Monday, September 1, 2008

Sherman Sees BI (Episode 1)

"Gee, Mr. Peabody, why did we use the WABAC machine to take us into a dark building with strange people at desks?"

"Good question, Sherman. We are in 1980 America and these individuals are preoccupied with what was called 'data processing' or just DP. They are managing computer systems which processed business transactions for functions such as sales, manufacturing, payroll, and inventory tracking. I wanted to tell you about Business Intelligence software, but to do that, I thought I should first show you some of the general history of computer systems."

"Wow, Mr. Peabody, that lady is working at a giant keyboard!"

"Not quite, my boy. That is a card punch device, an early way to interface with a computer. She will punch each line of instruction onto a small, stiff piece of paper until she has whole stack of cards that constitutes a program for the company computer to execute. Typically, the instructions were written in special code such as Assembler, COBOL, or PL/1. Alas, that method of inputting commands is almost obsolete even at this this point in time."

"But look over here, Sherman! See that young man in front of the monitor giving off the green glow? That is Elmer Podsnap and he is typing his commands directly into a 'terminal' access point for the company's computer. He is what would be called a 'computer programmer' or a 'coder.' We'll want to keep an eye on him."

"Okay, Mr. Peabody, but that sounds pretty boring."

"You see, Sherman, at our current space-time point, the programmers have simple textual interfaces where they type in commands to interact with a centralized computer. This is definitely an advancement over writing code down on paper, punching a copy onto a stack of cards, and having the computer read them. Plus, the rubber bands from the cards pulled the hairs on Elmer's wrist."

"Now, Sherman, be a good boy and turn the WABAC control knob forward one decade. Let's move slightly ahead and take another look at Elmer's career in DP."

"Gee, Mr. Peabody, it's now 1990 and the computer programmer is still sitting in front of his monitor. Is he wearing the same clothes?"

"Ah, you are missing an important difference here, my boy. Elmer's monitor is no longer just a dumb terminal connected to the computer. It now has its own intelligence built into it (they call it a 'personal computer') and it can now provide Elmer with a richer user interface - WIMP!"

"Gosh, Mr. Peabody, why did you call Mr. Podsnap a name?"

"No, no, Sherman. Elmer isn't a wimp, his new computer interface is! It has Windows, Icons, Menus, and a Pointer - WIMP. Instead of always typing in his commands, Elmer now has a graphical way to communicate with the computer. He can point at instructions and click on a pointing device to tell the computer to execute the commands."

"And here is another improvement for 1990, my boy; not only is Elmer connected to the central server, but he can also reach out to a network of other personal computers and some smaller servers within his company. His managers even stopped calling his organization 'DP' and switched to 'Management Information Systems' or MIS. Now things are getting exciting for Elmer! Quick, Sherman, take us forward to a new century, the year 2000!"

"Here we are, Mr. Peabody, but it just looks like Elmer has a bigger monitor. And he is definitely wearing the same shoes! Oh, and the walls of his office are gone and he is crammed into a weird little cube-shaped space. Did Elmer do something wrong, Mr. Peabody?"

"We can talk about that later, Sherman. For now, notice that Elmer's computer interface has changed. He now communicates with the machine using a simple graphical interface called a 'browser.' His personal computer is smarter than ever, but in some ways the interface method has reverted to a more simple mechanism where, like in 1980, the work is done on a server. But Elmer is not just limited to his own company's servers anymore. He is now connected to a global network of computers!"

"Gee, Mr. Peabody, his computer screen sure has gotten prettier!"

"Yes, now set the WABAC controls to the present, my boy."

"Hey, here in 2008, Mr. Podsnap has a new pair of shoes!"

"Yes, Sherman, but Elmer also has a new, smart interface for communicating with computers all around the world. It is still early in the development, but his browser is quickly becoming a rich user interface."

"Mr. Peabody, are you going to explain what Mr. Podsnap has to do with Business Intelligence software or are you just going to make another bad pun?"

"Sherman, my dear boy, we will understand it better BI and BI."

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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.