Saturday, October 29, 2011

Open Source Business Intelligence Tools - Advantages

Right now, lots of Business Intelligence implementers and analysts are trying to choose right tools for their BI implementations. And a big percentage of these professionals are trying to figure out how open source BI tools would take the business scene and how would be its performance.

First of all, Open Source Business Intelligence Applications are, from my point of view, capable tools to build and show proofs of concepts, a key starting point for BI efforts. Additionally, most of Open Source BI Applications (OSBI Apps) can be utilized instantly by developers with no licensing costs.

Secondly, OSBI Apps Had reach an acceptable maturity level and friendly graphics users interfaces for developers, aimed by OS Integrated Development Environments efforts like Eclipse, which standardize and make little more easy developers' work. Then, a developer familiarized with Eclipse, easily can develop a wide range of applications with the same IDE, including BI Apps. Thanks JDBC connectivity, ETL programming can access virtually all databases and data repositories, allowing an easy data integration processes development.

Thirdly, OSBI Apps requires less hardware and software resources that it commercial counterparts, allowing affordable labs or development farms with cheaper servers and storage, even OS's like Linux.

Finally, OSBI apps support can be obtained commercially from OSBI big players: Pentaho, Jaspersoft, SpagoBI and Actuate offers these support services and many Consultant companies and developers offers outsourcing services based on these tools.

Depending on Business Intelligence services' demand on any organization, IT units can:

* Show projects' Proof of Concept to obtain approval from users and stakeholders.
* Start to offer Business Intelligence Applications and Services to any organizational unit or to all company using these tools.
* Upgrading and growing with these Open Source tools or migrates with minimal efforts to commercial tools.
* Mixing commercial and Open Source tools in traversed (some units with some tools, other units serviced with other tools) or layered (some layers commercial, some Open Source tools) ways.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Redefining Business Intelligence

For many years, eCommerce took a mass market, broad strokes approach. Marketers would throw idea after idea against the wall, just to see what would stick. Black hat SEO teams would try to game the search engines that were bringing them traffic. More "uniques" contributed to your eEgo, and all levels of the organization focused obsessively on traffic numbers.

In short, internet marketing was taking a telemarketing approach. Conversion percentages were low, but if you called (or served) enough people, eventually you would make a sale. With the ever expanding internet frontier, combined with relatively few businesses selling in the online space, this dragnet or mass-market approach seemed like the best way to go.

Then things changed. Not only did search engines begin to smack down the black hat SEO practices, but the online marketplace became just as crowded as brick-and-mortar. Shortly thereafter, online quickly surpassed brick-and-mortar as the costs of maintaining a digital storefront are significantly lower than even a single physical location. And thanks to the world-shrinking nature of the digital domain, businesses now faced stiff competition from relative no-names half a world away.

Business Intelligence began to transition away from the raw "visits" data, delving into more sophisticated metrics like CPC, Keywords, and Impressions. The available toolset expanded, with seemingly every consulting agency publishing their very own SEO guide. Landing Page and Keyword assessment tools began cropping up left and right, and "examining your funnel for leaks" became more than something you did before a university kegger.

The adoption curve for all of these new metrics was relatively flat. Business people understand fractions and ratios, and metrics provide easy ways to measure the performance not only of your website, but also of the staff you hire to manage and market your website. Everything is neat, tidy, and fits nicely on a dashboard.

However, these formerly "advanced" analytics and marketing practices are being adopted by the masses, and I've no doubt that "SEO for Dum-Dums" can be found on many digital marketing bookshelves. The next frontier of web marketing focuses less on the macro and more on the micro, and while the masses bring themselves up to speed on the "advanced" analytics, industry leaders are taking things a step further.

The entire purpose of a website, the only reason that a company has a digital presence, is to meet the needs of their customer. Be it a product, a service or simply content (i.e. Wikipedia), customers visit websites to have their needs met. The next major metric for business to measure online success has to be Needs Fulfillment.

Current business intelligence doesn't do very well at measuring this. You can figure out where they came from, how many pages they viewed and how they interacted with your site... but you can only infer the motivation (the "why") behind their visit. The only way to get at Needs Fulfillment is to ask.

It is here many businesses shy away from measuring. The second you start asking people for their feedback, you get away from the comfortable realm of facts and figures. Verbatim feedback doesn't easily fit on a dashboard, and too often requires a significant investment in manpower or hardware/software. Businesses see it as "soft science", or simply too complicated.

What is just seeping into the collective consciousness is something that the thought leaders have known for a few years now - Needs Fulfillment is directly linked to Loyalty. Put plainly... why would anyone go to a competitor when their needs are being met on your site?

The future of business intelligence is not one of action, but of thought and feeling. The company that is best able to understand the thoughts and address the feelings of their target audience will be the one that is best positioned to succeed in their specific domain. Dashboards won't ever go away, but I think that you'd be surprised as to how they'll change as the importance of Needs Fulfillment spreads from the thought leaders to the web at large.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Enhancing Business Intelligence With CRM Software

Not all companies are aware that within them resides their greatest asset - their customer database. Just like a diamond in the rough, it patiently waits to be discovered and polished. Until then can you view its true value. With CRM Software, harnessing this hidden asset can mean a hefty change for your business.

By using these data in your CRM system intelligently, you gain a competitive edge. Referred to as BI or Business Intelligence, it is the management of a company's internal data which involves the extraction and transformation of data so that it comes out as intelligent information. Basing on a database's stored information, companies are able to make better decisions and forecast possible trends in the future. As a result, it improves business intelligence as well as competitive intelligence.

Forrester Research quotes that "Business Intelligence is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information used to enable more effective strategic, tactical, and operational insights and decision-making."

So, how is Business Intelligence relevant to Customer Relationship Management?

Business Intelligence plays a vital role in establishing a successful CRM system strategy within a company, whereby each and every employee work together to create and maintain the relationship that the company has with each and every individual customer. Business Intelligence can be seen as a tool to enable the CRM system strategy in a company.

Business intelligence has some requirements though before you can start improving it. A few of said requirements are:

1. Data Integrity
Start with a clean database. Business intelligence can only be achieved if there is data integrity. Filter out information for duplicate entries. Duplicate data entries can greatly affect future management decisions. Any errors in data entry or missing data can have far-reaching effects in the quality of information being extracted from the database. It could also mean profit loss. Resolving these inaccuracies can mean a very tedious job of matching one list against another, contacting clients and companies to update contact details, and could be extremely money-costing and time-consuming, but it can provide significant advantages for a company in the long term.

2. Data Collaboration
Proper data collaboration and integration across departments is very important. You may have all the information in your database but that is not enough. Even though all data resides within the company, it may remain un-meaningful or without use if data is scattered across different departments. Proper sorting and integration of information can be greatly benefited by the sales team in terms of delivering individual customer needs and wants. Additionally, it is a must to update data in your CRM software in order to avoid duplication of tasks; sparing employees from embarrassing moments.

3. Data Analysis
A detailed analysis of customer data in your CRM software will generally help you shorten response time to market changes. Being able to identify customer needs and wants helps you determine your customers' next purchase. This will allow you to better align your products and services with your customers' needs.

Business intelligence also relates to results of daily business decisions and does not merely encompass analysis of data itself. Your CRM Software would help you monitor customer interactions such as past and present purchases, product or service inquiries through buying patterns, etc. This will enable you to monitor your business performance; giving you the edge to be always on top of the situation, anticipate customer needs and avert customer attrition before it even happens.

Updated, accurate information in your CRM Software will guarantee that your sales and marketing staff is always in the know, enabling you to acquire more customers. That way, you will be able to develop campaigns effectively, achieve a higher response rate from marketing campaigns, and identify reasons for customer attrition, and find remedies to prevent further occurrences of attrition.

Last but not the least, being aware of external market conditions is essential. Being aware of market trends allows you to react swiftly to possible changes in market trends. Understanding customer behaviour through the use of your products and services will enable your company to improve its service to its current client base as well as to target new business more effectively.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Business Intelligence Software Different Methodologies

Business intelligence software is a culmination of different methodologies, processes and systems which are designed basically to analyse the entire business data of an organization. This often plays a very significant role in strategic decision make in a company. BI software provides a clear insight of the strengths and weaknesses of an organization. In today's era, most of the companies have to maintain huge databases to keep a track of information from its various departments such as sales, finance, production etc. It is in fact very difficult to use multiple software programmes as it may fail to provide the right information at the right time. Business intelligence software is the best substitute for all the traditional methods to collect and analyse data.It takes all the raw data from various functions of an organization and provides useful reports to the management.

The software helps the management to analyse the data for better decision make and optimum utilisation of their resources.Business intelligence tools also provide various integrated software applications that are easy to use, report, analyse and present the data. The software is capable of using data stored in any form. It can extract the data from any data warehouse software or data storage system.

Often, the software may include certain tools specifically designed for some verticals like education, healthcare or may be retail. However, there are certain tools in BI applications solution that are commonly used to generate the correct information. It generally comprises the followings:

1. Data mining
2. Search or query
3. Analytics processing (OLAP)
4. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
5. Spreadsheets
6. Operational Dashboards
7. Content viewer
8. Business Performance Management
9. Decision Engineering
10. Local Information System

The applications of Business Intelligence software can be deployed in a number of ways. Some of the most common options include Cloud Computing Implementation, On-Premise Installment and SaaS (hosted on-demand). On-Premise Installment is usually deployed in-house using leased or may be owned equipment. SaaS is normally hosted by the application service provider (ASP).

Most of the BI software provides a wide array of features that may be common in nature yet support improved decision make in an organization. Nowadays, there are a lot of different types of business intelligence software solutions available in the market.Some offer ad hoc reporting capabilities while others offer a complete portfolio of analytics and some provide custom-built reporting applications. Almost all the BI software is share a broad array of similar features that enable fast decision make at various levels in a company.

Some of the common features of a business software system include - Ad hoc reporting, an intuitive web-based interface, flexible formatting options, dynamic information distribution and financial reporting and analysis.An intuitive web-based interface makes the information readily available that allows the user for anytime, anywhere access. Ad hoc reporting system enables workers at all levels to prepare and run their own reports. Business intelligence software also provides the feature to present the information by using a wide variety of formats such as word documents, excel spreadsheets, web pages and many more.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mobile Microsoft Business Intelligence

Those leveraging the expansive power of Microsoft's business intelligence solutions may have noticed that while other major business intelligence providers like Oracle, SAP, and IBM have launched applications to take their services into the mobile sphere, Microsoft has yet to make an official release. Oracle has released Business Intelligence Mobile for iOS devices, SAP launched Business Objects Mobile last year, and IBM has Cognos Mobile for BlackBerry and iOS devices. If you're waiting on an official Microsoft release, there's both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that it doesn't appear Microsoft is planning on releasing a cross-platform mobile BI application anytime soon. The good news, though, is that this doesn't mean you can't experience dynamic, real-time Microsoft business intelligence solutions from your mobile device.

Microsoft has an expansive network of official partners, and the technology juggernaut is currently content to allow their multitude of partners to develop these in-demand applications. Applications like RoamBI, PushBI, and the upcoming Fetch! are just a few of the applications that will feature cross-platform integration, and there are plenty more applications available for Windows Phone 7 devices.

RoamBI's free version integrates with Microsoft Excel, CSV, and HTML to allow users to create custom mobile dashboards, but also offers a premium version. RoamBI Pro is spendy, with a $99 yearly license fee, but for small groups within a business setting, the average monthly investment of $8.25 is a small spend for integration with Excel, CSV, HTML, Google Docs, and Salesforce. RoamBI also has an enterprise version (RoamBI ES3) that integrates with all of the previously-mentioned technologies, plus SAP Crystal Reports, SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos, Microsoft Reporting Services, and Liferay Portal, though pricing on that is on a per-buyer basis and requires you to contact the creators. It's currently supported on iOS devices as well as BlackBerry devices, but remains quiet on whether or not they will be launching an Android version. It's just speculation here, but given the high demands and persistent requests on their forums, it's difficult to imagine such a successful application developer completely ignoring this market share by not developing something for the Android OS.

PushBI is another example of a cross-platform application that integrates with most major BI platforms (Microsoft, SAP, Oracle), and unlike RoamBI it currently features an Android version. PushBI has led to some mixed reviews from the limited amount of users who have taken the time to write them up, but keep in mind that this is a free application, so it's not necessarily fair to line it up against a premium paid product like RoamBI.

The upcoming release of Fetch! is another application to watch for. It's currently in the works, and if you contact the makers you can receive a free trial. It promises compatibility with Windows Phone, Android, and iOS devices, and boasts integration with SharePoint, PerformancePoint, SQL Azure, SQL Server, Salesforce, Oracle, and more.

The lack of an official Microsoft mobile business intelligence release is an unfortunate reality for the time being, but Microsoft users shouldn't panic or consider switching away from its top-notch BI services. Take a look at some of Microsoft's partners and the mobile efforts they're pursuing. There are plenty of powerful solutions out there that can fit your needs without requiring a drastic switch.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Business Intelligence Software Solutions For Industries

Business Intelligence Software is of utmost importance to any business that wants to prosper and reach its desired milestones - it helps in easy gathering of information from various sources namely databases, spreadsheets and any other programs that a business uses. BI software is seeing the advent of many new entries like MicroStrategy and Tableau - both of them have a decent following and are specialized in innovating new features and adjusting to the changing marketplace. BI software is like a magic wand in the hands of managers as it enables them to get a good relationship between data for making critical decisions - cost reduction, opportunities, resource deployment and managing.

Below is a list of some of the leading BI solution industries

The list contains both large and medium size BI solution industries in random order as a clear-cut ranking as such cannot be created - All have their own golden eggs i.e. all are specialists in different ways.

IBM Cognos 8 BI

IBM's Cognos 8 BI offers an exclusive range of BI solutions - analysis, reporting, dash boarding, scorecards - all on service oriented architecture (SOA). Additionally Report Studio, Analysis Studio, Query Studio, Metric Designer, Metric Studio, Event Studio, Framework Manager and also Powerplay Studio are included. In 2009 IBM had acquired SPSS for a base price of $1.2 billion adding an analytic element into its already exquisite range of services. IBM declared that business analytics is one of its most critical fields in its overall strategy. It has also spent heavily more than $12 billion - most of this in business analytics Resource and Development.

Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Plus

Oracle's BI Enterprise Edition Plus is a range of business intelligence software solutions that use Oracle BI Server as a platform thus providing integration amongst its various tools. These BI integration tools provides service oriented architecture, analytic and calculation infrastructure, data management services, data access services, semantic business model, security models and also user preferences and an administration tool.

SAP Crystal Reports

This gives users the access to graphically designed reports and also the opportunity to integrate them to any source of data - Excel, Oracle, local files, etc. The information stored here can be seen either through email, the web, MS Office or as a PDF at times even through the applications of the enterprise.

Microsoft PowerPivot

It consists of Microsoft Office 2010 package including Microsoft's Power Pivot for excel and Power Pivot for SharePoint. Here BI tools are given to the worker through Microsoft's applications.

MicroStrategy Reporting Suite

It is a free BI tool that helps you in reporting - consist of software for analysis and managing jobs. The end files are in HTML, Excel, PDF and text. Data can also be exhibited in the form of graphs and charts.

Information Builders WebFOCUS

This is completely web-based and has no plug-ins at all. According to the company it is totally into BI applications and not into various tools. More than 12,000 sites use this program.

Tableau Business Intelligence Software

This particular business intelligence software has got plenty of drag and drop features and therefore the people using it need not be professionals to get the information in any structured format.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Business Intelligence 2.0

So you thought the beginning and end of BI is the setting up of a cutting edge Data Warehouse? Well, think again. The BI landscape has undergone a sea change. Trying to articulate its various aspects and how it is evolving would fill several books. In this article, we will skim the surface and talk about the various ways in which BI is being perceived and handled in the current IT landscape.

If Traditional BI = Data Warehouse + Reporting Tools


BI 2.0 = (Past + Present) Data/Analytics + Future Business Analytics + Reporting Tools

I have used this simple equation by way of demonstration: BI v2.0 is all about studying and analyzing Past, Present and Future trends using archived and real-time data feeds and then turning this data into knowledge for stronger decision-making.

It is real-time or it is of no real use:

When it comes to Traditional BI tools, the data retrieved from them, in today's parlance, is considered outdated. Intelligence is gleaned after the fact-after significant time has elapsed between the actual activity and the time when it is analyzed in either an individual or aggregated fashion. In this Internet Age, even the lapse of a day could render that data obsolete.

BAM and CEP are real-time tools; data is analyzed as the transactions are being executed. It is this optimally effective decision-making in the moment that makes BI 2.0 so attractive to new age businesses.

Use Case:

Let us now look at a common use case: the Shopping Cart. Shopping on the web is one of the most common online transactional activities today, and it is increasing year over year. For high traffic sites like eBay and Amazon, business cannot be made truly agile without the use of real-time analytics. Traditional BI just will not suffice.

So let us consider the following example:

• Acme Mart is a medium-sized discount store with brick and mortar stores throughout the country.
• It also sells merchandise through its high traffic website
• The transaction volumes both at the stores and online is quite large-to the extent of several million per day.
• It has a mature, established SOA infrastructure and its entire order management process is service-enabled.

Acme Mart also uses BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) to monitor services. Custom dashboards have been built to monitor sales of specific item categories and even items through sophisticated dashboards.

Contrast this with a similar business that uses Traditional BI mechanisms. It is obvious that it will not be able to match the level of agility of Acme Mart. By the time the sales data is analyzed, the opportunity to respond proactively has passed. Acme Mart is clearly more capable of reducing costs and increasing revenues via its real-time BAM-enabled BI solutions.

While CEP (Complex Event Processing) is similar to BAM, it is more of a services agnostic technology. It is sort of a real-time message aggregator that can process messages from various different sources including web services. One example of this can be applied to the current use case, along with order information, if related stock price information for the companies that produce those products are also needed in a separate dashboard then this feed that would normally come from the likes of a Bloomberg or Reuters can be combined with this Order data and displayed.

BI Technology Trends: The Past

We need not go into the details of how BI functions were being performed or are still being approached using DW-driven technology. If Business needed insights into key trends then they would follow this well beaten path:

- Setup a de-normalized DW or Data Mart
- ETL information from transactional data stores into DW
- Use reporting tools like Cognos to generate the required MIS reports.

Therefore, this was the tried and trusted method and was considered business as usual. Traditional BI is very batch-oriented in nature and not real-time. However, while real-time mechanisms may look very compelling in terms of their value proposition and ROI, it may not be feasible to implement these quickly as they are dependent on a services-based infrastructure.

BI Technology Trends: The Present

As the competitive landscape becomes more intense, the need for real-time business intelligence is almost De Rigueur in certain types of industries, in order to gain business agility and competitive advantage. With the advent of technologies such as BAM and CEP, it is possible to perform real-time and even future what if business analytics.

BAM and CEP fall under a new category called Event Driven Architecture (EDA). These tools permit BI in both synchronous and asynchronous modes.

Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) is associated mainly with Web Services. It is a dashboard driven toolset that is comprised of various design time components and a runtime component. It is used in conjunction with other runtime components of a typical SOA implementation, such as ESBs and BPEL engines.

CEP (Complex Event Processing) is similar to BAM with the difference that CEP is not tied to web services alone and is message agnostic. You can aggregate disparate messages from myriad sources and use them as part of one CEP application.CEP is usually event driven.

The online shopping segment is also benefiting a lot from these advanced BI services paradigms. The likes of Amazon, eBay and Zappos are rejoicing at the arrival of BAM and CEP. In such high traffic sites where the hits are measured in millions per day, attaining the level of agility and edge over the competition is virtually impossible without real-time analytics. Traditional BI strategies fall woefully short and are not equipped to deal with these types of business operations.

BI Technology Trends: The Future

There are several game changing trends that are in vogue in the BI field that promise to change the face of the industry. While BAM and CEP are the pre-cursors, they are fueling other paradigms that were not possible before.

Here is an example that is taken from advertising industry pundits whose central focus is always on "The Consumer": Smart Billboards that will glean biometric information based on facial features of anyone walking by. If the consumer turns out to be a young 20-something year old male, the back end system would beam back relevant information such as ads for an iPod, cell phone, energy drink, sports car or anything that fits this particular demographic.

Just 5 years ago, this idea would have seemed outlandish, but not anymore. With real-time BI delivery mechanisms at the foundation, scenarios such as this are becoming reality. With a little ingenuity and BI 2.0, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Green Business Intelligence - What, How and Why?

Environmentally friendly business intelligence - or Green BI - is kind of an ambiguous term. What does it mean? There are 2 main ways of approaching the topic of green BI - the physical environmental impact of implementing a BI solution - and using BI to analyze your footprint.

Business leaders acknowledge that proactively addressing corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues can result in real business benefits. An IBM global survey of more than 250 executives showed that 68% are already focusing on CSR activities to create new revenue streams, and 54% believe CSR gives them a competitive advantage.

Physical impact of implementing BI

It is commonly thought that an environmentally-friendly IT department can save you money, at least in the long run. Cloud computing infrastructure is noted for being more environmentally friendly than in-house infrastructure, with no need for new systems or IT equipment inside your company's walls. So exactly how can the cloud make your organization more green?

1. Energy consumption: since cloud-based business intelligence solutions are delivered through a scalable environment, energy consumption is reduced at the source. At the same time, your company's energy expenses will be reduced.

2. Decommissioning: eventually, every on-premise server you buy will have to be replaced, creating a future waste disposal challenge. By using the SaaS model, you won't have to buy (and later get rid of) any IT equipment. So that means you will also enjoy waste disposal cost savings.

3. Staff: keeping your IT needs means you won't have to hire resources as aggressively. Not having to increase the number of employees also translates to a lower rate of energy consumption, not to mention lots of other cost savings.

President Barack Obama expressed a desire for the Federal Government to spend over 150 billion U.S dollars on green technology at the beginning of his term, and he wanted a significant amount of this money to be spent on green IT and green computing. The idea was to practice green IT initiatives, especially those concerned with improving the environmental sustainability of enterprise data centers.

Using BI to analyze your footprint

Regulatory mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are compelling companies to look for new approaches to carbon management-from sourcing and production, to distribution and product afterlife. Much of the opportunity to address CO2 emissions rests on the supply chain. Reducing the supply chain's carbon footprint is essential.

So how would you use BI to analyze your footprint? Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact across your business activities by monitoring your carbon use. Streamline business processes to improve overall efficiency, enhance quality, and add or change activities that help you become more environmentally friendly. Use dashboards to estimate emissions across business travel, distribution, energy, manufacturing etc. Collate data from company-wide systems into one place so you can comprehensively report your CO2 emissions to key stakeholders in an auditable and consistent manner.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies still have little or no actionable data about their environmental footprint. Although organizations may have the means to track cashflow, they often have little business intelligence or transparency into the most critical sustainability issues. The C-Suite is increasingly calling for environmental performance indicators to be included on existing executive dashboards - it is not enough anymore to be the fastest and cheapest: companies must strive to be the greenest and cleanest as well. What are the benefits of using BI to measure your "greenness"? Helping reduce your ecological footprint and energy costs, improving employee morale, developing competitive advantage and leadership, enjoying lower cost of compliance and strengthening your brand image are a few of them.

What do others have to say about Green BI?

William Laurent, a leading expert in information strategy and governance has talked about the Seven Pillars of Green BI:

"Green business intelligence breaks down into seven related, yet importantly distinct components. The Seven Pillars of Green BI provides the actionable "green knowledge" that will best assist global enterprises in monitoring, managing, and implementing their environmentally-wise future."

The Seven Pillars of Green BI

* Manufacturing Consumption Footprint (i.e. Resources Used in Production)
* Manufacturing Output Footprint (i.e. Waste Created from Production)
* Operational Consumption Footprint
* Operational Output Footprint
* Product Consumption Lifecycle (i.e. Customer Consumption)
* Employee Social Footprint
* Green BPR (i.e. Green Reengineering of Business Processes, Procurement Patterns, etc.)

To sum up

What is the future of Green BI? It could be the introduction of new types of key performance indicators (KPIs) and dashboards that will measure environmental performance and compliance. These dashboards will be able to regulate, track and ration energy, while monitoring and integrating power usage statistics with pricing strategies and carbon-footprint data.

In the future, a large amount of green intelligence budgets will be at stake when it comes to measuring carbon footprints and emissions. Tax breaks and compliance penalties associated with environmental sustainability will make their way to the forefront of company concerns.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

50 Business Intelligence Failures

1. Inadequate integration knowledge on Business Intelligence and Decision Support System Level. Dashboards are not good solutions.
2. Not seeing complete Business Intelligence picture.
3. No vision of what is final goal of BI tool. What are final outcomes and how will they be used for company prosperity and competitive advantage.
4. Demands are created faster than Management Information Systems can absorb, implement and stabilize = Generating to big cumulated requests.
5. No or little relation between financial statements and non financial key performance indicators.
6. Lack of integrative systems in Legacy level.
7. No or inadequate Mater Data Management solutions.
8. No or inadequate Data Quality processes.
9. Minimizing data quality issues by customer.
10. Too high expectations from Business Intelligence. It is not an Expert System.
11. Business Intelligence solutions are specialised. Can not cover everything.
12. Out of the box solutions cover minor part of your current process and required functionalities. Be prepared to change processes more then to customize out of the box solution.
13. Too dynamic complex market, like telecommunications.
14. No internal technical knowledge on management and on expert level
15. No internal dedicated team of experts to cooperate with vendors.
16. No internal resources to handle knowledge generation.
17. No internal structure to handle development of Business Intelligence layer.
18. Wrong project lead.
19. Too many internal enemies.
20. Too ambitious management.
21. Too naive management and project lead.
22. Wicked management. Political games can destroy any project.
23. Political games on management level. It is easy to declare "not needed any more".
24. Lack or inadequate internal marketing.
25. Wrong scheduling of modules. What comes first, next and at the end matters.
26. Too long implementation time. Many other projects with significant impact happen during implementation time. Each impact could mean new code writing and starting from beginning in certain segments.
27. Wrong vendor selection.
28. Selection of wrong software solutions.
29. Not enough resources to finish project. Especially in cases of additional costs that can double or triple initial investment.
30. Lack of data definition or poor methodology.
31. Too little integration with comptrolling. Comptrollers stay in their world with separated solutions.
32. Internally made solution, more likely to fail than vendors solution.
33. There is no one stop shop vendor solution. Each solution should be compared with leader in particular segment.
34. Business Intelligence project should evolve.
35. Can outsource the whole thing. Company must avoid the temptation of outsourcing everything and only things that are not core competences.
36. Just give me the dashboard. Companies must have a solid and stable BI infrastructure before implementing dashboards.
37. Information chasm between financial and non financial systems is too big.
38. Inadequate consultancy.
39. Trusting consultants too much.
40. Start with internal development without asking users what they need.
41. Mega requesting appetite. Data Warehouse/BI must cover all requests without any exemptions.
42. Include all departments and business units, especially call on workshops as many people as possible. Nobody should say later that was not informed. Some call it spam with project but don't believe to gossips.
43. Jumping into BI and Data Warehouse project without own IT administrators. Why should you have them since it is out of the box solution.
44. Leave all operative work to consultants.
45. Believing without any doubt to presented models and presentations of vendors.
46. Scheduling and starting in parallel major upgrades of legacy systems.
47. Not giving up from processes and not willing to change them.
48. Modifying project scope and making false promises just to enter into company.
49. Insufficient customer specification and lack of vendors notification about it.
50. Staying too tight to signed specification. Not allowing single change.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Designing The Ultimate Business Intelligence Tool

A short time ago I was contacted regarding a blog by Jaime Brugueras(1), discussing what he feels is lacking in the current crop of Business Intelligence (BI) tools. I was asked to provide my feedback via blog post and hopefully start up a discussion.

Everything which Brugueras describes in his blog would comprise the ultimate BI tool. He clearly highlights key pain points felt by all levels of user and creates the framework by which these could be addressed. In spite of his observations, I feel that the nature of the market and current BI tool landscape prevents these recommendations from being realized.

The core argument of Brugueras' blog can be summed up as follows: Business Intelligence tools need to be easier to use, more comprehensive in nature, predictive of future outcomes and cheap enough that even the smallest businesses can afford it. He goes on to advocate for tools that are more sophisticated than a team of IT professionals could program, but simple enough for a lay person to configure.

He notes that "tools available today are relatively complex and require some level of programming", yet a few lines later declares that "an effective BI tool allows for seamless integration of data across... CRM, accounting and point-of-sale software". He laments, however, that current BI tools are "unable to integrate data from all sources".

While multiple tools may output into similarly-formatted CSV files, the database from where these exports originate don't all have the same schema. There exists no universal key to link multiple data sources, and few companies are willing turn themselves into information providers by facilitating others usage of their data.

Many would rebut my previous statement by calling my attention to APIs; how companies like Google, foursquare and Twitter make their data available to the outside world. They would be correct, save for one key point: the user accommodates, as opposed to dictates, the format of the API. If you don't like how Twitter has named a particular variable, then too bad for you. A company like Google isn't going to change their data structure simply because you ask nicely.

When you consider that every company out there has their own special flavor of API, the dream of "an effective BI tool (that) allows for seamless integration of data" simply goes up in smoke. Every time a provider comes along, you will either need to adapt your BI tool to accept their data, or ask them to conform to your standard. The former is far more likely than the latter, but doing the former requires programmers and programmers cost money.

It is not difficult to see the relationship between cost and compatibility. Being more compatible requires a larger programmer base, which in turn requires more capital. The resulting tool would have to be heavily ad-supported, or sell at a price point sufficient to cover ongoing development costs. Very quickly you enter into the realm of enterprise-level solutions, where even the traditionally free Google Analytics has started charging $150,000/year for a Premium service level. This price point is clearly far outside the realm of affordability for the majority of small businesses.

The author advocates for an all encompassing, low-cost solution aimed at the SMB market. He wants a tool that is user friendly, inexpensive and easy to use, featuring automatic integration with multiple data sources that is predictive of future outcomes. He acknowledges that end-users "are not likely to be able to program their needs", yet advocates the development of modular software in anticipation of every possible need. These BI tools must be action oriented, distilling complicated tasks like customer retention, inventory management and social media communication down to the simple click of a button. While wonderful in concept, I don't believe that all will ever be within a single tool.

Apple products, be it the iPhone, iPad or iPod, are famous for working well together. Apple accomplishes this by controlling every step of the process, and knowing exactly what goes into every piece of hardware. They can then perfectly tailor their software to work within the hardware's specifications, producing a very attractive product offering. However, a Mac falls flat when trying to run software originally written for a PC. With Apple reticent to license out their iOS to third party developers, don't expect to see this product-line unity augmented or replicated anytime soon.

There are only two ways that Brugueras' ideal BI tool could come to pass: A unifying open-source project of unprecedented scope or one single (for profit) company willing to take users cradle-to-grave for all their business software needs.

While I don't think that a massive open-source project could appear, I make a point to never say never. The cynic in me just doesn't see it, though. A single company creating a full-feature, A-to-Z Business Intelligence tool isn't very likely, either. The barrier to entry isn't so high that somebody wouldn't try and come up with a "me too" product offering.

I'm not here to preach about what my ideal Business Intelligence tool would be, because I don't believe that there can ever be a one-size-fits-all tool. You'll never get enterprise-level features in a cheap/free product, either because of the associated development costs or due to the simple inability for small businesses to devote the required time to such a far reaching tool.

Take your prototypical small business as an example, where employees generally wear more than one hat. It's likely that your "web guy" will not only be responsible for website design and SEO, but also for PPC and SEM and possibly copy writing for both the online channel and traditional corporate communications. Ask yourself, will this overworked individual be able to devote the time required to use a highly-sophisticated BI tool?

Much like clothing, creating something that is one-size-fits-all typically results in a garment which is a poor fit for 99% of the population. When you buy a suit, most people require that the pants be hemmed or the jacket taken in. Few people are truly "off the rack", so why do we expect the same from our BI tools?

There exist tools that work very well for small business, which scale well and can accommodate the business as it grows. They don't have the features of an enterprise-level tool, but small businesses don't have the bandwidth to use all those features anyway. Rather than devote time to chasing the dream of the perfect tool, end-users should focus on better expressing their BI tool needs. The corporate world has been quite successful at recognizing needs and designing products to meet them. I have every confidence that several different vendors will step up and provide targeted solutions, provided the requirements are clear and properly documented by the eventual end-users.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Business Intelligence - Project Management Tips

Good Business Intelligence will provide answers to your questions. Great Business Intelligence will answer the questions you wish you had asked. So how do you ensure that your Business Intelligence is great Business Intelligence? The first step is to develop a definitive picture of what you want the BI to deliver. Never lose track of core idea: BI should provide answers to your questions.

Initially, I would advise that you produce a list of dreams and desirables. Ignore whether data is actually available in this first step. A good Business Intelligence professional will often be able to derive information from existing data where it would seem impossible - let them decide what is achievable and what is not. It's extremely common for a BI implementation to highlight the benefit for new streams of data to be collected and stored.

Joe's Garage has expanded beyond all expectations through diligence and the use of Business Intelligence. As a result of this success, Joe has expanded the types of data he records and now, as well as customer and completed job records, the company also retains information on employee time keeping, job timings and costings, and a host of other areas of business. As more information is collected Joe becomes increasingly excited about new opportunities. Start here...

With wish-list in hand, confer with anyone who may have an insight into the information your company is storing. Now is the time to track down any information that anyone may be tracking on their personal spreadsheet etc, it can all be reported on and analysed, and can all be of benefit. If your company has Database Administrators, they are likely to be more aware of what data is available than anyone else. Most IT, administrative and management roles involve elements of data collection, recording and monitoring, so prepare to be surprised by the scope of your existing data.

With your increased knowledge it is at this point that bringing in a Business Intelligence consultant is highly recommended, as expert guidance is crucial in making the most of the opportunity. In my previous article 'blah blah blah' I discussed the options available for hiring in expert help, and gave some handy pointers on pricing and negotiating contracts.

Joe has an in depth look at the data he and his staff have gathered over the past few months and makes some rough notes on areas of interest. The main core of Joe's focus is staff efficiency and work standards. Whether you decide to use an in-house developer, or bring in a specialist consultant to execute your project, you will need a general understanding of reporting to be able to communicate your goals and requirements effectively.

Types of Reports

There are a few distinct categories of report styles, and the type of report you choose will determine how successfully the report will meet its objective. The following list describes the basic types, which will give you an idea of the features and advantages of each. Please note, there are no hard and fast rules, and reports can be a mix of these types tailored to your specific requirements:

* Detail Reports - Essentially a list of all the information of interest. These are great for identifying particular records or problems. Additional formatting can be used to highlight records that may be of interest.

* Summary Reports - These provide totalled summaries of the data that is of interest, such as hours spent on a particular task in a week. The range of options for the type of summary total is extensive - average, sum, percent, count - to name a few (Crystal Reports has nineteen different types of summary). Results of Summary Reports are often displayed in charts for clarity.

* Drilldown Reports - This is like a Summary Report, but has the added feature that when you click on any summary total, the report displays the detailed data that makes up that summary.

* Dashboards - These are a collection of Summary Reports, usually viewed in graph form with a minimum of numeric values displayed, and are designed to give the viewer an immediate overview of a particular set of related information. These options, either individually or used in conjunction, will meet virtually all business requirements no matter what the business sector.

Joe wants the freedom to look closely at all his data and so opts for drilldowns on all his reports. This allows him to investigate the cause of any summarised results that catch his attention. He particularly likes the idea of being able to compare employee work rates, and then look more closely into the data to see whether any patterns emerge.

Date Ranges

Every report must specify the time span from which data is to be reported. It is important to make the right choice, and very much worth taking the time to give it careful consideration. In a lot of cases your decision will depend on what the information is needed for. For example a report which shows data from the previous six months in summary, with the current month's data shown on a day by day chart and in summary, is an invaluable tool for a manager to track their progress daily during the month.

However, if you want to measure the performance of a third party provider, measuring in four week blocks rather than months (which vary in length) is the only way to view performance consistently. Another common requirement for this type of report is to differentiate between work carried out during a standard working day and that which is resolved "outside of hours".

Comparing seasonal sales can also be of great importance depending on the type of business you are in. The software used to create Business Intelligence reports is capable of producing any variation of date ranges imaginable, so some thought is required to take maximum advantage of all these possibilities. A good BI consultant will provide guidance and suggest viable options.


How often do you want to view the information? This can also have an impact on the date ranges used for the report and should be considered when setting up a schedule for when reports are run. Initially Joe wants a one off set of reports to show how his company is currently performing. However, he plans on making several changes based this analysis and wants to monitor how they alter profits.

Joe re-runs the reports weekly for the first month to monitor the initial impact of his changes, and decides that a monthly run will give enough information thereafter.


Once a report is developed it must be run to collect, manipulate and display the requested data, and the results communicated to the people who need to view it. This can be done as a manual process, running the report and then either saving it to a suitably accessible drive, or emailing to the intended recipients. However, specialist software is available for this purpose, and reports can be scheduled to run automatically at specified time interval, and results sent to recipients in a convenient format (usually Excel or PDF).

The size and scope of your project will determine whether specialist software is a worthwhile investment. I discuss Distribution in greater detail in later articles.

The Development Process

Business Intelligence implementations are a different animal to other IT development and should be treated as such. Traditionally, a design document is written to client specifications and once this is signed off as correct and complete, the software is developed and the project is considered finished. Any change to the software after this point incurs additional cost.

Developing BI reports however, should be a more fluid and iterative process. All efforts should be taken to identify what is needed before work commences, but the first draft of the developed report should be treated as just that, a first draft. Many consultants will try to set requirements in stone as early as possible. This is usually done with the best of intentions, but by accepting a rigid template from the outset, there is a high likelihood of a compromise in the quality and scope of the finished reports.

There are many factors to consider, some subjective, or which seem a good idea in theory, but in reality do not achieve the desired results. The result of Joe's initial meeting with Patrick generated more ideas for reports than Joe could realistically use or would be affordable in the short term. Joe is toying with the idea of staff bonuses and so decides to focus exclusively on the times associated with different jobs. This is to encompass the performance variations between jobs completed on different days of the week, morning or afternoon, employee undertaking the job.

After viewing the first draft reports and further discussion with Patrick, Joe decides to have the various information presented wit one report for ease of reference, but knows this is as much work as producing three separate reports.

When is development complete?

Ideally, a report should only be signed off once its target audience has viewed, and ideally used the report with real data. Minor requests are common at this stage. Often small adjustments are required to take account of factors which were not apparent at the time of the initial design discussion, but become obvious when viewing the report for real. For example, perhaps two columns which tend to be compared are illustrated at opposite ends of the report, thus requiring repositioning.

Many consultancies are not fond of this approach as it gives the customer the freedom to make changes their brief and requirements after work has already been done. Personally though, I find that if the original requirements analysis is done correctly, any alterations needed later are minimal and worth the effort to fine the report exactly to the customers needs. Patrick supplies a set of "prototype reports" which Joe looks over. Other than a couple small changes, the reports are exactly what Joe had envisaged.

However, after using them for a couple of days Joe decides that one report needs to be altered. Patrick looks at the report and they agree that it does match the initial requirements exactly. Joe is sure that, after viewing the other reports, he wants the information in a different format. He decides that he will keep the report in its original format as well, and so it is clear that the new format report is an extra requirement.

As this new report is derivative of the original it does not take a lot of work to develop, so Patrick is able to produce it at an affordable price.

So, in short...

To recap, here is a list of the basic steps involved in a Business Intelligence implementation.

Identify the Questions You Want Answering
Look Over Your Company Databases and See What You Have
Utilise Expert Help to Set a Solid and Agreed BI Implementation Scope
Evaluate the Developed Reports and Test Their Suitability
With All Alterations in Place, Sign-off the Implementation as Complete
And finally, reap the rewards of great Business Intelligence!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Evolving Landscape of Business Intelligence

There will always be a need for business decision makers to access business data in order to understand what is going on in their organisations. The Business Intelligence (BI) tools available for this need have changed significantly within the last few years. This article looks at 3 issues that can be seen to be contributing towards the changing BI Landscape. First of all, there has been a shift of power from IT to the end business user. Secondly, there is a move from traditional BI to Business Discovery and lastly the changes in how businesses now actually operate and make decisions can be seen to be making an impact.

To start with, let's look at the new business user. Business users are increasingly becoming more vocal and demanding. The way that we consume, explore and share information has been redefined by the way we search on the internet, the easy to use consumer apps we access, new mobile technologies and social networks. Users now expect business software applications to be as simple, intuitive and user friendly as the applications they use outside the office. Business users are now seeking out tools themselves with or without the help or consent of IT.

Next let's look at Traditional BI. Originally BI was IT driven. Business users would request reports from IT and they would do the necessary work involved to extract, manipulate and present the required data. The Data requirements were pre-determined. IT could often take weeks or months to create the dashboards and reports required.

The new Business Discovery tools that are available put users back in control of data. Business Discovery allows you to explore data rather than drilling down through the data. Data does not have to be predetermined. It works the way your mind works, associatively. One question gives rise to a second question, which gives rise to a third question and so on. In essence, it enables you to ask the last question first and enables train of thought analysis. It allows you to uncover hidden trends in data by not only highlighting associated data, but by also highlighting what is not associated. (For example; how is it that we have sold product x to this customer, but not product y?)

In essence, the new business discovery applications have similar characteristics to the tools and applications that business users adopt outside of the workplace. Business Discovery is fast, simple & intuitive like internet search tools such as google. Business Discovery applications also include a global search facility which allows you to explore the entire data set. You can then manipulate and explore the data from a variety of different angles and visualise it in numerous charts, tables and graphs. The associative search feature enables users to define an experimental journey through the data. Business Discovery applications can pull in data from any source and can be accessed on the go via internet browsers on mobiles and tablets.

Lastly, let's look at how Traditional BI was managed. In the past BI Projects tended to be managed centrally and filtered out to different parts of organisation. For example, a management exec in finance would maybe approach IT to create a dashboard or report on specific financial metrics. The approach was hierarchical and specific to that particular department or area.

However, if you think about it, this doesn't actually fit how most businesses actually communicate and make decisions these days. Businesses actually communicate and make decisions in a much more devolved networked way. Decision making is more widely spread throughout the organisation. The new Business Discovery tools available match this framework. They empower, enable and encourage the end business users at all levels in an organisation to access and explore data to improve decision making.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Business Intelligence and Mobile Applications

The modern version of an office workspace is not of one which is restricted to four office walls, a desktop computer, and a small area of carpeting. Office workers and executives from every corner of every business and industry are demanding more intelligent mobile applications as they are required to have access to analytical data regardless of their proximity to the office. Business intelligence solutions for mobile devices create an office everywhere you are. To take your company into the next phase of business computing means investing in mobile business intelligence. Mobile BI increases a company's ability to make educated business decisions in real-time, based on agile interpretation of various data streams.

The market for mobile business intelligence solutions is growing exponentially but until now has only been a very small niche in the overall BI market. As a result, advancements in the technologies designed to support and provide BI to users have been slow and inconsistent. Recently though, wireless and remote devices have had ever-increasing access to faster and faster web services. As mobile devices become more powerful many also become less expensive. The fall of two of the largest barriers (speed and accessibility) the door to mobile business intelligence is opening wider, allowing more users more access to important data while on the move.

Developers interested in building BI applications for mobile devices typically have two development options. One could develop native business intelligence apps which is an attractive method if you need apps with the best possible user-experience for one particular mobile platform. If you're developing only for Windows devices native apps can provide tremendous results. However as some companies begin instituting bring-your-own-mobile policies, developing apps to function over many devices is the only way to provide access to everyone who needs it, and everyone is going to need it. There are different methods and languages which can be used to write apps for use across platforms each with individual attributes, some positive and some negative, depending on how it's going to be implemented. What is most important is that mobile applications that provide business intelligence through smartphones and tablets is becoming a big part of the standard operating procedure for managers and decision makers involved in virtually every area of industry all over the world.

As the conclusion to 2011 approaches, the use of business intelligence in mobile application development is growing in popularity but remains in the early stages of utilization. It may be true that mobile BI is new on the scene, but there is proof that it is not just a fleeting trend, proof that can be observed all over the development landscape. Tablet ownership is up, as is tablet use in the office and among executives, and companies are implementing mobile data sharing strategies at rapid rates. The development of mobile apps to provide detailed, real-time data on tablet and smartphone devices grows alongside the numbers of users. Companies not already heavily invested in mobile have been making plans to use the convenience and quickly updated nature of mobile BI solutions to carry themselves into 2012.