Friday, November 20, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 17: BI gets "Sixth Sense"

Well, some of you may say isn't it too late in the day for BI to be getting "Sixth Sense". Isn't BI supposed to be a moniker for organizational sixth sense capabilities?

My answer: To all ye tech geeks who walk the hallways with your noses buried in your iPhones and Droids, here’s a look at some technology of the future which will really blow your mind away. Pranav Mistry of MIT has morphed the cellphone, projector, camera and a few other devices to create something that looks like it’s pulled from the pages of a science fiction book:



Sixth Sense (presented by Patti Maes,Professor,MIT)

Sixth Sense (presented by Pranav Mistry, PhD Student, MIT)

What does it mean for BI: interactive reports projected on the walls of elevators as people continue their discussions after heading out from meeting rooms? Reports dynamically structured basis who is participating in the discussions?

What are your Sixth Sense ideas?

Realpolitik vs. Moral Principle

Realpolitik vs. Moral Principle: A classical dilemma manifested often a time in the way nations react to each other and to issues confronting them. US today confronts this dilemma as it warily treads towards a new relationship with a economically and militarily resurgent China eager to establish a new World Order.

India's dealings with China may offer some lessons as I expounded in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to an earlier published Editorial:

LETTERS NOVEMBER 14, 2009

India Stands Up to China on Tibet

Your editorial "Dalai Lama Lesson" (Oct. 30) points out the differences in approaches in dealing with the Chinese Dragon's bellicosity by India and the U.S., but fails to mention that China is the U.S.'s largest creditor. The Indian administration has no such constraints.

India has not budged on its principled stand regarding hospitality for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees over the past five decades even as China has grown in military and financial clout. One wonders how the U.S. would have reacted to Chinese pressures if the Dalai Lama would have been a refugee here. Realpolitik and commercial pressures might have prevailed over moral principle.

The bitter experience of the 1962 India-China war has led to a wary "better safe than sorry" approach while dealing with China, and the shared belief among most Indian politicians about the need to call a bully's bluff every time a threat is made.

Regardless of the party in power in Washington, China knows that in the case of a face off it will be the U.S. that will blink first. Think of President George W. Bush and the spy plane fiasco or President Obama and the Dalai Lama's visit.

Deepak Seth
Rochester, N.Y.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Make sure you have some "yellow" with your greens...

Remember my earlier post Getting to the "root" of the matter : US "discovers" turmeric. Looks like the story gets even better.

The BBC quotes new research published in the British Journal of Cancer in a news story "Curry spice 'kills cancer cells' ":

An extract found in the bright yellow curry spice turmeric can kill off cancer cells, scientists have shown.
The chemical - curcumin - has long been thought to have healing powers and is already being tested as a treatment for arthritis and even dementia.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is interesting research which opens up the possibility that natural chemicals found in turmeric could be developed into new treatments for oesophageal cancer. "

Hand me the spice jar....."yellow" suddenly became even better !!

Monday, October 19, 2009

McKinsey "rediscovers" Gandhi

In a blog titled Financial Firms and the New Diplomacy I came across an interesting news byte : "today the McKinsey Quarterly released a video of public-relations expert Richard Edelman exploring the new landscape of corporate reputation and trust. "

The blogger talks about the new mantras for the financial world -"common good";"commitment to a stakeholder model as opposed to just for the shareholder'';

To me it sounded like Gandhi 101. Gandhi addressing very rich people had said “I venture to suggest to you that you are not using your riches wisely, though you seem to be using them profusely.”

He went on to add “The art of amassing riches becomes a degrading and despicable art if it is not accompanied by the nobler art of how to spend wealth usefully. Let not possession of wealth be synonymous with degradation, vice and profligacy.”

Gandhi defined this concept as “Trusteeship” – ‘“That no matter how much money we have earned, we should regard ourselves as trustees, holding this money for the welfare of all our neighbours.”

Looks like McKinsey and others are “rediscovering” the same principles and repackaging them in a “common good” model.

Gandhi was more forthright in acknowledging that he was drawing upon pre-existing ideas from religion and philosophy :"Having been in my own days in possession of some amount of money, I want to present you with my own recipe. That recipe is nothing original that I am going to give you. It is really a part of our religion, and it is this: that no matter how much money we have earned, we should regard ourselves as trustees holding these moneys for the welfare of all our neighbors.... If God gives us power and wealth, He gives us the same so that we may use them for the benefit of mankind and not. for our selfish, carnal purpose."

Well, consultants have sometimes been described as people who borrow your watch to tell you the time and get paid handsomely for that. Looks like they are borrowing heavily from Gandhi too as they advise Wall Street Firms on how their “rating” reflects less about the dollar value of the deal they just won — and more about what the deal does for the common good.

I'm sure if these "new" mantras are likely to boost bonus payouts, Wall Street managers will be quick to adopt them, else, they will be discarded by the wayside once the tarnished reputations of their firms have been burnished by a generous application of the PR polish of "common good".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

IBM Global CIO Survey: Old Wine or New Voice?



IBM has come out with their Global CIO Survey titled The New Voice of the CIO. They have based their findings on interviews with 2500 CIOs spanning 78 countries and 19 industries.



Key Highlights:



At any given time, a CIO is:

  • An Insightful Visionary and an Able Pragmatist
  • A Savvy Value Creator and a Relentless Cost Cutter
  • A Collaborative Business Leader and an Inspiring IT Manager

By integrating these three pairs of roles, the CIO:

  • Makes innovation real
  • Raises the ROI of IT
  • Expands business impact

Is this Old Wine in a New Bottle? or is it the New Voice of the CIO? I will leave it up to you to decide.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting to the "root" of the matter : US "discovers" turmeric

I could not help but chuckle reading this article in Time magazine: Can Turmeric Relieve Pain? One Doctor's Opinion

I realized that this article with an anecdotal evidence of one individual would do more for popularizing this wonder root in the US than the avid testimony of billions of Indians who have been partaking turmeric as food and medicine for thousands of years.
  • Minor cut or burn , apply turmeric paste (in fact yellow color of turmeric was so closely associated with burn treatment in India that Burnol when launched in India as a burn treatment cream had a bright yellow color).
  • Worms in the belly or body ache/inflamation and pain: add turmeric powder to milk and drink it before you go to bed.
  • Worried about your skin condition or want to keep your skin in glowing condition : apply turmeric and sandalwood paste. Most marriage traditions require both the bride and groom to be anointed with turmeric.
The list is endless....... Ayurveda- the ancient Indian medical system waxes eloquent about the benefits of turmeric. This is only some of the stuff I heard growing up as a kid. And the urging from my mother to make sure that anything with turmeric in it does not fall on my white school shirt for those yellow stains were almost impossible to make disappear.

And in any case for good measure, add it to whatever you cook. That sure came in handy as it now appears that Indian have low rates of Alzheimer's/Senile Dementia, attributable arguably to prevalence of turmeric in the diet .

And the chuckle turns into a guffaw when I see people rushing to specialty stores to buy small bottles of turmeric powder for tens of dollars when they can buy a few pounds of the stuff for the same amount at the local Indian ethnic store (every US town has one. If you don't know where it is, ask your Indian friends, they will love to direct you to it) . And Guys, don't end up pushing the prices up because it may be a fad for you it's food for many like me!

Looks like after yoga it is now the turn of turmeric to be "discovered" by the West!!

Since I originally wrote this post came across this another interesting validation of the benefits of "curcumin"- the key active ingredient in turmeric : "Turmeric cuts postmenopausal breast cancer risk"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Baseballers" from the Land of Cricket

The fertile fields of Indian villages and the bustling streets of its cities have been the breeding grounds for many a world class cricketer.

It was only some time before somebody figured out that the same soil which produces great cricketers can produce great baseball players too esp. given the strong similarities between the 2 games. That's why I was pleasantly surprised by a small news item in the WSJ recently about the first Indian players- Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel being hired as part of Major League Baseball (Pittsburgh Pirates) : Game-Show Winners Earn a Place in Minors

And in the land of the Slumdog Millionaire is it not apt that these players were selected after winning a game show "Million Dollar Arm" ? A victory that transformed their lives moving them across the globe from small hamlets in Uttar Pradesh, India to the bustling ballpark of Pittsburgh.

And obviously as Cricket tries to make inroads into the uncharted waters of the US sports marketplace, Baseball would also be planning similar moves in India: "Indian hurlers' inking opens new market:Contracts for Singh and Patel could pave way for their countrymen"

Watch these "Baseballers" in action: "I don't know who Babe Ruth is" . Neither of them knew what baseball is or had ever touched a baseball before they took part in this contest.

Maybe this will open the floodgates......What next, Indian cricket teams hiring ball players from the wheat fields of Kansas?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 16: Is Michael Jackson still alive? (aka Doubting Thomas/BI Skeptic)

One of the biggest challenges of Business Intelligence is dealing with the die hard skeptic who in the face of overwhelming evidence will still question the veracity and reliability of the information (just like the people who believe "Michael Jackson is still alive") .

How does one deal with these Doubting Thomases ("BI Skeptics")? Well, you can never truly satisfy them but the following measures should help keep their skepticism in check:
  • Clear traceability of the data flow from the source system to the presentation layer. Educate users how the data flows from the source to the final report(s). Make that part of end user training. Include a link to a high level data flow diagram from the presentation layer.
  • Reconciliation reports generated and widely disseminated on a regular basis. These should be user friendly and match check totals, counts etc. for key data chunks with discrepancies clearly flagged.
  • Error Handling process: which identifies and flags any significant data drops/misses and enables initiation of corrective action much before it hits the presentation layer.
  • Complaint Handling System and Feedback loop which allows the skeptics to raise their concerns and track them getting addressed.
  • Ensuring the presentation layer/tools clearly display the filter criteria used to generate the displayed report.

With all that in place you should have allayed most fears (Most, but no winning over the "Michael Jackson abducted by aliens" kind :-) )

Thursday, June 18, 2009

US and India : Ready for a slow dance number?

US and India : Ready for a slow dance number?

The US India Business Council’s “Synergies Summit” held June 16-17, 2009 occured at a time when significant changes have occurred in both the US and Indian polity : election of Democrat Barack Obama as President in the US and the re-election of the ruling Congress Party in India but this time without the stranglehold of it’s traditional Leftist allies.

The two dance partners have danced an amazing tango over the last few years and it would be interesting to see which foot they put forward as they step onto the dance floor again this time for a more slow and intimate number. The relationship had blossomed during President Bush’s tenure and there were expectations that with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke slated to attend; this summit might be used by the Obama Administration to spell out its policy for India .

The US is increasingly viewing India as a “deep” strategic partner while India too has found itself more closely aligned to the US on several issues. However US should realize that given the often contradictory pulls of the many factions within India’s democratic polity and it’s vast diversity, India will always be a “quirky” partner more in the mold of France than the always-toe- the- line UK. Multi-nuanced relationship is how some commentators are wont to describe it.

Right now, India might be ready for some self-righteous gloating, India ’s mixed economy has weathered the economic crises much better than the free or unregulated markets of other countries and it is on track to achieve growth in the 5-6% when rest of the global economy is shrinking. To many in India , US steps like “nationalization” or “state ownership” of banks, Insurance companies, auto companies and protectionist trade measures would seem to be a vindication of India ’s own economic policies which have included such features. Though the Left is no longer part of the ruling coalition in India , trend for economic liberalization,Free market reforms etc. may slow down as the policy wonks there try to figure out the causes of the US meltdown and try to ensure that it is not repeated there.

The flavor of the summit may also be different this year as while in the past it may served more as an opportunity for US companies looking for partners in India this time it will be equally matched by Indian corporates with fat wallets and hearty appetites looking for pickings from the aftermath of the economic maelstrom. While Hummer may have been picked up by a Chinese firm, I am sure there are sizable chunks of GM, AIG, Hollywood etc. which are being eyed as investment opportunities by Indian companies.

On the US side, despite many years of engagement in India most companies still do not have their act together. European, Korean, Japanese companies have proven to be more nimble and more adept to realize profits from what C.K. Prahalad has described as the “Bottom of the Pyramid”. Making profits selling chocolates for a few cents each or cell phones for a few dollars still seems to be like the proverbial Indian Rope trick :”Is it really happening” to many. The Business Process Outsourcing market may lose some of its sheen because of the protectionist measures in the US and the overall state of the US economy but most Indian BPO companies have climbed up the value chain to emerge as Knowledge Partners. Collaborating for technical and scientific innovation should be an important item on the agenda during the summit

As always, from a US perspective any conversation about India is not complete without bringing up the P-word. Pakistan is now more on the front-burner of US security policy discussions then ever before. India may find itself increasingly drawn into those discussions, though it is too soon for it to be considered a honest broker given it’s long history of discord with Pakistan and the still unresolved Kashmir issue. However the realization has slowly emerged in Washington that India is a responsible player with much at stake and is a strong stabilizing force in a region plagued with turmoil. Nobody knows the region better than India and as the stakes are raised with the US presence in Afghanistan and anti-terror actions in Pakistan , security collaboration with India is only going to increase.

Let the slow dance begin!!

Hillary Clinton's Remarks at the Summit

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 15 : The Cost of Intelligence- A Fistful of Dollars? or a Few Dollars More?



A recent study by Gartner about reducing the costs of reporting through data mart consolidation finds "Organizations can save up to 20% of data reporting costs and provide better business information by replacing fragmented reporting in disparate data marts with a single instance of widely used data."



Data Reporting Costs? How much are they? With "spreadmarts" (personal spreadsheets, thousands of desktop database instances, customized reporting solutions for small business groups etc.) proliferating all across an organization, it is very difficult to get a good estimate of the Data Reporting Costs.


And in the absence of a good estimate it often becomes difficult to calculate the ROI of BI initiatives (Show me the money .....Should I ? :Can we easily or accurately calculate the ROI of delivering key Business Intelligence to Sales Reps on their handheld devices versus the information being mailed to them periodically ?)


The existing Data Reporting Costs used by the Enterprise Information Management proponents for their savings projections are challenged by those who favor a more Distributed Information Management strategy and vice-versa.


So in absence of a good estimate should we assume the existing Data Reporting Costs to be "A Fistful of Dollars"?


I would recommend any IT organization making a case for enterprise wide consolidation of BI capabilities to first initiate a study to identify existing "spreadmarts" and the costs associated with them. This could be through a questionnaire or 1:1 interaction with key stakeholders. These stakeholders are likely to be the same ones who will have a key voice in whether the company goes ahead with an enterprise strategy so this will also give an opportunity to get them engaged early on. The process of answering questions related to the costs may also help them realize the many hidden costs associated with such "spreadmarts" and the savings that can accrue in their own area if they are rationalized. If they feel like owners of the cost saving resulting from an enterprise strategy they will become its staunchest advocates.


Well, are the costs just a Few Dollars More than a Fistful of Dollars ? That will determine The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of further discussions on any Enterprise Information Management Strategy.


(p.s. you can guess I am a fan of Sergei Leone's Clint Eastwood starring Spaghetti Westerns)

Friday, June 12, 2009

To Bee or not to Bee....

Remember my blogpost The Indian Spelling Bee Hive at Washington dated June 3, 2009 which mentioned about an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by James Maguire : "How to Win the Spelling Bee. You don't have to be Indian. But it seems to help."

Well, I decided to send my feedback on that article to WSJ which was published on June 8,2009 Letters to the Editor on the Opinion page.

Being published in the WSJ, that's a first for me :-) :


LETTERS JUNE 8, 2009
Hard, Disciplined Work Is How You Spell Champion
As an Indian immigrant and parent of a student who has won an award at the recently concluded Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nevada, I can relate very well to the points made by James Maguire in "How to Win the Spelling Bee" (op-ed, June 3).
As expected, my daughter's achievement got nary a mention in the local papers, which seem to have no problem filling many pages with results of any sporting event, however obscure, in the local school districts.
American society likes to put sports achievers on a pedestal while academic achievement generally receives short shrift.Participation in research projects at local universities, science fairs and quiz competitions is more often than not at the initiative of the student or his or her parents. Schools often look askance at such activities and would rather allocate precious funds for participation in athletic meets than academic events.
This situation is baffling in a market-driven economy. People ought to ask: Who is going to create more jobs in the future -- the "popular" football player/cheerleader or the "nerdy" kid with the 4.0 grade-point average?
Most of these achievers are not just spelling geeks; they are well-rounded and have many other interests and hobbies at which they excel.
Let's get our priorities straight and start giving the real leaders of tomorrow the respect and encouragement they deserve.
Deepak Seth
Rochester, N.Y.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 14: The Color of Intelligence

Color or Colour - whichever way you spell it, has been a critical part of Business Intelligence in particular and Business in general. Red ink, in the black, greenback, traffic lighting, dashboarding all highlight the role of color in business.

In BI , color provides an extra dimension to reporting and an opportunity to cue immediate responses based on color perceptions deeply ingrained in the brain (Green is good, Red means immediate action etc.)

While color has played out well in the web delivery of reports, cost has been a key constraint in effectively using it for printed output. That sure acts as a dampener esp. when printed reports or briefing books are still the preferred report delivery option of many C-suite executives. From early in my career I remember putting briefing books together where only a select few got the color versions while others had to make do with black and white. They sure had a difficult time figuring out the various shades of gray or shading patterns.

Looks like we are on the way to see more color come into our reports.
Xerox recently announced the launch of ColorQube 9200 Series which is supposed to cut the cost of color pages by up to 62 percent compared to traditional color lasers − without compromising print quality. And that too in a Green way since proprietary solid ink technology (check it out, 361 patents, wow!) lowers the environmental impact of office printing and the Cartridge-free design generates 90 percent less supplies waste and reduces the effects of manufacturing and transportation on the environment.

Have you any colorful stories to share about your own experiences with color or lack thereof in your reports ?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Show me the money .....Should I ?

Jeff Hayzlett, chief marketing officer and vice president at Eastman Kodak Co., gave the keynote speech at the annual Ad Council of Rochester luncheon yesterday.

"Marketers are going to have to stand up against ROI," Hayzlett said. "People talk about ROI, what's your return on investment. What's the return on ignoring? That's a bigger factor than ... the finance." (as reported by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle).

Interesting observation indeed. Diametrically opposite to the established Conventional Wisdom. But a dilemma faced increasingly by people working in the spheres of technical or business innovation. Can we easily or accurately calculate the ROI of delivering key Business Intelligence to Sales Reps on their handheld devices versus the information being mailed to them periodically ?

What is the ROI on laying off people ? Have companies ever taken stock of what the real gains from layoffs are after factoring in all the costs (including the hidden costs like loss of institutional wisdom, connections, business knowledge etc.)

Can we calculate the ROI of keeping a pet? raising a child?

Should ROI have determined the feasibility of Wright Brother's efforts to build a heavier than air flying machine? Did ROI calculations justify the replacement of the horse and cart by the automobile? or the invention of the computer?

A few years ago, in a similar vein some economists had come up with the Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of the usual GDP and GNP to measure the wealth of a nation.

Looks like we are ready for a measure better than ROI.

p.s. I wonder what the conversation between Mr. Hayzlett and the Kodak CFO would have been after the now famous ROI quote. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to listen to that conversation.

How about you share your thoughts on what the CFO said to the CMO....in 140 characters or less (this is the era of Twitter)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Indian Spelling Bee Hive at Washington

A year ago I had blogged about :"Indian spelling "bees" swarm Washington . Looks like those bees have continued to swarm the Washington event in even greater numbers.

Today the Wall Street Journal carried an interesting opinion piece on the phenomenon by James Maguire : "How to Win the Spelling Bee. You don't have to be Indian. But it seems to help."

I would ascribe the success of the kids not to their being "Indian" but on the Indian value of "Focus on Education". Anybody who subscribes to the same value can achieve similar success. Cultures which focus on sports find similar successes for their kids in the sports arena (a place where Indians are often noticeable by their relative absence - 1 Billion people, 1 Olympic Gold at the Beijing Olympics).

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 13 : This is no torture - "Dashboarding" the Stimulus Package

The stimulus legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, calls for detailed reporting and tracking of the federal funds that will be handed out.

"Dashboarding" is just what the doctor (aka "IT Consultant") would recommend for dealing with this. Many companies, large and small, are rushing to offer BI and Project monitoring software for state and local governments.

Here are some quick links to what is on offer :

Microsoft Stimulus 360

IBM Economy Recovery Fund Reporting

Acumen's START: Stimulus Tracking and Recipient Transparency Application

Microstrategy Stimulus Dashboard

CGI ARRA Reporting Gateway

Visible Strategies SEE-IT

Onvia Economic Stimulus Package Tracking

Would be interesting to see which one walks away with the Lion's share of the cake. What do you think ?

Battle of the Search Engines Round 1: Google 1, Bing 0

Excited by the hype around Microsoft's new search engine : Bing , I decided to take it out for a quick test drive.
Typed my phone number in and hit the magnifying lens. Well it found me alright but displayed an address which was definitely not mine. Got the town right and the general area but was definitely not my address.
Repeated the test with Google and got the correct address.
If Bing has not been able to synchronize it's search capabilities with the published White Book of major towns it definitely means that it has some more work to do before it is ready to play with the Big Boys (aka Google) and other neighborhood kids with new tricks up their sleeves (Wolfram).
Have you "Bing"ed yet? What is your feedback ?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 12 :BI - "Head in the clouds but feet firmly planted on the ground"

A few weeks ago I wrote about emerging trends in Business Intelligence (The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 8: Star Trek returns.... ). Today I am in the mood to do some crystal ball gazing again and share some random musings :

  1. Last couple of years saw several big time players enhancing their share and leverage in the BI arena through strategic mergers & acquisitions : IBM-Cognos, SAP-Business Objects, Oracle-Hyperion. I think by the end of this year the big names will complete their "digestion" of these entities and will make them shed their old monikers. Some may say that the goodwill of names like Cognos, Hyperion etc is too big to be easily written of and the big players will balk from doing that. On the contrary,I think that a company like IBM gains more overall by having a single integrated "Business Intelligence Suite" under it's own name rather than retaining the Cognos name and creating confusion and competition with it's own other BI offerings. Similarly the case with the other players. So this may be the last year for die hard fans to order their Cognos Coffee Mugs or Hyperion T-shirts. They may be the collectibles of the future.
  2. I had written "The current and evolving paradigm of user-technology interface can be defined by a single word : "Google". That was before I saw "Wolfram" . "Computational Knowledge Engine" is how it is described. The front end is not very pretty but I was impressed by what it does. Typing in :China, US in a routine search engine like Google will give you links to millions of web articles where these 2 words appear. On the other hand Wolfram will deliver an output which compares China and US on various attributes : Name, Location, Flags, Demographics, Economic Indices etc. Type in the name of 2 companies : IBM, Oracle and it will compare the 2 companies for several parameters -Latest trades, Fundamentals and Financials, Recent Returns, Relative Price History etc. Pretty Cool. An "Intelligent" Search Engine. I am sure the smart guys at Google would be cooking up something similar in their Labs.
  3. Staying on Google, I think that it may not be long before they enter the BI arena. They know how to manage huge volumes of data, run server farms and manage an analytics front end , currently primarily used to present information related to blogs/website statistics but can easily be modified as a front-end for business related information.
  4. There was a time when we had BI Tools, then vendors started branding them as Applications. These days several vendors are offering BI Appliances. Following the trend to it's logical conclusion, I would think that very soon we may see BI Machines or BI Engines. Or better still combining BI capabilities with Cloud computing, one may see the emergence of "BI Clouds" . BI will then live up to the classic proverb “It may have it's head in the clouds, but has it's feet well set on the ground.”

Let's see how many of these predictions pan out. If they do, remember where you read about them first !!

Are you ready with some of your own tea leaves readings ? please share......

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 11 : BI : Rear-view Mirror or Real-time Dashboard or Forward Looking Crystal Ball or All 3?

Classical BI with it's roots in Data warehousing has always been more of a Rear-view mirror : offering creative insights into essentially historical data. You can slice it, dice it, drill up, drill down, view it in cubes or reports or dashboards but it essentially is historical.

Last Friday IBM launched IBM System S , a real time data analysis software. IBM is positioning it as "software designed to analyze streams of real-time data". It "could help financial institutions monitor transactions and analyze risks, or help hospitals monitor patients to detect problems early ". I have not had the opportunity to look at the software or it's documentation yet.

Interesting !

However, even a "Real-time Dashboard" is meaningless without a functional "Rear view mirror" as we all know from our experience driving automobiles or running companies. A real-time dashboard may indicate that sales are dropping or manufacturing defects are rising at 3:00 p.m. This data in isolation without a "Rear-view mirror" giving historical perspective ("Over the last month sales have started declining or manufacturing defects rising at 3:00p.m.") is only of marginal importance.

I am sure IBM would be envisaging buyers complementing it's System S with some of it's more traditional BI offerings like Cognos etc.

I think BI should be Rear View Mirror, Real Time Dashboard and Forward looking Crystal Ball all rolled into one......

Speaking of Cognos, attendees returning from Cognos Forum (held over last week) were slightly disappointed by the lack of new offerings. Last year their was a great buzz around the 8.4 release, nothing such this year around.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 10 : What happens when Data driven BI meets BI Joe ?

One of the most interesting aspects of blogging is the interesting conversations one strikes up with a wide variety of people.

The latest interaction I am engaged in is with Ken Allard, military strategist turned BI guru. Not your classical textbook BI but BI with a twist. His worldview of BI takes it beyond "tactical information harvested from IT and DW" to "war gaming and simulations".

My perspective is that Yes, war gaming and simulation could be useful additions to the world of BI. The catch with war gaming is that there may be a perception that the technique has not been able to project the trajectory and outcome of recent conflicts. Well, that may be less a result of ineffectiveness of war gaming as a tool/technique and more so because of incorrect scenario formulation/projections or failure to implement the results of war games into the real life battlefield.

Corporates can "war game" new product launches, emergence of new competitors, delays in new product development etc.

Ken takes the concept even further. Based on his military experience he finds that the real value of war-gaming is not the precise prediction of events, which rarely turn out as expected - Murphy's Law governing almost everything. Rather, it is in the minds of the commanders who are steeped in the variables (What can go wrong?) and learn what they need to do to react effectively enough to accomplish their mission (usually expressed as the commander's intent).

There seems to be nothing comparable in business today where the leadership seems to focus obsessively on smaller issues - usually short-term financials.

His view of war gaming in the BI context takes it beyond single events like product launches, (though he acknowledges those too can be important forward steps) into the realm of entrepreneurial strategic planning that focuses three or four years out and applies that rigor to basic corporate decision-making.

Interesting indeed.

Ken tells me he is appearing on the Huckabee Show on Fox News Channel this weekend (Sat and Sun night). Worth checking out....

Hot off the press (May 18) : Got a note from Ken. He never got to BIzWars (BI and War Gaming/Simulation) on The Huckabee Show. They got caught in the quagmire of discussing his run in with the NYT regarding their article about Pentagon's influence on war reporting. Watch

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 9: Can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive ?

Schrödinger has already grappled with that paradox leaving us with the famous Schrödinger's cat

In the world of BI the famous paradox manifests itself in terms of what I will call the "Consulting Conundrum" : Can a consultant be simultaneously objective towards an agreed upon BI roadmap/strategy and ever changing needs of his/her clients ?

Before I attempt to answer that , let me digress. In my experience there are a few different kind of BI consulting outfits spanning the spectrum of the following 2 opposite poles :

1. "We will help you frame your BI strategy and roadmap" type.
2. "Where's the software box, we will install it for you" type

The first one views the second as "below their paygrade, hands dirty" kind of guys while the second ones view the first as "head in the clouds, cut off from reality" kind of guys.

Very few and far between are the kind of consultants who straddle the two extremes . These are the kind of guys who understand that the client often has nebulous ideas about BI , they know what they need and sometimes not even that; and are not sure how they can get there. Reminds me of Alice in Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland :

"Cheshire-Cat," said Alice, "please could you tell me which way I should go?"

"That depends on where you want to go," the Cheshire-Cat answered.

"I don't really care," said Alice.

Well it doesn't matter then, does it?" the Cheshire-Cat said.

"As long as I get somewhere," said Alice quickly.


The solution to the "Consulting Conundrum" lies with the "integration roles" ("functional") within the client organization that span the "technology - user" divide. Unfortunately these roles are often the hardest hit as IT organizations within companies downsize. This can pose new challenges for consultants in fathoming what a client actually needs but also an opportunity to provide services to bridge a gap which companies have created through their short sightedness.

What are your solutions to the "Consulting Conundrum" ?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 8: Star Trek returns....

Come May 8, Star Trek would return to the theaters with another saga in the journey to "boldly go where no man has gone before"

What are the bold new directions in which Business Intelligence user interface is headed ? I'll leave that question to the crystal ball gazers, tea leaf readers and the pundits amongst us.

I would focus on the direction it should be headed. And the single word answer to that is "simplification". The current and evolving paradigm of user-technology interface can be defined by a single word : "Google". Never before has the "Keep it Simple, Stupid" paradigm been so successful.

And that is the direction which BI needs to head to also.

A simple, single line search box which delivers context specific search and reporting capabilities. A sales rep types in the name of a city and links to sales report(s) for all customers in that city appear.

Also an Amazon.com kind of feature -" People who viewed this report also viewed...". Gives the user a quick and easy feel of what else s/he should be looking for. Building in "crowd intellect" into the reporting capabilities.

And what about a feature which allows a user to know who else is looking at a particular report in real-time or has viewed the report earlier (a viewing history). Combine this with interactive chat or communication capabilities and you have transformed a "report" into a "collaborative interaction".

Did I miss Geospatial analytics and GPS, how about integrating them with BI capabilities. A manager viewing a report, identifies issues with a particular customer, is able to identify the sales rep closest to that location based on the GPS capabilities of the handheld the rep is carrying and asks him/her to visit the customer.

BI has already ventured beyond Reporting & Analytics to Actionable Intelligence. Now it needs to venture even further to "Intelligent Actions". The gap,distance between the availability of intelligence and resultant action needs to be reduced by incorporating other emerging technologies into the classical BI Framework.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 7: The Need for Speed - Call for Special Forces or the Infantry ?

In all organizations generally two ideological camps emerge around the best way to implement BI : The first one driven essentially by the ERP implementation methodology which almost always precedes a BI implementation is process focused. It wants all specs to be nailed, users requirements documented, the last 'i' dotted and 't' crossed before development can commence. The second one is driven by the kind of close to the users analytical team methodology which had existed within user departments (like Sales or Finance) before ERP implementations made IT centralized. Here the focus is on speed. Specs are at best considered a necessary evil to be completed after the development is complete.

The first camp is considered as "Process Fiends", "Slow moving Bureaucrats" by the second camp which in turn is considered "Bunch of cowboys","Bulls in a China shop" by the first.

My personal approach is to effectively leverage the strengths of these two what appear to be conflicting ideologies. The larger BI group needs to be split into 2 components -

  • a small "Special Forces" contingent which can quickly scout new options , build prototypes, execute limited precision deployments for a selected target audience. Focus is on 4 S's : Scout, Speed, Scalable and Selective.
  • The larger "Infantry" component focuses on scaling up some of the early wins of the Special Forces component , establishes a process framework around it and launches them for mass deployment. Focus is on 3 P's: Parameters, Process, Performance.

For example , when deploying BI capabilities on a handheld device like a Blackberry, instead of getting caught up in the specification definition process, a small "Special Forces" contingent was deployed to "scout" the technology, "speedily" build a "scalable" prototype for a "selective" deployment to key stakeholders.

Subsequently the "Infantry" stepped in to scale up the "wins" of the "Special Forces" for deployment to a wider user base.They worked on the detailed specifications ("parameters"), Job Scheduling, Database Tuning ("performance"), Training documentation ("processs") etc.

Some projects executed by the "Special Forces" may never reach the "Infantry" stage and there may be others which start straight with the "Infantry"

In my opinion this two pronged approach is better, a "win-win" rather than the single pronged approach of either making your team just a Special Forces contingent (support issues when their "wins" are ramped up) or just an Infantry contingent (slow development leading to waning user interest).

What do you think ?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 6: The CIO giveth and the CIO taketh away

The role and success of BI in an organization depends to a large extent upon the attitude and interest of the CIO. I will characterize them as :

1. The Creators : Have a keen understanding and appreciation of the relevance of BI. Will lay great emphasis on creating strong technical underpinnings and a robust BI strategy. May not be as effective in selling BI to other groups as they are more the "Build a better mouse trap" kind of people. Other business heads like Chief Sales Officer or Chief Marketing Officer will find this kind of CIO to be very "technical" and "boring".

2. The Preservers/Enhancers : These are the showmen types. They have their ears to the ground and are attuned to what the other C-suite officers are talking about. These are the guys who will push their team to have dashboards delivered on the Blackberry or whatever the latest fad is. They do a great job in spreading awareness about BI capabilities in the organization. They are the "Build a mouse trap with the latest gizmos, and I'll find a buyer"

3.The Destroyers : BI bores them as does anything "technical". They are generally non-IT people placed in an IT leadership role because they had liberally spiked their conversation with the CEO with fancy buzzwords like Twitter, Social Networking, Facebook etc which the CEO construed to be IT (one will be surprised to know what passes off as IT in the C-suites of many corporations). They generally end up destroying BI capabilities by underfunding it and creating an environment where talented BI resources are forced to leave. These are the "Why build a mousetrap, when you can just Twitter" type.

Obviously these are generalizations. A typical CIO would be a mix of all the three attributes in different proportions.

What do you think your CIO is ? Can you think of any more kinds ?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 5: What They Don't Teach You At Any Business School?

What They Don't Teach You At Any Business School?

The answer is "Business Intelligence"

By that I do not mean the oxymoron phrase - given the state of the economy today and what actions led it there many people think that the words Intelligence and Business cannot be put in the same sentence together.

I mean Business Intelligence , the discipline all BI professionals are practitioners of. I made enquiries at a few Business Schools and surprisingly it is not a part of the course curriculum for the MBA program. I would have thought that given the importance this field has in the actual real-life business environment ; it's inter-disciplinary, cross-functional nature pulling data and information from various sources together; and more importantly it's role in presenting information in a manner which facilitates decision making it should have been an apt candidate for inclusion in Business School curricula.

Seems like Business Schools are more fascinated by course options like Stochastic Modelling, Pricing of Derivatives, Game Theory, etc. etc. (many of which contributed in creating the pseudo-expertise which led to the current economic fiasco) than to consider more practical, real life day to day usable options like Business Intelligence.

If more would be CEO's , business leaders of the future are introduced to "Business Intelligence" as they pursue their MBAs would we have more "Intelligent Business" ?

Maybe the onus is on us BI professionals to sound a wake up call. What do you think ?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 4: Raiders of the Lost Ark


Or should I say Raiders of the Lost Data. As BI professionals we are often confronted with Business requests for historical data ,to deal with product recalls or product litigation or for historical trending and for a myriad of other business reasons.

Obviously, the cubes and other reports cannot be structured to meet all these adhoc requests. They are generally structured for dealing with regular requests. For the purpose of speed and efficiency very old historical data is purged from the cubes and underlying models.

The source data warehouse too may either have the data or it may not if the data has been archived off site. In any case regular business users may not have either the security access or knowledge of the tools required to access this data.

To cut a long story short, a Data Archival and Retrieval Strategy needs to be part and parcel of any Business Intelligence Strategy. In the absence of a coherent Data Archival and Retrieval Strategy one will find a gradually deteriorating performance of the BI applications and lots of dissatisfied users groping in the dark to figure out the who ?,how?,where? of their requests for historical data..........

Well atleast till they find their BIndiana Jones !

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 3: All that glitters is Gold

Well, this one twists the age old adage on it's head. Yes, all that glitters is gold. And the gold I am talking about is the BI capabilities developed within organizations.

Most times companies are unwilling to share or showcase these to a wider audience. Reasons can be many :
  • Secrecy : Fears that competitors may end up acquiring competitive advantage by becoming aware of BI Strategy/capabilities.
  • Lack of confidence : underestimating own potential and fearing becoming laughing stock
  • Over confidence : "what can we learn from others"
  • Poaching : talent may get poached by others

Left to themselves most BI professionals would love to showcase their work to others, bounce ideas and seek feedback. Most push back comes from the CIO Office. Their fears in most cases are unfounded and can be mitigated/managed.

Competitive advantage/disadvantage does not depend on what your competitor/others know about your BI capabilities but how effective your own Business teams are in using those capabilities effectively and efficiently.In any case, most BI capabilities are vendor driven with everybody having equal access to them. There is an almost zero probability of being taken by surprise.

But in some cases enlightened CIOs have taken the lead in reaching out to their peers in other non-competing organizations and have the BI teams in both places engage in constructive evaluation of each others work. I would love to see more of that happening.

If the idea of showcasing to other companies is a little far fetched, an alternative is to periodically get an independent consultant to review the BI strategy/development and interact with the team and key Business users.

CIOs may feel that it may be viewed by the BI head as an encroachment on their territory.

Nothing can be farther from the truth.

The BI head would love to have the opportunity to "use" the consultant to say to the CIO what they have wanted to say for a long time but haven't been able to or have been saying for a long time and has been falling on deaf ears. (need more servers, need an upgrade, delivering "best of class" despite limited resources, Strategy/Organization needs an overhaul etc. etc.).

The Business would love this opportunity to vent and share their pet peeves about BI (Development Lead times too high, Reports/Cubes not available on time, Key BI contacts not identified etc etc ).

The CIO can look forward to an objective unbiased appraisal.

A win - win for all.

All that glitters is gold but there is no sense keeping it locked up in the vaults, rather put it out on display like in the Gold Souks of Dubai (with proper security and protection) . Or better still invite an independent appraiser to come evaluate it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 2: Flexible is Flexible, Fixed is Fixed, and never the twain shall meet

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"

The biggest wow factor for OLAP based BI applications has been the flexibility for the end users - slice and dice, drill up and down, build reports on the fly. The techies were the first to be floored. And next came the Analyst types. My Finance users loved the first Financial Insight we came out with. Adopted the same approach for a Sales Insight and the response was mixed. Lot of positive as well as negative feedback.

I myself went into the Field and took couple of the developers along too, conducted a few sessions with the Field Sales Force and sat through some training sessions. As I discovered first hand the response spanned 2 extremes - many of the more computer savvy sales reps were all wows and praising the flexibility of the application and it's analytical abilities as being the next best invention since sliced bread. On the other hand many others had their eyes glazed over. They were still stuck 3 steps behind where the trainer was. "Can we not get our standard XYZ report mailed to us weekly", was their refrain. The daily availability of cube based reports or ability to drill down to specifics did not impress them.

Boy, we had a big problem on hand. Substantiated that by conducting an end user survey at an upcoming Sales Meet attended by the entire sales Force. (A slight detour - the response rate for the user survey was near 100% since we conducted a lucky draw for iPods every night amongst those who submitted). Voila ! In an open ended question to list the Top 5 weaknesses and Top 5 strengths of the application - "Flexibility" found pride of place on both sides. On one side it was as Very Flexible - Easy to Use on the other side it was Too Flexible - Need Fixed reports.

Needless to add , while retaining cube based reporting for the analytical kinds ,we added "canned" reports with some routine prompts for the Sales Force. Next Sales Meet was a different story altogether. More on that later....

In this case, Fixed and Flexible did meet as we pursued a Middle Path.

Moral(s) of the story :

1. One size does not fit all.

2. Nothing beats going out into the Field and interacting with the end users. I would recommend all CIOs to mandate some end user interaction for all - including developers. Let them sit through some of the end user training sessions where their applications are deployed. The first hand feedback will be invaluable.

3. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback - the good old fashioned user survey can still come in handy at times. And nothing like an iPod or iPhone or the latest iGadget to get the completed forms back in.

4. The users is always right ! make the changes required. If not fully, meet them atleast half the way.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 1: Six Blind Men and a Elephant



Many years ago when I transitioned into Business Intelligence Applications (Peoplesoft EPM/Cognos) from a ERP Transactional Applications (Peoplesoft Financials) background, one of my first endeavors was to "sell" the concept on an ongoing basis to what almost always used to be a wary audience of executives, managers and users who had heard the buzz but were not exactly sure what it meant. With my Sales and Marketing Background I knew that a picture will do it better than words.


The first slide in my presentation deck was the parable of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant :

  • Is it a Wall ?
  • Is it a spear ?
  • Is it a snake ?
  • Is it a tree or a fan or a rope ?
    Each blind man describes the elephant from where he is standing, from his perspective, and each is different...
    With EPM - Provide timely & consistent information across the global organization in order to align executives, operational managers, field sales force and knowledge workers in defining, viewing and pursuing strategic objectives.

The slide always drove the message home and I retained it in my deck as we continued to roll out BI applications to more sites/functions. Always succeeded in getting the audience engaged as it very aptly described the state of data and information in most sites/functions/organizations and what we intended to do about it. A very clear positioning for our "Brand".

What do you think ? With the multitudes of BI applications and Data Warehousing Solutions are organizations today better equipped to see the Full Elephant or are they still like the Six Blind Men ? Share your stories and watch out for Part 2 of The Business Intelligence Chronicles.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Business Transformation - Analogies from the World of Nature

As I have worked over the years transforming organizations, I cannot but help but draw analogies with the World of Nature :

1. The Hibernators : These organizations have a penchant for cycles of accumulating fat and then trimming it down. Almost like polar bears or other animals of cold climes. Much of this comes about from the cyclical trend of the business they operate in. I once worked in a company where this trend was driven by the cyclical supply of milk- the key ingredient of their final product. All winter it built up stocks of intermediates, added manpower. Only to trim it all during the harsh Indian summers when the milk supply dried down.

2. The Chameleons : Nothing intrinsically changes about these organizations as they supposedly "transform". An appearance of change is created to satisfy stakeholders like banks, shareholders, media etc. Many of the family owned public companies in India in the 80's and 90's used to fall in this category. The internal processes and structure of the company remained unchanged fixated on the mindset of the owner but the external portrayal constantly changed to suit the environment.

3. The Butterflies/Silkworms: Many organizations grow fat as they are inefficient utilisers of resources which are available aplenty since these companies are generally market doyens or operate in a protected environment. Latest trend is for them to go into a transformative pupa stage away from the prying eyes of external stakeholders under private ownership. The objective being that they after transformation will emerge from their cocoons as attractive butterflies, the cynosure of all eyes, worthy of great premiums. Many will not reach this stage as the private equity investor may decide to harvest the silk from the pupa rather than waiting for the butterfly to emerge. Needless to add the company itself would be killed and the value (silk) extracted by sale of brands, patents, equipment etc.

Any other analogies come to mind ?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do you know ? Reinvent yourself or become obsolete...

A very powerful and fascinating video on the progression of Information Technology, a compilation of unique factoids which you will appreciate (to the beat of some nice remix music).
Do you know ?
Drives home the message that we need to constantly reinvent ourselves so that we do not become obsolete!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Start the Day with some Dibertism's

How about something different on the blog today. Start the day off with some humor.
Some of Dilbert's best one liners:
1. I say no to alcohol, it just doesn't listen.
2. Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.
3. Work is fine if it doesn't take too much of your time.
4. When everything comes in your way you're in the wrong lane.
5. The light at the end of the tunnel may be an incoming train..
6. Born free, taxed to death.
7. Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don't have film.
8. Life is unsure; always eat your dessert first.
9. Smile, it makes people wonder what you are thinking.
10. If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you'll have trouble putting on your pants.
11. It's not hard to meet expenses, they are everywhere.
12. The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius.
13. The trouble with being punctual is that no one is there to appreciate it.
14. In a country of free speech, why are there phone bills?
15. If you cannot change your mind, are you sure you have one?
16. Beat the 5 O'clock rush, leave work at noon!
17. If you can't convince them, confuse them.
18. It's not the fall that kills you. It's the sudden stop at the end.
19. I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.
20. Hot glass looks same as cold glass. - Cunino's Law of Burnt Fingers.
21. The cigarette does the smoking you are just the sucker.
22. Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock.
23. To Err is human; to forgive is not a Company policy.
24. The road to success...... Is always under construction.
25. Alcohol doesn't solve any problems, but if you think again, neither does Milk.
26. In order to get a Loan, you first need to prove that you don't need it

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire : Contrasting Reviews

BBC- Soutik Biswas
'Why Slumdog fails to move me'

Rolling Stone - Peter Travers
What I feel for this movie isn't just admiration, it's mad love.

Uplifting ,"Poverty Porn", Breathtaking, "Slum Chic" - all terms used by various critics in describing the same movie. Has ruffled the feathers of Bollywood's movie icon, Amitabh Bachchan. Well, if the critics have such dramatically opposite opinions then it means the movie is really worth watching.

To my American Friends who ask me, "Do things like this really happen in India ? Is India really like this?"

My answer, " This is as much India as 'Die Hard' is USA".

Part Real , Part Director's imagination.

I will give it the highest accolade most Indian viewers give to a movie they really like - "Paisa Vasool"- got my money's worth!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

7 + 1 E's for President Obama

(Published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on Inauguration Day, Jan 20, 2009 as part of "Rochester's letters to President Barack Obama" as "Key in on seven points and you'll find success"

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations!! The US needs change like never before and I am glad that you are going to be that "Change". You have been entrusted with an unenviable responsibility of immense proportions - almost like cleaning the Augean stables and rebuilding the Parthenon at the same time. But the mission can be well accomplished if you stay focused on what I call the 7 E’s:

Economy: Restart the economic recovery focusing on the public rather than just the financial institutions.

Employment: Get people back into jobs to restart the demand engine.

End the War: stem the bleeding of national treasure and precious lives to fight needless wars.

Energy: reinvigorate plans to end dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil; and develop new alternatives.

Education: re-establish American leadership in innovation and technology.

Environment: a cleaner, greener planet for future generations.

Enhance Healthcare: ensure affordable healthcare for all.

These E's are interdependent and build on each other. Please focus on them under the umbrella of another overarching E - Eliminate Corruption, breaking the deadly stranglehold of endemic and pervasive corruption in many of our institutions, and we will be on the path to success.

All the Best!!

Deepak Seth

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