Monday, September 29, 2008

Public Service Announcement: Haiti

Over the weekend, caring volunteers in southwestern Ohio did a special "Pack-a-Thon," getting over 20 tons of food on its way to Haiti to help people there deal with basic survival needs after the hurricanes. Working with "Kids Against Hunger," about 1000 compassionate people from around the Greater Cincinnati area spent two hours each sealing pouches with rice, dried vegetables, soy flour, and flavored protein powder. In just two days of work, they were able to prepare about 348,000 meals and get them loaded onto trucks, ready for a flight to Haiti's neediest children and adults.

Donations to help cover the cost of the food on this Haiti trip are still being accepted.

Kids Against Hunger in Cincinnati will continue to package food on most Saturdays. In addition to sending food to other countries, the Cincinnati chapter of KAH works with local food pantries and churches (for example, with Pastor Mike Tabor at the Happy Church in the Appalachian region of southern Kentucky and Pastor Kareem Smith at the River of Life Church in downtown Cincinnati) to help feed those in need who live nearby.

Open Source BI now Mainstream?

In today's press announcement, Actuate released the findings of a survey of 1000 international professionals on their adoption of open source software.

"Exploring in depth organizations’ use of and attitudes towards open source, across four important territories, the findings categorically confirm that open source software is not a 'here today, gone tomorrow' phenomenon, rather it has been broadly recognized and embraced for its ability to offer organizations sustained competitive advantage. These findings support Gartner’s projections that, by 2012, at least 80% of all commercial software solutions will include substantive open source components*."


*See press release titled ‘Gartner Highlights Key Predictions for IT Organisations and Users in 2008 and Beyond’, January 31, 2008.

Actuate's survey, which they have been doing since 2005, found that European organizations had a higher adoption rate of open source than did those in North America. For example, over 60% of the individuals in France and Germany said that open source was the preferred option when purchasing software, compared to only 40% in N.A..

Actuate itself made a strategic decision years ago to hitch its wagon to the open source star:

"The Actuate platform boasts unmatched scalability, high-performance, reliability and security. Its proven RIA capabilities and highly collaborative development architecture are backed by the world's largest open source information application developer community, grounded in BIRT, the Eclipse Foundation's only top level Business Intelligence and reporting project."


The Actuate survey reported that the biggest challenge with using open source software was the lack of skilled individuals. Actuate says this lack of skills is actually a good sign, because it indicates a high adoption rate. The demand is using up the pool of available people.

The implied claim here is that as more companies use open source software, more technical people will see it as a good career course and become skilled in it. That would be nice. However, what could happen instead is that decision makers say, "Gee, I can't find any experienced people in this open source technology, so it is easier and perhaps cheaper to go with a more mainstream solution that has broader adoption and support. Where's that phone number for my IBM rep?"

Lack of human resources hurts not only the open source BI community, but the smaller software products and legacy technologies as well. As BI professionals center their careers around the four pillars (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP) and get under that consolidated BI umbrella, people working with other technologies will feel left out in the rain and will probably seek shelter by developing new skills.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

BAM BI 2: Return to the Forest

My last post on BAM BI prompted my ex-IBI colleague and friend, Larry Eiss, to reveal my apostasy and urge me back into orthodox BI. See Larry's comment below.

Larry points out that Mr. Dresner's position is that business intelligence is complex and requires human decisions. Larry ties this back to some of my earlier blogs on the issue of the evolving User Interface in BI software. Thanks, Larry.

Also, if you want to see some great nature photography, check out Larry's website.

BAM BI, or, The Importance of Being Human

In a LinkedIn discussion group, Seth Grimes posed a simple question: "Should Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) be considered a Business Intelligence (BI) application?"

In other words, is BAM BI? This question went out to all individuals in the LinkedIn EPM Business Intelligence group, but who should respond to Seth's question but Howard Dresner himself, the ultimate definer of BI. Now that is a little like kneeling to pray for guidance and immediately having God tap you on the shoulder.

It is not like Seth is some newbie BI person asking silly questions. Far from it. He chairs the annual North American and European Text Analytics Summits and is contributing editor for Intelligent Enterprise magazine (CMP).

Here is Howard's response to Seth's question:

"By definition, BI is about enabling end users with access to and analysis of data. Hence, I believe BAM is BI when the user is involved in the decision-making process. BAM can also be used for decision automation, which would not be BI. "

Howard, of course, means by his definition. Howard created the business intelligence world in 6 sentences and rested on the 7th blank line. And Howard saw that it was good.

Some naïve LinkedIn members disagreed with Howard and they were promptly struck down with fire and brimstone. Anybody who questions Howard on his own definition of BI would merely be Job shouting to the heavens, "Hey, I think you made a mistake down here, God!"

Despite the risk of BI swords, pestilence, and famines, let's look closely at Howard's position.

By His intelligent design, in a BI application, thou shalt have humans. If people are there to use the analytic results, then an application passes the Dresner BI Criterion. On the other hand, if the software provides intelligence to another non-human application, then it is no longer BI. It is merely "decision automation."

So if I examine stock trends online and decide to buy some shares of Starbucks, I am using a BI application. But if I set up an automated agent to watch the stock market and it invests in Starbucks for me, then it is not BI. Interesting.

But wait, I am a human shareholder now despite the manner of having bought the stock, so doesn't that count for me being involved somewhere in the process? After all, I put my decision-making process into the rules of the application, so I am there in proxy.

Granted, I didn't shout, "Eureka!" and move my mouse to click on the buy button, but the application knew that I would because I had already advised it to perform as if it were me. Shouldn't that count as BI? Or do BI qualities somehow decline the farther downstream the user is from the software application itself?

Perhaps this is like not hearing the tree that falls in the forest if you are not there. If an intelligent activity happened and no user was sitting at the screen to see it, then did the BI not really happen?

Continuing our inquiry into this religious doctrine of BI, let's consider an analogy. Delta Flight 1700 flies from Atlanta to Cincinnati with passengers, so it is obviously a passenger plane. While in Cincinnati, the Delta people remove the seats and fly the same plane back to Atlanta with pallets of boxes filled with canned beans. We would agree that this is now a cargo plane. But it is still an airplane, right? It is definitely still part of our transportation system.

Or would not having any human passengers inside immediately turn an airplane into something else? This is deep stuff, Howard.

Perhaps I should post my own question on a LinkedIn forum: "What sort of penance do you think is adequate in Howard's eyes for my BI blasphemy?"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Writing in Cursive

My youngest son, a senior in an American high school, will be old enough to vote in the upcoming 2008 Presidential election. I helped him fill out his new voter's registration form with some trepidation, as I assume he will always lean in a completely different political direction than his father.

He went through the standard U.S. voter qualification checklist, claiming such obvious things as being of sound mind, being an adult, not being incarcerated somewhere, and so forth. When he was done with that, I said, "OK, when you sign here, be sure to use your full name."

"You mean, sign my whole name in cursive, even my middle name?" he asked in a disbelieving tone.

"Yes, that is your legal signature that you use for formal statements," I answered, wondering at what early age he stopped believing that I might sometimes be right.

"Well…" He paused and then admitted, "I'm not sure that I know how to write my middle name in cursive. I only use cursive for my first and last names."

What? He doesn't know how to write in cursive? I thought that every American third-grader learned to write in cursive!

But my teenage son not being able to write in cursive should not really come as a surprise to me. If you are never forced to use something you learned early in life, will you really retain it in memory or be able to use as an active skill when you are older?

Way back when I was in school, my teachers would explicitly state that some homework had to be written in cursive. Today, educators are probably instead telling children what file format to use.

"Remember children, I will only accept your essay on 'How I Spent My Summer' if it is in a Microsoft Word 97 format. If you have Word 2007, be sure to save in a backward-compatible format! (And no more PowerPoint, Billy!) Oh, and Arial 11, please. If you have any questions, text me. I will follow your Twitter to see how you are doing. OK, line up quietly at the door for dismissal. Don't forget your iPods!"

If you are the parent of a teenager (God bless you, by the way), see if you can get them to stop texting friends for 15 seconds and have a simple conversation with you. No hard topics, just a question or two. When did he or she last write a document in cursive? Is cursive writing important anymore?

If you are a vendor of legacy BI tools, ask your customers if they are still writing new applications in your technology. What? They are no longer writing programs in NOMAD, RAMIS, FOCUS, DYL280, or SQR? They own the product, have trained users, and still pay the annual license fees! When did they stop writing in legacy code?

Sometimes, people stop doing things that they did in the past. Things that we assume will always be done in the future. This declining usage may happen slowly and we do not always notice until long after the fact. Legacy BI tools, for example, may still be out there, installed somewhere on the enterprise, but they may not be actively used.

If your organization owns legacy BI tools, consider consolidating them to newer, more productive, technology. By the way, if you have a teenager, encourage them to vote (even if they are going to make different choices than you would).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Big Blue Cognos

After acquiring Cognos Corporation in early 2008, IBM wasted no time porting the Cognos 8 BI product onto their System z platform. When asked "Why port Cognos to the mainframe?," Mike Biere of IBM answered:


"Cognos has a portfolio of BI and PM solutions based upon a modern, SOA architecture. It’s been one of the leaders in this space for awhile with an enormous install base and many satisfied customers. IBM and Cognos had been working closely within IBM’s software brands to examine ways their mutual technology stacks could benefit.

Given IBM’s leadership position in SOA and portal, Cognos 8 was deemed a perfect fit with little overlap in features and functions. It offers an integrated platform with many BI and PM capabilities. It sits upon a common metadata layer allowing the end user to select from a deep set of functions (including query, reporting and dashboards) to deliver critical business information. This information may be provided to the end user in many formats or user interfaces, such as Web browsers or personal digital assistants."

Mike also says that the mainframe is the perfect server choice for BI applications. Advantages of using the System z include:

  • Server consolidation
  • Mission-critical BI and PM
  • 24-7 operation and availability
  • Security Compliance issues
  • Environmental (green) factors
  • Managing mixed workloads and BI on a common system
  • Near real-time BI operations
  • Closer proximity to data captured at the enterprise level
  • Operational BI
  • Lower total cost of ownership and higher return on investment


Most BI tools did not run on the mainframe, so companies often moved their reporting and analysis off to a distributed environment. But this caused more problems than it solved. Now you had redundant data in the enterprise which needed to be "synced" on a regular basis using data transfer processes that suck up CPU, network bandwidth, and disk space. The copied data idea started as being "yesterday's data" until users demanded more real-time information, which then meant implementing sophisticated data-change-and-replicate processes. IBM Cognos may have the real solution: put BI back on the mainframe with the data.

To read Mike Biere's entire story, see his July/August 2008 article in the IBM Systems Magazine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why BI Doesn't Work

Doug Henschen, the editor in chief at IntelligentEnterprise.com, recently posted the results of a BI survey asking 385 technology professionals about the barriers to their success with BI software. You can read about this in his September 2008 In Depth / State of BI article titled, "Business Intelligence Gets Smarter."

Here are the rankings of BI barriers, from highest to lowest:
  1. Complexity of BI tools and interfaces
  2. Cost of BI software and per-user licenses
  3. Difficulty accessing relevant, timely, or reliable data
  4. Insufficient IT staffing or excessive software requirements for IT support
  5. Difficulty identifying applications or decisions that can be supported by BI
  6. Lack of appropriate BI technical expertise within IT
  7. Lack of support from executives or business management
  8. Poor planning or management of BI programs
  9. Lack of BI technology standards and best practices
  10. Lack of training for end users

The IT individuals in the study place most of the blame on the BI vendors and then point to their organization's data as the next big reason for problems. Their remaining 7 reasons are internal issues that prevent BI from being used successfully.

Their message is that the BI software itself is too hard to use and too expensive. Within the company, the IT group and the business users do not have the proper training nor are there adequate resources. To make matters worse, upper management either is not taking the BI initiatives seriously or they do not understand the amount of work involved.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gartner Summarizes BI

In a June 2008 statement, Gartner reported that the BI software market in 2007 exceeded $5.1 billion, which was a 13% increase from the previous year. During that year, the 3 largest publicly-traded BI vendors were acquired (Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion Solutions). The big software vendors selling single "stacks" of technologies (Oracle, SAP, IBM, and Microsoft) now own 67% of that multibillion dollar BI market.

Dan Sommer, a senior research analyst at Gartner, says that this "marks a pendulum shift from a market driven by best-of-breeds to one dominated by megavendors." That doesn't necessarily mean that the big guys will take the entire market. Sommer adds, "However, many smaller independent BI vendors grew faster than the market, and we expect continued innovation and new vendors to enter the market.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SAS Global

Last week, at a business event in Mumbai, India, SAS announced an expanded partnerships with two of the world's largest outsourcers, Tata Consulting Services (TCS) and Wipro. SAS is the largest of the privately-held BI vendors (see blogs on Information Builders as well) with over $2 billion in annual revenue. Today, that is twice the size of Cognos, which was recently acquired by IBM.

TCS reports that 10% of their almost $6 billion dollar revenue comes from their BI practice. As part of the announcement, TCS says that they will speed up their consultant training on SAS. Likewise, Wipro says that they will expand the Global Center for Excellence on SAS from 300 to 700 trained SAS consultants.

The day before this announcement from Mumbai, SAS had released a statement about their global growth:

SAS is experiencing its fastest rate of revenue growth in the emerging markets of Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and Latin America. In 2007, SAS revenue grew 28 percent in Brazil, nearly 50 percent in India, almost 60 percent in Russia and 67 percent in China. It’s no secret that the BI and analytics sectors of the software market are growing faster than the market as a whole. Worldwide BI platform software revenue exceeded $5.1 billion in 2007, a 13 percent increase from 2006, according to a June 2008 report from analyst firm Gartner.


In business since 1976, SAS achieved $2.15 billion in 2007 annual revenues, up 15% from the previous year. SAS says that "intense demand for business analytics -- BI, analytics and data integration -- propelled this growth."

“As companies become more global, they look to the next generation of software solutions to help them optimize revenue, increase customer loyalty and satisfaction, and enhance competitiveness,” said Mikael Hagström, SAS’ Executive Vice President for EMEA and Asia Pacific. “BI and analytics are increasingly the answer, whether in mature markets like Western Europe and North America or rapidly emerging markets like India, China, Russia and Brazil.”


The activity in Mumbai doesn't mean that SAS ignores American workers. Just the opposite; SAS has always been a favorite career spot for IT professionals.

SAS’ recognition of employee value drives the company to offer such amenities as onsite child care, an eldercare information and referral program, an onsite healthcare center, wellness programs, a 58,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center with natatorium, an extensive package of benefits and many other work/life programs. The policies derive from the employee-focused philosophy behind SAS’ famed corporate culture: if you treat employees as if they make a difference to the company, they will make a difference to the company. With one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry, SAS is reaping the rewards of its work/life programs and family-friendly policies.


In addition to experienced individuals already in the workforce, SAS is helping to address our youth's declining interest in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and math). SAS pre-empted the Mumbai announcements with one about training American high school students in their products. After a successful pilot at a North Carolina high school, SAS is expanding a training program to 9 other high schools and will make the material available throughout the United States in 2009. SAS will train qualified high school teachers at their headquarters in Cary, NC.

SAS skills are in high demand by companies, governments and organizations worldwide that use SAS to analyze huge amounts of data to make better decisions. SAS careers vary from entry-level programmers to executive positions requiring data warehousing, data mining and analytical expertise. The biggest demand is currently in the pharmaceutical and financial services industries, which use SAS in research and development, marketing, fraud detection and clinical trials. Students who graduate high school with SAS knowledge carry a distinct advantage into post-secondary education, where SAS is used in many college courses requiring quantitative analysis, such as psychology, statistics, mathematics, business, and public health.


The around-the-world activities of SAS represent a microcosm of our global business macrocosm. SAS is global because the rest of the world is global. With companies openly considering North America as a "mature market," attention is turned to "emerging" countries such as India and China. Americans must work to avoid our growth cycle from going to "maturity" to "decline."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Personal Jet Packs

In his 2006 book, "The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn," investment writer Pip Coburn made some predictions on future winners and losers in the marketplace. And the winners are...

  1. Flat Panel Display Televisions
  2. Mobile Enterprise E-Mail
  3. Business Intelligence Software
  4. Satellite Radio

OK, these predictions may seem about as wild as me guessing my son's college will be expensive next year, but since Pip mentions BI, let's hear him out.

Pip writes that BI software "is an antidote for complexity - the greatest curse in the enterprise." While the idea of getting to all of your enterprise data sounds great, Pip says that the high "total perceived pain of adoption," or TPPA, prevents companies from really doing BI. Pip continues:

"Very few of the people who want what business intelligence software provides have ever interfaced with a database for more than a short period and, therefore, have little clue as to how powerful these tools can be. But the culture will steadily shift and education about the power of the tool will expand steadily over the next decade at which point many CEOs will carry a pocket device they can use to query databases all over the world in an integrated, near real-time fashion. The migration from here to there will be powerful. Vendors that make business intelligence simple to the end user will dominate those focused on additional features."


That is all fine and good as long as the future CEO does not try to use his iPodWorldQuery device while strapped into a personal jet pack. Always practice safe flying; just mind-link back to the home robot and let Rosie take care of the BI.

But seriously, Pip does have a good point. Ms. CEO wants to be able to get accurate information right now, presented in a way that is useful for her to make important decisions. She doesn't care where that data resides or in what arcane format it is. She is not going to write some SQL query in her spreadsheet macro to get that information. Instead, she needs to tell the user interface what she wants and let it figure out the howz-its and whatz-its.

We are still waiting for this super user interface that can handle BI requests.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hitting Stumps

I grew up in a small farming community just seven miles south of Nowhere. Not much happened in my hometown, so we learned to really appreciate even the small events. In particular, the town had one major claim to fame: it was the site of the very first automobile accident in the entire world. The premier, never-before, first-of-its-kind fender-bender.

Yes, all this is absolutely true. Looking out my bedroom window, I could see this significant spot at the intersection of Liberty and Carmean Streets.

Each summer we celebrated this major historical event with a festival, holding a parade, turning the entire downtown block of Main Street into a carnival, and choosing a king and queen in honor of the wreck. But you probably want to know more about the accident.

Back around 1890, my hometown had a smart guy named John who tried to make an improvement on the ubiquitous horse-drawn buggy. He put a one-cylinder gasoline engine on a buggy chassis that had two back tires and a single tire in the front. For steering, John attached something like a hockey stick to the front tire, which he had borrowed from his wheelbarrow.

A picture of John's automobile (before the accident, of course)Eye witnesses said that John could get that souped-up runabout moving to about 15 miles per hour. Of course, this was before anybody considered enforcing speed limits on the city streets.

In fact, nobody had even thought of paving the roads yet, much less having seat belts, air bags, car insurance, or 24-hour tow trucks.

On one joyride around town with his buddy Jim, John must not have been paying attention to the road. When he got to my street, John either didn't see that tree stump or he was unable to maneuver around it, what with going at such a high rate of speed and steering a front wheelbarrow tire with a stick. He crashed his one-of-a-kind automobile and made history. Less than a hundred years later, we put up a nice sign commemorating John's poor driving ability.

Jim helped John push the damaged car back to his house a few blocks away, planning to make the world's first accident repairs.

John's luck was about to get worse. In some strange twist of fate, his garage burned down, destroying his unique wrecked car.

At the time, his neighbors were unaware of the historic significance of John's undertaking. Instead, they probably gave him a hard time about trying to be smarter than everybody else. Why replace oat-fed horses with noisy gasoline-powered engines? Especially since gasoline cost two cents per gallon!

John responded accordingly by packing his bags, saying goodbye to his soon-to-be famous friend (after all, Jim was the world's first automobile passenger accident victim), and leaving. Not only did John leave my small town behind, he left the state and moved to a emerging western territory called Indiana.

In a booming state at the beginning of the 20th Century, John quickly went to work on Automobile 2.0 (probably implementing new features such as four tires and an improved steering device) and made a name for himself in this hot industry. However, when you have an innovation with the potential to make money, lots of people want in on the action. Before long, John was competing against similar gasoline-powered vehicles with names like Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Dodge, Chevrolet, Cadillac, LaSalle, Pontiac, Plymouth, Ford, Oldsmobile, DeSoto, Buick, Mercury, Packard, and Kissell, just to name a few.

Over time, John and many of the original automobile innovators either dropped out, moved in a different direction, or were consolidated into bigger companies. Being a smart guy, John focused his energies on creating 600 patents and let the other firms pay him for his ideas.

You probably do not recognize some of these original automobile brand names as most are long gone. The automotive industry consolidated into a handful of manufacturers, some of which struggle today to survive.

Things change. You start with innovators like John who recognize problems and come up with cool new solutions. Of course, they may barrel down unpaved streets not yet ready for them and hit a stump. While that accident may scare off some early adopters, a few are still intrigued by these new contraptions. They muse, "There may just be something to the idea" and decide to get involved. Diffusion starts and, with at least some innovations, things really do get exciting. When the possibility of lots of money comes to this new innovation, some powerful people often decide to take control of it.

We have seen the same thing happen in the BI software industry. IBM now owns Cognos, an early innovator from the 1970s which had already merged other BI players into its brand. SAP has Business Objects, which had earlier bought Crystal Reports. Microsoft grabbed ProClarity and others. Oracle has Hyperion Solutions, which had already acquired Brio Software.

I read where Larry Ellison said that he sees no more innovation happening in the software industry.

That may be the real trend here. The guy at the early stage of the new idea takes chances and drives off down the bumpy road that may contain an unseen tree stump. If he manages to successfully navigate his way, some big guy may step in and say, "Thanks, John. I'll take it from here." The time for true innovation is then over and now it is business. The focus is on increased market share and improved profits.

No, I am not saying that big companies cannot innovate. Windshields, cup holders, heated seats, anti-lock brakes, navigation systems, and satellite radios are all nice new features and deserve polite compliments. But it's the truly big change like swapping your horse reins for a steering stick that is the stuff of legends for which you throw parades and hold street carnivals.

Did I mention that my close friend's Grandpa Jim was the world's first automobile passenger accident victim? Yes, absolutely true.


1891 Picture (Source: Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.) as shown in the book, "Carriages Without Horses" by Richard P. Scharchburg.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Claudia on Operational BI

One of my recent posts reported that Michael Corcoran of Information Builders argued that Business Intelligence should not "be wed to data warehouses." Claudia Imhoff and Colin White seem to back him up with a similar point in their interesting article, "Full Circle: Decisions Intelligence (DSS 2.0)."

Writing for B-Eye Network, they say,
"The tight connection between business intelligence and the data warehouse has led to the assumption that data must be maintained in a data warehouse before it can be used for business intelligence. This assumption is wrong. There are an increasing number of BI applications that do not employ a data warehouse, either because there is no need to store the data in a data warehouse, or because it is not practical or cost effective to do so."

They are quick to point out, however, that "data warehouses are not going to go away."

Imhoff and White feel that the 'business intelligence' term has become confused and linked with just a subset of application usage. Instead, they propose that we bring back the terminology of 'decision support systems' and brand a new 'Decision Intelligence' for the present and future.

They suggest a Decision Intelligence architecture consisting of three conceptual BI subsystems: Data, Process, and Content. What they call the Business Data Intelligence component is basically our traditional BI features for strategic and tactical analytics using structured data, which is where data warehousing plays a role. The Business Process Intelligence component provides for real-time event analytics (BAM), while Business Content Intelligence analyzes unstructured data within the enterprise (e.g., social networks).

As we try to build a broader BI umbrella with which to cover business processes, human interactions, and unstructured content, in addition to our traditional BI structured data, we are perhaps moving not backwards into Decision Support but forward into the Knowledge Management space.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chrome Comics Hot off the Press

Google just released a beta Windows version of their open-source web browser called Chrome. While that is news in itself, I think the way they are explaining the features using a comic book format is fantastic! The graphic presentation of why Chrome exists and how it works is not only quick and easy to read, but intellectually convincing as well.


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."

About Me

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Helping companies make better decisions via Business Intelligence. INTP working on the E&J. Traveler, reader, family guy, coffee drinker.