Monday, December 22, 2008

Using IBM zLinux for Enterprise BI

Mainframe Executive Magazine recently wrote how the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), one of my clients, is moving legacy Business Intelligence applications to web-based versions on the IBM zLinux platform.

OKDHS lowered their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) while delivering "seamlessly and transparently to users" a modernized system for child welfare. Their "KIDS" system now uses Information Builders' WebFOCUS product for enterprise BI.

Chris Little, the zLinux administrator, talks openly about OKDHS' decisions, challenges, and fears.

A big part of the project was achieving a comfort level. At the time we started our migration, Linux was still a dirty word in much of the IT industry. Linux was considered a ‘hobby’ or a ‘toy’ system then. We knew that the end result was to bring missioncritical applications to a new platform—and along the way, we had to feel comfortable by first performing the database migrations with databases that weren’t considered missioncritical. In this way, if an outage occurred and we had to move back to our original platform, we could do so without impacting a lot of people.

For more information, read the entire article at Mainframe Executive's website.

Thomas Communications started publishing "Mainframe Executive: IT Management in the Mainframe-Centric Enterprise" in March of 2008. For a subscription, click here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reflections on Gate 24

It only took me a few minutes to walk the entire length of the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The gate numbers went to 24, but I counted only 17 doors out to the planes. Perhaps half a dozen airlines were represented there, with each company allocated 1 to 3 gates. The flight choices were limited -- Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, and so forth.

With little else to do while waiting for my Delta flight, I picked up a copy of the SkyMiles magazine and read an excerpt from the 2008 Inforum debate between Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia, and Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur: how blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today's user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values."

I found one disagreement particularly interesting. Keen said his "biggest problem" with Wikipedia was that there is no "hierarchy of knowledge" -- no centralized editorial staff judging the quality or amount of content for each entry.

There is no one at the heart of Wikipedia saying that the entry on Pamela Anderson should be shorter or . . . longer than that on Hannah Arendt. There’s no one in Wikipedia who determines that the entry on Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness,” which is really a footnote to an early-21st-century comedian, is longer or shorter than the entry on truth—the core concept in the Western canon, the core concept in the history of Western philosophy. So I may seem old-fashioned, but I believe in knowledge hierarchies. There has to be someone who makes a call on whether Pamela Anderson is more or less important than Marie Curie or Hannah Arendt. . . . Ultimately, for those people who go to Wikipedia who have no media literacy, who lack the skepticism, the education which we all have, I am fearful that in this open-source, free-knowledge universe we are going to be educating people who are not able to evaluate—not so much the accuracy of information, but the importance of information.

Wales thought Keen's statement "strange" and guessed it came from an archaic viewpoint of space limitations associated with physical books. Wales responded:
[Wikipedia is] not like an encyclopedia where we say, look, we’ve got thirty volumes and so we have to cut, we have to limit somewhere."

Is Keen still living in the Gutenberg world while Wales has found his way into the Google world? It seemed they could not communicate because of different worldviews.

With the physical limitations of the Gutenberg world, somebody had to make value decisions -- you just couldn't print everything because you ran out of room. In the new Google world, however, you basically have unlimited space to keep anything and everything, regardless of quality or value.

Will Rogers World Airport obviously has physical limits. There are only 17 gates, so you can't have thousands of airplanes waiting outside. Inside the terminal, you have a few food options; there is just room enough for one fancy bar, Sonic (headquartered in OKC so it gets a special spot), Schlotzsky's, and TJ Cinnamons. At each vendor, you see limits -- Schlotzsky's is only going to make certain types of sandwiches at the airport.

Of course, Keen is a smart guy. He knows that earlier physical limitations on printed material do not apply to data stored out in the virtual "cloud." Keen is probably not bothered by relative lengths per se. Instead, he aspires to a high standard of somehow organizing knowledge according to its value.

But the challenge there is that some human being would make value judgments for the rest of society.

I ate at Schlotzsky's and their original sandwich was fine. Somebody decided that this airport site could not stock the ingredients to make the Angus Pastrami Rueben, so I was out of luck. But no problem, I can pick up a Rueben back in Cincinnati.

But consider the issue of our stored knowledge -- what committee would have omniscient abilities to judge what we need to know and remember? I would be concerned about giving somebody the power to say, "I decree that information about Pamela Sue Anderson will not become part of human knowledge -- strike her from the record! Next on the list... some guy named Hasselhoff."

Archaeologists base some important understandings of past civilization on what they found while digging through the "middens" -- the garbage piles. They learn a great deal about human activities and behavior by analyzing what people discarded -- things which at the time did not seem important enough to keep. Perhaps even if we decide to discard knowledge, we still need to throw it somewhere for safe-keeping.

In business intelligence, we often make value judgments on what to store for later decision making. In this new Google world, physical storage limits are going away. Our ability to handle large amounts of data is improving. We should consider saving everything (after all, one person's trash…).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Free BI for Higher Ed

For over five years, Microstrategy has been part of an educational service from Teradata allowing universities free access to an online learning portal focused on business intelligence and data warehousing technology. In November of 2008, Microstrategy expanded this offering and announced a new program to give BI software and courseware, free of charge, for use in university curriculum.

MicroStrategy has provided its software for teaching BI courses to numerous universities in the U.S. and Europe, including University of Colorado Denver Business School, RWTH Aachen, University of Bamberg, and HTWK Leipzig.

Universities can build or augment their business intelligence course offerings with MicroStrategy and teach students about BI in a tangible way, providing hands-on experience that students can take directly into the workplace. By incorporating MicroStrategy software into a BI curriculum, students can learn valuable skills, such as designing business intelligence reports, performing data analyses, and monitoring business metrics.

Barbara Wixom, Associate Professor and Director MSMIT at the University of Virginia commented, “Companies want to hire students who can hit the ground running – they want students with an understanding of both foundational skills and contemporary tools that exist in the workplace. Having the ability to teach my students business intelligence using software like MicroStrategy is incredible. It means students experience business intelligence in a relevant, real-world way. And, it means that my students can be productive as soon as their careers begin.”

Microstrategy is making a smart move. Companies that have already implemented a BI product often struggle to find knowledgeable resources; being able to employ college students with formal BI training reduces the hiring challenge. That is good for Microstrategy as well - they are planting seeds in organizations that may not have their products yet. Plus, it is difficult to sell products that nobody knows how to use.

An Indiana company selected WebFOCUS as their BI product. However, before buying and implementing it, they wanted to hire a BI developer. Unfortunately for Information Builders, the software vendor, the would-be customer searched unsuccessfully for months trying to find a local professional with the right skills.

The two parties found themselves in an old-fashioned barter stand-off: "I'd give you that wagon wheel if you had a cow to trade fer it." Except it was: "I'll give you money for your BI software if you can introduce me to an experienced WebFOCUS developer." Yikes -- there were no available BI Hoosiers to be found.

Eventually, the organization settled on a quality person experienced with a different web-based BI tool and invested time and money training him in WebFOCUS. While Information Builders was able to make the sale, they should have also recognized the red flag being waved in their face. It is worth repeating -- it is difficult to sell products that nobody knows how to use.

If you are attending higher-education courses, ask your university if they offer business intelligence topics -- important skills needed by today's information-intensive firms. If you work for a software vendor, make sure that you are developing talent pools for your client base (sorry, offering $3K-per-day vendor consultants does not count). If you are a customer in the market for BI products, make sure one of your selection criteria is being able to easily hire technical resources.

About Me

My photo

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.