower cost, less implementation time, and less maintenance effort. However, can an organization really run an enterprise-wide data warehouse on open source?

Answer: Every aspect of a data warehouse infrastructure can utilize open source technologies. A company can utilize Linux as the operating system and integrate with open source ETL tools like Talend or Kettle (Pentaho). Many open source platforms will use their own home grown ETL processes built upon Python, Perl, or Ruby (or C/C++, for that matter). The data warehouse can be built upon ICE, and users can use BI tools like Jaspersoft or Pentaho. Support is readily available for purchase or for free through community forums. Every one of these platforms is extremely robust and stable. There is no reason that an organization could not run their data warehouse using open source technologies.

And businesses are recognizing this. Open source BI is a fact of life in enterprises across industry. A recent Gartner survey highlighted that by the end of this year 69 percent of enterprises surveyed either plan to have implemented and be using open source databases. And in the area of BI tools, the number is 34 percent (a 100 percent growth over the previous year). These statistics were gathered before the recent economic downturn. Now, companies are even more pressed to find the fastest and most cost effective way to deliver BI and data warehousing solutiuons to their businesses – and that way is open source.

Question: What is the benefit to your partners and developers of being a part of Infobright's open source community?

Answer: In addition to the obvious and huge benefit to end users, the data warehouse is a key enabler of many enterprise applications. As such, our partners and developers will be able to achieve great benefits to their businesses and products thru integration with Infobright. Now organizations can accelerate their business by reducing the cost and time required for the data warehouse component and focusing their value on the application. Additionally, our partners and developers not only support our community, but they cross pollinate each other’s communities as well. With open source, there is much more willingness among partners to support each other.

Question: It’s been a pleasure talking with you Mark. Do you have any additional links or information about Infobright's open source community you want to share?

Answer: We really encourage people to get involved in our forums ( There is a vast amount of information about ICE available there and we really appreciate reports on how people are using ICE. We’d also encourage people to look at Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Talend.

Friday, October 10


Thanks to Darren Cunningham for putting the word out on Wordle. It's a cute Java app that with the right words could give you something fun to play with.

Here's a link to the Wordle based on the BI for Business People blog.

Tuesday, October 7

BI in the year 2020

A theme heard throughout the Microsoft conference was "thinking bigger about BI". I'm not sure the people from companies who are struggling to get BI started were interested in thinking bigger but I can appreciate their visionary approach.

A panel discussion was setup with a group of senior Microsoft partners to discuss and debate where BI will be in the future, in the year 2020. Moderated by Bob Lokken, Senior Director of Business Intelligence for Microsoft, the panel included:
  • Greg Todd, Senior Executive, Accenture's Information Management Services practice
  • Andrew Horgett, Sr. Manager, Microsoft Alliance Team at Dell
  • Mike Fahey, Director, HP's Product Development
  • Todd Price, VP, Hitachi's National BI Practice
  • Terje Rugland, CTO, Profitbase

There were a couple comments about collaboration, social networking, and instant messaging but I would say that is a year or two away from mainstream. Not exactly 2020. They talked about data mining, optimization of the DW, and being proactive. Sigh. These are current topics being worked out by innovative companies today.

However here are the top 10 predictions/recommendations I gathered from the discussion. I'll let you comment on whether you feel these are in line with what you see.
  1. 90% of BI will be delivered on mobile devices.
  2. Much larger volumes of data, beyond terabytes, will need to be handled changing the hardware and software paradigm.
  3. Information will be managed by business professionals and not technology professionals.
  4. Do not listen to BI best practices that say "18 months to deliver" and "high costs for licenses/services". We need to think out of the box.
  5. Envision a new role within an organization called the Information Architect (based from a Data Architect). This person understands the entire life cycle of information from where it comes from to where it ends up.
  6. Better adoption of BI will happen when BI is integrated within productivity suites, like Office. BI will be an extension of business productivity.
  7. BI should not be packaged with ERPs because the role for BI should be to integrate disparate systems. However Performance Management should be packaged with ERPs.
  8. BI should be considered a service for business people.  Business is used to leveraging services already.  However IT is not yet matured to the point of understanding this role.
  9. SaaS BI's success will be based on two serious roadblocks: Data Quality and Data Security.
  10. Organizations will have 2 application footprints:  ERP systems for capturing information and IRP (information resource planning) systems for massaging and delivering information.

Did this help with your future BI plans and 5-year implementation roadmap?

[Other MS BI Conference posts:
ETL World Record and 150 TB Fact Tables and
Ben Stein talks about BI]

Ben Stein talks about BI

How many funny, engaging stories can someone tell in their first 10 minutes of getting on stage? Well Ben Stein surely approached the limit. Ben Stein has done many things on tv and off, been a lawyer, is a well established economist, writer, and columnist.

However for the MS BI Conference crowd of several hundred, his clarity on the financial crisis drew feelings of frustration over the financial community and government mismanagement. He referred to how the financial community could have used a little Business Intelligence -- and could definitely use some now. His clear chronological overview of how the financial community got into this mess (and brought us along with them) was responded to with claps and a few hoots of support.

Briefly Ben lays out the crisis with this:
  1. "It started with the liberals wanting equal housing opportunities for every American."
  2. "Greenspan pushed interest rates down and then banks couldn't make much money from normal mortgages, so they had to be creative."
  3. "Banks came up with Side Bets. Basically banks bet on whether or not mortgage bonds would be paid or failed to be paid." -- Yes banks bet on whether you will pay off your mortgage.
  4. "When house prices fell, costs of price swaps (the side bets) went up. This created such a huge loss that it dwarfed the financial impact from defaulted loans."
  5. "Side bets are the Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction allowed by the Bush administration."
He summarized with "Wall Street has taken trillions out of the economy from everyday people over the years". Needless to say he doesn't agree with the people taking on the risk by giving billions in a bailout package.

Ben Stein also had good things to say but it was clear he was there for his entertainment and inspirational value... a BI tech talk he was not about to do. If you haven't seen him, then he is just like he is on his tv shows, like "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "America's Most Smartest Model".

[Other MS BI Conference posts: ETL World Record and 150 TB Fact Tables and
BI in the year 2020]

Monday, October 6

ETL World Record and 150TB fact tables

At the Microsoft BI conference in Seattle today and wanted to give you highlights as I jump from session to session. One point will be about the world record.

MS Message: Think Bigger about BI

MS goal: accelerate decision making using structured and unstructured information.

Trends: Despite BI being on top of CIO spending list, there are less than 20% of people using BI? Why? Still not easy for people to use BI to get their job done.

MS Prediction: BI won't be on top of CIO spending list in the coming 3 years.

Okay about the world record. Microsoft recently set an ETL world record. I didn't even realize there were Olympics for BI but I guess there are. So by using SQL Server, they loaded 1 TB of data within 30 minutes. To put this in context, Oracle's last record was 1 TB within 45 minutes. Of course they are using SQL Server 2008 to accomplish this.

And on that note, Project Madison! If you're interested in large, large volumes of data, this could be the next big leap. An R&D partnership with DATAllegro who produces DW hardware, is building a combination of SQL Server and DATAllegro using massively parallel processing (MPP). They have loaded 150 TB of data with 1 trillion fact table rows using 14 servers. The live demonstration showed response times from Analysis Services reporting within seconds. Impressive.

More as I come across anything that is excellent.

[Other MS BI Conference posts: Ben Stein talks about BI and
BI in the year 2020]

Wednesday, September 24

10 Questions with Glen Rabie

Being in the finance industry may seem boring to many but in Glen Rabie's case it gave him a unique perspective on the challenges a large financial company was having with their information.

Then a life changing event inspired him to become an innovative entrepreneur. Glen founded a company called Yellowfin where they are all about making it easy for people to get access to information.

Question 1: Hi Glen. So what motivated you to do something about improving the BI industry?

Answer: The light went on whilst working on a large data warehouse project for a global financial institution. The project, budgeted at $30M, only rolled out 300 licenses of the BI tool to an organization of 50,000 employees. This is where we saw the opportunity. Reduce the complexity and cost of deploying BI so that every person that needs access to data and analysis, to do their job effectively, can do so.

Question 2: Let's talk about the market. You had an interesting take on the recent acquisitions of Cognos, BO, and Hyperion. What should we expect to see from them with innovations?

Answer: The acquisitions and the high multipliers paid for them put the new owners in a delicate situation. Their primary concern will be to generate a return on their investment, which to do so will mean that additional investment in those products is likely to be stymied. What we have seen since the acquisitions is a greater focus on rationalization of product set rather than news of product improvements. I think this is what we can continue to expect in the short to medium term.

Question 3: Has Cognos, BO, and Hyperion already won the BI tools market? Is there room for new products?

Answer: The top 5 players only own 70% of the market. This compared with most IT markets, such as the database market, can be considered to be highly disaggregated. As for the remaining 30% this is the growing segment. The BI landscape is changing from the traditional high cost but smaller power user deployments to mass deployments. I do not believe that BO, Cognos or Hyperion have the business model to support this change, both in terms of pricing and deployment complexity. It is this which is creating the new opportunity for vendors of easy to deploy, price scalable and browser based solutions.

Question 4: Interesting that BI doesn't have a gorilla in the market. How does that affect our customers?

Answer: In reality BI tools are a critical piece of IT infrastructure. Making a strategic choice is crucial since not all BI tools are a fit for all business scenarios. Without a Gorilla in the market I think it forces customers to evaluate solutions and make business / technical decisions based on their needs. If a gorilla exists then there is a tendency towards ‘me to’ buying behavior. So the current state of play is actually good for customers.

Question 5: You think that BI is complicated but is making the tools easier to use the solution?

Answer: It is part of the solution. There are aspects that will continue to be challenging – not matter the size of deployment you still have to invest in the design of and build the back end processes to support front end analysis. So in terms of ROI the more users of your BI solution the better. Having easy to use tools that can be rolled out with little to no training to many, who then in turn utilize the BI infrastructure to drive business benefit is key. This is where Yellowfin focuses its efforts – it is not just about being easier to use per se, but also easier to deploy (via a browser), easier to administer and manage security etc.

Question 6: The BI industry promotes methodology for an enterprise view and consolidating across the enterprise (e.g. customers across marketing, sales, finance). Does this make sense for the management team?

Answer: Yes and No. The reality is that even in Global organizations Senior Management and the executive team are primarily responsible for and remunerated on their performance within their area of the business. Consolidating data, such as a single view of the customer may have little to no actionable impact for these Managers (Great for analytical Marketing and Customer relationship Managers).

However, for management having a single consolidated view of business performance is critical. The data may exist in data silos but the delivery and presentation may well be consolidated to provide a global view of the organization. This is a large distinction – consolidation of data versus consolidation of presentation.

Question 7: Where are you positioning Yellowfin in the market?

Answer: Yellowfin is positioned as a viable alternative to the traditional vendors – Cognos, Business Objects, Hyperion etc. Our focus though is purely on the presentation layer. We are not building a BI stack. There are plenty of great specialized BI components for ETL, Budgeting and Forecasting which is not our area of specialization. So for we are driven by developing very easy to use presentation layer which can be deployed for 100s and 1000’s of users. It is in this space that we excel.

Question 8: Should learning to use a BI system be as quick and simple as, say, CRM or even Google?

Answer: Yes – for too long there has been this aura surrounding BI that it is a hugely complex undertaking, but let’s be honest with ourselves – when it boils down to it BI is just charts and tables. Well Ok maybe a bit more complex but the mind set has to change, from being a hugely difficult task to making it easy. End users are becoming more analytical and demanding greater access to data - going forward embedded BI applications are going to be seamless to the end user. They will use these tools almost without being aware of them. For companies are not going to have the time or the capability to train the vast majority of day-to-day users in how to use their BI tools – they will have to be easy and intuitive to use.

Question 9: Where do you envision the BI market going over the next 5 or even 10 years?

Answer: he biggest change in the BI market will be the emergence and dominance of Embedded BI. BI as a standalone application is going to be a very small segment of the market.

Embedded BI is needed to support the 1000’s of organizational information stakeholders. Process oriented workers and customers want access to BI at the point when they need it to complete their tasks within the application that they are using for transactional purposes – they do not want to access an alternate application for their reports and data. It is this area of embedded BI that is really going to make BI pervasive, bite size, tailored to the business process and rich in collaborative functionality.

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

Answer: Thanks Tom, it’s been a pleasure. If you want to find out more then go to

Friday, September 12

Introducing Business Intelligence Soapbox

Started a website for people who believe that BI can be done better. This is in infancy stage but Gerad has already posted a very informative discussion. I hope you'll check it out.

Have a complaint? Air it. Have an idea? Share it. Start a discussion. Whatever, it’s up to you. Choose a topic and get involved.

Check out Business Intelligence Soapbox:

Monday, August 25

Stitch your information together

The future is getting brighter for industries and non-tech people. There are numerous examples of complex technologies presented in a simple fashion and easy to use -- the iPhone and Google Earth are two examples that my 70 yr old father has picked up.

And thanks to Rick Rogers for showing the latest technology from Microsoft Live Labs (and University of Washington) that stitches 2D photos into a 3D view for people with little technology know-how -- Photosynth and here's a YouTube demo.

It's easy. Take photos of a room, for example. Select the photos you want for Photosynth. Photosynth then stitches each photo together to create a 3D view of the room. Easily move around the room in your new 3D world.

It's so easy I may even ask my 70 yr old father to do some "synthing".

However this isn't a review of the Photosynth tool, it's about innovation and improvement... for BI.

Now imagine what BI would be like if you could simply stitch your information together? Pull your customers. Drag sales volumes. Drop products into an information pot. Then BI does the rest. You then navigate the answers. Repeat with new information when ever you need to.

The question is could BI be made simple enough to support business people making decisions in a timely manner? (because it isn't that easy to use today) What if a CFO for a trucking company saw fuel prices starting to skyrocket (we know this can happen in an unpredictable way). The holy grail for BI would allow the CFO to drag a few information pieces together effectively helping decide within minutes whether to increase prices and by how much?

The point being that it's simple enough for a CxO.

Sure we can, you're saying. Just design those questions into the model and push the results into a cube and presto. Well what happens when the business doesn't know all the questions they could ask in the future? The issue comes down to flexibility.

Then more challenges are raised when businesses need to state their questions up front. The reality is business changes. New products, new objectives, new competition. In fact, this inflexibility is, in my opinion, the Achilles heel for BI and many integration styled technologies.

Realistically however, what can really be done about this. Who will overcome the data quality issue. What about conforming dimensions (i.e. people, places, things) across the enterprise. There are many challenges that are taken care of under the BI covers.

So where does that leave us. Can simplicity, real simplicity, be reached through new innovations or will the historical challenges impede progress. We may need more than new toolsets, it may require an entire paradigm shift in thinking.

Challenge the status quo and ask why things are done this way today. Could there be a better way? Let's pave the way forward to a less challenging, less expensive, yet timely way of providing information to those who want it.

Friday, July 18

"I'd rather be wrong..."

The point I've heard a few times is, "I'd rather have a wrong number and work out a way to improve (move forward), than spend hours arguing/debating/analyzing what the right number is."

On one occurrence, a client asked me to sit in a mgmt meeting, while I was helping with their business re-org.

They reviewed departmental financial performance reports and a dept head, my client, disagreed with the result of one measure. Swore it couldn't be that low and below target. After a couple minutes of clenched-fists-in-the-air attitude with "I'm going to find out the right answer!", his senior exec boss speaks up briefly with the quote above (or something like it).

I don't know how you feel about this but I'm sure some of you are cringing at the thought of knowing numbers could be wrong in the warehouse and that you were asked not to find the problem. I could just see the perceived value of their BI solution going straight into the crapper.

However, there is something here worth investigating. In the senior executive's eyes, the value of the "historical" performance report, specifically the poorly performing measure, wasn't the accuracy of the number but the identification of poor performance. It was agreed that the number probably wasn't inaccurate enough to make the measure a strong performer.

[I know, red flags are going up but bare with me.]

Could they be sure the measure was a poor performer? No. To confirm this, it would involve the BI group and department managers/staff to verify. I.e. time consuming.

Are they making fact based decisions? Partially. They are moving into the planning stage based on a poorly performing measure.

Is the mgmt team doing what executives do? Absolutely. They are taking the facts as they know them and making a decision (gut-feel perhaps). But they are focused on moving the company forward.

And here falls one dilemma for BI to overcome.

In this example, BI ended at the report or chart or visualization. There was no integration into the management cycle to continue into planning. I'm not talking about the financial genius building a model to show various projections. I mean the outcomes of planning... tasks, deliverables, goals/objectives, etc. BI only comes back into the picture when new reports are needed.

For me, without better integration into the business processes and mgmt cycle, BI will forever by a reporting tool on steroids.

Another dilemma for BI?

The pain to verify numbers. The time/cost to produce new numbers. Anytime you need to involve your ETL developer or cube/report developer to explain how a number was generated costs time and money. It's not their fault, it's the tools they are forced to work with.

BI needs to move more into the "configuration" space. At least needs to move up a level or two in usability to where application building is today. With all the toolboxes, components, and hosted technology available, I feel that "I" could almost write a Web 2.0 app! (okay a very simple one... maybe).

The point being is the technologist's tools need another layer of abstraction/architecture (okay not sure exactly what to call this) to allow quicker time to value.

Caveat: Now don't get me wrong. I think BI has future potential and can provide value. (now here comes the tough love speech) But BI has problems and poor results are seen repeatedly. I want BI to improve so I'm not picking it apart because I have another agenda; I truly want success. Success through learning and change.

Monday, July 14

BI costs Fortune 500 millions

I don't normally like to bring bad news up, although the Business Intelligence industry desperately needs a new guiding light. However there is always something to be learned from failures and bad news. Just like the first "F" I received in university... a wake up call for me that kicked me in the ass!

Dynamic Markets did market research, posted by and found that "BI failed to impact decision making in US and UK companies." posts about industry risks and value creation. 218 operational execs and front line mgmt were surveyed. Some quick stats for you:
  • 76% were forced to make decisions because not all the info was available in time.
  • 63% believe that BI reports are simply reference documents used to justify after the decision is made.
  • 70% do not receive reports that provide predictions about problems or potential opportunities.
Okay, those aren't great stats for an industry that promotes itself as "providing timely, accurate results to make fact-based decisions." A more alarming stat is the cost to companies -- the impact of inadequate intelligence.

$478,868 in lost revenue!

That really hits home for me. That doesn't include the cost to implement a BI solution in the first place. Now if we take a step back and look at the industry. There are a plethora of tools, consultants, methodologies, and training courses but for the Fortune 500, BI is hurting companies more than it is helping.

Now there may be some very valid reasons for this. Fortune 500 companies are large, very complex business with multiple departments all intermingled. They have high volumes of data that BI needs to distribute over a large geography. Plus just understanding their business to build a BI solution would be a tremendous effort. But as my papi would say, "you're giving into excuses."

So if we assume these stats are true and speak to the Business Intelligence industry in generalities, then we should be trying to figure out, in big leaps and bounds, how to make this work. There needs to be a vision... perhaps many visions on taking BI forward. Other software industries have gone through regular change and come out better for it. Isn't it time for Business Intelligence to go through it's paradigm shift?

Thursday, July 10

BI has it all wrong?

The BI market is showing a flurry of innovation and new companies over the last year or so. Usually stale industries or high customer pain forces new ideas to come to fruition. Reading blogs of people who actually work on projects or companies that do BI, you can hear some of this pain.

So what can be done to make the experience for customers better? Well thanks Rick Rogers for the link to The Future of BI, by Tom Gonzalez. Some excellent insights and he may be onto something with his ideas for dashboards. May not solve all the problems, but every bit helps.

Sunday, June 1

BI eclipsed by another technology

After reading an article on BI 2.0 thoughts came to mind that Business Intelligence has essentially become a fancy way to do organizational reporting. Nothing more. BI is simply -- reporting.

Don't confuse my simplification of BI with lack of value. BI can provide value when implemented correctly. However if you consider at a basic level, reporting displays information -- whether it's from one or more sources.

Now if I parking lot the "methods" used to bring information to the forefront (i.e. ETL) and focus on the ways customers use the results, I can consolidate this down to:
  • reports (including prompted, charts and KPI reports)
  • OLAP/cubes
I would even strongly challenge that OLAP is simply a navigable report (the answers are fixed and finite). So on the visualization side, the vendors and tools are essentially reporting tools with more features than say, 10 years ago.

In fact, looking at it that way, the acquisitions of BO, Hyperion and Cognos make sense. The acquirers (IBM, Oracle, SAP) simply needed a suite of reporting tools for their ERP applications. Because why would Oracle want their customers using IBM Cognos or SAP BO as the reporting tool on top of Oracle Financials?

Now let's be honest about the backend, ETL. This is data warehousing and DW has had a troubled history of failures. I would guess there are recent failures too. The question to customers is how much are you willing to spend to provide a finite set of inflexible answers based on today's business?

Plus the costs to maintain a data warehouse can be tremendous. In my opinion, a DW loses value a few months after go-live. I remember doing cost/benefit analysis for a government client to determine the value of paying $1m annually to maintain their DW/BI.

There was value in the information but not enough to warrant the cost. Although it was a System Integrators dream project. They didn't want to finish until every system was in the DW. The customer had a feeling of diminishing returns but waited years to do anything about it.

So is there a better way of integrating information? Well there are many techniques that are becoming mainstream, none of which would consider DW/ETL competition. These new technologies share information in real-time or near real-time (no nightly loads or checking the error log in the morning for failed batches).

And where's the new thinking for such things as integrating with information outside of the organization. Integrating and sharing information with partners. I hope BI can become more like Google. New websites are created daily and it only takes a few days before that information can be searched. And probably mostly done through automation. How long does it take for new data and reports to be provided in your BI/DW?

Wednesday, May 21

Participate in the first BI sharing network!

Want to share your ideas about business intelligence and innovation? Want to learn from real people?

Well you can with BI for Business People's own instant Q&A network. It's as simple as asking your question and someone in the network will share their ideas, advice, tips, experience, and more.

I guess you could say we're in beta because we would like people to participate in the Q&A network. Answering questions is all about sharing your experience, being interested in business intelligence & innovation, and getting some recognition (...and also learning more while talking to others).

Asking questions is all about finding the "Got Questions" box at the top right of this site. (if you're question isn't answered, have a little patience and come back soon when more people are participating in the network. Or why not participate yourself!)

This all started during conversations with Fabien Degaugue, Founder and CEO of Muchobene.

Thursday, May 15

10 Questions with Simon Tucker and Ron Dimon

Before the Strategy Maps, metric stop lights, and planning/forecasting models, organizations focus on setting their strategy. Of course the meaning of strategy means something different for every organization (Mintzberg's 5P's of Strategy).

However having a formal process is key. Even more important is executing on the strategy. While talking with Simon Tucker (CEO) and Ron Dimon (COO) of Business Foundation, they share how they work directly with senior executives using a tangible, interactive methodology to help management execute on their strategy.

And these guys have experience to share previously holding senior level mgmt positions at CSG, Adaytum, Hyperion and Deloitte. So I want to share their insights because I believe they are onto something that can help many organizations.

Question 1: Hi Simon and Ron. Why do you feel organizations need the Business Foundation methodology?

Answer: Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Many organizations, in our experience, have a major disconnect between their strategic objectives and what they actually measure, monitor, and plan for. They need a way to see what the true drivers of value are, spread-out across the entire enterprise. They’re tired of all the information silos they’ve built and use us to help them create and validate a roadmap to bring together the people, processes and technologies that will deliver improved performance.

Question 2: How does your previous experience at Deloitte and Hyperion support executive teams when discussing strategy?

Answer: Our company has experience dealing with C-level executives across almost every industry: from Retail, Manufacturing, and High-Tech through Non-Profits, Higher Ed, and Government. And it’s very interesting – even though strategies are certainly tied to industries, we’ve found identical problems across all industries, including things like lack of visibility into areas of the business that matter, a lack of understanding how pulling a lever in one area of the business affects outcomes in another area, and one of the big ones, not having a common business language which hinders making repeatable, fact-based decisions.

Question 3: Do organization need help bridging the gap between business and IT, seriously?

Answer: We hear it all the time! IT uses us to drive-out requirements from business functions (Marketing, Sales, Operations, HR, and so on) since we’re able to have the strategy & business conversation, and the business functions use us to help IT understand their problems and the impact those problems have on performance and results. There is much debate these days about the alignment gap between IT and the business; there are dozens of books that try to address this gap (“I.T. Wars” by Scott, “The IT Value Stack” by McCormack, and “Geek Gap” by Pfleging to name just a few). A lot of people talk about it, we actually have a proven methodology to bridge the gap.

We become IT’s “True North” – the long-term solution vision into which they are implementing short term initiatives, and each of our recommendations is validated and justified by the sponsoring business unit, so the entire business has a common solution vision (not one for IT and one Marketing and one for HR and so on).

Question 4: Would you agree, executing on strategy should include processes AND technology?

Answer: Definitely. In fact, when we connect strategy to execution, we focus on the intersection of people (and their role in the organization), process, technology, and data. We also add another dimension of strategic ‘enablers’ to the conversation. This includes the concepts of depth (how far down into the details do you need visibility), horizontal alignment (among the business functions), accountability, and compliance.

Question 5: Without giving away your corporate IP, how do you have conversations on strategy with senior executives? Any special tools?

Answer: That's what makes us unique. In two hours, with no PowerPoint, no laptops or projectors, we have a very rigorous interaction with one or two executives at a time (sometimes we can make three work). The interaction is a business conversation that takes what's already in the executive’s head, his or her unique perspective on the business and what drives value, and puts it all onto one sheet of paper. The 'special tool' is the sheet of paper. We start with our Periodic Table of Business™ database (with over 1,500 KPIs, metrics, measures, and processes – organized by industry and business function) which generates a baseline picture of the business as a matrix: functions and layers. We then tailor the sheet to fit the individual client before we get into the first meeting. So the executive sees their company laid out in a way that makes documenting what’s in their head very simple. And it invariably leads to new insights for the executive. We even had one CEO tell us "it was like being on the psychiatrist’s couch for 2-hours!"

Question 6: Can you help explain why there are so many acronyms for performance management (i.e. BPM, EPM, CPM, xPM)?

Answer: Lee Geishecker of AMR Research coined the term "Corporate Performance Management" in 2001 when she was with Gartner. It was the confluence of business planning with reporting, business intelligence, balanced scorecards and other areas. Hyperion, right after the Arbor acquisition, adopted this concept by bringing together their analytic applications (planning and financial consolidation) with their OLAP engine (Essbase) and later Business Intelligence (from the Brio acquisition). They chose the term "Business Performance Management" to extend the concept out of head-office ("corporate") and into the lines of business. It's a bit unfortunate that there was confusion between that BPM and the existing Business Process Management acronym. Cognos was hot on Hyperion’s heels and kept Gartner's CPM acronym. From there evolved Deloitte's IPM (Integrated Performance Management) and others. Today Oracle and SAP have decided on Enterprise Performance Management to extend the scope even further. To avoid the confusion, we’ve been calling it xPM, the "x" can be any letter you want – the acronym isn’t as important as the value proposition of end-to-end management of performance and getting from strategy to sustainable, predictable execution.

Question 7: Would you say "what-if" modeling is part of Business Intelligence or do you see "what-if" analysis done differently in organizations?

Answer: Business Intelligence has traditionally meant operational and financial monitoring and analysis. xPM (or EPM, BPM, CPM if you like) includes the "what if" modeling component and blends it with BI. So now what matters is that you can model an infinite number of scenarios (what happens to cross-sell and cash flow if I divest this business? What happens to customer acquisition rate if I invest more in sales training?). We see some organizations limited in their what-if modeling and analysis by their systems – some use their ERP for this and get stopped very quickly. This is where xPM on top of ERP makes sense.

But even more importantly, are they modeling and analyzing the right things in the first place? Companies should be modeling and analyzing the key drivers of the business that can deliver the most material margin, revenue, cash flow, market share, or whatever their strategic imperatives dictate.

Question 8: I've seen many organizations with planning cycles that execute on the plan but don't take the time to reforecast. I think you would call this the opposite of "The Learning Organization"?

Answer: Close. It goes beyond re-forecasting. We think organizational learning happens when you not only go back and re-forecast (and/or use a rolling forecast), but you also capture the underlying drivers that caused the shortfall or exceeding of the target. Then make sure those drivers are plugged into your models along with the assumptions and constraints for each driver. Making your models smarter and connecting them to your plans and forecasts gives you better predictability (forecast accuracy, for example) in the business.

Question 9: Would you recommend your methodology for high growth industries and organizations that constantly go through change for competitive adjustments?

Answer: Yes, certainly. The companies that get the most value from our method are those that want to make sure they're measuring, monitoring and planning for things that can have the most impact in their business. They want to leverage their investments in IT, ERP, and performance management systems. They want a way to prioritize initiatives that are in line with their strategy. It's always about the right balance. For high-growth industries, it’s about the balance between expanding scope, geographies, and markets without sacrificing quality, margin, and cash flow. For companies that need to be agile enough to respond to competitive pressures, it's about the balance between innovation (pricing, product, and business model innovation) and standardization (in processes, systems, and brand).

We also recommend our method for organizations that are facing increased pressure from the recent economic downturn. You may not be immune to changes in the economy, but you can strive to outperform your competitors. So are you modeling price and price mix? Are you forecasting average selling price? Are you performing profitability analysis by customer and product? And of all your IT initiatives, which should have the highest priority?

Question 10: Excellent talking with you both Simon and Ron. Do you have any additional links or information about Business Foundation you want to share?

Answer: Thanks for taking an interest in our company, Tom. Readers can find out about us at Business Foundation and can read about our take on xPM, strategy to execution, IT/business alignment, and other topics on our blog (

Wednesday, April 23

Really Simple Integration

Companies are challenged these days. So are individuals. The vast amount of information available and being created every minute is growing so fast how can one leverage that into something meaningful?

Along comes aggregation. It's seen for blog/news feeds, like AllTop, for the thousands of "top bloggers".

But what about organizations and integrating their information needs? Along comes SnapLogic with an open source RESTful architecture integration app. I spoke with Chris Marino, CEO, and John Bennett, Director of Marketing. They explained how they empower organizations through self-service... to "loosely couple a federation of systems" for enterprise mashups of data.

Here's a partial quote from their press release today:

"Really Simple Integration is a new approach to data integration" that "enables enterprises to quickly and easily make core IT data from data warehouses, Master Data Management data marts, SaaS apps, SOA Web Services and other sources."

Be sure to check them out if you're attending O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this week. In Web 2.0/open source fashion, they have started a publicly available collection of free components, including a screencast showing a mashup of LinkedIn and

So where does this put Business Intelligence and more specifically ETL tools and the static nature of data warehouses. I think this is another step towards the end of the ETL era as we know it. Products like SnapLogic provide transformation functionality but have access to more than internal data sources. Ever heard of an ETL tool able to scrap data off a public website to merge with your sales data?

Business Intelligence has been typically limited to using an organization's internal databases, such as finance, CRM, marketing, and sales. But we're in the age of the Internet now (actually we've been here for quite some time) and to be competitive you need access to the vast amounts of information from external sources of information, such as SaaS applications and information websites.

The small to mid-sized market is where SnapLogic is positioned today. Tiny companies can leverage the open source community, while IT staff of mid-sized companies would deploy SnapLogic for efficiencies. So once the data warehouse is built, users/departments will start asking for the data in different ways. (The static issue with a DW). Or merrying DW data with data not in the DW (and they shouldn't wait 18 months for additional DW implementation to address this need). IT departments can shine by having an easy-to-use tool like SnapLogic.

Sometimes there is no time to wait for the perfect enterprise dimensional model to be designed. Organizations are organic and need to stay competitive and ever changing to keep ahead. Access to information is key.

Tuesday, April 8

10 Questions for Miriam Tuerk

It has been said by many, including Gartner and Forrester, that the next big innovation for BI & DW will most likely come from the data warehouse side. Sure Visualization is a hot topic lately but the "pain points" for many clients are on the back-end.

After speaking with Miriam for a few minutes, she mentioned their tool produces results from "three billion rows of data and resolved queries in seconds". So she caught my attention. And when Miriam Tuerk, CEO of Infobright, mentions a client roster of the likes of the Royal Bank of Canada, Xerox, and TradeDoubler, you know they are onto something.

Our conversation continued as we discussed Infobright's innovative solution, which I'm sharing with you.

Question 1: Hi Miriam, let’s start with your statement “Research shows that the volume of the world's data approximately doubles every three years... 92% of new information is stored on hard-disks." Do you think Infobright can help organizations analyze data faster in a more flexible way?

Answer: We have proved it at our customer sites. Our customers have wrestled with the problem of how to extract valuable information from the huge volume of data they collect. They know, as we do, that being able to quickly access key information about their business or their customers can be the difference between business success and business failure. That is why recent studies confirm that Business Intelligence is the #1 investment area for CIO’s today. Infobright designed an analytic data warehouse solution from the ground up specifically designed to provide fast answers to ad hoc, complex analytic queries without burdening IT with lengthy, resource-intensive projects.

Question 2: Okay, let's get right to the heart of Infobright's business. Why do I need your DW solution when I know I can already build dimensional models, cubes, reports, etc?

Answer: Three reasons – time, money, and the unknown. Given enough time and money, IT can develop a system perfectly designed to answer any question quickly – as long as they know the question. In today’s changing business world, however, business people don’t know in advance all of the questions they will need answers to in the future. They want the answers today, but most systems require a lot of manual work on the part of IT and database administrators to set up and maintain environments each time the business users want to perform new and different analytics on their business. Today, providing fast access to massive amounts of data requires a lot of IT resources and time. Infobright’s solution eliminates all of that work by IT, and doesn’t require buying lots of servers and storage as other products do. Instead, we developed a simple but very powerful solution that provides business users access to all of the data they need to get fast answers to unpredictable questions.

Question 3: How did you and Infobright get started? Was it a grass-roots entrepreneurial effort?

Answer: Infobright was born out of pioneering work done by a group of internationally recognized mathematicians in the emerging science of Rough Set Mathematics. They realized that they could use information about the data itself to quickly provide answers to complex queries, rather than require IT to do extensive work up front or rely on brute force from massive amounts of hardware. Seeing the benefits of this approach, RBC Capital and Flybridge Capital Partners (formerly IDG Ventures) funded the company and brought in an experienced management team to turn raw technology into industry-leading products and services. Over the past year we have expanded the capabilities of our software while growing our customer base and establishing Infobright as an emerging player in the market. For example, Infobright is the first analytic data warehouse provider to be named a MySQL Certified Storage Engine Partner. The combination of Infobright’s solution and MySQL provides organizations an analytic data warehouse that delivers unprecedented scalability, performance and ease-of-use.

Question 4: Where do you envision the DW market going, especially with recent consolidation of BI vendors?

Answer: In the “old” days – the 1990s, which is really not so long ago – smaller volumes of data, smaller and less diverse sets of users, fewer subject areas and simpler queries, allowed vendors to recommend one data warehouse solution to meet all of the business needs of the users. Just like hardware, where once we only had only the mainframe, the market is evolving and maturing such that there is no longer a “one-stop shopping” solution to meet the BI needs of businesses today. There are really two different types of workload in a data warehouse:

  1. One requirement is where you have a lot of users running the same query over and over. An example would be if you had a customer data warehouse being used to support a call center for a cell phone company. Every time a customer calls in, the customer profile is pulled from the data warehouse. This is a repetitive OLTP-like query and for this a highly designed and engineered system, optimized and tuned for the specific and repetitive queries are the best solution.

  2. A second requirement for data warehousing is analytics. Here, marketing, finance, sales, compliance, risk management, operations groups in companies are performing ad hoc, changing and unknown queries such as:
  • “How did our 2007 Christmas sales campaign perform as compared to our 2006 campaign? Was the customer retention higher – did more of those customers buy the value-add services?” or

  • “Let’s do a trend analysis understanding why there are more mortgage defaults in this area than previously – lets run a trend analysis of the last 12 months versus the last five years. Can we identify any indicators that would allow us to re-estimate/extrapolate what the defaults will be thru the end of 2008?”
These parts of the business use the data warehouse to design marketing and sales campaigns, to understand what the risk, compliance and security issues may be – and use that to operate and manage the business. Today, IT needs to assign resources and do manual work in support of all of these queries. And every day the business has new or different queries, IT must do more work. Business users need to have a “Google-like” experience for this type of data warehouse workload. They need to be able to just run the query against the data warehouse without manual intervention of IT.

This is the really big, hidden story in BI, that the growing analytic requirement is causing IT to drown under the workload it requires. They need a way to make things simpler and really change how things are run. Some technology companies are delivering value by consolidating platforms and creating integrated solutions. We have chosen to focus on the analytic use case and deliver the only product in the market that effectively solves that problem.

Question 5: What are the benefits of Brighthouse for an organization or manager looking for information?

Answer: Brighthouse delivers fast response to ad hoc, complex analytical queries across a large volume of data. It does so without requiring IT to spend time and effort to create new schemas, create indices or partition data. It is also lowers total cost of ownership through industry-leading compression that significantly reduces the amount of storage needed to support all this data. Business users get the answers they need quickly, and IT can meet high service levels with minimal effort or cost.

Question 6: You mentioned the phrase, "use the intelligence of the data." Can you share what you mean by that?

Answer: When data is loaded into the Brighthouse system, it is tightly compressed and stored in “data packs.” The Knowledge Grid automatically creates a highly compact set of metadata, which stores information about the relationship between packs and statistical information about the contents.

When a query is initiated, Brighthouse searches the grid to intelligently decide which data packs, if any, are required to resolve the query. The Knowledge Grid is created on-the-fly, dramatically increasing data load times, and eliminating the need for specialized data partitioning and indexing.

Question 7: So, what about competitors, like BI appliances, database vendors, and such? Are you taking data warehousing one step further?

Answer: The fact that there have been new entrants into the market in recent years is a clear indication that current technologies do not meet the needs of the business today. They are also an indication of high demand across a very broad spectrum of new requirements. Traditional solutions are very expensive, take a lot of time to build, and in fact, are not well suited to support the analytic queries of the business. That is why IT struggles to keep up with the demand of the business users. Many of the newer products on the market are very good at what they are designed to do – provide very fast query performance to predictable queries – but are not designed for ad hoc, unpredictable complex queries. What’s more, they all require substantial work on the part of database administrators and IT to implement and maintain.

Infobright’s solution is markedly different – it is incredibly simple to implement and maintain. Rather than extract-transform-load data, our solution is Load and Go. No new schemas, no index creation, no data partitioning. Brighthouse is simple, powerful and extremely cost effective – the best solution if you need fast answers to evolving business questions.

Question 8: How can your Brighthouse product fit within an existing BI/DW solution? Or is it better to use your product at the beginning of designing a new BI system?

Answer: When we built our product strategy, this was a very important question for us. Organizations have invested millions into their existing data warehouses and BI infrastructure. Offering a solution that leverages those investments and works within that environment was key to us and is a big part of our go-forward product road map. Brighthouse is very well suited to be added to an existing data warehouse environment. Because of our “just load it and go” capability, you can re-use all of the data modeling, ETL, and BI reports that you have already built. Many of our customers have large data warehouses already, but they aren’t able to support business users requests for ad hoc queries due to its performance impact on other users or high cost. In that case, they’ll implement Brighthouse as a complementary warehouse to provide the services their business users need.

In other cases, Brighthouse is implemented as the sole data warehouse for the company.

Question 9: During our call, you mention several amazing results seen by clients. Care to share some of those with readers?

Answer: I’d be glad to. A good example is the use of our technology in support of online advertising. Companies that advertise online want to track how well marketing campaigns are attracting their target audiences as well as detailed ROI of these campaigns. The marketing analytics providers depend on being able to rapidly run complex, ad hoc queries against huge amounts of click stream data and provide this to their customers.

Using Brighthouse, one digital marketer found that it could load 3.2 billion rows of data at an average rate of more than 300,000 rows per second! Brighthouse also compressed all-important fact tables at a ratio of 40:1 – meaning that 40 GB of raw data resulted in only 1 GB of storage, leading to huge savings in storage costs as well as improved performance.

Another user—a company that manages major online customer loyalty and incentive programs—found that Brighthouse returned query results 15 times faster than an existing solution. Brighthouse also surpassed this solution’s ability to compress data, reducing the footprint of fact tables some 35 to 43:1.

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

Answer: For your readers who are looking for more information about what is new in data warehousing, we have an excellent white paper on our web site written by Claudia Imhoff, a well known expert in the field. Those people interested in finding out more about Brighthouse can also find additional information on our web site at, or contact us at any time via email at

Friday, March 28

Taming information from the Internet with one website

The mass amount of information one can spend hours reading, watching, and being entertained is limitless for any individual. Some would consider much of the information found on the Internet as noise.

Many have tried finding ways of reducing that noise for you.

Leading the charge, Guy Kawasaki is taming the volumes of information one website at a time. His latest introduction is Alltop. A website for those who just want information at their finger tips without figuring out the multitude of RSS readers, adding RSS feeds, XML, and bombarded by email updates from bloggers (which you may have received from me because of this post).

Alltop's, "all the top stories", is an execution in simplicity. Sure not all websites are on there (including this one sadly). And sure you cannot customize the list. That's because this is a list of the "top sites" on the web. It's your dashboard into the best of the blogosphere.

Guy walks you through a day in the life of using AllTop.

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple, that's creativity."
- Charles Mingus

Relating this to Business Intelligence... when you're designing, building, or requesting changes to your Business Intelligence system, you may want to keep in mind the power of simplicity and how effective it can be. Does the business need all variations of revenue reports when a dashboard may suffice? Maybe the path from corporate Strategy Map to performance metrics could be made crystal clear for managers.

The power is not in the volumes of functionality provided by toolsets but in the clear, concise presentation of the information.

Wednesday, March 12

You've got questions, they have answers instantly

Instantly may not be much of an exaggeration. One of my questions was answered in 16 seconds. You can ask anything. And they most likely will have an answer! Their motto:

"No one knows everything. Everyone knows something."

The Muchobene Instant Answers site allows any question to be asked. Muchobene then places you in contact with an appropriate person who can answer it within seconds. I must say, what a great concept! I may finally be able to win at Trivial Pursuit.

Here are screen shots from the conversation I had. And the great part is, you're conversing with someone (who-knows-where) with answers you need.

Initial screen waiting for that special someone to respond to my query.

My question about 'green' technology was responded to in 26 seconds.

Some pleasant conversation via instant messaging as he or she sends me more information.

And finally closing remarks, while I rank the response I received as "Right On!", five stars.

The possibilities are endless in my mind. Imagine customer support from your bank starting a conversation with you in seconds. Never being put on hold. No automated attendants.

Simply an instant connection to people who can answer your question. Thanks Guy Kawasaki for making this happen.