Monday, August 25, 2008

BICC Steps

Doug Henschen, the editor-in-chief of TechWeb's IntelligenceEnterprise, just did a nice article on the steps for successfully implementing a BI Competency Center. Doug's steps could be applied to any strategic initiative. They are:

1. Start with a strategic mission
2. Get C-level support
3. Structure and fund appropriately
4. Prepare for ongoing support
5. Establish authority and make tough choices
6. Communicate goals and successes
7. Be responsive

I have seen companies not move forward with a BICC group because of Doug's Step #4 calling for preparation for ongoing support. People get frightened by this commitment for future work. They say things like, "If we put together a team like this, we will get flooded with requests for BI services!"

Yes, hopefully that is true.

The other day while checking out at a home goods store, my wife told the young lady at the register that she had forgotten the special "frequent shopper's coupon" that had come in the mail. Her comment only got an uninterested shrug from the cashier. Turning away from my investigation of the different gourmet chocolates for sale, I commented that Borders sends me coupons in an e-mail and I only have to tell the nice person at the register who will then give me the discount without a paper copy. The home goods store employee raised an eyebrow and said, "Gee, I can't do that because everybody would come in here wanting to buy something with a coupon."

Yeah, that's the point.

Put together a program where customers can easily engage you for a valuable service at a fair price. Unfortunately, there are too many people who think, "Why would I do that? That would mean too much work!"

Without the C-level strategic direction and promise of support, a BICC will not get started. The individuals who would do the BI work would otherwise see that nobody is telling them that this is important and, if they did it on their own and got extremely busy because of it, nobody is likely to provide them with the additional resources they need to keep being successful.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fahget about da Data Warehouse!

In a July 2008 article for TDWI, Michael Corcoran of Manhattan-based Information Builders (the vendor of WebFOCUS), wrote that you should consider going directly against your operational systems for your BI needs instead of building a data warehouse. He says "Don't be wed to data warehouses" as "You might save months or even years of costly development work."

What do you think about operational BI?

Forrester Wave Summary

If you are pressed for time to read Boris Evelson's latest Forrester Wave Report, you can find a good summary written by Stephen Swoyer and posted on the TDWI website.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Boris on Excel

Boris Evelson answers a question from Rajan Chandras, contributing editor of Intelligent Enterprise, as to whether Excel should be considered a BI tool.

Boris also expands on the topic in his Forrester blog.

Forrester Wave Report

Boris Evelson of Forrester recently published his Q3 2008 report on enterprise BI platforms. He put privately-held SAS in the leader's corner, so they are offering you a free copy of the report on their website. It is interesting reading; be sure to see the "stack" picture on page 5.

By the way, here is Forrester's definition of Business Intelligence:

A set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making.

Do You Do BI?

It's a hot topic today in the software industry: Business Intelligence (or just BI if you are in a hurry). At least, the leaders of companies such as IBM, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft think so. Over the last couple of years, these mega-vendors have gobbled up BI vendors like Cognos, Business Objects, and ProClarity in attempts to beat each other in a race to organize products into single "technology stacks."

Of course, you may wonder, "To do BI, must I really buy a complex mix of integrated/not-so-integrated products from a vendor the size of Finland?" After all, what exactly is intelligence in the business sense and why are there so many tools for it?

Paraphrasing my Encarta dictionary (which by the way Microsoft acquired from Funk & Wagnalls), business intelligence software is a highly-developed product that gives the user the ability to acquire information and then skillfully apply that to the business problem at hand. We have different BI products because we have such a variety of information, users, and business problems.

Most of your company's enterprise "data" is created and maintained by the transactional operational systems, but it is not kept in a way that makes it easily accessible as "information." To overcome this challenge, a whole subset of BI products exists just to deal with the storing, managing, and retrieving of huge amounts of detail data. There are database systems, file structures, extract-transform-load (ETL) products, data and metadata management applications, and other solutions to address the issues surrounding storing data and organizing it for informational purposes. Rather than try to use operational data, companies will copy and reformat it into data warehouses, repositories, data marts, multi-dimensional cubes, and other reporting structures.

To turn data into information for different users, computer systems must be able to present it based on each users' particular needs Many people just need detail content automatically delivered to them in e-mails or printed reports. In other words, they just want information "pushed" out with no effort on their part. Others, however, need the flexibility of on-demand access to information and be able to "pull" it whenever their job calls for it.

If my role within an organization involves handling day-to-day operations, then my needs might be met simply with an old-fashioned paper report with information presented to me in rows and columns. However, if I were an executive, I would not want to thumb through stacks of green-bar struggling to make sense of the data myself (nor would my shareholders). Instead, I would need to make fairly quick yet proper decisions based on highly summarized and simplified information shown in a visual format such as a trend graph or a scorecard.

To see a good example of this, Google the White House Executive Branch Management Scorecard. You will see just a few pages of red, yellow, and green dots with arrows showing whether things are getting better or worse for the government in particular categories. A quick glance at the first page, and the president can see that the financial performance of the Defense Department is poor and declining but that the Smithsonian is doing really well.

If I were an analyst, however, I would have to go beyond the color of the dots and answer the question of "why was this dot green last month and now is red?" To do that, I might need some type of interactive tool that allows me to "slice and dice" my way through the data until I discover the root cause of the problem. While some of this detective work might be visual, I may also need to switch to a more sophisticated statistical analysis tool.

Because of my role, I might have to answer a very specific question that has not been asked before and which may never be asked again. That might require me to become a "BI power user" and utilize some type of ad-hoc tool to generate a one-time report or online query. Hopefully, somebody else has already organized the underlying data in a way that makes this task easier.

Because of this variety of data, users, and business needs, it is obvious that a single BI product is not going to meet everybody's needs. Different tools have emerged over time to handle specific business problems and today's mega-vendors are now trying to consolidate these together under a single brand name.

Do you need an enterprise stack to do BI or can you just dump operational data into an Excel spreadsheet? (Can you run the free world using a page of colored dots?) The best answer from the best advisors in the world will always be, "It depends." It depends upon your organization's needs and goals. But the bottom-line is this: you must be both effective and efficient in this global economy and you therefore need the best tools to enable you to easily learn from huge amounts of information, make good decisions, and then act as quickly as possible.


There is a lot of activity in the world of Business Intelligence software. This is a personal blog that will serve as a way to reflect on the industry in general as well as on specific BI happenings of the day.

I have worked in the BI marketspace for many years (see my LinkedIn profile for more information) and am excited about the future. On a Friday the 13th after 13 years with a leading BI software vendor, I left to lead a professional services organization specializing in BI. It has been over a year now, and I am still extremely happy about my career decision.

I would love to talk to you about the industry. Feel free to connect up with me on LinkedIn.

About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.