MicroStrategy Business Intelligence In the Coud.

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Being passionate about both BI and Cloud it’s exciting for me to see Microstrategy launch their Cloud-based BI solution. The platform is designed to support rapid development of business intelligence and mobile and social applications.

So just ho does MicroStrategy’s Cloud solution meet our expected features: Read the rest…

The Perils of Self Service BI

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Self-service BI is becoming the holy grail of business intelligence in its big promise to break the reliance of business users on IT to create their reports. With self-service BI, business users get the information they need, when they want it, how they want it. However, its not quite as simple as it sounds. For most business users, the BI tools are too difficult to use.

So what’s the solution – in-business power users. Power users are technically savvy business analysts that work within business teams to provide reporting. Adding BI to their suite of tools will replace a lot of very shaky complex pivot tables, and provide a much more insightful set of outcomes.

The big win is getting report production out of IT – away from IT deadlines and out of the hands of those who have no added business value into the process. Business power users are in touch with the business on a daily basis, as such they have more insight into the types of problems that the business needs to solve and the insight [data] needed to help make decisions around solving that problem. Read the rest…

Cloud-based BI Stack Partnership Deal

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A new partnership recently announced between four open-source and proprietary vendors heralds a big step forward along the BI Cloud roadmap. Vendors Jaspersoft, Talend, Vertica and RightScale have formed an alliance to lead the integration stack of open source BI into cloud environments.

  • Jaspersoft – open-source BI
  • Talend – data-integration technologies
  • Vertica’s – analytic database
  • RightScale’s – management software for cloud-based application deployments.

At first light it appears the integration is at the technical and sales levels only. Customers will have to form form contractual agreements with each vendor; each vendor naturally responsible for supporting their own technology. This signals a hiccup in such a fast paced IT integration society.

But the good news is that customers will be able to use the pay-as-you-go pricing model integral in cloud computing. The offer is expected to be attractive to smaller enterprises that do not have a full developed BI capability and to smaller resellers or consultants who will add their domain expertise.

Cloud is also used by larger enterprises for periodic BI projects or experimental analytics outside their enterprise analytical framework.

BI on Demand Lessons Learned from LucidEra

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If rumors are true, it is sad to see pioneering BI on Demand provider LucidEra shutting down their service, however in attempt to recognize their value to the ongoing development of BI on Demand, let’s look at what we can learn from their demise.

LucidEra has been a strong evangelist for why, who and where BI on demand had a valuable role to play:

  • Why – on-demand can be a faster, lower cost, and more effective option
  • Who – especially small and mid-size, having a solution that can be rapidly deployed on a user by user basis may be the only affordable, and technologically viable choice.
  • Where – LucidEra also understood the significant value BI contributes at the front lines, such as the sales team and support centers.

Like any pioneer, the disadvantages are that the market has insufficient experience to determine what they want, what they need and how they want it delivered. In particular, BI customers want:

  • Fully featured BI – not simplified applications. Many early BI on Demand offerings were constrained by a standardized data model approach and standardized reports. This meant customers had to adapt their business problem to the LucidEra solution, rather than the ideal of the solution fitting their particular business needs.
  • Ability to Integrate Multiple Data Sources – To simplify deployments and deliver quickly, LucidEra started off focusing on Salesforce.com data only. However, many customers wanted to combine salesforce.com data with information from other systems, such as marketing, finance, and operational systems.
  • Power of true BI – a system is powerful enough to answer spontaneous business questions or identify and address unusual trends as they arise
  • Scalability – a system that will grow with them as their needs grow.

Did LucidEra make the mistake of assuming that customers would be willing to sacrifice power and flexibility for speed and low cost? If so, they are not alone, as many onDemand applications could be said to fall into this category.

In spite of the demise of LucidEra, this does not signal the downfall of BI on Demand applications. It merely serves to indicate as a painful way for one vendor to learn what the customer wants or needs before they build a service to meet that need. There are other BI on Demand vendors out there doing just that, having learnt from the experience of early BI pioneers and early BI adopters.

Tracking Buzz, Banter and Influence in Social Media

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Whether it is buzz, rants and raves, voice volume, sentiments or trends. When one delves into social media, there is the danger you may get lost and never find your way back out.

There are those who claim that influence cannot be measured, however much of ‘influence’ measurement depends upon the outcome the originator desires. If it is to create awareness or get market feedback, then a great toolset for providing that data is web based service application ScoutLabs.

Whilst I could find little evidence that SocialLabs provide real ‘analytics’ as claimed, they have come up with a great way for businesses to cut through the maze and locate the trails of impact that influence initiates.

Possibly a little pricey for small businesses – the lowest plan at $US99 a month to follow 5 search streams will possibly not be sufficient for most – yet the next plan, the Pro plan at $249 a month with 26 concurrent searches is a bit more than many SME’s can support. I would have liked to see something a bit more in between – say 12 searches for $125 a month. This would give more scope than 5 searches and remain more affordable.

But for corporates who pay more than this each month on getting market feedback via surveys and focus groups, SocialLabs offers a great service. Two plan features I do like is the unlimited user per workspace and the customisable template allowing agencies to offer clients access to their portal. Not sure how this works around restricting client views to certain search streams – but worth checking out.

And my condolensces on the passing of loved ScoutLabs team member Matt Ericson at such a young age.

More about ScoutLabs features on The Business Intelligence Guide

ScoutLabs Website

Fast Way to Calculate your BI Costs

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PivotLink have a useful BI cost calculator to help you compare your current or potential BI costs against industry data published by TDWI.

Naturally, on-demand BI vendors PivotLink are keen to provide a comparison on the cost of on-demand BI compared to inhouse solutions, however I congratulate them on helping business and technical managers make this decision. As the author of  The Logical Organization, I support anything that helps businesses make better decisions.

So check it out here – it is very easy to use, and you can quickly see how each key component of your BI solution impacts your bottom line, including:

  • BI software licensing costs
  • Database costs
  • Hardware costs
  • Staffing costs

Note: The 2008 TDWI BI Benchmark Report: Organization and Performance Metrics for BI Teams based on a web survey of 392 BI professionals found that the median capital budget spending on BI in 2008 was $260,000 while median BI maintenance costs were $235,000.

New MobileLite App for Salesforce Users

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For those of you who find it valuable to keep all your data at your fingertips, you may be interested to know that Salesforce.com has just released a free version of Salesforce CRM Mobile called Mobile Lite. The app works on the Apple iPhone, BlackBerry® and Windows Mobile® devices.

Mobile Lite is currently available to Professional, Enterprise, and Unlimited Edition subscribers, and supports:

  • Access to Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities etc
  • View standard objects such as Dashboards
  • Log calls and emails on the go
  • Respond immediately to hot leads

For more information on Mobile Lite at http://www.salesforce.com/mobile/lite/

Gartner Sets Record Straight on SaaS BI on Demand

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One of the main difficulties most businesses face when selecting software is separating the hype from the reality. This also applies to considering web-based on demand business intelligence analytics.

Gartner found that of the five commonly held assumptions – three are entirely false and the other two only partly true.

Businesses often don’t appreciate how quickly software can be improved after the initial launch. With such a competitive market, software development vendors are pressured to get products to market ASAP, and no longer wait for perfection in terms of either feature richness of functional performance. However, with feedback from early adopters, development continues vigorously and the applications can be almost transformed in the first 6-12 months. I think this is actually a really good process, as it helps to validate exactly what users do want, and not waste money developing performance or features that are not appreciated.

Of the five most commonly held assumptions about SaaS BI models:

1. SaaS is less expensive than on-premises software – TRUE

SaaS applications do not require large capital investment by businesses for licenses or support infrastructure. This can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership over the first two years. After this time, client site deployed applications can become more economical in terms of financial reporting [amortisation impact], however this is not necessarily true for an operational IT expense perspective.

2. SaaS is faster to implement than on-premises software – HALF TRUE

Speed of implementation for SaaS is faster for simple applications, however one must deliniate between initial implementation time and the additional time taken to deploy it to all users, which can take 2-3 times longer. As the complexity of processes and integration increase, the gap decreases. This is due to the larger percentage of the deployment time spent on customization, configuration and integration which can be equally difficult for both models.

3. SaaS is priced as a utility model, similar to electric companies – FALSE

Many vendors claim to charge on a usage basis, but in most cases they must commit to an agreed estimated usage independent of actual use.

4. SaaS does not integrate with on-premises applications and/or data sources – FALSE

Companies can integrate web based data using either batch synchronization, real-time integration using Web services or at the user-interface level through mashups.

5. SaaS is only for simple, basic requirements – FALSE

Whilst there are limits to customisation on SaaS models, the feature set of many applications rivals that of on-premise versions. SaaS vendors provide development platforms that enable high levels of configuration and the metadata level. The area of tightest constraint is in end-to-end processes requiring complexworkflow or business process management capabilities.

I hope this gives more confidence to those businesses considering SaaS models. For more on SaaS BI and vendor options available.

Oracle CRM R16 Taking Ownership of Social Media Space

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Just yesterday, I also attended a presentation by Oracle on their upcoming CRM Release 16. Gone are the days when CRM was just a contact management tool with a few nice pipeline management tools. Such tools failed to live up to expectations, being largely dependent upon the entry of data by sales persons. This entry rarely happened, and the value of the tool declined in popularity. Just as web services reinvigorated ASP hosted applications into the realm of on demand Software as a Service, so too has web 2.0 spurned a new perspective on CRM tools.

Oracle have embraced the social networking world as not so much a nice to have – but accepting that this is the way the new generations communicate. Whilst many organizations still shudder at the thought of lost productivity due to personal indulgence in instant messaging tools and social networking sites; those who dared to indulge their staff have been surprised that the change in productivity has in many cases been on the positive side of the curve, and not the downside.

From an application value-add perspective, one cannot fully appreciate how social media features will integrate into business processes. But with a free 30-day trial on offer, Oracle are providing a place to play, without pay. Often, the mere fact that the solution ‘appeals’ to the normal habits and values of the users will help overcome the adoption issues around early CRM. Just how much this will be viewed as another ‘build and they will come’ is anyone’s guess, but Oracle must be given credit for jumping ahead of the curve and taking ownership of social media CRM. I for one certainly use sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to find out about corporate personnel and mutual connections that may help smooth a business conversation – with Oracle CRM, such links are fully embedded into the CRM tool. Such linking can also include referral contact information and networks.

Another gem was the shared media library. For those of you who regularly build PPT presentations, you know how agonisingly time consuming they can be to put together. Using the media library in a Windows Vista looking environment, the user can identify presentations by subject using social tagging – then simply extract slides from multiple presentations to form the foundation of a new presentation in a tighter niche. This can then be shared back to the media pool.

Being a strong advocate of software as a service tools, the concern that such tools would be limited in functionality has not borne true. Earlier versions provided merely a basic skeleton of functionality and limited dashboard and reporting configuration. Not so with todays versions. Oracle CRM has added core BI functionality along with new functionality to support Prospecting, Campaigns and Media sharing.

At the communications interface, the mobile assistant currently deployed on Blackberry is being fully optimised to take advantage of the innovative media features of iPhone.

Oracles offering has also expanded at the infrastructure layer. Overcoming a common complaint in early SaaS models, where performance may be compromised by the running of long scripts by another party sharing the same server, Oracle has expanded the SaaS model into the dedicated server model. Even further, should a client feel they have sufficient security and QoS onsite, CRM R16 can be rolled out in the client environment.

So whilst the expanded functionality makes CRM R16 a very good tool for small businesses, it has not forgotten the large corporates with unique compliance needs.

This application actually looks fun! And I will certainly be eagerly awaiting case studies with feedback on how these new integrated social features perform. I expect some surprisingly positive results.

Find out more about Oracle BI here.

Ebay Considering BI SaaS To It’s Traders

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As BI on Demand, also known as BI Software as a Service [SaaS] is a hot topic with most BI solution vendors, eBay is not being left behind.  eBay’s own gigantic data warehouse, used for internal business intelligence (BI) analytics can be opened up to its trading customers to provide real time performance analytics. This emulates Amazons initiative with its family of Amazon Web Services. Most notable among these services are its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) application hosting service and its S3 hosted storage service.

eBay has a five petabyte Teradata data warehouse that adds 50TB of new data each day. This active data warehouse is capable of processing over a terabyte of data in just five seconds, allowing business analysts to build their own “virtual” data marts, currently used by about 5,000 business analysts in 100 groups inside eBay. A significant feature of these data marts is that whilst they run off the central data warehouse they were created without the help of central IT.

Business analysts create and upload their own mini-data warehouses using standard web and analytical tools such as those from Business Objects, SAS, Microstrategy and even Microsoft’s Excel. Once a prototype has run successfully for 90 days, they are converted by the data warehouse managers into production data marts with minimal rewriting. This process cuts the time to deploy by at least 50%, in many cases by up to 80%.

eBay are currently analysing problems that opening up the datawarehouse to outsiders will bring – such as how to minimise the time it would take customers to upload large amounts of data to eBay’s data warehouse. The solution appears to be to “couple analytics as a platform offering that has the data generating part sitting closer together”. Much of the self-service BI capability already came built in to the Teradata 5550 data warehousing software. The Teradata software provides workload management enabling “virtual” data marts to be partitioned and prioritised. All we need to do is build a web portal and simple interface.

Hence the possible hosting eBay’s BI-as-a-service on Amazon’s EC2 and storing users’ data on S3. Amazon is using EC2 to provide its own web-hosted database called SimpleDB.

Other current hot BI on Demand projects include Microsoft’s “Project Gemini” which plans to create an easy-to-use Excel-based tool that lets regular analysts build their own BI queries and dashboards.