Monday, November 24, 2008

BI 2.0 - Process Centric

I was struck by the following quote when I was reading James Taylor's channel on the B-Eye network:

use business intelligence to make more timely decisions, monitor and optimize daily business processes, and to deploy business intelligence to a broader user audience


This is a great direction for what BI 2.0 could be.  We must consider the overall business process when we are designing solutions, rather than just the reporting or analytical requirements.  Without providing this full view we run the risk of having sub-processes optimized in such a way that the overall process efficiency suffers.  Say we optimize cost per unit from our suppliers to buy bulk, yet we don't account for the warehouse space required to store it.

As James and his colleague Neil Raden focus on, managing decisions is key to the next level of enterprise performance.  As you analyze the overall business process, the decisions points will become readily apparent, thus the analytical requirements.

Process --> Decision --> Analytics

One way to think of BI 2.0...


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Balancing your BI Strategy

For those of you that lead Business Intelligence teams or programs, you likely have encountered a big dilemma...  How can we move forward with a Business Intelligence strategy when there is such a big demand for information today?  In most organizations the demand for information far outstrips the resources available.  Information providers in an organization are consumed with resolving repeatable data quality issues, delivering endless cuts of information, and then delivering it again next month.

If we added up all the resources and time taken to keep pace with this flow, we would quickly see a lot of money being spent without delivering a lot of sustainable value.  I've seen this struggle manifest itself a number of times, and have found that it is possible to do both.  Not easy to balance, but possible.  There are 3 areas of focus that enable this:

  • Sell Business Value
  • Separate Resources
  • Deliver Incrementally
Sell Business Value

Due to the nature of Business Intelligence solutions, it is important to communicate the value of investing in long-term, sustainable solutions.  These business benefits can include a quicker turnaround on requests, more self service information, and higher data quality.  Find the benefits that fit your organization, and communicate to your key stakeholders.  You need to show what value you can deliver to their organization, and to the bottom line.

Separate Resources

As you communicate the value of strategic BI solutions to your stakeholders, also identify the need to dedicate resources to building these solutions.  Align on the number of resources that will be dedicated to building strategic solutions vs. resources dedicated to tactical response.  It is important to identify the impact of these decisions to the operational capacity that will now be available.

As you focus resources on building strategic solutions, ensure that communication tools and knowledge sharing exist between both sides of the organization, strategic and tactical.  Resources supporting tactical requirements have comprehensive knowledge of information requirements and can be a big asset in driving user adoption of the new solutions.

Deliver Incrementally

To quickly prove the value of this approach, you must deliver incremental solutions that deliver direct value to the organization.  Delivering using an agile approach will allow you to maintain your momentum and build a community around using BI tools.  Having architecture talent and good design processes will ensure that the incremental solutions build into a larger, enterprise view.

As part of your BI program or competency centre, communication and engagement with your user community is vital to deliver solutions that provide the maximum amount of value.  Finding a balance between operational support and strategic delivery will help you achieve the goals of your BI program.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The New Breed of Data Warehouse Appliance

Saw a story from Wednesday on an announcement made at Oracle Open World this week on the new HP / Oracle Data Warehouse Appliance offerings:

We are starting to see more of these hybrid models coming out, where the definition of the Data Warehouse Appliance is blurring.  Traditionally, vendors in this space offer software and hardware solutions bundled together (i.e. Teradata).  We have seen offerings in the past year and a half where storage only solutions are being sold, and in other cases just some software supercharging below the database level.  In these solutions, you keep your DBMS (Oracle, MS, etc) the same, the software integrates at a low level in the DBMS software architecture.  It is like dropping a V8 in your compact car, your controls stay the same, but your have a tad more power...8)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How can BI get agile?

image We are hearing a lot about how Agile software development techniques deliver more value quicker to the end user. The market and competition is changing faster every day, software development must be able to change with it. In our world today, we can't afford to wait for results from a traditional waterfall approach, when what we deliver will not meet current requirements.

Anyone that has been exposed to agile methodologies sees why this is such a powerful approach. I have to ask myself... Why don't we see more BI projects leveraging agile? Agile has been more prevalent and quickly adopted in the SOA / App / User Interface areas than in the data side of the world.

If we think back on the history of BI projects, we are not too far from the time when we had a failure rate of 50%! Why did they fail? Long duration, high complexity, high cost, and not delivering what the business needed, when they needed it. Sounds like a recipe for Agile to me!

I challenge you to shake off the dust and find how you can deliver in new and innovative ways. The excuse that "We don't have that data in the warehouse" is simply not acceptable in today's world. We need to be able to gather requirements, profile data, data model, build ETL routines, build reports / dashboards / visualizations, and deploy to production in the space of 2 weeks. Or why not 1 week?

Here is some reading:

Agile Data - DW Best Practices

Agile Manifesto

Monday, September 01, 2008

Follow up article to it Just Has to Work

I was catching up on my reading, and ran across the below article that had a similar view as my post on "It Just Has to Work".  Tom Hudock at Business Intelligence for Business People has a great post about a similar concept.

Now imagine what BI would be like if you could simply stitch your information together? Pull your customers. Drag sales volumes. Drop products into an information pot. Then BI does the rest. You then navigate the answers. Repeat with new information when ever you need to.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It Just Has to Work

imageHave you ever had the experience where you are hunting within your favourite BI portal for how to do such a simple thing like sending a link to a report to your business analyst? Have you ever wanted to scream at your monitor that "It shouldn't be this hard!!!"?

Welcome to the lack of attention to design that blights many BI portal implementations!

If we take a lesson from Google, we see the opportunity to focus on core functionality and to not over-engineer our BI implementations. The one frustrating thing I noticed when I started using Google's online tools was that I couldn't find out what the application was capable of without the standard menu bar we are used to in traditional desktop applications. Now I am a died in the wool IT geek, so I am definitely the exception in this case. Most users just want to do the basics and find all the options overwhelming.

Another point on designing for simplicity is that over time I found the Google suite does have advanced functionality. The key is that I didn't have the option to launch the piece of functionality until I needed it. The application was aware of my context, and showed me what I needed when I needed it. Thankfully we are starting to see more attention to design in software, Microsoft has started the quest for a simpler design with the ribbon bar in Office 2007.

This applies to BI in 2 ways, first the design from the vendor, and then the design of your information architecture. We need to demand from our vendors that they pay close attention to their user interface design, to understand how users interact with the software. and customize the interface accordingly. To continue the widespread adoption of BI information in the enterprise, it is critical that we design for the basic user, but still provide the functionality for the power user. When we place our own organization's information architecture on top of our BI platforms we need to ensure we continue this attention to design, so that we can make the information easier and more intuitively to navigate.

Keep it as simple as possible, and your key measures for use of your BI portal will leap off the chart!


P.S. We all have stats on our BI portal usage don't we? ;)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Community Rules

I get a lot of value from reading other's blogs / articles and posting my thoughts to this blog. I would jump at the opportunity to give back to the virtual BI community on topics that interest you folks.

If you have any topics / questions you would like me to address, please let me know by commenting on this post.


Where the Business meets BI

My education and early professional career was deeply rooted in the IT world. We worried about how to keep the database running efficiently, and the best way to build a reporting portal (in the old days we built ASP pages for every single report we developed). As my career matured over the years it became apparent to me that I had to understand the business side of the equation to be truly effective. This brings to mind one of the challenges we all face as leaders of Business Intelligence initiatives, where can we find the right people?

We have the distinct need within Business Intelligence to fully understand what problem the business is trying to solve, and then to understand what data is available to solve the problem. I've heard many great ideas from the business that would add a lot of value to the organization, but the data is simply not available or is of questionable quality. This is where the role of the Business Intelligence Analyst comes into play. For the purposes of this post, the BI Analyst is the person that gathers requirements from the business and then works with the IT teams to deliver the information. (I've seen about 6 different roles described when talking about a Analyst role on a BI team).

A black belt BI Analyst has 2 distinct areas of expertise:
  1. Business knowledge - Deep understanding of the business processes and models is necessary to properly "interpret" what the users are looking for.
  2. Data knowledge - An understanding of not only the data structures that are available, but how the business processes interact with the source systems which eventually filter into the data we have available to BI.

This blend of skills and expertise requires a very specific type of person. If I was to describe the qualities of a BI Analyst, the following comes to mind:

  • Hyper-analytical - Able to apply critical thinking skills to get to the heart of the problem
  • Diplomatic - Being able to guide the business in the right direction without telling them their idea won't work...8)
  • Passionate - To truly get to the heart of a problem requires tenancity and buy-in to the organization's goals

The BI Analyst is a critical component of any BI initiative regardless where in the organization this role sits. Without the proper attention to requirements and desired outcomes, a project as complicated as a typical BI initiative is very likely to fail or to fall short of our client's expectations. One of the best sources for a BI Analyst, is within the business units we serve. You likely have someone working in the business that has the right type of analytical mind set to be a "black belt"!


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Will the BI portal last?

imageAlmost all vendors have been moving to a consolidated web portal to expose BI assets to end users. I have to question the validity of making our users come to a portal when they clearly need to integrate intelligence into other aspects of their computer use. Is there a need to change the paradigm of "come and get" it BI?

I think to some extent there is a need to change how we think about building BI applications. We tend to extract out just the information requirements from our end users and neglect to capture their overall business process in the picture. If we look at this bigger picture, we will see opportunities to potentially automate decisions and to make the Business Intelligence technology more transparent in the process.

Today's BI platforms have capabilities to integrate directly within office applications, and through a service oriented architecture can expose any type of BI asset to any other application or service. There are even capabilities to expose reports as RSS feeds, that can even deliver content such as a fully rendered reports directly to the users reader software of choice. Let's use these capabilities to delivery more effective solutions and make the end user experience simpler.

We are hearing the catch phrase "pervasive BI" in the industry more and more. As people get busier and busier in their working lives, we need to provide them with the right amount of data to make the right decision at the right time. This is the promise of pervasive BI, take the strategy out of the board room and bring it to the front lines.

Yes, we will likely always have some type of BI portal to provide access to reports and other content. Let's not lose sight of other ways for our end users to interact with corporate information. By taking their overall process into account, we can integrate the required information in the most effective way for the organization.

The Next Step in a BI Vision

imageIn my post on Creating a Positive Future, I discussed the importance of understanding Business Intelligence requirements from the perspective of your end users.  Once you understand the user experience you need to provide, you are able to ensure that your delivery on this vision meets expectations.

Ok, so now you know what your users are looking for.  Great!  Let's jump in and start building the solution!

Not so fast...  We need to prepare the organization for this massive shift towards an intelligent, fact-based decision making organization.

In a number of my earlier posts I have discussed the Business Intelligence Competency Centre (BICC) as a key component to ensure Business Intelligence projects and resources are aligned to business priorities.  As we spread our wings with Business Intelligence tools it is absolutely critical that we have the underlying processes in place to support both the developers and users of the technology.  Without the appropriate organizational and process support we will not be successful realizing the benefits of Business Intelligence.

There are a number of books available that provide a good overview of a BICC.  One that I have found useful is the "Business Intelligence Competency Center: A Team Approach to Maximizing Competitive Advantage" written by a group of SAS staffers.  It is written vendor neutral, with just a little marketing pitch...8)  I would also encourage you to reach out to your Business Intelligence platform vendors and solution partners, as they will likely have experience launching a competency centre and may have their own methodologies you can borrow from.  It can be invaluable to have a neutral 3rd party help you with this process, so that you can leverage their experience.  That is if you can afford it!

Stay tuned for more thoughts about the BICC over the next couple of months.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I Dream of Data


For those of you that aren't certified "data geeks", you would probably not understand dreaming of data.  For some of us this love affair is new, and for some of us this has been a long standing obsession.

I clearly remember the first time I got the data bug.  It was an entry level database programming course and the lab assignment was to build and execute SQL scripts (inserts, deletes, updates, selects) against a provided data model using an Oracle (v5 I think) database.  It just seemed so natural to examine the data model and the problem and just pick what you wanted and join tables to build "grids" of data.  The career path in IT was set from the 2nd year in university!

Throughout my career, I have always been fascinated by manipulating data to gain insight into what is happening in the business of my organizations.  This has fostered a deep appreciation for the value of Business Intelligence, but on a larger scale an appreciation for how overall data management is critical to the success of an organization.  The Business Intelligence discipline must be supported by other components of an Enterprise Information Management (EIM) strategy such as Master Data Management (MDM), Data Governance, Data Architecture, and Data Quality Management to provide maximum value to an organization.  To forge ahead without engaging the rest of your IT department in treating data as an asset is a recipe for frustrated teams and ineffective solutions.

So when I fall asleep, I dream of a perfect environment where all pieces of an Enterprise Information Management strategy are in place.  Sometimes I feel like I am drawn to a big light at the end of a long corridor filled with data.  When I finally get to the end I see beautiful visualizations of information presented by my local Business Intelligence portal, harnessing all the inherent value in my beautifully managed data sources.  This is a big dream, but what dream worth pursuing is easy?

Good night, sleep tight!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Translating Back

Interesting article on how BI applications have to be traced back through the Systems Development Life Cycle to become business information again.  Here is a diagram from the article:



Saturday, June 07, 2008

Article on Pushing the BI Limits

This is a link to a great presentation by Timo Elliot a Senior Director with Business Objects. This is one of the best presentations I have seen on pushing BI to the limit!


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Squeezing the value out of what you have

Ran across this interesting post about how you can replace just the pieces of your mainframe application that require the most change, and doing it with an external business rules management system (BRMS).

If you think about this, you can apply it to the BI spaces as well.  I can think of a couple places where this would apply.

  1. Data marts, if you build your data marts properly, they are much less costly to enhance than to replace.  Rather than spinning up another data mart to get the slice of data you are looking for, you could leverage an existing data mart and add the data required to it.  This may require some retooling of the front end reports / dashboards if the existing data structure changes, but this is much less costly than having to build, support and store another data mart.
  2. Tools, if your toolset doesn't support your current requirements, don't lose heart and buy yet another tool.  Work with your senior technical folks to come up with a way to extend the platform, there may be exposed services that can be recombined into something new.  Also, reach out to your vendor, explain your requirements and you would be amazed at what they can dig up from other customers.  Lobby your vendor to include new functionality in their next release.  The whole idea of crowd-sourcing is picking up steam, so the majority of vendors are working hard to include customer requests in their products.

Do less with more!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't Let Budgets Hold You Back

Just read an article from the Data Warehousing Institute on how to move forward with data warehousing / business intelligence initiatives when you have limited funding and resources available to you.  The idea is to use these techniques to provide visible business wins that should translate into additional funding being available for your BI program.

This is actually a 3 part article that looks at the problem from 3 perspectives (click to see article):

  • Technology & Tools - How to leverage what you already have / expanding on existing vendor relationships.
  • People - The typical roles required on a data warehousing project and how to combine them
  • Project Selection - Steer around projects that require significant resources and have high complexity, instead go for the quick wins or low hanging fruits.

Good read for anyone in the field, we don't need a 10 pound sledgehammer to nail a picture to the wall!


BI's Place in the IT Portfolio

Good morning, ran across an interesting article on where Business Intelligence fits within an overall IT portfolio.  The below is an interesting picture of this:


Nice to see this on top of the chain isn't it?  8)  Here is the link:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Creating a Positive Future

image If you have spent any time on the Internet researching a topic like Business Intelligence / Knowledge Management, it can be very overwhelming when you consider all the pieces that need to be implemented to have your organization on the leading edge in this field.  This is not just a technology evolution, you also must consider the people and process components to implement a successful Business Intelligence program.  Especially in today's business world, an organization has to find a balance between keeping the current operations running to respond to the latest market opportunity, and building strategic capabilities to support the future and provide competitive advantage.

This is a daunting task, so where to begin?  If you have done any reading on the power of positive thinking you may have run across references to "Creating a Positive Future".  The idea is that if you can en-vision what you would like things look like in the future, then you can work backwards to get there.  Think of it as a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach.

Your first step is to approach this from the experience you want your clients to have.  You must start by talking to your users to understand what business pain points you can solve for them.  Now if you are in a situation where they don't currently have a lot of BI capabilities, you will likely here a lot about what you are not providing now.  That is ok, you need to understand these pain points to ensure you cover them off in your future state.  In an organization more mature in leveraging information, you will hopefully hear about some great new opportunities that BI technology can help with.

Start by working from a what is possible perspective.  Don't burden yourself with the current limitations of people, funding or technology as this will in turn limit your vision.  Build a vision based on your experiences, research on what other companies are doing, but most importantly spend time with your clients to ensure you fully understand what they are looking for.

If you focus on what is possible, instead of what you aren't doing today you can build a positive future for the implementation of BI in your organization.  Watch out for future posts on the next steps to develop your BI roadmap once you have this vision.

P.S.  This is my first post using Windows Live Writer to post to  Works great!  A big thank you to my colleague Frank Vandongen for suggesting it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Turning Data into Information is Just the Beginning

Final day for me at the Semantic Technology conference in San Jose. I ended this trip with a renewed appreciation for the bigger picture of knowledge management to create and leverage true Intelligence for an organization. In some organizations we are so focused on turning raw data into usable information, we sometimes lose sight of how we can continue to add value to our information assets to turn them into a true competitive advantage.

The following picture shows the full story on the "Intelligence Pyramid" that will add exponentially more value to an organization. I won't take credit for this pyramid, sometimes referred to the "Wisdom Pyramid", but I will share my personal recreation of it.

Lets walk through these 4 stages starting at the bottom, and provide some additional context:
  • Data - This can be described as the raw data that would typically support a company's operational processes. For all you ETL buffs, the "Source System". - "What is happening?"

  • Information - Transformed information that is not in IT terms, but in business terms and is consumable by the business for reporting and analytical needs. - "What does it mean?"

  • Knowledge - Taking the Information we have prepared in the previous step and enriching it with relationships and correlations that start to "tell the story" of what an organization's data contains. - "What do we already know and why?"

  • Intelligence - The holy grail, we have leveraged all the previous stages to put all this data to work to develop action plans to resolve the business problem or challenge. - "What do we do?"
This is the true power of data! This goal can not be accomplished by traditional BI tools and techniques alone. We need to add a mix of other technologies that are better at representing relationships and data (i.e. semantic technology), and most importantly to bring together the right people to look at all this data from their different perspectives. With the right mix, we can deliver value to the organization that will pay back the investment in data many, many times over.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ontologies Applied to Business Intelligence

After a full day of seminars at the Semantic Technology conference, I ran into an interesting tool that is "new to me". This tool is called Ontology.

An ontology is a formal representation of a set of concepts within a domain and the relationships between those concepts.

OK, I have to admit this is a pretty high level and cerebral topic, lets put this in the context of an example to make it real. Lets say we have a business problem (i.e. the domain) that involves displaying a customer's invoice online. If you think about it, this problem typically has the following entities involved:
  • Customer
  • Product
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Person
  • Invoice

Does this seem like an exercise in Entity Relationship (ER) modelling? Well to a certain extent it is, but the value an ontology adds on top of this is how these entities are related. This still seems like ER modelling, but lets see how this plays out...

  • A Customer subscribes to Products
  • A Customer is a Person
  • A Marketing Strategy acquires Customers
  • A Marketing Strategy sells Products
  • An Invoice belongs to a Customer
  • An Invoice has Products
  • An Invoice includes Marketing Strategies (Bill Messages)
  • A Person creates a Marketing Strategy

Are all you data modellers out there feeling confused by all these relationships? 8) Real world relationships seldom fall into the typical hierarchical relationships so common in ER modelling. To fully describe the richness of all relationships we have to step back from the physical data structure and build out a separate meta data store that does not care about the structure, but does care about the context of the data and its relationships. This is typically stored within a database as a Triplestore, which breaks down relationships into "subject" "predicate" and "object".

A Person (subject) creates (predicate) a Marketing Strategy (object)

If each of these 3 pieces had a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) that uniquely identified each piece, a deceptively simple data model can be created to handle any object and any relationship. In this way any object in the system can be related to any other object using 1 data model.

Once we have this ontology, the next logical step is to map this ontology to the physical data. This not only helps business users navigate data, it is a great tool to facilitate data integration efforts as we can map any data source against the business focused ontology.

What is the value of this for Business Intelligence? In the BI field we are constantly striving to take data and turn it into actionable intelligence. If we had a rich meta data layer that contained a validated ontology we could use this data to uncover correlations in data that would not be uncovered through a simple ER model. As the ontology is in business language it serves as a great tool to bridge the gap between physical data and business entities. This facilitates communication of the organization's data assets between business and IT to ensure no bit or byte goes un-leveraged.

This is but one tool to allow us to bring our users into the development of their applications, better yet lets get the business to own this "layer" since they know it best!


Comments Opened

Just a quick note to let you know that I have removed the requirement for users to be signed in to post comments to hopefully encourage more participation in this blog. You will have to do one of those pesky words embedded within images thought...8)

Semantic Technology Conference 2008 - Questions

Well, Im in sunny San Jose now, and am preparing for my first day at the Semantic Technology Conference. Before I dive into the seminars, I think it is important to step back and understand what specific questions I am trying to answer by attending this conference.

Here we go:

· How can we bridge the gap between information and human understanding to make information actionable?

· How do we build a business model that represents how the organization perceives its products, service and customers? How can we put such a business model in place to help us organize information in a way that it is accessible and takes us to the next level of comprehension?

· How can we leverage user-generated semantic data to enhance applications to add context?

· How can we create a data discovery process that is intuitive and returns results?

· How does Semantic Technology apply to both Business Intelligence and a Service Oriented Architecture?

Ill throw these questions out for now, and will look to answer them over the next 3 days. Ill be posting updates to this blog as I have time between sessions. If you have any input on the above, please comment away!


Monday, May 12, 2008

Foundational Concept for Performance Management and Data Quality

I was going through my reading, and ran across this article on the B-Eye-Network that talks about the foundational concepts that need to ground a Data Quality program. Part of this article discussed the Deming Cycle (PDSA Cycle). The PDSA acronym stands for the following:
  • Plan - Plan for the future desired state
  • Do - Execute actions to get to future state
  • Study - Check the results against desired state
  • Act - Act to correct towards desired state

This is a foundational concept that we can apply to both Data Quality programs and the use of Key Performance Indicators in a performance management system. In the data quality program we would apply the PDSA model as follows:

  • Plan - Define data quality issues in a given data source
  • Do - Put in place monitoring tools to analyze data quality
  • Study - Analyze the results to understand issues and identify root causes
  • Act - Act on root causes (typically process issues) and fine tune monitoring tools

Similarily, when we define and use Key Performance Indicators we might approach it this way:

  • Plan - Define a set of KPIs that are thought to be critical to business success
  • Do - Collect data on actual performance against the KPIs
  • Study - Analyze the results to validate KPI effectiveness and to search for other supporting factors of success
  • Act - Fine tune KPIs from learnings to improve overall performance management

If we look at this type of process as a framework, we can use it to build more effective processes that are rooted in an iterative approach to improving quality and value. With this type of execution you can climb any hill by taking small, measured steps. A word of caution however, you may suddenly realize you are climbing the wrong hill...8)

Good night,


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Links for May 11, 2008

An interesting article that questions the need for a data warehouse for every Business Intelligence project. This parallel's the move to Web 2.0 in BI technology as this data is not likely to be stored in the data warehouse.

Heading to the Semantic Technology Conference on May 19th, should have some good posts from the road. Check out the website at:


Friday, May 02, 2008

Dealing with Culture

How does the culture of the organization impact the adoption of Business Intelligence?

This is a great question we need to ask ourselves as we move the vision of Business Intelligence forward in our organizations. Depending on the organization, your BI program will be successful based on how the program aligns to the culture of the company.

For example, lets envision a culture where finding cost efficiencies is a core mission of the organization. Think of some type of commoditites industry where margins are razor sharp, and every .001% improvement can be what makes or breaks the organization's profitability that year.

In this type of pragmatic organization, you would entirely miss the boat if you came in with a solution that provides demographics on their customer base and opens up new opportunities for them. In this type of culture, they may not be looking for new opportunites. We just want to procure it, process it and sell it on the open market! Beware those BI practitioners that stray from a services industry...8)

This is a pretty crude way to point out that you need to know your organization and it's culture to understand how to position your BI strategy. Tailor your approach using vocabulary and outcomes that align with organizational culture and you will be saying the right things to be successful.
Have a good night!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don't Forget About the Competency Centre!

Ok, I have to admit it, I've been spending a lot of my research time looking into trends in Business Intelligence technology and have not been focusing on the organizational structures necessary to support all these cool technologies and capabilities. *sigh* The danger of letting the technologist in me rule the day!

Thankfully with all the feeds I have coming into my news reader I have diversified enough to capture articles that pertain to not just the technology, but the people and underlying procesess necessary for a true enterprise Business Intelligence strategy.

The Business Intelligence Competency Centre or BICC is a key enabler to ensure we spend our money on the right BI investments and don't fall into the trap of siloed solutions with departmental implementations. As we push more and more power into the hands of our end users, the inherent danger is that we lose all that lovely centralized control the IT organization had over what reporting / BI applications are built and enhanced. For all your type A's out there this is a big blow I know...8)

If we ensure we join IT and the business together through a BICC then we have the ability to make informed business decisions on BI priorities and funding to extract the most value from these investments. Here is the article that brought this point back home to me if you are looking for a refresher (hint, if you work for me read it!).

Another area of research that is consuming my time is leveraging a rules based SOA architecture to inject analytics and intelligence into business processes. As I blogged before, here are some great blogs on this subject. There is an interesting parallel between rules based systems and future BI implementations. The standard mantra is that an IT organization can never keep up with the demand for changes and additions to information systems, we can only truly be successful by leveraging the business community to not only co-develop solutions but to author new solutions without the intervention of IT. When this is the case we can know we have empowered our clients with information in their hands to drive the most value from corporate data.

Then we can focus on the technology...8P


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Back to Basics

Ran across this article on the B-Eye Network that takes some time to revisit the definition of Business Intelligence and how Business Analytics realizes value for investments in other Business Intelligence competencies (Data Integration, Reporting, Infrastructure, etc).

I recommend taking the time to read this article, it really helps to bring focus back to what should be the rmission of every Business Intelligence organization. Here is a clip from the article on the BI value chain, we should all have this on the wall of our workspaces!
Happy Sunday,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Overview of Web 2.0 and Business Intelligence

Here is the first of a four part series from the B-Eye Network on how Web 2.0 applies to Business Intelligence. I heartily recommend you read them all!


Monday, April 07, 2008

SAP / Business Objects

Must read article for all you Business Objects customers wondering what is going to happen with the SAP acquisition of Business Objects. A good discussion on their strategy to integrate BI into their ERP applications.


Outstanding KPI Resource

Good evening,

I was reading Claudia Imhoff's blog tonight ( and she has posted a link to an outstanding KPI resource. This website has 100's of defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you can browse by industry / discipline to find ideas for KPIs. The IT metrics are very comprehensive.

I recommend you register and take a browse...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Event Based Marketing

Very interesting article on switching to event based marketing from the more traditional channel based system.  Interesting feature we should start looking for from campaign management vendors.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Predictive Analytics - There is a time and a place

Predictive analytics have been touted as the holy grail of Business Intelligence for quite some time now. However, how many organizations are actually using predictive analytics? In a recent survey conducted by TDWI only 21% of organizations have a full or partial predictive analytics deployment, while another 19% are in the process of developing it.

What does this mean to the majority of organizations? In my opinion it means that we need to apply the techniques of predictive analytics as the business case warrants. For example, if we can understand customer behaviours and predict what actions will appeal to each type of customer, we will be able to produce significant ROI for the organization. In order to increase the adoption of predictive analytic deployments, we need to take this out of the back room analyts hands and into the hands of the employees working directly with the customer. The trend towards operational business intelligence is a great way to inject targeted intelligence directly into the work processes of these individuals.

To think about it another way, does this intelligence absolutely require human interaction at all? If you have a rules based engine in place, you can directly take action by plugging in the different variables to the model, retrieve the scenario with the highest score and take the next logical step of implemention directly. If you don't require a decision from the knowledge worker (and we are nearly all knowledge workers), why add another piece of information to their already overwhelmed senses?

Predictive Analytics have a time and a place but the organization and technology need to be ready for it. If you don't have ready access to data, business stakeholders, and modelling expertise take 1 step back. If you don't have a way to take direct action from your predictive analytics solutions take 2 steps back!


Friday, March 28, 2008

SOA & Rules - Great Blogs

Increasingly as I look at where Business Intelligence is heading, we talk about integrating BI into business processes and pushing BI to the front lines. Ran across the following blogs that discuss harnessing a Service Oriented Architecture and rule engines to integrate operational decision making into applications.

Smart Enough Systems:
Enterprise Decision Management - a Weblog:

As if you didn't have enough to read...8)


Monday, March 17, 2008

Enterprise Search - Foundation for integrating Information & Context

For a Business Intelligence guy it is a little strange dipping my toe into the world of Enterprise Search, but for some strange reason it keeps surfacing to the top of my search queries on Google. I'm starting to think that the typical web browsing session will closely mirror how information workers should be able to access corporate data.

It really should be that simple, open up your browser, enter in a couple keywords that describe what information you are looking for, hit the enter key, and presto you have access to the accumulated knowledge of the organization on your screen. Maybe you are describing something that is called something else... Your browser gently suggests a couple like terms (synomyns) that you can click on to expand your search.

According to studies, information workers can spend up to 25% of their time trying to find information. If we could easily quantify what the value to the organization of reducing this time spent by only 5% we would have an ROI that would convince anyone to fund an enterprise search initiative. Worse yet, up to 40% of the time the information worker can't find all the information they require.

The true value of Business Intelligence is unleashed when it is integrated as much as possible into the processes and daily tools of today's professionals. This means that we need to provide a 360 degree view of the business task or problem at hand to make the people turning this information into action as effective as possible. This is the promise of Enterprise Search, the Google-like functionality that makes information a tool rather than something you collect.

Until next time,


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dashboards by Example

I love this site! Nothing like looking at lots of sample dashboards!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Operational Reporting Meets Business Intelligence

One of the interesting debates we have had over the past couple years is the difference between true Business Intelligence and Operational Reporting. This discussion started around who within the IT organization was accountable for developing "reporting" for applications. We have come from a place where Business Intelligence and reporting were considered synonymous, and all reporting requirements were considered the domain of the organization's Business Intelligence team. The argument was that reports that are more operationally based needed to fit into the overall information architecture, along with more analytical style of reporting. The issue became that no single team was able to have the subject area knowledge of every operational system within the organization.

Ok, phase II, all operational reporting requirements would be handled by the development teams most familiar with the application. This makes a lot of sense since a report can be considered simply an output of the application (definition of an app: inputs into a process, a process that happens, and then outputs come out). The major issue here is that this can lead to silos of reporting being developed that are not integrated into the enterprise information framework. As an end user, do you really want to have to go to multiple applications / portals to get all the reports you need?? This doesn't make any sense, as a consumer I want the "one stop" shopping approach.

The future... I really see that we have an opportunity to provide one integrated portal to knowledge workers that contains all the information they need to do what knowledge workers do best. It shouldn't matter what application / database the data is contained in, it should all fit into one portal, one integrated set of data assets. All the major BI platforms are now able to support basic reporting, slice & dice, predictive models and dashboards. We truly can make a one size fits all platform, even if we end up with a couple technologies being stiched together. As long as they can integrate (meta data, meta data, meta data) we can still call it a single platform.

Ok so the technology is there, but how do we make this all work? That is the million dollar question, by definition we would need to account for the following:
  • Multiple development groups (IT & Business) contributing to this single platform
  • Decisions on how to present data for reporting (source system, operational data stores, data warehouses) - Architecture decisions to ensure appropriate reporting architecture are key
  • Providing a set of best practices and standards across all teams
  • Potential conflicts between groups on business definitions and rules

The concept of the Business Intelligence Competency Centre (BICC) can be the glue that holds this distributed approach together. The BICC can set the standards, build the processes and provide that central view of the overall information architecture that is so key to leverage a single integrated environment.

Here is a link describing the BICC concept, there is a ton of information out there, most of the major BI vendors provide information as well.

No one said it would be easy...8)


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Costco - Operational BI in Action

We were recently at our neighbourhood Costco on our bi-weekly expedition to buy bulk and ran into a situation where a very simple application of operational Business Intelligence was successful with me and my wife.

We were standing in line at the checkout when a Costco employee came up to upsell us their Executive membership. Normally we aren't interested in paying more for a membership, especially when we already pay $50 a year. The executive membership is another $50 a year for a total of $100. However, on this day we were feeling charitable so thought we would give him a chance.

First of all, he scanned our current card. After scanning our card he was able to show us that if we spend the extra $50 to upgrade the membership we would save at least $65 a year! This would pay for itself! Now, lets think about the BI process in the background:
  • Rep scans our current membership card on his handheld / wireless device
  • Last year's purchases are accessed online, and then a formula is applied to determine the rebate we would of gotten if we had the membership last year
  • Rep lets us know the savings and is able to sign us up for the Executive Membership on the spot!

As BI goes more mainstream and is embedded in more applications, we will see many other examples of Operational BI in action as consumers. How many memberships has Costco been able to get because of this? Probably a lot considering their is always a line up for the checkouts!

Until next time,


Monday, March 10, 2008

Business Intelligence 2.0 - Overview

After doing some initial research on the Internet it became readily apparent that a good deal of the concepts I had in my mind were captured under the heading of "BI 2.0". This seems to be taking the Web 2.0 social networking concepts and bringing it into the Business Intelligence world. Business Intelligence really is the perfect implementation of the Web 2.0 technologies, the core business process of people looking at information from different perspectives and collaborating on what they see to make business decisions is really what Business Intelligence is all about. There are many other aspects of the next wave of Business Intelligence innovation outside of the Web 2.0 realm, but for now I'll focus on the impact to the user experience. In the end our client's needs rule!

Before digging in to any one topic in depth, thought it would be best to provide a brief overview of what each area is at a high level.

Intelligent Search

Searching all relevant information (structured of unstructured) to return results in the context of what is contained within the documents. Very similar to web search engines, but focused on enterprise information assets. Idea is to search on a topic and return back both flat reports, dashboards, business process documentation, social network (discussions, blogs, groups, etc.) information and anything else relevant. This information can be easily bookmarked into our portal views to enhance and build on information exchange relationships.


Adding context to information through the subjective experiences of end users. Would work in the same way web sites like flickr allow all viewers to tag their images, interpreting pictures in ways that computers can't. This is key to enabling Intelligent Search. Users would be able to rank information to make relevant content known to larger groups.


Enabling discussion board style functionality within information portals. Common discussion can build more cross-functional relationships amongst users, building the informal networks so crucial in today's fast paced business environment. I can picture people annotating and highlighting sections of reports / dashboards right on the portal and being able to share this with their network.

RSS Feeds

Integrating Business Intelligence content into RSS readers would truly bring control over how users information is categorized by putting it right into their email clients. All the features of RSS readers will be available including refresh frequency, archival and labelling. Anything we can do to help organize the information avalanche will make our users that much more efficient.


Allowing users to take more control of how they work with information is key to mashups. Rather than having to open multiple reports and try to come up with how they all correlate, imagine being able to pull pieces of these reports together on one dashboard and having it all just work? Add in visuals like placing performance metrics on a diagram of a business process to see analytically and cognitively how everything fits together. The possibilities are limitless here!


Provide trusted Subject Matter Experts with a forum to share their knowledge. If you think about it, there is someone in every team that is the guru and has great expertise tempered by experience. These people and other holders of specialized knowledge like to be recognized for their area of experitse, give them a forum to share this with the larger community will increase their engagement and their value to the team.


Now wikis, at first thought I'm not sure how this applies (might be my control freak nature), but having content able to be edited by anyone gives me the shivers! Nevertheless, there could be something here. When we have such great tools such as blogs and discussion forums, a great deal of knowledge is hidden in those threads of conversation. This is great for collaboration but maybe not so great for other people searching for this knowledge. If you can convince your business users to do it, using Wikis as the ultimate source of authority on one topic can assist with best practices and findings from Business Intelligence projects. Capturing all that great knowledge capital into an asset that is of value to the company and helps share that knowledge.

This is just my first pass at what is out there, will continue to dig!


Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Journey Begins

It is pretty embarassing when you come back to a blog and the last posting was in November of 2005. Well given the new Web 2.0 world it must be time to start collaborating and sharing knowledge rather than being a scrooge and keeping it all in your head.

After about 7 years working in the field of Business Intelligence it is a scary prospect to stand up on your hind legs and sniff out what is happening on the horizon. It used to be so simple to do BI. Here was my typical project
  1. Hear about some Business Unit that was looking at new reporting requirements. Well, reporting??? That is what we used to do, it is kind of embarrassing to think about how many reporting solutions were branded as "business intelligence"!
  2. What's the first thing you do now?? Call the user? Are you kidding, what the heck do they know? I know what to do, lets look at the source systems, who cares how they are used!
  3. Oh boy, data analysis, a BI geek's dream. Here we go, warm up your SQL coding fingers. Yee haw, lets do some group bys, order bys, distinct values until we curl up at night dreaming inner joins and histograms.
  4. Once you know that data model and the data inside it you are off to the races (who cares how the data gets populated into the database, that would mean talking to the users, big no no)
  5. Ok, now the fun part, lets design as many star schemas as are needed to use every single element in that source system. We don't know if these subject areas are going to be useful, but gosh darn it we are going to give it to the business. BTW, they call customer's accounts? But the source system column name was customer_id? (pesky users)
  6. Now that we have our destination schema, now the truly fun part. And wasn't it fun? Nothing like hand coding hundreds of stored procedures to do your extract, transform and load routines. It was truly a dream for the hyper-active coder, to be pulling your hair out encompassing complex business rules directly in your code.
  7. Oh the sweat and tears when you try to make this all work together, like pulling out finger nails with pliers. But eventually you get the spaghetti factory moving, you feel like the next BI messiah.
  8. Hmmm, hey did anyone ask those pesky users if they wanted any reports off this beauty of complex systems?

If was fun wasn't it? The fact that your business users look at you like you have two heads didn't phase you at the time...

Thankfully, we have matured and have put in place some extremely sophisticated tools to make the above artwork of luck and raw perserverence something that is much more accomplishable. We are now poised on the next wave of innovation within the Business Intelligence and Corporate Performance Management industy, the new world of the collaborative web is going to take all this great information we can provide and place it within webs of users communities that can turn this information into action and results.

As I embark on this journey to see what is the right Business Intelligence strategy for my employer, I look forward to sharing what I find with whoever runs across this blog. If you have any comments or contrary opinions to those I state please, please comment, comment, comment. I'm wrong a lot, but it sure is fun to try! 8)


This is a personal weblog, and does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer.