Monday, February 28, 2011

Partner Intelligence has Moved

Because of our company's growth over the last four years, we built a brand new, state-of-the-art corporate headquarters and moved in at the end of February 2011. 

Here is our new address:
Partner Intelligence, LLC 
4605 East Galbraith Road, Suite 200 
Cincinnati, Ohio 45236 

If you look at Google Maps, you will see that the Street View still shows a nice grassy lot with trees (hopefully, the Google car will drive by again soon and take a new photo). The satellite picture is a little newer; it shows the construction crew leveling the land.

Located in Kenwood, Ohio, on East Galbraith Road next to the Jewish Hospital, our new location will be easier and more convenient for many of our Partner clients. The space is roughly three times larger and is designed to allow our operations to work in the most efficient manner possible. In addition to more space, the office provides us with top notch presentation, training, and conference facilities that our clients can leverage.

As a technology-driven business, we made sure our new office could handle the bandwidth that a modern, growing company requires. The builders installed fiber optics and the latest Cat6 wiring to take full advantage of the high speed Internet connections.

All of this means that we have laid the groundwork for continued growth and to help our team be even more productive. Already having grown by fifty percent in 2010, we will continue to add team members in every area of the Partner business. The additional support staff will allow us to keep our service level the highest in the region.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wordle Beautiful Word Clouds

Wordle is an interesting web application for producing pictures known as "word clouds" or "tag clouds".

In a word cloud, text objects are associated with a number.  The bigger the number, the larger the word's font in the picture. A common use would be to associate each word with its frequency in a text (for example, those found in the Kings James Bible) for a visual representation.

As an example, here is a word cloud of my recent blog postings (I'm surprised I use the word "just" so much). Click on the picture for a bigger and dynamically generated version.
Wordle: 001
In business intelligence applications, being able to visualize content is extremely important. You could stare at numbers all day long and not figure out a thing. But add some color and that might change--bad things in red and good things in green pop off the page at you.

Size is also useful to be able to easily compare data items. Often in reports, designers add a graphic bar whose length corresponds with the figure next to it. The bigger the number, the longer the bar (which could be colored as well to add a judgement of good or bad). These "peer graphics" help the user easily compare different objects on the report, such as Total Agricultural Revenue of Oklahoma versus that of New Jersey.

Visualization techniques of colors and relative size is already common in BI products, but a word cloud application such as Wordle could add an additional user interface feature.

I can see word clouds as front-ends for BI applications analyzing either text or data. Why limit data representation to columns and rows?

As a simple example, sales executives could view their geographic regions on the word cloud based on the size of each territory's current revenue, achievement of quota percentage, or whatever measure he or she selects as the criterion.

For interactivity, we could activate hyperlink hotspots on each of the terms in the cloud and allow the user to drill down to BI details or drill to other related business topics.

Check out Wordle for more information as well as some beautiful examples stored in the public gallery.

[Duh! Wordle uses Java on your desktop to dynamically display the word clouds. That doesn't work on the Apple iPhone or iPad. If that is a problem for your website, just save the cloud as an image.]

Update on 2011 April 21. SM Reilly, a blog reader with a background in qualitative market research, had questions about the value of these word clouds. SM wrote:

I am a qualitative market research consultant investigating the value of these for my clients.
An extra step or two can eliminate YOUR words from your analysis, fyi.
So far, I cannot ascertain that the visualizations are presented such that words are proximate to other words based on their relationship to one another so you can't learn anything about why "dishonest" is near or far from "bankers."
Further, it won't work for short phrases, so "good value" and "bad value" are just analyzed as "good," "bad" and "value" and the good and bad are lumped together with those same words used in other contexts, e.g., "good luck" and "good time." Not all thoughts and ideas are expressed as single words. Also, the richness of the English language provides many synonyms for the same concept. Just look up the word "nice" in a thesaurus.
It cannot distinguish between the same word with different meanings, whether as noun vs verb (weather, wait, buy).
It cannot correct for spelling, so if the people contributing content are poor spellers, then "recieve and receive," "thru and through" aren't associated.
With all of these limitations, can you provide me with support for the value of a word cloud? It's a serious question. 

I appreciate SM's questions. Let's take a look at the issues he or she raises.

To create a word cloud, you provide the drawing program with a list of words or phrases and their frequencies. The program draws the cloud, changing the size of each word according to the frequency count. The more occurrences, the bigger the font.

That is all that piece of software is meant to do. That program is doing its job exactly as it was coded. Nothing more, nothing less.

A program that was written to produce a word cloud will be good at only that specific task. Outside of drawing a cloud, it is basically dumb; everything else is outside of its intentionally limited scope of expertise. Like SM says, the word cloud program does not know anything about the list of words you provided it; it just reads them and draws a picture.

A computer program that is limited in its function is far from useless. In fact, we intentionally design modules to perform very specific functions. Like Legos, we then put these modules together to make something bigger than the sum of the parts.

For example, consider the software module inside a e-book reader that only knows how to take text and display it on the screen. Without that limited functionality, the entire device is worthless.

So yes the word cloud drawing program is limited in functionality. What that means, is that you are responsible for providing the word cloud program with a "smart" list.

You need use another computer program that can perform intelligence searches through a textual document. Inside that module, you can put any type of smarts that you need. For example, you can fix all of the spelling errors before counting terms. You can convert Japanese to German. You can identify sentence parts, such as subjects, objects, and verbs. You can consolidate synonyms.

It is up to you to make a smart list to give to the word cloud program.

Here is a personal example. For a major financial services company, I analyzed thousands of legacy computer programs to identify similarities in purpose. Basically, my client needed to spot functional redundancies so that the programs could be replaced efficiently.

I wrote a parsing program to scan all of the textual contents, examine any available clues, and store conclusions into a database. I looked at the names of the programs, figured out what data objects the programs were using, checked the names of the folders where the programs were stored, looked at which users accessed the programs, and so forth.

The process was like a Google index search, but instead of just counting keywords I had to consider the meanings of acronyms, abbreviations, and synonyms. My logic had to translate various words and consolidate things to a small number of abstract topics.

With all of those hints, I consolidated thousands of programs into twelve "buckets." When all was said and done, I could tell the client: "These 350 programs look like they deal with Fraud. These 500 look like Sales Reporting, these 625 seem to deal with Customer Service," and so forth.

Now that list of twelve terms and their counts might look very simple, but the work that went into the list was rather hard. The client could now visually see similarities and redundancies within thousands of complex documents and plan accordingly.

SM Reilly, I hope this helps clarify the use of word clouds. If you are interested in learning more, contact me.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The End of Classic Business Objects

In his recent blog postings, SAP Business Objects trainer Dallas Marks has talked about "the end of the world as we know it" as it relates to the software vendor's decision to sunset their classic BO authoring tool known as Desktop Intelligence (or DeskI as its short nickname).

The legacy Windows product is going away, and the vendor expects their customers to switch to the web version. To date, there is minimal conversion help and some DeskI features cannot be replicated using Web Intelligence (aka WebI).

Of course, another option is to just eliminate Business Objects altogether and move to a different web-based BI product. To assist companies choosing this type of replacement initiative, we added a new feature to our BI Consolidator scanning engine.

While the utility had always been able to look for specific keywords, for BO analysis we wanted to parse the SQL, extract table and column information into a database, and produce redundancy reports.

From the BO Repository, we copied the underlying SQL from the DeskI and WebI data providers for each BO Document (the reports). A utility parses the details and saves all of the data into an "inventory" repository for later analysis.

The following BO information is captured within the SQL inventory repository:
  • BO Universe name and a calculated high-level "group"
  • BO Folder name and group
  • BO Userid 
  • BO Document name and group
  • BO Data Provider name, type (DeskI or WebI), and group 
  • SQL Tables being accessed on FROM phrases
  • SQL Table types (e.g., aggregate aware, summaries, history, hierarchies, security, etc.)
  • SQL Table groups 
  • SQL Columns being accessed on SELECT phrases 
  • SQL Columns being referenced on WHERE phrases 
  • SQL Column types (e.g., count, amount, ID, code) and groups 

These calculated "groups" allow us to organize information into higher level categories for redundancy analysis. With both category and detail data, we can discern which databases, tables, and columns are being used within thousands of BO reports. Tying this repository together with usage statistics, we can also determine which of the BO reports are of high usage and their associated data elements.

In addition to BO WebI and DeskI, our scanning can also capture information from your Crystal Reports modules.

SAP is eliminating your BO DeskI product, but converting your legacy reports to WebI is not your only option. Contact me if you are interested in learning more. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Free Copy of 2011 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence

QlikTech, the new darling of BI software, is offering you a free download of the 2011 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence. You can request a copy at their website.

Gartner was very positive about QlikTech's QlikView BI product and moved the company into the Leader's Quadrant. Whichever mega-vendors are considering acquiring QlikTech, they realize that the price tag just went up.

There are several BI newcomers to the vendor list, such as Bitam, Corda Technologies, and Salient Management Company. Thanks to a change in rules (Gartner lowered the requirement for the number of customer survey responses from thirty to twenty), Actuate, Panorama, and Jaspersoft were included in the report.

Although Pentaho met the requirements for survey responses, the open-source BI vendor failed to meet a minimum $15 million revenue threshold.

According to Gartner, the clear BI leaders are Microsoft, Oracle, MicroStrategy, and IBM (Cognos). In that Leader quadrant but closer to the line of other classifications are Information Builders (WebFOCUS), SAS, QlikTech (QlikView), and SAP (Business Objects).

There are no Visionaries in the MQ. Gartner lists two Challengers to the Leaders: Tableau and Tibco Software (Spotfire). The other ten vendors land in the Niche player box.

Be sure to take up QlikTech on their offer for a free download of the 2011 Gartner Magic Quadrant BI report. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Information Builders Blogs

Information Builders, the software vendor of the enterprise BI product WebFOCUS, has started to blog.  You can read articles from their corporate bloggers on their IBI website.

So far, their featured blogger is Jake Freivald who has posted several articles this year. One of Jake's topics was the "revolution" of mobile BI applications such as those on smartphones (such as Android and Apple iPhone) and tablets (such as the Apple iPad).

You will need to read this yourself to decide if Jake is taking a "for" or "against" stance on mobile BI. He seems to post a warning about software vendors not learning lessons from past mistakes.

I heard a rumor that Information Builders might even have some type of iPad BI application to release yet this year. We will have to keep our eyes on the IBI BI blogs.

Also, if you are interested in Information Builders and their BI product, be sure to read my other blog dedicated to WebFOCUS. IBI was nice enough to include me as a featured blogger in their blog-roll.

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.