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?”

BIPlayBook.Com is Now Available!

As an aside, I’m excited to announce my latest website: http://www.biplaybook.com is finally published. Essentially, I decided that you, dear readers, were ready for the next step.  What comes next, you ask?

After Measuring BI data –> Making Measurements Meaningful –> and –>Massaging Meaningful Data into Metrics, what comes next is to discuss the age-old question of ‘So What’? & ‘What Do I Do About it’?

BI PlayBook offers readers the next level of real-world scenarios now that BI has become the nomenclature of yesteryear & is used by most to inform decisions. Basically, it is the same, with the added bonus of how to tie BI back into the original business process, customer service/satisfaction process or really any process of substance within a company.

This is quite meaningful to me because so often, as consumers of goods and services, we find our voices go unheard, especially when we are left dissatisfied. Can you muster the courage to voice your issue (dare I say, ‘complain’?) using the only tools provided: poor website feedback forms, surveys or (gasp) relaying our issue by calling into a call center(s) or IVR system (double gasp)? I don’t know if I can…

How many times do we get caught in the endless loop of an IVR, only to be ‘opted-out’ (aka – hung up on) when we do not press the magical combination of numbers on our keypads to reach a live human being, or when we are sneaky, pressing ‘0’ only to find out the company is one step ahead of us, having programmed ‘0’ to automatically transfer your call to our friend:  ‘ReLisa Boutton’ – aka the Release Button().

Feedback is critical, especially as our world has become consumed by social networks. The ‘chatter’ of customers that ensues, choosing to ‘Like’ or join our company page or product, or tweet about the merits or demerits of one’s value proposition, is not only rich if one cares about understanding their customer. But, it is also a key into how well you are doing in the eyes of your customer. Think about how many customer satisfaction surveys you have taken ask you whether or not your would recommend a company to a friend or family member.

This measure defines one’s NPR, or Net Promoter Rank, and is a commonly shared KPI or key performance indicator for a company.

Yet, market researchers like myself know that what a customer says on a survey isn’t always how they will behave. This discrepancy between what someone says and what someone does is as age-old as our parents telling us as children “do not as I do, but as I say.” However, no longer does this paradigm hold true. Therefore, limiting oneself by their NPR score will restrict the ability to truly understand one’s Voice of the Customer. And further, if you do not understand your customer’s actual likelihood to recommend to others or repeat purchase from you, how can you predict their lifetime value or propensity for future revenue earnings? You can’t.

Now, I am ranting. I get it.

But I want you to understand that social media content that is available from understanding the social network spheres can fill that gap. They can help you understand how your customers truly perceive your goods or services. Trust me, customers are more likely to tweet (use Twitter) to vent in 140 characters or less about a negative experience than they are to take the time to fill out a survey. Likewise, they are more likely to rave about a great experience with your company.

So, why shouldn’t this social ‘chatter’ be tied back into the business intelligence platforms, and further, mined out specifically to inform customer feedback loops, voice of the customer & value stream maps, for example?

Going one step further, having a BI PlayBook focuses the attention of the metric owners on the areas that needs to be addressed, while filtering out the noise that can detract from the intended purpose.

If we are going to make folks responsible for the performance of a given metric, shouldn’t we also help them understand what is expected of them up front, as opposed to when something goes terribly wrong, signified by the “text message” tirade of an overworked CEO waking you out of your slumber at 3 AM?

Further, understanding how to address an issue, who to communicate to and most importantly, how to resolve and respond to affected parties are all part of a well conceived BI playbook.

It truly takes BI to that next level. In fact, two years ago, I presented this very topic at the TDWI Executive Summit in San Diego (Tying Business Processes into your Business Intelligence). While I got a lot of  stares ala ‘dog tilting head to the side in that confused glare at owner look’, I hope people can draw back on that experience with moments of ‘ah ha – that is what she meant’ now that they have evolved ( a little) in their BI maturation growth.