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.