Monday, July 06, 2009

BI Leadership Article

It isn’t often you come across a good article that brings together developing a Business Intelligence vision and the behaviours BI leaders need to demonstrate to make this vision a reality.  Well worth a read if you are a BI leader or are just trying to understand them…8)

Creating Shared Responsibility for Success in Your Business Intelligence Team

I’m glad to see we are already doing some of this in my current organization, but there are a number of areas discussed in this article that can be improved.  The fun never ends!

P.S. Apologies for the lack of updates to this blog, good weather calls!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The BI Experience: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

shoes The enemy of BI adoption is treating all your users the same.  Each role and person in your organization will use your BI platform differently, so you must deliver a solution that fits each individuals needs.  You should consider aspects such as tool complexity, usage of visualizations, navigation and accessibility.

Executive Users will be best served with high level dashboards, mobile access, and real time alerts.  The typical executive (an effective one anyways) doesn’t spend a great deal of time behind their computer.  When they do, they are likely short on time and are looking for the bottom line on their organization’s performance.  Dashboards are great for displaying all the relevant information on a single screen, allowing your user to have a one stop shop for when they are at their computer.  With most of an executive’s time comprising of meetings and talking with folks, having mobile access from their handheld device (BlackBerry, iPhone, etc.) will provide them with metrics where and when they need them.  Couple this with real-time alerts via email, and your Executive users will be able to leverage your BI platform according to their needs.

In contrast, front line users (Customer Service Representatives, Sales Representatives, etc.) need intelligence that is bundled in with their business processes.  To drive maximum effectiveness you want to inject Business Intelligence into the operational systems these people use every day.  This can take forms such as surfacing a Customer Lifetime Value score to assist with save strategies when a customer is calling to disconnect, or providing real time alerts into your Customer Relationship Management system when a critical order deadline has passed.  You certainly don’t want these roles that are the face to the customer wasting time flipping between their operational screens and the BI portal!

The way you provide a tailored user experience to your BI clients is critical to drive adoption towards the goal of pervasive BI.  Spend extra time and attention to this aspect when you are planning any major BI deployment and you will reap the benefits.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Icing the BI Cake with User Experience

The true power of BI is the ability to present actionable information to decision makers.  All the data quality governance, ETL excellence, and dimensional analysis will mean nothing if the business can't intuitively interact with the information through their BI tools.  You must ice the cake with an exceptional User Experience to drive the most value from your BI investments.


A focus on User Experience is key to your BI program's success for the following reasons:

  • Enables a faster "mean time to answer".  Reducing the number of clicks and searches makes your applications more satisfying and efficient to use.
  • Consistency.  Once a user understands how to read one report or dashboard, they can apply the same methodology across all BI applications.
  • Expose correlations.  Simply combining data on a visualization like a chart or a scatter plot can immediately show a correlation between 2 measures that are not as readily apparent as pure numbers.
  • Guide your user through tried and tested analysis processes to expose the knowledge of power users to the larger user base.
  • Simplify the experience of finding information by improving navigation structures.  Ensure your search capabilities are optimized to return the most relevant results.

In order to drive the most value from your user's experience you need to have a consistent approach across all the user touch points in your environment.  My recommendation is to designate someone to be accountable for User Experience across the board.  Depending on the size of your BI program this may be part of someone's role, a full person, or a small team.  Only with a centre of excellence can you drive consistent standards across all groups creating end user content.  This team would also serve as a consultant to projects to ensure that the reporting and visualizations are designed to be intuitive and useful.

You can have all the wonderful architecture and data quality you want, but without an effective User Experience your clients will not see the value of all your hard work and will be less likely to adopt your BI environment.  First impressions only happen once.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

The Tactical Data Mart Advantage

image The capabilities of current BI tools allow us to drive down the costs to develop BI applications / data marts.  This means that we can quickly develop tactical applications leveraging standard tools and methodologies to reduce development cycles.  This enables the deployment of applications to support specific decision making problems that would normally not be supported by a quality BI environment due to the short turnaround required.

Some people get upset about building these so called silos that aren't integrated.  I take a different perspective that these tactical data marts expose the power of tactical Business Intelligence, and if you manage it well they are a great complement to your core infrastructure.

"A good solution applied with vigour now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.” - General George S. Patton

It is critical that you have a checkpoint or a regular environment review that you can rely on to take one of the following actions at the end of the decision making life cycle:

  1. Decision has been made and there is no need for continued access to the data mart.  Simple response, retire the data mart and free up system resources for the next initiative.  Celebrate the success.
  2. The information within the data mart has continuing value to the organization.  In this case you need to have room in your requirements funnel to incorporate the data mart into your permanent BI infrastructure.

Don't hold your business back by sticking to a traditional release cycle.  Build a team within your BI program that can quickly spin up the appropriate BI solution to support tactical decision making.  You can't win the war if you don't win a battle now and then!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Data Integration and Your Organization

Today we had John Schmidt, VP of Global Integration Services at Informatica come speak to our teams about best practices for setting up an Integration Competency Centre (ICC).  John made an interesting point that your various Integration functions may be included in Competency Centres in different ways depending on the organization.  

If you have researched Business Intelligence Competency Centres (BICC) you will often find a Data Integration function as one of the functions staffed within the BICC.  However, Business Intelligence is just one part of the pie when it comes to integrating information across the enterprise.  You will also need data integration expertise for data quality, Master Data Management, and other non-BI specific projects.  A number of these projects may not impact BI significantly if at all.  If you want a holistic view of data across your organization you must either create a standalone ICC with strong ties to your BICC, or incorporate all areas of integration practice within a higher level Information Management Competency Centre.

Good BI is enabled by quality data.  Since data quality lives along the information management timeline from your source systems to your analytic databases, it is critical you have technology, process and people engaged all the way along to ensure the best data is delivered for BI.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keeping your BI environment clean

image Over the past year or so the "green" revolution has been sweeping IT as a way for organizations to reduce their environmental impact and to cut costs at the same time.  This has driven the need for robust measurement systems to manage the transition to being a green organization.  A number of the big BI vendors have come out with pre-packaged solutions to drive more "green"  for organizations by encapsulating best practices.

It is great for BI teams to provide these systems to the organization, but we would be remiss to not apply these techniques within our BI environments.

What can you do?  One thing I recommend you do is to perform a complete review of your Business Intelligence data stores and reporting at least once a year.  The overall goals of this review are to remove obsolete information and to address any deficiencies.  There are a number of activities you could incorporate into this review:

  • Validate with your business stakeholders that the information has continuing value.  Solicit feedback on the information that is valuable, but is somehow incomplete.
  • Review usage statistics for data marts and reports to determine what content is accessed regularly and by whom
  • Validate that the report or data store reflects current business logic
  • Gather metrics on batch load processes, response time, and storage usage to ensure your environment is stable and is scaling as volumes grow.  I've never heard of a Data Warehouse that shrinks in size over time.

The majority of these activities do not cost you a dime other than people's time.  This is especially attractive in a financial environment like today, when capital spending is being closely scrutinized.  Putting in place a regular program such as this will enable your organization to realize the following benefits:

  • Reduce maintenance costs for your BI environment.  Less data marts and reports to support as your environment grows and changes.  You can quickly find yourself drowning in too many items to support.
  • Lower the related data centre costs to support your infrastructure.  Believe it or not, all your ETL processes, database servers and storage solutions consume significant amounts of power and cooling.
  • Identify duplicated information that is redundant.  Root out conflicting business definitions.
  • Reduce the opportunity for information overload.  Having focused information will allow your users to find what they are looking for quicker.

Spare the environment and lower your costs by supporting less while extracting maximum value from your existing investments.  You can't beat this type of ROI!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

CIA: Collaboration in Action

One of the greatest examples of effective collaboration is the partnership between 007 and Q in the James Bond movies.  Q would design and build gadgets that seemed to be uniquely suited to the next round of challenges and daring escapes James would encounter on his upcoming mission.  During each movie it appears that James just drops in to Q's lab after receiving his assignment to find everything he needs ready and waiting for him.


Being this ready for anything doesn't happen magically, but is the result of an agile development methodology.  Delivering information solutions is a constantly changing landscape that can benefit from applying the design principles used in Q's lab.

  • Rapid Prototyping - Every time James would drop by, the "latest" version of a new tool is ready to be tried.  Take every opportunity to show your users the look and feel of your solution, this will unleash their creativity and you will benefit from their increased engagement and suggestions.
  • Fail and Fail Fast - These gadgets would often have unintended side effects, or would explode spectacularly.  There was never any other reaction than cool, collected analysis to fix the problem.  Create an atmosphere where the ability to quickly fail, learn from the mistake, and try again happens as quickly as possible.
  • Open Environments - Tests were not undertaken in closed laboratories, but were instead conducted in environments that were open to other researchers and their devilishly handsome customers.  Have a physical environment that encourages collaboration with everyone that is core to a project.  Virtual environments are great, but nothing replaces in person communication.
  • Continuous Improvement - Every time 007 returns his shot up, smoking, destroyed vehicles, he provides feedback directly to the designer on what did and didn't work properly.  Find different channels to receive feedback from your users, and make a point of acting on it.

Business Intelligence is not something that is done well in isolation.  Encourage your team to use the above concepts, and look for every opportunity to engage the right people in your initiatives no matter what area of the organization they are from.

"Now do please remember to take care of all this equipment 007...DON'T TOUCH THAT!!...That's my lunch!" - Q

Monday, February 09, 2009

BI for BI

One of the core disciplines within a Business Intelligence team or program is to develop internal metrics and performance management practices. The idea of "BI for BI" is to exploit your internal strengths and live the fact-based decision mantra.

Business Intelligence is a core component of corporate performance management systems. Conversely, Business Intelligence can only deliver maximum value when it is coupled by a strong performance management culture. In order to communicate the value of spend on BI / performance management initiatives, we need to talk about both the BI technology and the culture required to support it.

If we have the management practices in place to constantly act on and refine our internal program / departmental metrics, we can then use this as a working example to the rest of the organization. Not only will you be able to demo the metrics produced for your team, but you will be able to relate success stories that you had acting on this information. Not only show a dashboard trending average bugs per release, but also tell the story of how your team saw a negative trend 6 months ago, implemented an improvement to the code review process, and reduced overall bugs by 50%. How powerful is that!


Here are just a couple examples of metrics you could put in place to measure your BI program:

  • ETL Job Completion Times
  • Uptime by Infrastructure Component (Presentation, ETL, Database Layers)
  • Volume of Requests for Information
  • Average Frequency of Visits to BI Portal (i.e. 3.5 times per week)
  • Volume of Data Quality Issues
  • Resolution Time on Service Tickets
  • Production Incidents by Severity
  • Changes to Report / Asset Catalogue

A couple hints on how to put this in place:

  • Make people accountable for their metrics. They own them and report on them.
  • Start small and grow. Start with measuring only a handful of metrics, and add additional metrics over time. Look for patterns of key performance indicators, and their relation to other metrics.
  • Review and publish your metrics. Have a regular time set for metric review. Make metrics available to anyone that interacts with you, including your customers. Open the Kimono!

It is a basic professional requirement for an organization to produce regular metrics on their performance. Leverage your team's expertise in the discipline of Business Intelligence to improve your team's performance, and show the rest of the organization how it is done!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Agile Organization: Powered by Data

One of the core characteristics of an analytical competitor is the ability to rapidly leverage the organization's data to make decisions faster than their competitors. Being first to market with a new idea, product or service will ensure success when the profit margins are high before the big new thing becomes a commodity.

Here is an example of a business using analytics to gain market share:

We need to retain our high end customers with a loyalty program. Who are our most profitable customers?

Our most profitable customers must be the ones that drive highest revenues, lets go and see what this customer base looks like.

Thus begins a cycle of analysis to answer this question.

  • Data Discovery - What data is available on revenue? What systems contain this data? What is the quality and integrity of the data?
  • Data Acquisition - Know that I know what data is available, how do we get it? Does it have to be brought into the Data Warehouse? Do I need to get an extract from the ERP system?
  • Analysis - Looks like our highest revenue customers are large call centres...
  • Act - Call these clients as the pilot group to offer them 5% off new equipment installs.
  • Measure - Gather feedback from commercial account reps

Feedback comes in stating that many customers offered this discount said they would prefer more free support calls instead. What type of support call volume do we have anyway?

So begins another cycle of analysis to look at support call volume. If this data does not exist in a readily available source such as a Data Warehouse, then we have to go through the whole cycle starting with Data Discovery.


If we go through this again, we will likely lose at least days if not weeks until we are able to determine the next course of action on our journey to retain our most valuable customers. If a company is able to cut out the Data Discovery and Data Acquisition phases, they will be that much farther ahead of the competition.


Having high quality data that is available to decisions makers when they need it is essential to becoming an analytical competitor. Focus on building out a robust information architecture that contains data that is relevant to your business today. With this approach you will literally be two steps ahead of the competition.

Monday, January 26, 2009

For What It's Worth - My 2009 Predictions

imageI recognize that I am a little behind the ball on predictions for the BI space in 2009.  We are technically not a full month into the new year, so I'll sneak this in.  I have to admit that I have had the opportunity to read a number of other posts on this topic, so I have late bloomer advantage.  I'll focus on areas that I think will have a large impact on us all.

Drum roll...  2009 BI Predictions

  • The Big 4 (SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle) will continue to gain market share in the Business Intelligence and Performance Management spaces.  This will be driven by the ongoing consolidation and integration of the various home grown and acquired technologies to deliver a more cohesive user experience.  These platforms will be attractive to the IT organization due to the ability to consolidate licensing with one vendor and to have one set of management tools to support.
  • Open Source BI platforms will spread BI below the $500M in revenue organization.  The cost of mainstream BI platforms can be prohibitive for small to medium size companies.  Open Source platforms will open up the power of BI to these organizations, allowing for zero cost proof of concepts and a lower TCO for a supported enterprise solution.  Expect these platforms to deliver 80% of the functionality at 20% of the cost.
  • Business Intelligence becomes a core requirement.  Given the uncertainties in the market, we will see an increased awareness of the importance to have the information to make the right decision.  In a strong market where people are buying products and services, it is easy to roll with the times and accept positive results without really knowing why.  When times get tough, risk tolerance becomes much lower.  This risk is mitigated by having the best possible information to make the decision at hand.

No matter what, it should be an exciting year!

For an exhaustive list of BI predictions for this year, visit the BI Questions Blog for a consolidated list.

BI Questions Blog - The Complete List of 2009 BI Predictions?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cut to the Truth: Answer a Business Question

As the wealth of data available to consumers of Business Intelligence in your organization exponentially increases, so does the opportunity to expose all this data... Even when we shouldn't...

What?? Don't leverage any and all information to analyze every aspect of the situation? Bite your tongue!

When we have decision makers that need to make a call and move on to the next problem, they don't have the time (or the patience) to sort through endless reams of data to find the nugget or two that will help them make the decision. It is critical that we always ask the golden question, "What business question are we trying to answer?"

Once we have identified the end purpose of our analysis, we can then focus our energies on leveraging all this data to show the proper trend, scoring or visualization as our end result. Don't try to overcomplicate your analysis, just focus on the 80% value you can deliver with 20% of the effort. Your customers will love you for making their jobs easier, and your solutions will be less costly and easier to maintain.

Don't you love the 80/20 rule? Simplicity at it's best.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Keep Your KPIs Fresh

image One thing that has caught my attention over the past couple of months is the emphasis on new financial metrics in this depressed market. Employment statistics used to be mentioned in passing, and now we breathlessly await the monthly numbers. Clearly the global recession is an entirely new environment, and investors would be wise to not rely on old metrics and approaches to guide them.

This made me think of how a core component of a good performance management system is keeping your metrics relevant to the current business environment they are attempting to measure. There is no such thing as permanent performance indicators. If your metrics don't change, then there is something wrong with your process. It is critical to keep your performance metrics focused on the current objectives and strategies of your business.

If your company is spending money differently, as all companies are doing in some way, then your performance indicators must change to reflect this. In these types of rapid change it is entirely possible that your core business strategy can shift significantly. It is essential that the keepers of corporate performance make it a continuous cycle to review and evaluate the suite of KPIs to ensure they are aligned to today's business reality.

This also speaks to the need for the IT organization to be able to rapidly respond to these changes in direction to provide the necessary data for the new KPIs. The best BI infrastructures are highly adaptable and responsive to change.

Step back and take a look at your metrics. Are they still relevant?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Leapfrogging the Competition

frogger These are unsettling times, every family and every organization is looking closely at what they spend their money on, and the value they get from these expenses.  In order to do this effectively, it all comes down to making sound decisions with the best possible information you can obtain.  You wouldn't decide to change anything in your household, such as trading in your SUV for a Volkswagen without understanding all the angles such as financing, gas mileage, capacity, warranty, etc.  Hmmm, decisions and information... sounds like a recipe for Business Intelligence!

Every organization is in their own unique way poised to take advantage of better access to information to make sound, informed decisions to guide them in this current market economy.  Rather than cutting costs without understanding the long term impacts, use information and analytics to truly understand the cost from all angles (slice & dice).  We can also use information to look for new opportunities, such as using this downturn to acquire customers from our competitors by targeting them with advertisements that show the value of the product to them (segmentation & personalization).

This may be the time to consider increasing your company's investments in Business Intelligence technology and people, rather than trimming costs.  ROI doesn't stop happening in a down market, get out there and leapfrog your competition!

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