Thursday, February 28

Open source gets VC funding

$12M in a round of Series C funding by Benchmark Capital who has backed other open source companies like Red Hat, Zimbra, and MySQL. This makes a total of $26M of VC funding given to this US-based BI open source company.

Yes, the Pentaho group picks up another round of funding according to this Performance Guys post. The article suggests that open source is one of three disruptive technologies with Software as a Service and pre-loaded appliances being the others.

The question still remains. Can Pentaho, and really open source BI in general, compete with other on-premise vendors, such as Cognos, Business Objects, Microsoft, and Hyperion? According to the article, Pentaho reports "brisk" uptake. My take is they still need to continue converting the 3 million downloads into open source licenses (i.e. sales).

Pentaho has built a location intelligence dashboard mashup with Google Maps. And is working with Greenplum's Bizgres-based data warehousing appliance platform. So they are getting out there and integrating their products for a variety of revenue streams.

But what differentiates them enough from Cognos, BO, Microsoft, and Hyperion?

I guess the licensing costs could be significantly less. The flip side to low upfront costs is the backend support and how that support is perceived. Is there enough of a developer community to support customer implementations? Are there enough help desk and knowledge areas to give IT departments support when questions and issues arise?

Perhaps the open source BI play is in the small to mid-sized company range for now. I'm all for Pentaho and other open source BI companies as they bring competitiveness to the industry. And as they take on more market share, the proprietary vendors will be forced to adjust and improve. And that ultimately provides more choice and flexibility for customers.

Wednesday, February 27

Microsoft leader in execution

I'm sure you've heard the Gartner quadrants are out again. The BI vendors are graded and ranked according to Gartner criteria. And as you can expect, vendors want to be high and to the right.

This year Microsoft is a leader in platform BI and ahead of the pack for "ability to execute" on the BI vision. This means Microsoft has the competitiveness, success from it's BI products, investment in BI, and can execute on it's pricing model.

Tidbit: Did you know Microsoft spends $6B (with a 'B') company-wide on research and development annually?

And it's pricing model... which I have to say is aligned with the BI industry's goal: deliver BI for the masses. No longer will an organization have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on licenses -- this is a cost prior to building anything for end users! Microsoft's model flips the traditionally expensive licensing model upside down.

Plus Gartner thinks Microsoft's PerformancePoint Server is coming to a desktop near you. Aimed at the mid-market and above with a CPM focus, Microsoft's BI stack integrates well with it's integration engine (BizTalk), Office products, and portal software (Sharepoint). What else could most organizations need?

And if you're interested, here are the Top 10 benefits of PerformancePoint Server from Microsoft's marketing department.

Okay, there are a few short comings but which vendor doesn't have them. One being a not so competitive data mining story. I view this as a small portion of most organizations, so I shall not dwell. The second is how they intend to deliver their BI products to customers -- through a partner community.

Yes, Microsoft isn't interested in implementing their own software, unlike Cognos and Oracle. They want to educate and train partners to do this. Today the downside is the limited choice of BI Systems Implementation partners.

The huge upside is when more partners come on board, watch out. These partners will have the collective brain-power to Outsmart, Outwit, and Outlast (yes I watch the Survivor series on TV) any in-house services group from the likes of Cognos, Oracle, etc.

So I like the Microsoft model and their products and expect to see them competing along side the other leaders that are high and to the right.

Friday, February 22

The "Platinum Rule"

From my Who's Better: Business or IT debate, I received feedback, some strongly opinionated, from people with examples of CIO's as successful sponsors/leaders of BI initiatives. I have several examples myself.

And Frank Buytendijk's rebuttal (kudos on taking the high road, Frank) shares his Platinum Rule ("those with the knowledge and experience, make the rules") and thoughts on organizational maturity. I can appreciate his statement that "the only project approach more disastrous than the IT-driven project, is the business-driven project."

While this debate on the success of IT or business driven projects is healthy, I feel we're missing something. As most leadership books will say, a good, strong leader is important but the people on the team are the ones who make it happen. Regardless how well a leader can motivate, the results are capped by the capabilities, skills, and experience of the individuals and the team as a whole.

As Jim Collins (writer of Good to Great) says, "Do you have the right people on the bus (the wrong people off the bus) and the right people in the right seats?"

This is the job of a leader... or at least it should be.

The job of the team, especially when talking about BI, is to reach for that higher rung and be the best at what you do -- architects, developers, business analysts, power users, report writers, quality assurance specialists, testers, project managers, and the list goes on.

While I think good leaders are required (great ones are hard to find), it is up to the individuals on the team to make their BI project a success. Have water-cooler conversations, share ideas, and learn from the best (and each other). Push for a team culture where you can bring your ideas to the group -- uncriticized. Freely research ways to improve your BI system -- remember the goal is information to the masses.

Okay back to the question of "who's better, an IT or business driven project"? After leaders sort out the bus and seat question, who's going to deliver BI success for your organization? I firmly believe it's not just the technically-minded people but all the people who know what is needed for your organization... from those with knowledge of the content required by the management team through to those with experience of core software functionality.

I would say without the emphasis on the team delivering BI for your organization won't reach it's full potential. Then "success" becomes only a thought dreamt up at the beginning of the initiative along with the Project Charter.

Friday, February 15

The SEC side-steps BI

Could the SEC be side-stepping business intelligence forcing companies to report financial data in an XML standard? Or could this turn into the investor's version of "financial intelligence"?

The SEC launched an XBRL-based online tool that allows investors to extract, compare and analyze executive compensation for large U.S. companies. This tool is so important to the SEC that they are pressing to mandate it as a requirement for all companies to post their financials for investors to view.

Investors can do analysis and reporting on companies to determine investment worthiness. And the best part, no Data Warehouse required.

Business Need: Ensure financial accuracy - In recent years, regulatory reporting requirements prescribed by new legislation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States, have raised the importance of reporting accuracy and transparency.

Companies are forced to produce a public BI system, of sorts, hosted by the SEC.

Microsoft: As we know, MS Office Word and Excel have long been used to help compile, report, and consume financial information. Together, XBRL and Microsoft Office hide the complexities and shoot for wide-scale adoption in the financial community. Microsoft has a considerable lead in the market as financial people are very familiar with Excel.

With SEC's XBRL, contextual information is stored, while the language and accounting standards are irrelevant.

What is it? Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is a worldwide industry standard for the publishing, exchange, and analysis of financial reports and data based on the XML language. The XBRL technical standard is being developed by XBRL International, a not-for-profit consortium with 200+ members worldwide.

So where does this leave you if you're managing BI and your CFO needs to produce these XBRL financial filings? Most likely the financial department will want to export directly from their financial system. In my mind, this would break BI's one shared truth concept for an organization. Or does it?

This boils down to what BI is today and what BI can do for an organization in the future. Today, SEC filings may not be your BI system's mandate. In the future, BI needs to expand it's definition. Should it always include ETL and a data warehouse? Or should BI focus on delivering content throughout the organization and to external partners or customers? I think the later.

BI has potential but is rot with problems -- failed projects, high costs, low returns. Some organizations have made BI very successful. The US Veterans Affairs is one of the largest Microsoft Analysis Services deployments in the world with a profound cost savings of over a billion dollars! Now that is successful BI!

So you may want to consider how XBRL should be apart of your BI system using an overall mandate of providing content to the masses. As for XBRL, couldn't they at least come up with a friendlier acronym!?

Friday, February 1

Where is your ego?

An excellent speaker via webinar shared with us what our greatest asset is and I felt compelled to share it with you.

The webinar was about taking advantage of your ego and team ego to build great teams. Many would pause and say it takes a big ego first -- before being successful. Or you get a big ego after achieving success.

But there is a difference between big ego and big ambition!

I must say, I learned more about myself and how our team could work better together in one hour -- I can imagine what 2 days with them would do. Did you know, 99% of us don't have inflated egos all the time but in those moments when we do, we become:
  • Defensive

  • Comparative

  • Seek acceptance

  • Showcase our brilliance
To help keep our ego's in check, Dave Marcum and Steve Smith wrote a book called Egonomics where "it's not a book about big egos, but how ego affects the performance of everyone, in everything we do—good or bad—in ways we hardly notice, but have an immense impact."

Ever had a career review and asked for feedback?

Sure, we all have. It can be hard not to become defensive during this process. We say we want feedback but receiving it from some people is so hard.

On EgonomicsLive blog, they reveal the 2 major reasons why we become defensive in this situation. We want to keep: 1) the image we want others to have of us, and 2) the image we need to have of ourselves.

However Egonomics is also about the betterment of the team.

Have you been on a team and wondered how to move from a 'good' to a 'great' performing team? Team Egonomics has short case studies and a guide you can use to discuss the Egonomics techniques directly with your team.

When you want more (and you should), Marcum Smith's personal site has loads of research and compiled results so people can understand the affects of bad ego in the workplace and at home.

Now bringing this ego stuff to BI... Is your BI team highly effective with the right people on the bus and in the right seats? Ask yourself, can you have open water-cooler conversations between business and IT stakeholders all with humble egos? Answer honestly.

You may ask whether this humble approach to ego can survive in a capitalistic "dog eat dog" world?

From Marcum and Steve's extensive research "humility is the only real way to become great". Humility was also used in the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. Both found a strong, direct link to leaders who made their companies great performers while having a humble ego.

In the BI world, we constanstly read about the problems between business and IT sponsored projects and the challenges BI projects have. What is it worth to you and your team to have a highly effective team? Could managing your ego make BI successful throughout the organization? Can you afford not to try?

As Marcum says, "Ego works for or against us in each team meeting, boardroom debate, client conversation and interview we have. When we manage ego effectively, it can push us from the mail room to the corner office, from mediocrity to excellence, from bitter discouragement to fierce determination."

Learn to manage your healthy ego.