Wednesday, December 26, 2012

5 Benefits for Healthcare Big Data

Doctors at The Mount Sinai Medical Center and healthcare analytics firm Explorys tell of five major reasons why Big Data is good for healthcare:

  1. Better point-of-care decisions
  2. Reduced re-admissions
  3. Ability to manage population health
  4. Advancements in healthcare research 
  5. Improvements in operational efficiency

Also quoted was Michael Corcoran, chief marketing officer for enterprise BI software vendor Information Builders, the maker of WebFOCUS. Michael observes:

"When individuals can see their performance ranked among many others, it gives them more motivation to achieve better results. They have comparable, daily, real-time results, pushing them to deliver on those same levels.
I've seen a dramatic difference in the time it has taken a nurse to insert an IV into a patient from one floor to another due in part to an awareness of performance metrics. Big data makes performance data even within a hospital more accessible so that efficiency and accuracy can increase."

To read the entire article, click here.

Pretty Pictures of BI: Tableau

There is an emerging genre of BI tools built specifically for business users to perform visual data discovery. The user interfaces are designed to be intuitive and the features simple. These software products are meant to require little if any training. Architecturally, many provide in-memory analysis for high performance.

Of course, these "exploration" tools are also not intended to be full enterprise BI platforms. Instead, they are complementary to more robust products. You will not replace your existing BI products (SAP Business Objects, IBM Cognos, IBI WebFOCUS, MicroStrategy, etc.) with the limited scope of visualization software but you might consider supplementing them.

Competitive Vendors
The main data exploration products on the market today include:

  • QlikView ($204 million revenue in 2011) 
  • Spotfire ($105M 2011) acquired by Tibco in 2007
  • Tableau ($62M 2011) 
  • ADVIZOR Solutions ($10M?) which is also sold as WebFOCUS Visual Discovery

Tibco's Spotfire is the old grand-daddy in this list and was quickly overtaken by the new kids on the block: QlikView from Sweden and Tableau from the Silicon Valley of the United States. 

While QlikTech's revenue reporting for QlikView appears much higher than that of Tableau's, the job statistics imply that Tableau is in much higher demand. 

Tableau to be the Winner?
Tableau arose out of a Stanford University research project from 1997 to 2002, and was spun off as a company in 2003. (Keep in mind that Jim Goodnight started SAS as a small college project which he later grew into a multi-billion dollar mega-software vendor.)

As part of a Department of Defense initiative, PhD candidate Chris Stolte created a "Visual Query Language" to explore large multi-dimensional databases. As luck would have it, Stolte's university mentor was Pat Hanrahan, a founding employee of Pixar. 

Together, they created what has been called “a kind of high powered, highly visual Excel,” which is a really good way of explaining the innovative software product. One of their first interested partners was Essbase, which makes sense. A common user interface for the Essbase cube was Excel, and Tableau was a nice next-generation version of that. 

Tableau is the type of visual analytics software that Microsoft itself should have added to Excel. 

The main Tableau products include: 
  • Tableau Desktop (authoring/publishing tool)
  • Tableau Server (web hosting component)
  • Tableau Reader (web viewing tool)

Tableau Desktop is an Excel spreadsheet hopped up on visualization steroids. Based on selections, Tableau points out to the user the "best practices" for visually displaying data.

Several of about twenty-four "Show Me" options light up for the user. Simply clicking on one, such as a geographic map or a stacked bar chart, does all of the work. There is no coding and no macros, just an easy to use graphical interface.

Within an hour after downloading a Windows desktop copy, I had used one of their accompanying demo files to generate a report, pie chart, bar chart, and geographic map. 

The full version of Tableau Desktop allows access to a variety of databases and publishing capabilities while the "Personal Edition" works only with desktop flat files and spreadsheets. You can easily download copies of Tableau Desktop for one or two thousand US dollars per user license (for Personal and Professional Editions, respectively). 

Why Not Tableau?
I will address Tableau's enterprise web-based and mobile usage in a later blog but for departmental desktop usage, there are few hurdles to using Tableau.

If you have "spreadsheet jockeys" trying to perform data visualization with just Excel, then Tableau is a perfect holiday gift. 

If your organization has a formal software development group anxious to control BI, however, then handing out desktop tools may not be a popular option. Controlling one version of the truth becomes harder when business users create their own BI fiefdoms.

But Business Intelligence is a strange animal and IT organizations often seem unable to control it. Few want to be the BI zookeeper.  If so, responsibility for quality BI moves over to the business.

Organizations that rely upon end-user spreadsheets for reporting and analytics will bring in Tableau Desktop without much consideration.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Goodreads: Mastery by Robert Greene

MasteryMastery by Robert Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On my bookshelf are four books by Robert Greene covering Power, War, Seduction, and Mastery. Greene has an amazing ability to research and summarize the great people and topics of the world.

In this particular book Greene explores Mastery, providing insight into the lives of amazing people of whom we have all heard: Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci. But Greene also includes some modern day geniuses and heroes of lesser renown, such as: John Coltrane, Freddie Roach, Temple Grandin, and Cesar Rodriquez.

Greene both urges you toward Mastery and warns you of the consequences of ignoring the pursuit:
"Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within. Everyone has such inclinations. This desire within you is not motivated by egotism or sheer ambition for power, both of which are emotions that get in the way of mastery. It is instead a deep expression of something natural, something that marked you at birth as unique. In following your inclinations and moving toward mastery, you make a great contribution to society, enriching it with discoveries and insights, and making the most of the diversity in nature among human society. It is in fact the height of selfishness to merely consume what others create and to retreat into a shell of limited goals and immediate pleasures. Alienating yourself from your inclinations can only lead to pain and disappointment in the long run, and a sense that you have wasted something unique. This pain will be expressed in bitterness and envy, and you will not recognize the true source of your depression."

This is another excellent book by Robert Greene.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2013 Big Bucks for IT Pros

If you are an IT professional, good things may be coming your way.

Information Management did an article on the Top 10 Hottest IT Jobs and their estimated salary ranges. As we go into 2013, here are the predicted techie winners--all with nice six-digit salaries:
  1. Data Scientist, with an annual salary to upwards of $140,000
  2. Database Administrator at $119,500
  3. Network Administrator at $146,500
  4. Application Developer at $114,500
  5. Business Intelligence Analyst at $132,500
  6. Mobile Application Developer at $133,500
  7. Database Portal Administration at $114,500
  8. Data Security Analyst at $129,750
  9. Software Engineer at $127,750
  10. System Analyst at $103,500 

Unfortunately, your current employer is not really going to bump up your salary just because of this market demand for IT professionals. But they will probably have to pay these rates for any new faces coming into the organization.

If you really want that bump in salary, one tactic would be to become "the new guy" someplace else. Ask for a twenty percent increase to move, stay for awhile, and then--if you really miss the old place--ask for a twenty percent increase to go back to your previous employer. 

Don't think I'm making this stuff up; I have seen this repeatedly. I know a guy who left a company for five years, only to be hired back for double what this company originally paid him. 

Of course, to make a move you must really have hot skills. If you don't, here is your New Year resolution: turn 2013 into a major learning spree. That way, you will build up the IT skills that are in demand and feel justified getting that salary bump. 

Many of these hot tools are open source; you can easily download them and jump right in. For example, consider implementing your own Big Data Hadoop cluster, your own R statistics workshop, or your own data visualization applications with a trial copy of Tableau Desktop. With today's easy access to technology, there is little holding you back from gaining new skills. 

If your current organization offers few opportunities for learning, consider moving into a faster paced one--some innovative company, a consulting firm, or a software vendor--in order to get your hands on hot technologies. 

2013 could be a great year for you. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Big Data is about to Change Your Life

Big Data is in the news because it is going to change our lives, both as consumers and workers.

To see what IBM is saying about Big Data, get their new study.

IBM says:
"Ultimately, big data is a combination of these characteristics [of volume, variety, velocity, and veracity] that creates an opportunity for organizations to gain competitive advantage in today’s digitized marketplace. It enables companies to transform the ways they interact with and serve their customers, and allows organizations – even entire industries – to transform themselves. Not every organization will take the same approach toward engaging and building its big data capabilities. But opportunities to utilize new big data technology and analytics to improve decisionmaking and performance exist in every industry."

Companies will use Big Data to better understand their customers and then to dynamically provide personalized offerings to each consumer.

Building these Big Data capabilities will take money and resources. The research people at Gartner think Big Data will drive over $220 billion of IT spending this year and in 2013.

They predict that before 2015 Big Data will create 4.4 million jobs. The US is not going to be able to provide enough talent, so only one in four of the new Big Data jobs is expected to go to Americans.

Big Data needs a new type of technologies. Gartner also pointed out that today's standard computer infrastructures are quickly becoming obsolete. We are moving to environments consisting of mobile and cloud platforms.

The ground is definitely shifting under our feet. On the positive side, those with technical backgrounds have an excellent ground-floor opportunity to use our skills in this new Big Data world. On the negative side, without ongoing effort to acquire new skills the world could pass us by.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Using R to Analyze Hadoop Jobs

Using summarized data from the Indeed job board, I tried my hand at some R graphs. Considering the hot nature of Big Data, I chose job openings in the United States for Hadoop.

Here is a summary of the top jobs from Indeed:

City State JobPostings
San Francisco, CA California 568
New York, NY New York 402
Seattle, WA Washington 179
Sunnyvale, CA California 174
Palo Alto, CA California 158
San Jose, CA California 134
Mountain View, CA California 124
Boston, MA Massachusetts 119
Annapolis Junction, MD Maryland 119
Reston, VA Virginia 107
San Mateo, CA California 105
Chicago, IL Illinois 95
Redwood City, CA California 94
Los Angeles, CA California 89

It appears that Indeed didn't give me a complete summary of all of the Hadoop jobs, just the top fourteen cities. Oh well, let's look at those.

To visualize the data, I played with a variety of R plot options, but ultimately stopped with a graph using the Cleveland Dot Plot.

The graph shows there were eight cities within California posting a large number of jobs for Hadoop experience (Indeed summarized the cities with at least 89 postings). Of those eight, the largest volume of opportunities--almost 600 postings--were in San Francisco (not labeled on the graph, but you can spot it easily in the original data table).

Within these top US locations, no state other than California had a large number of Hadoop opportunities outside of one major city. As you might guess, these are happening places, such as NYC, Boston, and Seattle.

The largest clustering of Hadoop jobs were in San Francisco and NY City. Behind that were the California tech hot spots such as Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Mountain View.

Working with R is slightly different from other programming languages. Instead of creating a program that you just run and get results, with R you interact within a workspace and examine the results as you go along.

To produce this graph, I first created the tab delimited file of Indeed job postings you saw above. Then, I had to load that data into the R workspace's memory. Here are the command for that:

setwd("C:/Users/Doug/My Documents/RLibrary/") 
HadoopJobs<-read.table("HadoopJobs2012Oct.txt", header=TRUE)

The first command sets my R working document. The second creates an object called "HadoopJobs" in memory which now contains the job posting counts. With that done, I just needed to produce the dot plot graph (showing job posting counts grouped by US states) and put a title on the top:

dotchart(HadoopJobs$JobPostings, groups=HadoopJobs$State)
title("Hadoop Jobs by State (2012 Oct)")

I find it impressive that R is able to do all of this work in just four simple statements. For full disclosure, I did have to add a couple of other statements. The ones I just showed you put the results on the screen for me to see; in order to save the results to a JPEG picture file so that you could also view it, I had to reissue the graph commands sandwiched between the following two R functions:

jpeg(file="HadoopJobs.jpg") the dot chart commands again...

If you don't have a copy of R, be sure to download a free open-source copy at:

We may have to wait a while before demand for Big Data file repositories comes to Midwestern cities like Cincinnati, Ohio (in case you are interested, there are six Hadoop job postings here in town). 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Great Time to be a Mobile App Developer

You don't have to be an advanced statistician to spot a trend in this Indeed job posting graph:

The easy translation of these numbers: it's a great time to be a mobile app developer. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

C Programming Languages Continue Popularity

If you are just starting a software development career and wonder if you should specialize in any particular programming language, check out the Software Index from TIOBE, the software quality tracking firm.

TIOBE states its purpose as:
"The index can be used to check whether your programming skills are still up to date or to make a strategic decision about what programming language should be adopted when starting to build a new software system."

TIOBE uses results from eight different search engines to find and rank the occurrences of fifty different computer programming languages. TIOBE classifies the languages as either "A" (mainstream) or "B" (non-mainstream) with minus signs for differentiation (e.g., "A-" and "A--").

The programming language that has consistently been the most popular for decades is C. As of October 2012, in fact, the top five languages are all C-related:
  1. C (the classic language from Bell Labs
  2. Java (a scaled-back version of C++ to be safe for the web)
  3. Objective-C (C/Smalltalk from Steve Jobs' NeXTSTEP days, now used for Apple development)
  4. C++ (the object-oriented version of C)
  5. C# (the Microsoft managed version of C)

Last year, TIOBE named Objective-C its "Programming Language of the Year" for its rapid rise up the charts. Back in 1997, Objective-C was not even on the list. In 2007, it ranked 44th out of 50. Today, it is ranked at number three.

If you want to work on mission-critical, high-speed, server-based software, you can consider a C/C++ specialty. If you want a web-based server specialty, then Java (with a Linux/Unix alignment) or C# (with a Microsoft alignment) are good choices. If you want to develop mobile applications, you want Objective-C.

Just to back up TIOBE's rankings, be sure to look at the Indeed job trending as well. Here are the five programming languages on a chart showing them as a percentage of the total job postings:

Objective-C is a small percentage of the total jobs, so the graph above does not do it justice. If you separate it from the pack, however, you can see Objective-C's rapid growth in popularity.

This trend should of course look very similar to that for the Apple iPhone and iPad:

It looks like you won't go wrong if you pick a C language.

16 Oct 2012 Update: for a great summary of the TIOBE report, see this eWeek article

Goodreads: Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition IrrelevantBlue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The authors (W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne) provide case studies on how some companies left their "bloody-red" oceans of competition for completely open blue oceans where they were unique.

Some are well-known business stories, such as Southwest Airlines becoming a low-cost provider. However, the book provides details into Southwest's underlying business strategies that may not be well known. Other case studies gave new insight into various companies and their product strategics. One interesting story, for example, was [yellow tail], the Australian wine company that stepped outside of the traditional wine marketing with a simpler offering targeting casual drinkers.

The book covers the "strategic canvas" for analyzing competitors and planning a new market space. It then outlines six different principals for creating your own "blue ocean" strategy:

1) Reconstruct market boundaries
2) Focus on the big picture, not on the numbers
3) Reach beyond existing demand
4) Get the strategic sequence right
5) Overcome key organizational hurdles to make blue ocean strategy happen in action
6) Build execution into strategy from the start to build organizational trust and commitment

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Goodreads: How to Measure Anything

How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of "Intangibles" in Business by Douglas W. Hubbard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Douglas Hubbard provides an excellent layperson's overview of business statistics and analytics. The first half of the book is great; I skimmed through the second half that seemed to only contain "oh, by the way" topics.

Hubbard is able to take the dreaded college Stats 101 course and cover the material simply in a way that explains "why" we do it without focusing on the scary mathematical "how."

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Goodreads: Mining the Social Web by Matthew Russell

Mining the Social Web: Analyzing Data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Other Social Media SitesMining the Social Web: Analyzing Data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Other Social Media Sites by Matthew A. Russell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This short book might have more appropriately been titled, "How I Personally Mined the Social Web using Python."

Without giving too much explanation, the author provides samples of his Python routines. Where another author might spend an entire chapter (if not the whole book) explaining a technological topic, Russell just makes a comment and moves on to his code examples. If you are comfortable with, "Install this, run that command, and now copy my code..." then this is an okay book.

This is basically a Python cookbook with Social Media recipes. It covers APIs useful for Google e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. As such, it was interesting reading to see how it is done, but this is not a primer on how to do it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Today's Biggest Success Tip: Predictive Analytics using Big Data

Are you looking to change your life? If you answered "Absolutely!" then prepare yourself to take advantage of one of today's biggest opportunities: Predictive Analytics using Big Data.

Trends such as globalization, economic uncertainty, and rapidly changing technology have shaken up our society. Right now, we face several major disruptions within computer technology: Cloud, Personalized Assistants (tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices), Social Media, Big Data, and Analytics.

Ten years from now, all of these trends will have transported us into a completely new business environment.

A connected population of billions of people generates a massive amount of data which, properly digested and analyzed, will lead to an explosion of knowledge. Smart people will leverage this knowledge to take beneficial action, either for themselves personally or for the good of others.

Technologies such as Hadoop and Map/Reduce emerged to enable storing large amounts of unstructured data. Companies will combine their traditional data warehouses containing structured enterprise data with unstructured mountains of external data and store the results in the cloud (using services such as Amazon AWS/EC2, Rackspace, Microsoft Azure, or Google App Engines).

After storage comes the application of algorithms to make sense of the data. Computer programming languages (such as Java, Python, C/C++, and R) that can perform large data set techniques (e.g., regression, classification, natural language processing, clustering, collaborative filtering, and machine learning) will be enhanced with toolkits (such as Weka, OpenNLP, and NLTK) and evolve into entire frameworks for analyzing Big Data, finding patterns, reducing uncertainties, and enabling new decisions and actions.

With all these technologies, our challenge will then be to identify the questions we want to ask of the data.

If you could solve a world problem (or make millions of dollars) if you had answers to just a few difficult questions, wouldn't you start today to gather the data?   

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Increased Demands for BI within Healthcare IT

What is driving the demand for BI and analytic professionals within healthcare?

The Stimulus Act of 2009
Well, let's step back in time to 2008 when Americans elected Barack Obama as president.

Within a year, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as ARRA or "the Stimulus." This act contained incentives for healthcare professionals and organizations working with Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements (Medicare being our government program to provide financial assistance for healthcare to the elderly while Medicaid is for the poor).

One basic requirement was to start using Electronic Health Record (EHR) packages. Following the Stimulus, the government certified EHR packages from various software vendors, such as ALERT, Allscripts, Cerner, Epic, MEDITECH, and Siemens. Because the government would start paying incentives in 2011 (and imposing penalties for Medicare non-compliance in 2015), many healthcare organizations quickly started implementing these EHR packages.

The demand for professionals specializing in EHR implementations skyrocketed.

In addition to driving the demand to implement certified EHR packages, the Stimulus also created regional Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) for the electronic sharing of health records. You are also seeing a demand for Personal Health Records, where the patients themselves store important health information.

(See this story about a doctor using Facebook personal healthcare data to save a woman who had fallen into a coma.)

Our first wave was the electronic collection and sharing of structured health information. Healthcare organizations get the reimbursement incentives if they can prove "Meaningful Use" of these EHR systems, which is a basic reporting functionality.

The government rolled out the MU rules in three stages, with requirements for Stage 2 just recently finalized.  The website Healthcare IT News talks about the demand for "Meaningful Use" consultants based on the findings reported in a recent KLAS Research document.

I was recently involved with a Meaningful Use dashboard for a healthcare delivery system. The idea is that you must collect certain "Clinical Quality Measures," which are pieces of information for different chronic diseases. Common data items for most chronic diseases would include smoking status, blood pressure, and LDL counts. Some chronic diseases would have unique CQMs, such as tracking foot exams for diabetes patients.

The dashboard dynamically generated stoplight scorecard views of the various CQMs based on the user selections. The user could select information shown by either the physicians or patients and for a particular chronic disease. Green stoplights indicated a positive Meaningful Use while yellows and reds pointed out a problem that needed to be addressed if reimbursement was to happen.

The government incentives for implementing EHR and demonstrating Meaningful Use provide us with the foundation for analyzing healthcare data and improving health outcomes. We are still in the early stages of this technology.

The next wave of this EHR and HIE trend, however, will be more advanced intelligence and analytics for healthcare.

In addition to governmental influences, healthcare organizations must respond to the same disruptive changes hitting other organizations: Big Data, Social Media, the Cloud, Mobile, Predictive Analytics, and modernizing Legacy technologies.

If you are in the BI software space, hold on tight because the next decade will be a fast and bumpy ride.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Declining BI Jobs?

This summer, things have seemed to be extra quiet. Lots of people are away on vacations, making it hard to get business done.

BI Job Trend 

Perhaps that is what is reflected in some trends I see using SimplyHired graphs. Looking at job posting trends for some of the popular BI products such as Cognos, Business Objects, SAS, and MicroStrategy, I see a downward trend that appears to have started in June 2012.

Demand spiked at the beginning of June but fell at the end of the month, even below the annual average. Of course, this is showing a percentage of the total jobs, so perhaps there are other jobs taking the place of BI.

Software Job Trend

When I look at the entire software market, I see that same downward trend near the end of June 2012. Notice that June's job market is well below that of June in the previous year. Software is a smaller percentage of the total job market. If this is seasonal, it is more pronounced that last year.

What about just programmer jobs? Yes, the downward trend is even sharper there. In fact, it looks like a steep slope with no plans to level out any time soon.

Professional Job Market Trend

What does SimplyHired say about all of the "professional" job postings, especially the "managers?"

Yes, a downward trend is there too. Professionals and Managers are a smaller part of the total job market.

I'm hoping for a good excuse like summer vacations.

The Death of Delay

As a kid, I used to save coins to buy things from mail order catalogs or from the offers found on the back of candy wrappers.

Many of my childhood memories are a result of a mail order catalog from Johnson Smith Company. This comic book-like publication was special. It was full of essentials for American boys: X-Ray glasses, spy message decoders, pocket telescopes, and rubber dog poop.

You had to send in a request for the catalog from a magazine ad. I would wait for its arrival in the mail, race with it to my room, and consider thoughtfully how to best allocate the metal coins stored inside my piggy bank. The next step was to fill out the order form, send it in the mail with payment taped securely to cardboard, and wait.

Back when I was a kid, we did a lot of waiting.

We were okay with delays between events. Similar to standing in line at the county fair for a rollercoaster ride, the wait seemed to add something special. With delay came anticipation, enhancing the actual event when it finally took place.

So nobody thought it strange to drop something in the mailbox and wait weeks for it to make a very slow journey.

Today, the concept of requesting a paper catalog, waiting for it to arrive in the mail, responding with a paper order form, and then waiting patiently for the results seems foreign, even ridiculous.

NBC's handling of the Olympics 2012 shows that today's culture does not appreciate delays, not even if it is only for a few hours. We want things immediately.

Global technology ties us to events happening right now. We need to be involved and get immediate feedback. Waiting is not something we know how to do any more.

Paper mail was replaced by telephones and e-mail. Telephone calls and e-mails were replaced by short text messages. We now lack patience for a delay between communicating to a person and getting a response.

Paper catalogs, magazines, and newspapers will always arrive too late. The content cannot be fresh if somebody took the time to print it, carry it to a truck, and ship it to us.

Even website content is too slow. An example of this is CNN's 2011 acquisition of the online personalized magazine called Zite.

Unless there is a world calamity, I am not going to tune into CNN on the television. I stopped going to the CNN website when it started cranking out garbage about celebrities.

But Zite is different and I use it throughout the day. The people who created the content delivered to me don't work for the network. CNN employees do not even pick the content.

With Zite, the reader chooses content suitable to his or her liking, which was created by other connected individuals who have decided to create and share information. CNN had to acknowledge the trend to fast, crowdsourced information.

Squeezing out the delay between events is often a good thing. I know I don't like to wait for things anymore.

Which reminds me.

If anybody from Lik-m-aid is reading this, you still owe me that miniature spy camera. Check to see who received my quarter in the mail back around 1970.

I'll wait.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Goodreads: Healthcare Business Intelligence

If you are looking for good information on using Business Intelligence within a healthcare environment, see Laura Madsen's new book. Here is my Goodreads review:

Healthcare Business Intelligence, + Website: A Guide to Empowering Successful Data Reporting and AnalyticsHealthcare Business Intelligence, + Website: A Guide to Empowering Successful Data Reporting and Analytics by Laura Madsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Laura Madsen's book provides a good primer on the topic of business intelligence data and software for the healthcare industry.

She defines "BI" and the major tenets of using that for healthcare. In addition to the main book material, Laura provides a full appendix of useful information as well as a companion website with electronic content.

Laura stays at a high level and does not dig too much into details. This should be a good read for healthcare executives considering a BI project or for those new to the BI topic.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Other Blog is a WebFOCUS

If you are interested in the WebFOCUS enterprise BI software from Information Builders, be sure to see my other blog by clicking here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Consolidating Social Media Networks

A common question today is "Which social media networks do you use?"

My usual response is that I use LinkedInTwitter, and Blogspot for communicating about public business topics and Facebook for more private networking conversations.

For me, there has been a sharp dividing line between the content I share with business acquaintances versus friends. My friends and family do not want to read about BI software and my business associates do not care about my trip to the lake. Hence, I create one type of content on LinkedIn/Twitter/Blogspot and something completely different on Facebook. 

Lately, however, social media ranking tools like Klout are forcing me into uncomfortable territories. Somebody with a large Facebook network can easily blow away my Klout score despite not having complementary social media accounts like a blog, Twitter, Foursquare, and so forth (I'm juggling social networks with HootSuite while somebody with just Facebook "Like My Status" can be ten Klout points ahead of me!). 

If I want to build up that seemingly important Klout score, I might need to find lots more Facebook friends and share pictures of kittens. 

But opening up my Facebook account really goes against my desire to keep it for private conversations. If I decide to go this route, I would probably need to assign friends into Facebook Lists and segregate my messages to each. And until somebody builds a tool to sync Google+ Circles with Facebook Lists, I am going to focus on Facebook and ignore Google+. 

Many of the BI software vendors are all over Facebook to pull out social media insights. Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI, recently announced their own Facebook adapter. One of MicroStrategy's customers went so far as to call the MicroStrategy Wisdom product's Facebook integration a "trojan horse" hidden inside the social media network (that was a positive comment for them, by the way): 
"The app is almost like a Trojan horse. It lets us augment what's in our CRM system, and then start doing targeted segmentation." 
Michael Relich, Executive Vice President and CIO GUESS?, Inc.

See the original InformationWeek article here.

It's possible that a clear distinction between LinkedIn for business and Facebook for personal usage will disappear over time. One vendor, BranchOut, is moving us toward that blurring of the lines. With the BranchOut app, you can have an almost LinkedIn-like user interface from within Facebook. 

San Francisco-based BranchOut gives you a professional profile (imported from your resume) connected with your Facebook social media information. In this Washington Post interview, BranchOut's CEO Rick Marini says that companies are turning to Facebook to find job candidates (a place where LinkedIn shines for professional job searches). He makes the point that your real friends are on Facebook, not LinkedIn. It's those people who will help you find a job. 

Rick says that Facebook contains information about the largest talent pool in the world. In particular, he talks about individuals looking for hospitality and seasonal jobs. While he did not say this, I perceive he may think that LinkedIn is good career networking for the 25% of the American population with college degrees while Facebook is the spot for the other 75%.

He reminds us that Facebook content has changed in the past five years. Pictures of your ability to consume large amounts of alcohol and jump from your roof with homemade wings are probably not as prevalent today. Instead, today's users understand that viewers are now making decisions based on their personal content: marketing decisions, hiring decisions, reputation evaluation, etc.

Similar to my evolving Facebook content and purposes, yours will probably change over time as well. But until then, I will Like pictures of your new tattoo.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Partner Still Growing!

We knew we were one of the fasting growing privately-held firms in Cincinnati, but now we are in national rankings. Partner Intelligence's parent organization has just been named the seventh fastest growing staffing firm in the United States!

The status on our Facebook page was just updated to:

"We are excited! Partner Professional Staffing was just named number seven on the Staffing Industry Analysts list of Fastest Growing U.S. Staffing Firms. Our compound annual growth rate has been 45.9% since 2007 and this year is shaping up to be one of our best yet."

Members of the Staffing Industry Analysts group can access the entire report here

Please join me congratulating the entire team at Partner Professional Services. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Googling the Governor

The police car was something I noticed as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. The two big black GMC SUVs parked nearby did not immediately catch my eye. However, smartly dressed guys with coiled earphones running down their necks were hard to miss. 

So as we waited for tables for breakfast, my group of vacationing friends knew somebody important was in the restaurant with us. From our spot in the lobby, we could see special service men positioned strategically throughout. In a private room, a crowd of smiling individuals were greeting each other. 

Politicians immediately came to mind. Secondly, we thought about campaigning. 

So on my mobile phone, I did a Google search for "campaign breakfast" along with the name of the city we were visiting. In the first few search results was our restaurant so I read about the owner having a background in Department of Defense before starting this morning coffee and egg shop.

Lower on the list of search results was the state governor's schedule which called for a breakfast meeting at an undisclosed location. Another quick image search confirmed the guy in the green shirt in the room next to us was the governor. 

I informed my friends that the meeting would be over in three minutes as the governor needed to head for the state capitol. Right on schedule, a guy talked into the sleeve of this suit jacket and called for the governor's departure.  

It is amazing at the amount of information that we have available to us at a minute's notice. 

Pull out a mobile device from your pocket and you can access the governor's schedule. You can read the restaurant owner's bio. We can read what dozens of other people thought about the food. 

The amount of content being created all around us--today's Big Data--is overwhelming. 

It's not just the governor's schedule that is public knowledge. If others were interested, they could even easily find tracks of my activities from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other social media sites.

Today, there is a market for smart people who can analyze this social media data, identify useful facts, and take action. Who knows, a job like that might lead to breakfast with the governor. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Predictive Analytics World Conferences 2012

Predictive analytics with Big Data is a hot BI topic right now.

I was unable to attend the Predictive Analytics World Conference 2012 being held this week in Chicago, but am looking forward to the Boston event during the first week of October.

The agenda for Monday, the 1st of October, has Dr. Scott Nicholson from LinkedIn listed to present the opening keynote speech. Scott has a PhD in Economics from Stanford and his LinkedIn profile says he is the Chief Data Scientist for Accretive Health. I suspect that "formerly from LinkedIn" would be a more appropriate description for Scott.

One of the main reasons I am attending PAW Conference is to hear Dr. John Elder, the founder and CEO of Elder Research. On Monday's special plenary session, John will cover the concept of having a sophisticated algorithm working as your "Wingman" assigned to complex tasks. On Wednesday, John will also lead a special day-long workshop on predictive analytics using his book, Handbook of Statistical Analysis and Data Mining Applications.

I am also interested to hear Tuesday's keynote speech from Bob Jewell of IBM Watson Solutions talking about the practical business applications for the Jeopardy-playing software.

In addition to all of the great predictive analytics topics, the event provides an opportunity to hang out along the Boston Harbor at the Seaport Hotel. If you hurry, you can still get an early-bird special for the PAW Conference and $279 nightly hotel rates.

Perhaps we will see each other there. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blame it on the Sentence

If you are business professional, you understand the importance of having good communication skills. Whether you are writing a book, a blog article, or an e-mail, your readers draw conclusions from the thoughts you put down into an electronic or paper format.

After you commit your thoughts to a physical form, a reader has to pick them up. Sometimes in this process, your message gets slightly garbled. While it may not seem obvious, the way you structure a sentence can place blame on somebody or even onto yourself.

Consider, for example, that you jot down the simple statement, "Somebody left the garden hose on last night." The purpose of that message clearly seems to be on the sentence's subject, some unnamed culprit who forgot to turn off the water.

And perhaps you really want to make that point. However, to avoid a connotation of blame, you could have organized the sentence to not have an active subject: "The garden hose was left on last night." In the reader's mind, this changes the whole purpose of your message; your focus is now on the event, not on any particular individual.

In business, we often need to tread lightly when writing about negative events that need to be addressed and resolved. If our communication seems to just point a finger at another human, we typically then have to spend time proving guilt when the accused goes on the defensive, recanting our statement, and/or apologizing to that person. We might even have to remove spitballs from our hair. Regardless, we end up losing sight of the real issue at hand.

Keeping sentence structure in mind can also help you prevent damaging your own image in other ways. Sometimes, we unwittingly write sentences so that they point a finger right back at us as culprits even if we are not guilty.

If you write, for example, "I had a performance issue yesterday in my computer program," the reader is likely to assume that you are to blame just because of the sentence structure.

Had you written, "Yesterday, there was a performance issue in my computer program," then the reader would probably not consider you to be at fault, either consciously or subconsciously.

Be careful how you structure sentences; you might cause yourself grief by blaming somebody or even yourself. And is that water I hear running? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Domo to Disrupt the BI Software Industry

Serial entrepreneur Josh James is ready to shake up the Business Intelligence software industry with a company called Domo.

Last year, Josh launched this new SaaS venture with the following statement:
"The BI market is ripe for disruption. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on collecting data, yet no one has found a way to deliver value. SaaS is an ideal approach. For decades, the priority of enterprise software vendors has been to lock in customers though steep upfront investments and then sit back and collect maintenance fees. The SaaS model forces technology vendors to have a maniacal focus on customer satisfaction because it's relatively easy for customers to abandon you if they aren't happy. At Domo, we will work to keep our customers satisfied. And we will keep working until they say one thing, 'Thank you,' which translates to 'Domo' in Japanese."

John Thompson of Symantec has partnered with James:
"As CEO, I can relate to the problems that Josh and his team have set out to fix. Getting real-time data from across the enterprise into one place is such a simple and straightforward idea, but it's never been easy or possible. Today the infrastructure has been primed for a solution like Domo to come in and help customers get value from their data assets which live in disparate systems across the enterprise."

Attendees at the 2012 Gartner BI Summit liked what they saw of Domo. One executive commented:
“I've looked at a lot of solutions and, for the past couple of years, this is how I envisioned BI should look. I just haven't seen it until now."

Today's BI products have been challenged to keep up with changing technology eras, quickly transitioning from Web 1.0 (the desktop web browser era of 1994 to 2001) to Web 2.0 (the social era of 2002 to 2009) and now on to Mobile (2010 to the present).

Several big BI vendors have spent the last few years just trying to acclimate into their mega-vendor parent organizations after being acquired. After being sucked up into a Borg mothership like IBM or SAP, who has time to keep up with changing technologies?

Josh blogged recently on the problems of today's BI products, which he sees as the following:
  • Designed for use by IT staff, data scientists, or geeks; not for business users
  • IT's data warehouses only contain part of the story 
  • Initial offerings for Cloud BI are not good enough 

Josh and a team of very smart people plan to use $43 million of funding to fix the broken BI industry.

Here is a nice video where Domo throws out the warning to other vendors that they will turn the BI industry on its head. While the marketing video shows little "real product," it implies that Domo will provide a cloud-based mobile analytics engine for real-time Big Data.

Better, bigger, faster, cheaper so that every company struggling with BI today will be able to say to Domo, "Thank You!"

Is this really THE company that will enable firms to toss existing BI products such as IBM Cognos, SAP Business Objects, MicroStrategy, Actuate, and WebFOCUS onto the trash heap?

We'll have to wait and see, but Josh James and his investors sure seem excited about the possibility. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Converting IBM Cognos to Tableau Software

Experts say we are moving away from not just the original Web 1.0 but also from Web 2.0, on to the next generation of Mobile applications. Two years article, Wired talked about this in an article called "The Web is Dead: Long Live the Internet."

This trend away from desktop computers will impact the mega BI software vendors, especially those with just Windows products (and even those with web-based products).

Here is an interesting story about The Broad Institute converting their legacy IBM Cognos BI applications into the more contemporary product from Tableau Software. The major reasons for moving to Tableau listed in the article included new data visualization features and mobile access.

Zach Leber, the assistant director of informatics at The Broad Institute, told about the change for employees:
"As they're coming to work in the morning, for example, they can check on the status of their projects, from their smartphones even. So, it's really giving people a lot more visibility into what's going on with their projects than they had before."

See the entire article here

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Modernizing SAS BI

Ajay Ohri at DecisionStats posted an article recently about a software product which claims to be able to convert the SAS statistical processing language into Java. If so, that could mean that SAS customers could see a tremendous savings in licensing fees.

"Profound" is how Dulles Research, the vendor of this tool called Carolina, describes the cost savings of Java over SAS. Serial entrepreneur Drew Eginton owns the company. 

While automatically translating SAS into Java may be technically possible, a conversion undertaking of this magnitude would still involve a serious amount of parallel testing. 

Companies will also run into plenty of resistance from their in-house SAS experts. In fact, they should expect their mainframe capacity planners to revolt. These guys traditionally use the MXG product from Barry Merrill to calculate the system usage. Dulles Research has evidently already run into this bunch, as they put this statement on their main webpage: "Run MXG SAS-free." 

Statistical PROCs
Of course, SAS is full of statistical functions so Dulles Research will need to have a Java replica for each:

More PROCs
SAS has plenty of "general" procedures as well. Any translator would have to handle:

Even More Things to Convert
The Java replica would have to handle all of the basic file input and output handling as well, such as:
  • DATA/INPUT statement
  • EXPORT statement
  • Macro definition and invoking
  • OS Commands
  • PROC RANK basic
  • PROC SUMMARY basic
  • STYLE=
  • Traffic-Lighting

SAS also has its own data structure, so eliminating SAS would mean converting any existing data into another format. The replacement language would need to be able to access that new format.

When I investigated translating SAS to the WebFOCUS BI product (based on a 4GL programming language), I personally considered some of the following SAS features as stumbling blocks:
  • Symbolic variable processing
  • DATA/INPUT options
  • DATA/SET multiple
  • OUTPUT statement for multiple output files or DO/END loops
  • Procedural scripting
  • Selection by observation number
  • Summary set processing
  • Temporary variables as arrays

For example, the WebFOCUS 4GL language has no construct for arrays; there just isn't anything like that. So figuring out how to convert SAS array processing into WebFOCUS array processing is something I would have to think hard about to solve.

Of course, Java is a lower-level language than the WebFOCUS 4GL so Dulles Research could write their own classes to replicate anything that SAS can do. It might take a while, but it is definitely possible. 

While SAS is one of the hottest BI technologies on the market, its licenses can be very expensive. Many companies, especially those with mainframe licenses, are looking for ways to reduce that cost. 

If you are considering replacing SAS with some other product, contact me about our rapid assessment engagement using the BI Analyzer product to scan your SAS applications (include supplemental technologies such as FOCUS, JCL, CLists, etc.) and save the results into a data repository from which we can quickly run analytics on the size of the modernization effort.

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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.