Monday, September 06, 2010

Book Review: Business Intelligence Success Factors

imageJust finished reading Business Intelligence Success Factors, Tools for Aligning your Business in the Global Economy by Olivia Parr Rud.  I have to admit this was a hard read and took me longer than normal to get through.

First of all, this is unlike any Business Intelligence book you have ever read.  The focus here is on how the old organizational paradigms of command control will not work in the new, connected, global economy.  In our new world, old school BI showing standard reports and dashboards to the top business leaders after a 8 month development effort simply won’t cut it.  In an increasingly quickly changing, chaotic world we need to reinvent how we approach BI in our organizations to be adaptable, resilient and connected.

The biggest “a ha” for me while reading this book was the chapter on Holocracy.  A Holocracy is the concept of having self organizing teams that are empowered to accomplish the goals of their team without a command and control structure.  We have been talking a lot in our organization about adopting Agile development practices.  In some respects we have been stuck in the mindset that this is purely for project / development teams.  What is becoming increasingly clear, is that the principles of Agile can be applied to all parts of your organization and roles.  Over the past months we have been moving in the direction of turning our team upside down and applying lean principles and empowerment of our teams across the board.  Reading about Holocracy’s in this book helped me crystallize my thinking and filled in some gaps as we move down this road.

This book covers a lot of concepts in what can feel like an unconnected way at first.  If you persevere and finish the book you will walk away with new insights and a totally different way of looking at how you implement BI in your organization.  The author provides full references to all her sources, and I would also recommend “Tribal Leadership”, “Good to Great” and “Switch, How to Change When Change is Hard.”

BI is hard, the more advanced you get in your BI capabilities, the harder it gets.  If you are a leader of a BI team you will be one of the first to feel the impact of our new world as your organization demands more and more insight to optimize your business.  It is essential that you are ahead of the curve, not on applying Business Intelligence, but on how to be a Leader in a flat, team-centered and dynamic environment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TDWI Conference – Day 3 Highlights

Well, today marked the end of the BI Executive Summit at TDWI in San Diego.  It was a jam packed 2 and 1/2 days, and I got a lot of value out of the sessions.  As with any conference, not every session was outstanding, but by and large the majority of the sessions were very informative.  Here are the final highlights from the summit:

  • Semantic Intelligence is very important to understand the context of the data you have in your organization.  This is still an immature technology, but front runners will have an edge in finding hidden value in their data.
  • Look at the current tools and technologies you already have, and see how you can leverage it more.  For example, you don’t need to go out and buy predictive analytics technology out of the gate, but you can do a lot of “predictive” functionality using straight database technology.
  • Big theme of leveraging your current BI assets to provide more operational intelligence to your front lines through embedding BI information in operational systems including mobile devices.
  • The rate of change in organizations is increasing exponentially, agile approaches to deliver quicker are very critical.  Favourite quote: “You can’t predict what questions you will get tomorrow”
  • There is a lot of value in using BI to rank peers against each other to foster an environment of friendly competition.  If the sales manager in the region next to you is doing better, then there is a great opportunity to learn from them to improve your results.
  • Operational BI in action: The Virginia Police Department has decreased violent crime by 40% since they exposed operational intelligence directly to officers in their squad cars.
  • Some discussion on solid state storage to delivery blistering fast performance.  Teradata has an appliance that uses only solid state storage.  It is fast but EXPENSIVE.
  • Visualizations are very key, with increasingly large data sets and more complex business environments, only advanced visualizations can handle 1,000’s of points of data and dozens of dimensions.

Attending two sessions on predictive analytics tomorrow as I have had no exposure to this technology.  Should be interesting!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TDWI Conference – Day 2 Highlights

Another great day at the TDWI BI Executive Summit, covered a lot more ground today.  Here is my list of highlights and “a ha” moments:

  • Many Data Warehouses only get leveraged for standard reporting, it takes a leap to start leveraging this investment for true analytics.
  • An assessment of who does reporting / BI and what systems they leverage is an essential step to understand the requirements for BI at your organization.
  • Just having the latest tools doesn’t ensure success in your BI program, you need to engage your business closely to get true value.
  • Think hard about what will amaze and delight your end users when it comes to the customer service you provide through your BI team.
  • Text Analytics is critical to gaining insight from the vast amount of unstructured data your organization has.  Lots of great applications of how to understand and take action on the feedback from your customers.
  • Idea of having people in your BI team be adept at all parts of the technology stack from Database, ETL, and BI reporting (and requirements).  This helps ensure that you implement business logic in the right part of the stack.  For example, a report developer will put the logic in the report, because that is what they know.
  • Business Intelligence is a process of discovery, it is worthless to document requirements at the beginning of an iteration because these requirements will and should change.  Document what you have to once you have what the customer wants.
  • User happiness is the key to success, the goal of meeting the requirements as documented at the beginning of the project is meaningless.
  • Everyone on your BI team needs exposure to the end customer to truly understand their needs, including your ETL developers.  Strikes me that your ETL developers probably know your organization’s data the best, and can bring this knowledge to the conversation with your customer.
  • Lots of discussion on data governance / MDM in the afternoon:
    • Data quality needs to be part of everything you do, it is not just about a governance model
    • Idea of putting the name of the business owner on the report, they should be the ones answering questions about data quality
    • Pick your battles, only focus on data quality issues that have significant impact
    • You need to link data quality / governance to business process management, they are very tightly linked
    • It is not really about garbage data, it is about bringing together multiple, valid formats so they can be integrated and linked.

Tomorrow wraps up the BI Executive Summit with a half day of content focused on future trends in the BI space.  Should be interesting!  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s update.


TDWI Conference – Day 1 Highlights

Hippo Clip ArtIt was a long day at the TDWI BI Executive Summit yesterday, my head was spinning with everything that I heard.  Here are the highlights or “a ha” moments that I captured:

  • Lets change the term “data acquisition” to “data provisioning”.  I work for a Telecommunications company and a big part of our business is provisioning customer equipment to turn on their services.  Love the idea of us “turning on” our business partners ability to make good decisions by providing good quality data.
  • We need a “BI Review Board” that includes the front lines of our organization from the business through to IT to be involved in approving new standard reports.  This way you ensure more areas of need are met through one standard report.
  • Said it before, Agile BI requires a lot of discipline to maintain quality while delivering faster, better, cheaper.  Invest time in your enterprise data architecture as this is the baseline for everything.
  • Opening up the development of BI reports to your business is like sending a child out into the world for the first time.  You have to rely on the effort you put into developing your child (i.e. standards, best practices) to help guide them on their way (taking on their own development)
  • Avoid the HiPPO when making business decisions (Highly Paid People with Opinions).  In the absence of good data, the HiPPO rules.
  • Put more effort into asking good Questions than providing good Answers.  We need to understand the business challenge to use our data knowledge to provide information, rather than simply responding to a question.
  • How many of your BI reports are forward looking vs backward looking?  If you are reporting on what happened yesterday, your program is reactive; you need to look to the future.
  • We need to do more “A/B Testing”!  Experiment with a new idea on a small piece of your business, then analyze the results before rolling it out across the board.
  • Big theme of decentralizing your BI team to meet the needs of specific business units.  How do we do this and keep the standards and best practices that keep your Total Cost of Ownership low.
  • Unstructured data is growing exponentially faster than structured data (think social media), your BI program must take this hidden gold mine of data into account.
  • Statement: If you don’t have an analytic database capability, then your competitors do!
  • Visualization techniques are vital to understand patterns and value in large data sets.  The only way you can get 10,000 data points on one page and have it still be effective.
  • Visualization is still mostly a science, but you need that artistic ability to make it appealing and useful.  Struck me that a background in GIS will be very valuable in this space.

There of course is a lot more, but these are the ones that stuck out.  Definitely getting a ton of value out of this conference!  Highlights from Day 2 coming later this evening.  Any comments / questions, please let me know.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Arrived at the TDWI World Conference

Just arrived in San Diego at the August 2010 TDWI World Conference.  Really looking forward to a week spent opening my mind to what is going on in the industry.

The overall theme for the conference is “Agile BI”.  Pretty much every BI article I’ve seen over the past 6 months has something to do with Agile.  Somebody must have heard me complaining about how we haven’t embraced Agile in BI!

I will be attending the BI Executive Summit, so looking forward to the presentations and especially the panel discussions.  If you are interested here is the agenda:

My intended outcomes for this conference are:

  • Learning about how other organizations are getting their BI programs more Agile
  • Learning about BI Competency Centres and how other organizations structure their BI teams
  • Making 10 new contacts to expand my network

I will be posting updates via this blog and real time from my twitter account (  Would love to hear your comments via twitter, comments to this blog or by email at (with that many choices you have no excuse).


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Level Up Your Leadership Style

nsmb-mushroom-super One of the better books about Business intelligence that I read recently was Cindi Howson’s “Successful Business Intelligence - Secrets to Making BI a Killer App”.  One chapter focusing on the organization required for a BI program referred to the concept of Level 5 leadership.  For those of you that have read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, you are familiar with this concept, but in short Level 5 leaders are:

“Leaders who blend personal humility with intense professional will to focus not on their personal gain, but rather, on ensuring the success of the company.”

In my experience, leaders of BI organizations have a huge number of stakeholders across different areas of the business.  It constantly amazes me how many people I know across the organization due to the interactions of my role and team.  When you are in this type of situation you are constantly learning and having to rely on the individuals in the business to provide their expertise to solve their BI questions.  As a leader of a BI team you must foster an environment of collaboration and partnership across many different areas of the business.  You certainly can’t do it on your own, and you need to bring together the right people to make it happen.

Building a BI program is darn hard!  It is a long and difficult journey to move from a pre-BI environment with no tools or quality data through to a fully mature environment that provides predictive capabilities and is tightly integrated with corporate performance management.  Along the way your program will meet with many challenges and hurdles to overcome.  It takes long term commitment and a vision for the future to stick with it and make it happen.

It is essential that you have the right leadership to champion your Business Intelligence efforts.  Take stock of your own leadership abilities and those of your team before you embark on your journey.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

Nepal - Sagamartha Trek - 194 - EBC Malaysian Support & Research Team by mckaysavage.One of my favourite songs is “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, a signature U2-styled track.  To change the song title up a bit when thinking of BI, the title becomes “You Can Never Make It On Your Own”.  Business Intelligence is a discipline that spans many areas of IT and the business, and you need all stakeholders fully engaged in your BI program to be successful.

Due to the nature of BI architecture and applications, we are always downstream of other IT systems as they are our data source.  You must be tightly integrated with the other groups within IT managing these systems, as any changes can impact the availability and quality of your data.  For example, it is a well know fact within Data Governance programs the more you push the resolution of data quality issues back to the source systems, the more effective the solution.  BI is also a data hog, requiring large amounts of storage and processing power to analyze your organization’s data.  You need to have all the IT stakeholders invested in your BI program to ensure you have the relationships to keep your BI architecture stable.

Most importantly, BI is not an IT discipline, it is a corporate discipline.  Many BI organizations sit within IT under the accountability of the CIO, but in many other organizations this function may be centralized under Finance, Marketing or your corporate governance function.  That assumes that you are lucky enough to have a centralized BI function at all, in most organizations you will find BI scattered throughout the organization.  If we go back to the concept that this is a corporate discipline, we should be doing everything we can do encourage widespread use of common BI methodologies to maximize value.

Once you realize that you have many areas in your organization doing and supporting BI, it will become apparent that a decentralized structure is what is necessary.  To drive the maximum effectiveness you need to have some common thread pulling these groups together.  Having a competency centre type approach, where you provide common standards, access to data, and a means to collaborate are essential for success.

I will be writing a lot more about developing a competency centre to support BI over the coming months, stay tuned!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Target Are You Aiming At?

On target by tony newell.I have been spending quite a bit of time on the KPI Library website lately.  This site originally was setup as a library of common metrics categorized by industry.  Over the past number of years this site has grown and changed to include interesting forums and expert blogs.  I highly recommend signing up for this service (it’s free) and taking a look around.

Too often we consider metrics an end in themselves, we put all our focus on discovering what data exists, acquiring that data, building reports and dashboards, and once it is up on your company’s BI portal we think our jobs are done.  This is a criminal waste of time if this is all you do.

We must think back to the original question that prompted us to do all this work to get this metric.  A common question in my industry is “Which customers are churning out of our services the most?”  We need to at a minimum define the following before we embark on our analytical journey:

  1. What results or objectives are we trying to achieve?  i.e. Improve profitability by lowering acquisition costs
  2. What measures can we track to see how we stand against the objective? i.e. do we only measure disconnecting customers or do we delve deeper to understand if the churn is desirable?  Some customers you are better off not having!
  3. What targets do we want to set to compare to our measures?  A measure is just flapping in the wind with nothing to relate it to.  i.e. Controllable churn target of 1.5% per month
  4. What actions are we going to take based on comparing our measures to targets? i.e. Contact our customers after their initial promotion expires with a value reminder communication

This sets up your framework to measure the right performance, analyze the results, determine actions to improve performance and then to act.  Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat until you meet your objective.  The measure of success for any BI organization is that action is taken on the information you provide.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Don’t Follow the White Rabbit

1book1 There is something special ingrained in the soul of a BI practitioner.  We love to think of all the twists and turns that we can take to analyze the data we are working with.  This comes in the form of dashboards with countless dials, traffic lights and indicators, graphs with multiple series, axis and dimensions, and grids and grids of good ol’ tabular data.  All this stuff makes us very, very happy with ourselves.

Ok checkpoint, a couple issues with this approach.  First of all, all this data can detract from the very business question you are trying to answer with your analysis.  Think about it, do you know of any user that actually has the time to sit down and analyze 200 points of information on a single report?  No, we need to enable our users to make the best decision in the least amount of time.  There are likely 2 to 3 key data points that will get them there.  Yes, it is ok to show basic trends and change indicators, but for Pete’s sake keep it simple.

Secondly, the more we go with this smorgasbord approach to BI we are encouraging requirements bloat in the next BI project or iteration.  Users will simply say to myself: “I should ask for everything I think I might need just so I know I can get it if I need it.”  Why wouldn’t they think that, when that is how we have delivered BI to date?

Fight the urge to go down the rabbit hole; strive to deliver 80% of the value with 20% of the work.  How much more value could you drive for your organization if you can quickly move on to the next opportunity rather than lingering in analysis paralysis?

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