Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Software Worldviews

After reading articles and listening to experts speak on spreadsheets, it has slowly occurred to me that these individuals have an underlying worldview of software management that shapes their perspectives and subsequently their opinions, much like how people's mental concepts of a transcendent divine power or a total absence of one determines how they see the world.

Take for example, a November 2008 article written by John Myers, the founder of the Blue Buffalo Group, for the B-Eye Network. In his article "Legalizing the Spread(marts) of Business Intelligence," John compares Microsoft Excel users to marijuana smokers (all meant in good humor, I would assume). Despite those in IT who would like to regulate this "soft drug," users continue to covertly utilize spreadsheets for either recreational or medicinal purposes. John's underlying assumptions about the IT department are fairly obvious:
"For many years, inflexible data governance organizations and IT departments have put a stranglehold on the development, distribution and consumption of analytical business intelligence applications – or at least they thought that they did. These analytical applications leaked out of IT’s 'walled garden' in an almost intoxicating fashion. "

The worldview being expressed here is that of the IT group consisting of elite professionals making regulations and putting restrictions on the common folk who live on the outside of the restricted-access temple. While these smart individuals establish IT laws to prohibit activities dangerous to the organization as a whole, the hoodlums on the street ignore the rules and just duck into a dark alley where they can light up and avoid being caught.

At a recent conference, Howard Dresner recommended to the IT folk that they "stop spreadsheet applications" and limit the tool to only appropriate usage. Howard said that BI needs to be owned by the corporation, run by the CFO, and used to create a "performance-based culture." This would imply that Howard's Priestly worldview of software management is similar to that expressed by John Myers. BI is all about important financial decisions, and those are best made at the top of the organizational pyramid.

On the same day, Boris Evelson of Forrester Research said that spreadsheets play an integral role in business intelligence and that end users need to have a private BI workspace for analysis and what-if simulations. Boris tried to comfort his IT audience with, "you fought a good war and lost," as they have been unable to eliminate user applications of Microsoft Excel and Access databases. In a different session, Boris stated his opinion that "IT can't own BI."

Unlike Howard, Boris seems to espouse the Libertarian worldview of software. The company consists of business users who need to have BI tools in their hands to do their jobs. Some of these individuals are Power Users who can handle BI application development tasks just like the best of the IT professionals.

These two differing perspectives may derive from the idea of the complexity of the BI work and products. One camp has decided that BI is too difficult for the general users and needs to be performed for them by a trained group of professionals. The other camp feels that technology should be accessible to the common person and not controlled and regulated (they admit deficiencies in the products' usability that makes achieving this goal difficult).

If you want to discern where somebody really stands on the issue of software management, just ask them how they feel about spreadsheets.

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I am a project-based consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: 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, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the 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.