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" ?

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