Sunday, January 27

Strategy & Leadership in January 2008

I came across Erin McCune's post on Leadership is Critical to Project Success on the Forte Financial blog. She references an earlier post of mine on Business vs IT (appreciated) but I would have to say she adds a more important educational component.

Thanks, Erin, for sending out that January 2008 Harvard Business Review is dedicated to Leadership & Strategy. Some of the HBR topics below could be interesting... guess I'll find out when I start reading on the weekend.

  • The New Leader's Guide to Diagnosing the Business

  • How Star Women Build Portable Skills

  • The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change

  • The Experience Trap

  • The Founder's Dilemma

And just before I left Erin's blog, I saw her latest post on XBRL tools making reporting easier. The tool she references "maps data stored in separate systems and proprietary formats into XBRL so that it is easy to share for reporting and analysis". Excellent idea for using an open standard.

The tool by Enterprise Engineering, Inc, is an XBRL-based analytical tool that makes it possible to compare a company’s income statement, balance sheet and other financial reports to peers and industries.

However, hard to find BI vendor tools that use the XBRL standard in a non-proprietary way.

Monday, January 21

Reality Check: search is lacking

Reading Frank Buytendijk's post on search conjured up memories of the hours I've spent on Google (I admit I haven't used others, even Yahoo or LiveSearch) trying to find information or a birthday present. Sure when I know exactly what I want, it's easy... I only receive a million links to trudge through.

But when I don't know precisely or I'd like to have options to my original thought, I spend hours trying different keywords to give me those options. The same is for any keyword search in Forrester, eBay, Amazon, etc.

For example, when I was interested in buying a video camera for capturing ad hoc interviews at conventions or a spontaneous family moment (not a complicated or expensive camera), you can imagine the results I received -- 52 million. The first couple pages are riddled with product pricing and accessories -- no trusted, non-marketing information -- definitely no options!

This relates to BI too. When I search for corporate information in a BI system, such as, "sales performance 2007", I don't necessarily want every report and KPI with the word "sales", "performance", or "2007" found in the name and description. That would assume I know the name of the report or KPI from a list of thousands -- I have more important things to remember.

The search engine optimization strategies don't work for me, the average consumer. Seth Godin thinks Internet SEO's are problematic for marketers too. So today's keyword search is not working for either the consumer or the marketer.

Here's what I'd like to see from a search engine (if you know of one, BI or other, please let me know):
  • Search shouldn't be a yes/no answer. When I ask for 'video camera', the search engine should also come back with options, such as, accessories and comparisons from trusted, non-marketing information. Not just 52 million results with those words or nothing.

  • Search should ask me for clarification. When talking with people, we ask clarifying questions, like "did you mean camcorders, professional cameras, or picture cameras with video?" It's the help me, help you situation.

  • Search should provide flexible results. From Frank's post, "If you search for a second-hand Jaguar in black, with not more than 100,000 kilometers, perhaps the dark blue one with 101,000 km is fine too."
I want search to be intuitive, easy like Google, but have some "intelligence". Access to information is great but now there is too much available to us in an inefficient manner.

Now to BI. Business Intelligence provides insight into your organization but at what cost is accessing the content. Ask yourself how easy is it for the average person in your organization to gain insight through your BI system (without knowing exactly what the name is). How easy is it for management to find information in your BI system? Do you need a dedicated power user who is the only one that knows what is available?

Think how easy BI would be adopted within your organization if access to the information was as easy as using Google.

Friday, January 4

Who's better, business or IT

I recently consulted on a large government project where the project sponsor was the CIO. There were only two people above him before you step into the land of 'professional' politicians. This CIO was savvy, smart, and needed to build buy-in from multiple stakeholders (Chiefs of Police... a difficult breed comfortable with conflict) to make this $100M project a success. You may ask how one could not be successful with that kind of cash on the table... but it happens... a lot.

I can think of failed project examples. Specifically I'm thinking of 3 projects in the last 6 years done by large consulting firms (ie. the IBMs, EDS', Accenture's of the world), where failure cost tens of millions of dollars with little or no results. Much of this was your taxpayer money hard at work by the way.

So what makes an unsuccessful project?

Some potential culprits are: technology issues, budget constraints, timeline constraints, user adoption and leadership can contribute to failure. However, leadership stands out the most for me. A leader or project sponsor can make or break the project. They give direction, remove political roadblocks, manage the money... and significant issues escalate to them for final decision.

They have lots to answer for. However let's divide sponsors/leaders into two groups: IT and business. IT sponsors may be the CIO or IT department head. Business sponsors may be CEO, CFO, or VP of a line of business. BUT...

Who makes a better project sponsor and hence best to run a BI project?

(I'm pro-business for this open debate expecting you bloggers and readers out there to provide sharp contrasts and opinionated rebuttles... and support, of course. [Bell ding to begin the round.])

Let's begin with the fact that organizations typically don't have the CIO at the decision-making table - sad but true (oops, I'm pro-business). Okay don't you think this can hinder success if the IT sponsor does not have the backing of the CxO's office? You betcha. Because, let's remember, it's the business who holds the purse strings. And the golden rule is - those with the money, make the rules.

But even without making the rules, business knows what they want and need from BI - simply gather the user & information requirements and ensure IT makes the technology happen. The misconception that IT makes is "if we build it, they will come" -- the value would be so obvious users would clamor to use the BI system. Not true without the business showing IT what they want.

So is it obvious that business sponsors should lead BI projects, especially since BI is for the business? And where do CIO's think they can do a better job? (By the way, the police project I mention above is in progress, so I'll let you know how it goes for the CIO.)