Microsoft Data AMP 2017

Aside

Data AMP 2017 just finished and some really interesting announcements came out specific to our company-wide push into infusing machine learning, cognitive and deep learning APIs into every part of our organization. Some of the announcements are ML enablers while others are direct enhancements.

Here is a summary with links to further information:

  • SQL Server R Services in SQL Server 2017 is renamed to Machine Learning Services since both R and Python will be supported. More info
  • Three new features for Cognitive Services are now Generally Available (GA): Face API, Content Moderator, Computer Vision API. More info
  • Microsoft R Server 9.1 released: Real time scoring and performance enhancements, Microsoft ML libraries for Linux, Hadoop/Spark and Teradata. More info
  • Azure Analysis Services is now Generally Available (GA). More info
  • **Microsoft has incorporated the technology that sits behind the Cognitive Services inside U-SQL directly as functions. U-SQL is part of Azure Data Lake Analytics(ADLA)
  • More Cortana Intelligence solution templates: Demand forecasting, Personalized offers, Quality assurance. More info
  • A new database migration service will help you migrate existing on-premises SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL databases to Azure SQL Database or SQL Server on Azure virtual machines. Sign up for limited preview
  • A new Azure SQL Database offering, currently being called Azure SQL Managed Instance (final name to be determined):
    • Migrate SQL Server to SQL as a Service with no changes
    • Support SQL Agent, 3-part names, DBMail, CDC, Service Broker
    • **Cross-database + cross-instance querying
    • **Extensibility: CLR + R Services
    • SQL profiler, additional DMVs support, Xevents
    • Native back-up restore, log shipping, transaction replication
    • More info
    • Sign up for limited preview
  • SQL Server vNext CTP 2.0 is now available and the product will be officially called SQL Server 2017:

Those I am most excited about I added ** next to. This includes key innovations with our approach to AI and enhancing our deep learning compete against Google TensorFlor for example. Check out the following blog posting: https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/dataplatforminsider/2017/04/19/delivering-ai-with-data-the-next-generation-of-microsofts-data-platform/ :

  1. The first is the close integration of AI functions into databases, data lakes, and the cloud to simplify the deployment of intelligent applications.
  2. The second is the use of AI within our services to enhance performance and data security.
  3. The third is flexibility—the flexibility for developers to compose multiple cloud services into various design patterns for AI, and the flexibility to leverage Windows, Linux, Python, R, Spark, Hadoop, and other open source tools in building such systems.

 

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Wonderful World of Sports: Hey NFL, Got RFID?

Aside

As requested by some of my LinkedIn followers, here is the NFL Infographic about RFID tags I shared a while back:

nfl_tech_infographic-100612792-large.idge

I hope @NFL @XboxOne #rfid data becomes more easily accessible. I have been tweeting about the Zebra deal for 6 months now, and the awesome implications this would have on everything from sports betting to fantasy enthusiasts to coaching, drafting and what have you. Similarly, I have built a fantasy football (PPR) league bench/play #MachineLearning model using #PySpark which, as it turns out, is pretty good. But it could be great with the RFID stream.
nfl-tagged-shoulder-pads-100612790-large.idge

This is where the #IoT rubber really hits the road because there are so many more fans of the NFL than there are folks who really grok the “Connected Home” (not knocking it, but it doesn’t have the reach tentacles of the NFL). Imagine measuring the burn-rate output vs. performance degradation of these athletes mid game and one day, being able to stream that on the field or booth for game course corrections. Aah, a girl can only dream…

Is Machine Learning the New EPM Black?

Aside

I am currently a data scientist & am also a certified lean six sigma black belt. I specialize in the Big Data Finance, EPM, BI & process improvement fields where this convergence of skills has provided me the ability to understand the interactions between people, process and technology/ tools.

I would like to address the need to transform traditional EPM processes by leveraging more machine learning to help reduce forecast error and eliminate unnecessary budgeting and planning rework and cycle time using a  3 step ML approach:

1st, determine which business drivers are statistically meaningful to the forecast (correlation) , eliminating those that are not.

2nd, cluster those correlated drivers by significance to determine those that cause the most variability to the forecast (causation).

3rd, use the output of 1 and 2 as inputs to the forecast, and apply ML in order to generate a statistically accurate forward looking forecast.

 ml

Objection handling, in my experience, focuses on the cost,  time and the sensitive change management aspect- how I have handled these, for example, is as such :

  1. Cost: all of these models can be built using free tools like R and Python data science libraries, so there is minimal to no technology/tool capEx/opEx investment.   
  2. Time: most college grads with either a business, science or computer engineering degree will have undoubtedly worked with R and/or Python (and more) while earning their degree. This reduces the ramp time to get folks acclimated and up to speed. To fill the remaining skill set gap, they can use the vast libraries of work already provided by the R / Python initiatives or the many other data science communities available online for free as a starting point, which also minimizes the time due to unnecessary cycles and rework trying to define drivers based on gut feel only. 
  3. Change: this is the bigger objection that has to be handled according to the business culture and openness to change. Best means of handling this is to simply show them. Proof is in the proverbial pudding so creating a variance analysis of the ML forecast, the human forecast and the actuals will speak volumes, and bonus points if the correlation and clustering analysis also surfaced previously unknown nuggets of information richness.

Even without the finding the golden nugget ticket, the CFO will certainly take notice of a more accurate forecast and appreciate the time and frustration savings from a less consuming budget and planning cycle.

Utilizing #PredictiveAnalytics & #BigData To Improve Accuracy of #EPM Forecasting Process

Aside

I was amazed when I read the @TidemarkEPM awesome new white paper on the “4 Steps to a Big Data Finance Strategy.” This is an area I am very passionate about; some might say, it’s become my soap-box since my days as a Business Intelligence consultant. I saw the dawn of a world where EPM, specifically, the planning and budgeting process was elevated from gut feel analytics to embracing #machinelearning as a means of understanding which drivers are statistically significant from those that have no verifiable impact , and ultimately using those to feed a more accurate forecast model.

Big Data Finance

Traditionally (even still today), finance teams sit in a conference room with Excel spreadsheets from Marketing, Customer Service etc., and basically, define the current or future plans based on past performance mixed with a sprinkle of gut feel (sometimes, it was more like a gallon of gut feel to every tablespoon of historical data). In these same meetings just one quarter later, I would shake my head when the same people questioned why they missed their targets or achieved a variance that was greater/less than the anticipated or expected value.

The new world order of Big Data Finance leverages the power of machine learned algorithms to derive true forecasted analytics. And this was a primary driver for my switching from a pure BI focus into data science. And, I have seen so many companies embrace the power of true “advanced predictive analytics” and by doing so, harness the value and benefits of doing so; and doing so, with confidence, instead of fear of this unknown statistical realm, not to mention all of the unsettled glances when you say the nebulous “#BigData” or “#predictiveAnalytics” phrases.

But I wondered, exactlyBig Data Finance, Data Types, Process Use Cases, Forecasting, Budgeting, Planning, EPM, Predictive, Model how many companies are doing this vs. the old way? And I was very surprised to learn from the white-paper that  22.7% of people view predictive capabilities as “essential” to forecasting, with 52.2% claiming it nice to have.  Surprised is an understatement; in fact, I was floored.

We aren’t just talking about including weather data when predicting consumer buying behaviors. What about the major challenge for the telecommunications / network provider with customer churn? Wouldn’t it be nice to answer the question: Who are the most profitable customers WHO have the highest likelihood of churn? And wouldn’t it be nice to not have to assign 1 to several analysts xx number of days or weeks to be able to crunch through all of the relevant data to try to get to an answer to that question? And still probably not have all of the most important internal indicators or be including indicators that have no value or significance to driving an accurate churn outcome?

What about adding in 3rd party external benchmarking data to further classify and correlate these customer indicators before you run your churn prediction model? To manually do this is daunting and so many companies, I now hypothesize, revert to the old ways of doing the forecast. Plus, I bet they have a daunting impression of the cost of big data and the time to implement because of past experiences with things like building the uber “data warehouse” to get to that panacea of the “1 single source of truth”…On the island of Dr. Disparate Data that we all dreamt of in our past lives, right?

I mean we have all heard that before and yet, how many times was it actually done successfully, within budget or in the allocated time frame? And if it was, what kind of quantifiable return on investment did you really get before annual maintenance bills flowed in? Be honest…No one is judging you; well, that is, if you learned from your mistakes or can admit that your pet project perhaps bit off too much and failed.

And what about training your people or the company to utilize said investment as part of your implementation plan? What was your budget for this training and was it successful,  or did you have to hire outside folks like consultants to do the work for you? And by doing so, how long did it actually take the break the dependency on those external resources and still be successful?

Before the days of Apache Spark and other Open Source in-memory or streaming technologies, the world of Big Data was just blossoming into what it was going to grow into as a more mature flower. On top of which, it takes a while for someone to fully grok a new technology, even with the most specialized training, especially if they aren’t organically a programmer, like many Business Intelligence implementation specialists were/are. That is because those who have past experience with something like C++, can quickly apply the same techniques to newer technologies like Scala for Apache Spark or Python and be up and running much faster vs. someone who has no background in programming trying to learn what a loop is or how to call an API to get 3rd party benchmarking data. We programmers take that for granted when applying ourselves to learning something new.

And now that these tools are more enterprise ready and friendly with new integration modules with tools like R or MATLib for the statistical analysis coupled with all of the free training offered by places like University of Berkeley (via eDX online), now is the time to adopt Big Data Finance more than ever.

In a world where the machine learning algorithm can be paired with traditional classification modeling techniques automatically, and said algorithms have been made publicly available for your analysts to use as a starting point or in their entirety for your organization, one no longer needs to be daunted by thought of implementing Big Data Finance or testing out the waters of accuracy to see if you are comfortable with the margin of error between your former forecasting methodology and this new world order.

Awesome Article “Views from the C-Suite: Who’s Big on Big Data” from The Economist

This is an awesome article discussing the whole “big data” thing from the C-level point of view. It is easy to get mired down in the technical weeds of big data, especially since it generates a ton of different definitions depending on who you ask and usually, where they work *department, wise*.

http://pages.platfora.com/rs/platfora/images/Economist-Intelligence-Unit-Big-Data-Exec-Summary.pdf

Let me know what you think.

Big shout out to @platfora for sharing this!

Finance is the Participation Sport of the BI Olympics

IT is no longer the powerhouse that it once was, and unfortunately for CIOs who haven’t embraced change, much of their realm was commoditized by cloud computing powered by the core principles of grid computational engines and schema-less database designs. The whole concept of spending millions of dollars to bring all disparate systems together into one data warehouse has proven modesty beneficial but if we are being truly honest, what has all that money and time actually yielded, especially towards the bottom line?
And by the time you finished with the EDW, I guarantee it was missing core operational data streams that were then designed into their own sea of data marts. Fast forward a few years, and you probably have some level of EDW, many more data marts , probably one or more cube (ROLAP/MOLAP) applications and n-number of cubes or a massive 1+ hyper-cube(s) and still, the business depends of spreadsheets to sit on top of these systems, creating individual silos of information under the desk or in the mind of one individual.

Wait<<<rewind<<< Isn’t that where we started?

Having disparate, ungoverned and untrusted data sources being managed by individuals instead of by enterprise systems of record?

And now we’re back>>>press play to continue>>>

When you stop to think about the last ten years, fellow BI practitioners, you might be scared of your ever-changing role. From a grass-roots effort to a formalized department team, Business Intelligence went from the shadows to the mainstream, and brought with it reports then dashboards, then KPIs and scorecards, managing by exception, proactive notifications and so on. And bam! We were hit by the first smattering of changes to come when Hadoop and others hit the presses. But we really didnt grok what the true potential and actual meaning of said systems unless you come from a background like myself, either competitively, or from a big data friendly industry group like telecommunications, or from a consultant/implementation p.o.v.
And then social networking took off like gang busters and mobile became a reality with the introduction of the tablet device (though, I hate to float my boat as always by mentioning my soap box dream spewed at a TDWI conference about the future of mobile BI when the 1st generation iPhone released).

But that is neither here nor there. And, as always, I digress and am back…

At the same time as we myopically focused on the technological changing landscape around us, a shifting power paradigm was building wherein the Finance organization, once relegated to the back partition of cubicles, where a pin drop was heard ’round the world (or at least, the floor), was growing more and more despondent with not being able to access the data they needed without IT intervention in order to update their monthly forecasts and produce their subsequent P&L, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Planning statements. And IT’s response was to acquire (for additional millions of dollars) a “BI tool” aka an ad-hoc reporting application that would allow them to pull their own data. But it had been installed and the data had been pulled, and validated and by the time of completion, the Finance team had either found an alternate solution or found the system useful for a very small sliver of analysis but went outside of IT to get additional sources of information that wanted and needed to adapt to the changing business pressures from the convergence of social, mobile and unstructured datasets. And suddenly those once, shiny BI tools, seemed like antiquated relics, and simply could not handle the sheer data volumes that were now expected from it or would crash (unless filtered beyond the point of value). Businesses need not adapt their queries to the tool but need a tool that can adapt to their ever-changing processes and needed.

Drowning in data but starving for information...

Drowning in data but starving for information…

So if necessity if the mother of invention, Finance was its well deserving child. And why? The business across the board is starving for information but drowning in data. And Finance is no longer a game of solitaire, understood by few and ignored by many. In fact, Finance has become the participation sport of the BI Olympics, and rightfully so, where departmental collaboration at the fringe of the organization has proven as the missing link that before prevented successful top-down planning efforts. Where visualizations demands made dashboards a thing of the past, and demanded and better story, vis-a-vie storylines / infographics, to help disseminate more than just the numbers, but the story behind the numbers to the rest of the organization, or what I like to call the “fringe”.

I remember a few years ago when the biggest challenge was getting data, and often, we joked about how nice it would be to have a sea of data to drown in; an analysts’ buffet-du-jour; a happy paralysis-induced-by said analysis plate was the special of the day, yet only for a few, while the rest was but a gleam in our data-starved eyes.

Looking forward from there, I ask, dear reader, where do we go from here…If it’s a Finance party and we are all invited, what do we bring to the party table as BI practitioners of value? Can we provide the next critical differentiator?

Well, I believe that we can, and that critical differentiator is forward-looking data. Why?

Gartner Group stated that “Predictive data will increase profitability by 20% and that historical data will become a thing of the past” (for a BI practitioner, the last part of that statement should worry you, if you are still resisting the plunge into the predictive analytics pool).

Remember, predictive is a process that allows an organization to get true insight and has been executed amongst a larger group of people to drive faster, smarter business users. This is perfect for enterprise needs because by definition, they offer a larger group of people to work with.

Smooth sailingIn fact, it was Jack Welch would said  An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” 

If you haven’t already, go out and started learning one of the statistical application packages. I suggest “R” and in the coming weeks, I will provide R and SAS scripts (I have experience with both) for those interested in growing their chosen profession and remaining relevant as we weather the sea of business changes

.

MicroStrategy World 2012 – Miami

Our internal SKO (sales kick off) meeting was the beginning of this years’ MSTR World conference ( held in Miami, FL at the Intercontinental Hotel located on Chopin Plaza). As with every year, the kickoff meeting is the preliminary gathering of the salesforce in an effort to “rah-rah” the troops who work the front lines around the world ( myself included).

What I find most intriguing is the fact that MicroStrategy is materializing for BI all of those pipe dreams we ALL have. You know the ones I mean : I didn’t buy socialintelligence.co for my health several years ago. It was because I saw the vision of a future where business intelligence and social networking were married. Or take cloud intelligence, aka BI in the cloud. Looking back in 2008, I remember my soapbox discussion of BI mashups, ala My Google, supported in a drag and drop off premises environment. And everyone hollered that I was too visionary, or too far ahead. That everyone wanted reporting, and if I was lucky, maybe even dashboards.

But the acceleration continued, whether adoption grew or not.

Then, i pushed the envelope again: I wanted to take my previous thought of the mashup a morph it into an app integrated with BI tools. Write back to transactional systems or web services was key.

What is a dashboard without the ability within the same interface to take action? Everyone talks about actionable metrics/KPIs. Well, I will tell you that to have a KPI BY DEFINITION OF WHAT A KPI IS, means it is actionable.

But making your end users go to a separate ERP or CRM, to make the changes necessary to affect a KPI, will drive your users away. What benefit can you offer them in that instance ? Going to a dashboard or an excel sheet is no different. It is 1 application to view and if they are lucky, to analyze their data. If they were using excel before , they will still be using excel, especially if your dashboard isn’t useful to day to day operations.

Why? They still have to go to a 2nd application to take action.

Instead, integrate them into one.

Your dashboard will become meaningful and useful to the larger audience of users.
Pipe dream right?

NO. I have proved this out many times now and it works.

Back in 2007-2008, it was merely a theory I pontificated with you, my dear readers.

Since then, I have proved it out several times over and proven the success that can be achieved by taking that next step with your BI platforms.

Folks, if you haven’t done it, do it. Don’t waste anymore time. It took me less then 3 days to write the web services code to consume the salesforce APIs including chatter, ( business “twitter” according to SFDC), into my BI dashboard ( mobile dashboard in fact).

And suddenly, a sales dashboard becomes relevant. No longer does the salesforce team have to view their opportunities and quota achievement in one place, only to leave or open a new browser, to access their salesforce.com portal in order to update where they are at mid quarter.

But wait, now they forgot which KPIs they need to add comments to because they were red on the dashboard which is now closed, and their sales GM is screaming at them on the phone. Oh wait…they are on the road while this is happening and their data plan for their iPad has expired and no wireless connection is found.

What do you do?

Integrating salesforce.com into their dashboard eliminates at least one step (opening a new browser) in the process. Offering mobile offline transactions is a new feature of MicroStrategy’s mobile application. This allows those sales folks to make the comments they need to make while offline, on the road , which will be queued until they are online again.

One stop, one dashboard to access and take action through, even when offline, using their mobile ( android, iPad/iPhone or blackberry ) device.

This is why I’m excited to see MicroStrategy pushing the envelope on mobile BI futures.

MicroStrategy Personal Cloud – a Great **FREE** Cloud-based, Mobile Visualization Tool

Have you ever needed to create a prototype of a larger Business Intelligence project focused on data visualizations? Chances are, you have, fellow BI practitioners. Here’s the scenario for you day-dreamers out there:

Think of the hours spent creating wire-frames, no matter what tool you used, even if said tool was your hand and a napkin (ala ‘back of the napkin’ drawing) or the all-time-favorite white board, which later becomes a permanent drawing with huge bolded letters to the effect of ‘DO NOT ERASE OR ITS OFF WITH YOUR HEAD’ annotations dancing merrily around your work. Even better: electronic whiteboards which yield you hard copies of your hard work (so aptly named), which at first, seems like the panacea of all things cool (though it has been around for eons) but still, upon using, deemed the raddest piece of hardware your company has, until, of course, you look down at the thermal paper printout which has already faded in the millisecond since you tore it from machine to hand, which after said event, leaves the print out useless to the naked eye, unless you have super spidey sense optic nerves, but now I digress even further and in the time it took you to try to read thermal printout, it has degraded further because anything over 77 degrees is suboptimal (last I checked we checked in at around 98.6 but who’s counting), thus last stand on thermal paper electronic whiteboards is that they are most awesome when NOT thermoregulate ;).

OK, and now We are back…rewind to sentence 1 –

Prototyping is to dashboard design or any data visualization design as pencils and grid paper are to me. Mano y mano – I mean, totally symbiotic, right?

But, wireframing is torturous when you are in a consultative or pre-sales role, because you can’t present napkin designs to a client, or pictures of a whiteboard, unless you are showing them the process behind the design. (And by the way, this is an effective “presentation builder” when you are going for a dramatic effect –> ala “first there were cavemen, then the chisel and stone where all one had to create metrics –> then the whiteboard –> then the…wait!

This is where said BI practitioner needs to have something MORE for that dramatic pop, whiz-AM to give to their prospective clients/customers in their leave behind presentation.

And finally, the girl gets to her point (you are always so patient, my loving blog readers)…While I biased, if you forget whom I work for, and just take into account the tool, you will see the awesomeness that the new MicroStrategy Personal Cloud is for (drum roll please) PROTOTYPING a new dashboard — or just building, distributing, mobilizing etc your spreadsheet of data in a highly stylized, graphical means that tell a story far better than a spreadsheet can in most situations. (Yes, neighseyers, I know that for the 5% of circumstances which you can name, a spreadsheet is more àpropos, but HA HA, I say: this cloud personal product has the ability to include the data table along with the data visualizations!)

Best of all it is free.

I demoed this recently and was able to time it took to upload and spreadsheet, render 3 different data visualizations, generate the link to send to mobile devices (iPads and iPhones), network latency for said demo-ees to receive the email with the link and for them to launch the dashboard I created, and guess what the total time was?

Next best of all, it took only 23.7 minutes from concept to mobilization!

Mind you, I was also using data from the prospect that I had never seen or had any experience with.

OK, here is how it was done:

1) Create a FREE account or login to your existing MicroStrategy account (by existing, I mean, if you have ever signed up for the MicroStrategy forums or discussion boards, or you are an employee, then use the same login) at https://www.microstrategy.com/cloud/personal

Cloud Home

Landing Page After Logged in to Personal Cloud

2) Click the button to Create New Dashboard:

Create Dashboard Icon

  • Now, you either need to have a spreadsheet of data OR you can choose one of the sample spreadsheets that MicroStrategy provides (which is helpful if you want to see how others set up their data in Excel, or how others have used Cloud personal to create dashboards; even though it is sample data , it is actually REAL data that has been scrub-a-dub-dubbed for your pleasure!) If using a sample data set, I recommend the FAA data. It is real air traffic data, with carrier, airport code, days of the week, etc, which you can use to plan your travel by; I do…See screenshot below. There are some airports and some carriers who fly into said airports whom I WILL not fly given set days of the week in which I must travel. If there is a choice, I will choose to fly alternate carriers/routes. This FAA data set will enable you to analyze this information to make the most informed decision (outside of price) when planning your travel. Trust me…VERY HELPFUL! Plus, you can look at all the poor slobs without names sitting at the Alaska Air gate who DIDNT use this information to plan their travel, and as you casually saunter to your own gate on that Tuesday between 3 – 6 PM at SeaTac airport , you will remember that they look so sad because their Alaska Air flight has a 88% likelihood of being delayed or cancelled. (BTW, before you jump on me for my not so nice reference to said passengers), it is merely a quotation from my favorite movie ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ …says Holly Golightly: “Poor cat…poor old slob without a name”.

On time Performance (Live FAA Data)

If using your own data, select the spreadsheet you want to upload

3) Preview your data; IMPORTANT STEP: make sure that you change any fields which to their correct type (either Attribute or Metric or Do Not Import).

Cloud Import - Preview Data

Keep in mind the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time, MicroStrategy will designate your data as either an Attribute or Metric correctly using a simple rule of thumb: Text or VarChar/NVarChar if using SQL Server, will always be designated as an Attribute (i.e. your descriptor/Dimension) and your numerals designated as your Metrics. BUT, if your spreadsheet uses ID fields, like Store ID, or Case ID, along with the descriptor like Store DESC or Case DESC, most likely MicroStrategy will assume the Store ID/Case ID are Metrics (since the fields are numeric in the source). This is an Easy Change! You just need to make sure ahead of time to make that change using the drop down indicator arrows in the column headings – To find them, hover over the column names with your mouse icon until you see the drop down indicator arrow. Click on the arrow to change an Attribute column to a Metric column and vice-versa (see screenshot):

Change Attribute to Metric

Once you finish with previewing your data, and everything looks good, click OK at the bottom Right of your screen.

In about 30-35 seconds, MicroStrategy will have imported your data into the Cloud for you to start building your awesome dashboards.

4) Choose a visualization from the menu that pops up on your screen upon successfully importing your spreadsheet:

Dashboard Visualization Selector
Change data visualization as little or as often as you choose

Here is the 2010 NFL data which I uploaded this morning. It is a heatmap showing the Home teams as well as any teams they played in the 2010 season. The size of the box is HOW big the win or loss was. The color indicates whether they won or lost (Green = Home team won // Red = Home team lost).

For all you, dear readers, I bid you a Happy New Year. May your ideas flow a plenty, and your data match your dreams (of what it should be) :). Go fearlessly into the new world order of business intelligence, and know that I , Laura E. your Dashboard Design Diva, called Social Intelligence the New Order, in 2005, again in 2006 and 2007. 🙂 Cheers, ya’ll.

http://tinyurl.com/ckfmya8

https://my.microstrategy.com/MicroStrategy/servlet/mstrWeb?pg=shareAgent&RRUid=1173963&documentID=4A6BD4C611E1322B538D00802F57673E&starget=1

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Business Intelligence Clouds – The Skies the Limit

I am back…(for now, or so it seems these days) – I promise to get back to one post a month if not more.

Yes, I am known for my frequent use of puns, bordering on the line between cheesy and relevant. Forgive the title. It has been over 110 days since I last posted, which for me is a travesty. Despite my ever growing list of activities both professional and personally, I have always put my blog in the top priority quadrant.

Enough ranting…I diverged; and now I am back.

Ok, cloud computing (BI tools related) seems to be all the rage. Right up there with Mobile

BI, big data and social. I dare use my own term coined back in 2007 ‘Social Intelligence’ as now others have trade marked this phrase (but we, dear readers, know the truth –> we have been thinking about the marriage between social networks / social media data sets and business intelligence for years now)…Alas, I diverge again. Today, I have been thinking a lot about cloud computing and Business Intelligence.

Think about BI and portals, like Sharepoint (just to name 1)…It was all of the rage (or perhaps, still is)…”Integrate my BI reporting with my intranet / portal /Sharepoint web parts…OK, once that was completed successfully, did it buy much in terms of adoption or savings or any number of those ROI / savings catch – “Buy our product, and your employees will literally save so much time they will be basket weaving their reports into TRUE analysis'” What they didnt tell you, was that more bandwidth meant less need for those people, which in turn, meant people went into scarcity mode/tactics trying to make themselves seem or be relevant…And I dont fault them for this…Companies were not ready or did not want to think about what they were going to do with the newly freed up resources that they would have when the panacea of BI deployments actually came to fruition…And so, the wheel turned. What was next…? Reports became dashboards; dashboards became scorecards (became the complements for the former); Scorecards introduced proactive notification / alerting; alerting introduced threshold based notification across multiple devices/methods, one of which was mobile; mobile notification brought the need for mobile BI –> and frankly, and I will say it: Apple brought us the hardware to see the latter into fruition…Swipe, tap, double tap –> drill down was now fun. Mobile made portals seem like child’s play. But what about when you need to visualize something and ONLY have it on a spreadsheet?

(I love hearing this one; as if the multi-billion dollar company whose employee is claiming to only have the data on a spreadsheet didnt get it from somewhere else; I know, I know –> in the odd case, yes, this is true…so I will play along)…

The “only on a spreadsheet” crowd made mobile seem restrictive; enter RoamBI and the likes of others like MicroStrategy (yes, MicroStrategy now has a data import feature for spreadsheets with advanced visualizations for both web and mobile)…Enter Qlikview for the web crowd. The “I’m going to build-a dashboard in less than 30 minutes” salesforce “wait…that’s not all folks….come now (to the meeting room) with your spreadsheet, and watch our magicians create dashboards to take with you from the meeting”

But no one cared about maintenance, data integrity, cleanliness or accuracy…I know…they are meant to be nimble, and I see their value in some instances and some circumstances…Just like the multi-billion dollar company who only tracks data on spreqadsheets…I get it; there are some circumstances where they exist…But, it is not the norm.

So, here we are …mobile offerings here and there; build a dashboard on the fly; import spreadsheets during meetings; but, what happens when you go back to your desk and have to open up your portal (still) and now have a new dashboard that only you can see unless you forward it out manually?

Enter cloud computing for BI; but not at the macro scale; let’s talk , personal…Personal clouds; individual sandboxes of a predefined amount of space which IT has no sanction over other than to bless how much space is allocated…From there, what you do with it is up to you; Hackles going up I see…How about this…

Image representing Salesforce as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

Salesforce.com –> The biggest CRM cloud today. And for the last many years, SFDC has

enbraced Cloud Computing. And big data for that matter; and databases (database.com in fact) in the cloud…Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

So isnt it natural for BI to follow CRM into cloud computing ?? Ok, ok…for those of you whose hackles are still up, some rules (you IT folks will want to read further):

Rules of the game:

1) Set an amount of space (not to be exceeded; no matter what) – But be fair and realistic; a 100 MB is useless; in today’s world, a 4 GB zip drive was advertised for $4.99 during the back to school sales, so I think you can pony up enough to help make the cloud useful.

2) If you delete it, there is a recycling bin (like on your PC/Mac); if you permanently delete it, too bad/so sad…We need to draw the line somewhere. Poor Sharepoint admins around the world are having to drop into STSADM commands to restore Alvin Analyst’s Most Important Analysis that he not only moved into recycling bin but then permanently deleted.

3) Put some things of use in this personal cloud at work like BI tools; upload a spreadsheet and build a dashboard in minutes wiht visualizations like the graph matrix (a crowd pleasure) or a time series slider (another crowd favorite; people just love time based data 🙂 But I digress (again)…

4) Set up BI reporting on the logged events; understand how many users are using your cloud environment; how many are getting errors; what and why are they getting errors; this simple type of event based logging is very informative. (We BI professionals tend to overthink things, especially those who are also physicists).

5) Take a look at what people are using the cloud for; if you create and add meaningful tools like BI visualizations and data import and offer viewing via mobile devices like iPhone/iPad and Android or web, people will use it…

This isnt a corporate iTunes or MobileMe Cloud; this isnt Amazon’s elastic cloud (EC2). This is a cloud wiht the sole purpase of supporting BI; wait, not just supporting, but propelling users out of the doldrums of the current state of affairs and into the future.

It’s tangible and just cool enough to tell your colleagues and work friends “hey, I’ve got a BI cloud; do you?”