This is Copyright 2011 Focus Research
A transcript of a live, one-hour discussion. About 18 months ago. I don’t think big data was mentioned once, because it was irrelevant.
There is some really good discussion in here
Focus Research, Inc
Moderator: Jonathan Wu
August 9, 2011
About the Roundtable:
Focus Expert Roundtables are 45 minute teleconferences where 3-5 members of the Focus Expert Network talk about hot topics on a particular category each week. On August 9, 2011, Focus Experts Herschel Chandler, Neil Raden, Lyndsay Wise and Jonathan Wu sat down to discuss self-service business intelligence.
Meeting the information needs of the business community is challenging for most IT support organizations because the requirements are often changing. As individuals learn the features and functionality of their BI application as well as the content and business rules of the information, they frequently ask for new data sets and capabilities. From the business needs and technical support perspectives, self-service BI is the ultimate goal. In this roundtable, we addressed the following items:
- What is Self-Service BI?
- What is the value of Self-Service BI?
- What infrastructure is needed to support a Self-Service BI environment?
- How can your organization evolve towards Self-Service BI?
Jonathan Wu Welcome to the Focus Roundtable, Self-service Business Intelligence, what does it look like and how do you evolve towards self-service BI? Focus.com’s five thousand industry experts help millions of professionals make better business and technology decisions by answering questions, publishing research and speaking at events.
Visit focus.com to learn more and become a member today. Please visit our events page at http://www.focus.com/ events, to post and view comments and or questions that you may have through this event.
So, let’s get started. I’m Jonathan Wu, and I’ll be your moderator today. We have brought together some of the top focus experts in this area to share their insight on self-service BI.
First we have Herschel Chandler, managing principle of Visionary Solutions Today, LLC. Visionary Solutions Today is a management consulting firm that helps client achieve their strategic IT investment goals by transforming and enhancing the client’s organizational mindset, IT infrastructure, and business processes.
Next we have Neil Raden analyst and consultant for Hired Brains. Hired Brains provides services in market research, product marketing, messaging, positioning, product launch assistance to technology vendors in the business intelligence, analytics and information integration and semantic technology area.
We also have Lindsey Wyse, industry analyst and President of Wyse Analytics. Wyse Analytics helps small and mid-sized organizations navigate the business intelligence and data visualization markets through thought leadership industry research, online events, and advisory services.
Okay, so let’s talk about self-service BI by defining it and going from there How about we start off with you, Herschel, what is your perspective of self-service BI?
Herschel Chandler Well, thank you Jonathan. My perspective on self-service BI is really about when a knowledge worker or an information consumer has a need for your information, that information is available to them right then. It’s kind of this concept of having information at your fingertips when you need it. You don’t have to call IT, don’t have to go through a whole development process to get the information you need to run your business or execute your process.
Jonathan Wu Okay. So, Neil or Lindsay, any other perspectives that are different from what Herschel just said, in terms of defining, you know, Self-Service BI?
Neil Raden Ladies first.
Lyndsay Wise Oh, okay, thanks Neil. I was actually going to, I mean, I definitely agree, but I was also recently reading a report that Claudia Imhoff and Colin White wrote and they have their definition, or the main objective, of self-service BI which also, almost expands beyond the end user, but also towards making data warehousing solutions faster to deploy and easier to manage as well as easier to access data sources on the back end.
So whether or not it’s actually possible to get there yet in terms of the back end aspects, it definitely does help broaden the range of what self-service should be.
Jonathan Wu Oh. Okay. So that’s definitely a broader definition. When I think of self service BI I typically think of,
Download: loss also encompassing the back end, dealing with the access to the data and how it’s structured, is that correct?
Lyndsay Wise Right, so that’s one of that things that I also found interesting and actually thought it was nice to include and create more of a holistic view, even though right now normally when we think of self-service in the industry we really do tend to think of making it easier for consumers to consume and interact with.
Jonathan Wu Right. Neil, how about you?
Neil Raden Well, I love that term easier or ease of use because, we’ve been talking about that for thirty years. And, I’ve actually done some research on ease of use, and it has nothing thing to do with GUIs, or dashboards, or anything like that. Ease of use means, is this relevant to the work I do, can I incorporate it into the work I do without having to bang my head against the wall, and, do I understand it?
Because people don’t want data, they want answers, and for the last fifteen years or so, we’ve really focused on giving them data, and the problem with data is, you know, data’s just a footprint. It’s the remnant of something that happened, and there are a lot of models and processes behind it that aren’t explicit.
And that’s why people have a hard time with BI.
Jonathan Wu You know, I would agree. I think when, you know, you take a look collectively at how we’re defining self-service BI, you know, what we’re looking at is allowing individuals not having to necessarily go through to the IT function of their organization in order to get access to data, to information, to the answers that they’re looking for.
So, using that as the foundation, I mean, clearly we need to talk about, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of this type of environment?
Neil Raden Yeah, I had a lot of specific recommendations I would make, because I think that mainstream BI has really missed the mark in a lot of ways. And ironically, fifteen years before the major BI products arrived, a lot of that had been done with previous kinds of software that got obliterated by spreadsheets.
Jonathan Wu Can you expand on that?
Neil Raden Well, back in the early eighties you had mainframe and host-based decision support systems that allowed people to fairly easily create non-procedural models, do sensitivity analysis and what-if analysis, and look at scenarios and so forth. But when you look at BI, it’s largely reading from a relational database and generating one kind of report or another.
Jonathan Wu Right, so being able to ask a question. Yeah. And then from there, you have to go out and dig again.
Neil Raden Well, sure, which is why, which is why spreadsheets are so popular, because they’re so much more expressive than our BI tools.
Jonathan Wu Yeah. Well you know, they’re just easier to use.
Neil Raden Yeah.
Jonathan Wu For the most part, you know. I mean it’s very easy to create a function, or a calculation and be, expand beyond that because of the way it’s laid out.
Herschel Chandler Yeah, I think spreadsheets actually tie, tie into this topic because it also, a user has all the information they need in their little spreadsheet. So that kind of goes back to, you know, whatever I need to do my spreadsheet I don’t have to talk to anyone else to get. I think that’s also a benefit and a challenge to having people run their BI office spreadsheets.
Jonathan Wu Yeah. Lindsay?
Lyndsay Wise Yeah, I was actually going to say, I totally agree with Neil, and I think that’s why spreadsheets, as an example, have remained so, kind of, important, and just an essential part of why people will use spreadsheets over BI tools. Because, as you mentioned, Neil, BI really It almost, it tries to structure everything, but it really limits the way people interact with data.
So even when you bring it back to self-service specifically, do people really understand what they’re looking at because all BI is really delivering are specific analytic or data set trends, but they’re not really getting into the depth and being able to be interacted with, in a way that end users want to be able to interact with them.
So in terms of, you know, as long as you define your questions in advance and you know exactly what you want to get, then yes BI will deliver that information to you but, once, you know, there’s an outlier, or something additional that might not fit, or you come up with a new problem, or you need a new set of answers, well is BI really dynamic enough the way its setup.
Is it really available and being able to provide that self service model or, an organization or an end user can actually go in and get the answers to what they need? And right now, in most cases, it’s not.
Jonathan Wu Yeah. you know, I think we’re going to have to break this into two components. The first is, let’s talk about the front end aspect of it, and then we’ll talk about the back end, because I think we’re mixing both of them together which…
Lyndsay Wise Right
Jonathan Wu …is right on, and I firmly believe that, but if we were to just take a look at, say, you know, for Self-Service BI, the interface, the front end interface, you know, it’s supposedly, it’s easy to use. And that’s the draw for Self Service BI. Herschel, do you have any thoughts or comments regarding just the, the front end access?
The interface, what makes, what’s the magic behind it?
Herschel Chandler Well I think that the, I, it’s a little bit hard for me to separate the two to a degree because I think some of the best front end interfaces are the ones that enable users to go after additional data sets. In other words, going from a canned report, where I’ve got a certain set of data in it to actually go out and say, “well, let me look at this column or this metric, in relation to another data set”.
And then, on the fly be able to pull in additional data points to see how that affects the overall answer to the question. So to me, the interface is part of enabling the user to go after and add in additional data click to help answer their questions. So, I see it somewhat tied together.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, so, being able to add to it, so if an individual is taking a look at, say, their customer list, and then wanted to able to add to that, customer list by sales, and then analyze customers by sales, and then they realize, you know what?
Let’s take a look at what they purchased, so adding that in as another data set, and then maybe taking a look at it, by profitability, adding that in. I believe that’s what you’re referring to?
Herschel Chandler Yeah, precisely, precisely.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, well, what about these vendors that promote self-service BI or the organization, because of all the rich features and functionality that they’re providing. What are your thoughts behind that?
Neil Raden Well again, John, I always come back to the model because the data means nothing, and they have to understand the model behind the data, or they have to be able to express their own model.
Jonathan Wu Yep.
Neil Raden And that’s why people shy away from BI, because the kind of information they’re looking for today, really doesn’t match what’s presented to them. I think what they need instead are the kind of widgets and templates and pieces that they can assemble to do something of interest, rather than just, you know, drill down, or select, or restrict.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, so, I, Neil you’re saying that with respect to the features and functionalities that the software vendors are providing it really doesn’t matter in terms of ease of use. Because what I’m finding is, with all the features and functionality that are thrown out there, with a lot of these software products, it becomes very confusing for a lot of these individuals.
And if anything, it becomes an intimidation factor because it’s very overwhelming.
Neil Raden It’s confusing for me. I think I’m a pretty sophisticated user. And I look at some of these GUI screens sometimes, and I’m supposed to click a button, and I’m really not sure what’s going to happen next.
Jonathan Wu Right.
Lyndsay Wise Well, I think almost one of the problems is that, you know, BI vendors, a lot of them have taken what they’ve been developing that have been directed at super users for all of these years and trying to expand that into a way that, you know, it can be deployed by everybody or used by everybody, and the fact is it can’t.
And, so a lot of these…even when vendors will show me their solutions and they’ll say, “Oh, you know, this is for everybody. It’s self service.” Yes, it’s self service if you understand data, if you understand and have, you know, experience with BI and understand even how, you know, relational databases work.
But if you’re just going in and you need questions answered, then no, all it is confusing.
Neil Raden Good point.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, yeah, that is a good point. But, you know, I also find that with a lot of the features and functionality of these front end tools, you know, it becomes very complex, almost to the point where you’ve got to go through a whole set of training in order to understand how to use these tools, even though these software vendors are saying it’s very easy to use.
It’s not as intuitive, let’s just say, as a spreadsheet software. Are you finding that, Hershel, with your experiences?
Herschel Chandler Yeah, I would agree. I mean, all the bells and whistles that we’re seeing lately here in the last few years and the tools, you know, for a techy person or someone like us that’s been doing BI, they’re really great. I mean, you look at, you know, kind of the masses, the people that consume the data, they don’t use those things.
They use spreadsheets. They relate to spreadsheets. And I think all the things they’re adding are great. They’re great for data analysts, but I don’t think that they’re being used as much as they maybe claim they’re used. I don’t think they have necessarily as much value to the general user base as they kind of make it out of be.
I mean, they’re great for the people that are focused on the data areas focused on their niche, but as far as the math, it’s kind of what Lindsey was saying. You know, they don’t use it. They want their report, they want their data, they want their question answered. They don’t care that much about all the bells and whistles.
Jonathan Wu Yeah.
Neil Raden Yeah.
And let’s talk about spreadsheets for a minute. Excel of 2011 is nothing like Excel of 1995. It’s a very robust system. It has collaboration, it has pivot point, it has share point, it has connectors to data. It’s a…and the way we malign spreadsheets in BI by saying, “Oh, all they want to do is move the data to the spreadsheet.” Well, it’s actually a pretty robust system now.
In fact, if you truly think about it, it is BI.
Jonathan Wu Right. Well, I would agree. In terms of manipulation of information which you have at your disposal, without a doubt.
So any other thoughts in terms of the front end interface for ease of use?
Neil Raden Well, I like the idea of people being able to work with their software and have the software be personalized the same way good web apps are. That sort of all ready understands what the person wants, the kind of things that they do, and that they should be able to approach it, you know, maybe not in natural language but in a more natural kind of way.
Because it really is easier to ask for what you want in language. You know, so let me give you an example. Where do you find a richer set of data than Major League Baseball? So suppose you had a question and you said, “I really want to know the number of wins of the five most winning pitchers of each team this year and last year.” Now that’s a very easy thing to ask for.
Now try to ask for that in SQL. Or in Point and Click.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, yeah, that’s a very good point.
Neil Raden And we have to get closer to that. If not natural language, which I know is a very difficult problem, but, you know, phrases or this is what I mean by widgets and so forth, things that the talk about top ten in or top five or compare this to this or this to last year, it’s, you know, it’s not any easy problem.
But I think that the way the vendors have tried to attack this is by adding more and more functionality, different interfaces and global interfaces and so forth, but the basic problem they need to solve is, How do you make this useful and relevant to people?
Jonathan Wu Which then moves to the back end to a certain extent. I mean, you’ve got the front end which, you know, we’ve talked about some of the challenges there. But what is the back end got to look like in terms of data structure?
Herschel Chandler Well, I think, kind of tagging on to what Neil just said, I think that, you know, the tool vendors are giving us, you know, adding tools to our tool kit. But ultimately, it is the, you know, whatever the role is, the architect’s role to take those tools and have them have meaning in context within a given environment.
So, for instance, using your Major League Baseball example, you know, if they’re always asking these types of questions, you know, what tools do I have in my tool kit from the tool vendors that I can deploy out to my user base to help them answer their questions. All the tool, you know, the tool vendors aren’t solutions, the tool vendors are just tools.
I think we still have to have the role of the person to actually develop a solution that uses that tool and then give them contacts.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, so what is that solution on the back-end?
Herschel Chandler Well, I think that really, I think it gets down to, I definitely don’t want to say it is a building ADO warehouse. There are a lot of, it kind of depends a little bit on what the needs are, I mean, if I’m looking for an organization in terms of, for instance going back to the Major League Baseball example you know, that’s a fairly standard question doesn’t really have a lot of timeliness needs to it.
You can really develop a technical back end any number of ways to answer that question. I hate to use the old phrase, it really depends on the requirements. I don’t think that, anymore, it’s this concept of building a big back-end data warehouse. I think all of the tools in technology exist out there so that you can have any different number of differing heterogeneous infrastructure components on the backhand still answer that same question.
I don’t think there’s a one answer to that, Mike, you know.
Jonathan Wu Yeah.
Neil Raden Hershel, I don’t know if you…I don’t know that you’ve built data warehouses, but I know that Jonathan has. Jonathan, you know that those ideas are great, but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t perform, you’re in deep do-do.
Jonathan Wu Right.
Neil Raden And the problem with federation at this point is it’s a nice idea. I love the idea. But you have to apply it carefully because in a lot of situations the performance is not very good. The data structures are not optimized for those queries.
Lyndsay Wise See, that’s what I was going to say in terms of, you know, everybody can talk about the back end, but really it’s developing a back end or trying to develop a back end that really supports what the business needs. And that’s something that is still really limited just based on the structure of building out a data warehouse and the limitation that it provides based on development efforts as opposed to really instead of focusing on all of the technical requirements, really developing something backwards based on what do business people in different departments need to get their job done.
And kind of having it as a supporting role so that the back-end really does support a front end that enables people to do that.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, which requires probably a couple of aspects. That is data that’s structured so that you can analyze it in a structured sort of format, but the other aspect is somehow integrating unstructured data sets, which, you know, it ranges anything from a series of documents, to images, to everything else, which is a whole other challenge that I don’t think we necessarily need to address at this point.
But when it comes to, you know, self-service BI, you’ve got to be able to create an environment which allows individuals to easily access the data and have the performance that’s required. Which means, you know, spending time and energy creating that environment that provides those capabilities.
Yeah, so, what does that look like? Lindsay?
Lyndsay Wise In terms of creating the environment?
Jonathan Wu Yeah. Yeah. Because if you’re going to provide self-service BI, where individuals have a host of tools at their disposal to ask the questions to obtain the answers that they’re looking for, what do you have to do on the back end?
Lyndsay Wise Right. It’s actually…I mean, to expand on Hershel in term of it really depends, but at the same time there’s also a debate in terms of, you know, once you…and I think it really…it almost expands on the point that Neil’s been making in terms of, you know, based on the way BI is now, a lot of what’s provided even as self-service really begs the question of the information or the data that’s provided and business users…Is there really an easy enough way to understand and decipher that data?
So, for example, all of the different statistical models are people really using what is now self-service in a way that can be used on a business level or do you really have to understand the statistical models that go behind it? And so it’s almost something that needs to be developed on the back end that almost takes that and provides solutions in such a way that organizations can do that.
So it really does go back to Neil’s example almost in terms of, How do you develop solutions on the back end that really can be used using actual language or be used by asking questions? And I don’t necessarily know if the structure of BI, the way it’s structured now, whether it really can be done without having to, you know, develop something entirely new.
Jonathan Wu Yeah.
Neil Raden I wouldn’t disagree with that. I think that the whole notion…you know, there’s a lot of products out there We think of the big four or five and then there’s a second tier, maybe another dozen, but there’s bunch of other products out there too. But in general, the lion’s share of people who are using BI have purchased it from the big four.
And those products, their underlying concept is to inform people and to stop there. But people don’t need to just be informed. They need to be able to interact and ask questions like what if, or did you consider this, or let’s add this variable or take this variable out. And they need to get to some kind of decision, generally through some sort of collaboration, meaning they have to share this somehow with other people.
It has to be group authored or a group effort. And to traditionally people have used their spreadsheets for that. Because spreadsheets are, I like to use the word subversive, meaning they don’t follow the rules of IT. They don’t even necessarily follow the organizational hierarchy. You can send a spreadsheet to somebody, you know, across the world.
And current BI: I think there’s just not a line for that, and Lindsey, I do wonder if the current vendors are going to be able to do this.
Lyndsay Wise I almost wonder because it’s interesting you see some new solutions emerging, which are mostly whether it’s front end dashboards that are starting to incorporate you know the social networking and the collaboration, but really the problem is, is that all of these vendors as we’ve mentioned, you know as they start to develop features and functions, they’re just basically adding on to the info-structure that they already have in house, which really won’t help companies answer the questions they need.
Neil Raden Yeah. Jonathan, can we mention vendor names?
Jonathan Wu Oh yeah, by all means.
Neil Raden Well look at Liza-soft or Yellow Fin these are two really nice products that developed from scratch they don’t carry around the legacy of, you know, 15 or 20 years of acquired companies and products, trying to, you know, stitch them together. And it shows, they’re beautiful.
Lyndsay Wise Well, it’s interesting, because yesterday while I was at TDWI I met with another company that’s newer that you also might want to check out, Neil. Metric insights that also has that concept and is building a lot of collaborative features, and it reminded me of the yellow fins and liza sauce.
Neil Raden Yeah.
Lyndsay Wise Like, so it’s starting to happen, but it’s on a small kind of plane, and these are smaller players, so. You know, it’ll be interesting to see if other vendors kind of take heed and see the value in this.
Neil Raden And they’re like little mammals eating the dinosaur eggs.
Lyndsay Wise Right.
Jonathan Wu Nice analogy. But you still have to have data in a format that can be accessed. You know, if you take a look at, say, a complex organization that may have multiple different systems used to run the operations, the business itself, they’ve got five or six different systems. And in order to get a comprehensive perspective of, say, your customer, in terms of, you know, Who is responsible for that customer?
What are their purchases? What is the profitability? What sort of field representation has taken place in terms of surface calls what have you. You got to access all these different systems in order to get the data because each system has a very finite, defined set of data. You’ve got to be able to create some sort of environment.
And that environment must be, you know, a data warehouse. Wouldn’t you agree? Neil?
Neil Raden Well, depending on how you define a data warehouse, yeah. Well, the analogy that I like is, you know what a Mechanical Turk is, right?
Jonathan Wu I don’t.
Neil Raden Well, for listeners, I’ll explain. Back in I think the seventeenth century. Some guy from Turkey invented this machine to play chess, and it beat Benjamin Franklin and some other very famous people, but it turned out there was actually a a chess master in the box itself running the machine, and that was called the Mechanical Turk.
Well, Amazon has used that name now, to define their service, where you can embed a web service in an application and it goes out to actually physically people to do the work, who understand they can do a better job than a computer can. Say, you know, deduping a file, or sorting something, or whatever.
And that’s called their mechanical turk. And to me, I think the best thing for people would be, I’ve got five or six or seven definitions of the same thing around the company. I need something like a mechanical turk that says, you know, “I want a mid-range customer.” And the mechanical turk goes out and says, “Oh, I’ll get it from this place.” Right?
And that’s I guess federation. Although federation I think is more physical than it is logical. And I think the data warehouse will probably live forever, but probably not in the full role it was initially envisioned. Because it’s not agile enough.
Jonathan Wu It’s not agile enough, but at the same time you’ve got to have some sort of data repository that collects information from, say, these five different systems and put into a common environment so that Individuals can easily access it to assess questions.
Neil Raden Agreed. But the danger in that is that you take data from its source and you redefine it into a different model, and when you do that, you lose a lot of the semantics of the original data.
But you have to do that for performance reasons. But once the performance reasons may be minimized then there’s probably less of a need to use a data warehouse.
Jonathan Wu You know I would agree. I think it depends it depends on how you bring that data over, and how you structure it. I mean, clearly you are going to have some consistency, because if you’re pulling from five different transactional systems that all contain elements of, say, customer data, you’ve got to be able to put it on the same plane, so that you can access information in a meaningful manner.
Neil Raden Well somebody still has to count the beans, right?
Jonathan Wu You got it.
Neil Raden Right? somebody still has to generate external reports that are right. So, that’s what I’m saying. That kind of stuff is perfect for the warehouse, but more fluffy stuff, it involves external data and other things. To get that model into a data warehouse is too difficult and too time-consuming, because, you know, once you have to change it, you have to jackhammer it up and start over.
Jonathanw Wu Right.
Neil Raden So, I think we’re going to see the data warehouse evolve away from the single version of the truth to a single version of the truth for certain functions.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, I would agree, but, you know, again, going back to self-service BI. You know, the way the tools currently exist, and being able to provide individuals with this capability, you know, two things have got to take place.
One is making sure that the front end meets their needs, and second, you’ve got the back end access to that data in a format that they can easily access.
Herschel Chandler I think there’s one other component. If I can…there is one other component that we’ve not really talked about is, we’re talking a lot about tools and technology, but when you start thinking about self-service BI and meeting the information your information consumed, there’s just also a lot of process that needs to be put in place.
You know we’re talking about, you know, integrating data from multiple sources into one version of the truth, or determining you know, what, what is a customer? You’ve got data governance aspects to that. You’ve got, you know, strategic needs to, you know, what are the information needs of the organization?
So, we need to come up with a plan to build out an information capability in segments. You know, your multi-year phased plan where it can pull data in from these sources into a data warehouse or whatever your repository is called, to actually meet the information.
And so, I think even though there are tool components that we need ways to go out and pull the data and integrate the data, there are also people components of it that actually have to get involved and touch the data that flows over to the information that we really hadn’t touched upon when we were talking about tools.
Jonathan Wu You know, I would agree. I think it’s one of the things where, you know, it’s taking a look at say, an organization’s existing environment and say they want to move towards Self-Service BI, you know, how do you evolve? How do you go from where you’re currently at (which is very limited – it may be solely reliant upon IT to provide you access to the data) to an environment that is Self Service B.I.?
Lyndsay Wise Sure, it’s actually an interesting question because I think that lately I’ve been lucky enough to be working with companies that are actually new to B.I., so they almost don’t have the stumbling blocks of having, you know, a data warehouse and some tools that they’re trying to become more efficient in.
They actually right away want that self-service model. But in terms of going to a self-service model, it’s almost like you really have to reevaluate what you have in house. And some of the stumbling blocks to that is that, companies have already invested a lot of time and money and are kind of stuck into support kind of models depending on how they’ve been using these solutions in the past.
So it’s like “Can you really use what you have now to get there? Or do you have to start from scratch or kind of take a subset, and look at new solutions whether it’s like using – Neil was using examples of Yellowfin and Lizasoft on top of what you already have to kind of access information in a different way.
But in terms of really expanding or evolving, a lot of what’s already in-house almost becomes a roadblock to really enabling organizations to get there unless they reevaluate the way they’ve been using tools and the way they’ve actually structured their data warehousing or data infrastructure on the back end and how their using solutions.
So, I’m definitely not advocating a rip-and-replace or anything like that but it definitely you know, you have to look beyond what you have if you’ve been using a traditional model for years and years and actually want to expand out and not just have superusers use the solution.
Jonathan Wu Right. Neil, your thoughts?
Neil Raden Well, I just think about how people get trained to use a BI tool: they go to a two- or three-day training course. And in the first day they more or less listened. And by the morning of the second day they’re leaving the room to take calls on their Blackberrys or iPhones. And then they don’t come back after lunch on the second day.
And then the third day, which they miss, is basically all the things they needed to know. I think that’s why people don’t adopt a product, because within a week or two they even forget what they learned in day one and they just don’t see it as viable. So, as far as I’m concerned, the tools need to maybe bring people along.
Look, we have Darwin, right? No, Watson. We have Watson. And Watson can win at Jeopardy. Now it’s gonna start doing medical diagnosis. Now, everybody can’t afford a Watson, but the point is, for God’s sake, it’s 2011. I like to say, “Where’s my robot?” You know? I was a kid in the 60s and there were all kinds of things on TV about we’re gonna get robots.
Where is my robot? Why are we still doing things the same way.
And we just had to get a lot smarter about it. I don’t know how To do that, I just think I know that it needs to be done. And the other thing is that people of my age – well, they’re all retired, but people who younger than me, they look at computers with kind of a jaundiced eye. But the generation of people that are coming into companies to use this stuff, they live on computers, or mobile devices or whatever.
And that’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing in that they don’t shy away from it, they are not afraid of it. The bad thing is that they expect it to just work. And when you look at the things that happen on the web and on the internet, they just work. But BI doesn’t so they are not going to be.
Very happy, we have to give them a better experience.
Jonathan Wu Right, which I think goes back to what Herschel was saying, and that is making sure that you’ve got the policies and procedures dealing with the information governance, master data management in place so that you can provide somewhat of an environment. Now, granted, the magic’s not there at this point in time, in terms of, you know, providing these robots to answer the question, people still have to go through their own discovery process Just with the data which is a challenge.
So Herschel, continue talking about how do you evolve?
Herschel Chandler Well, I think the two pieces to evolving an organization to keys are change management and communication. Most of the organizations that I worked with had some sort of BI capability, they may not call it BI but most places today have some sort of reporting infrastructure in place. One of the other fact that I work with, organizations, I typically, the way I like to go in, kind of, start to evolve organizations to Self-Service BI is I start bringing in the concept of a center of excellence or a competency center, there will be a centralized plan for BI and one of their jobs is to ascertain what it would take for that organization to change, the impact of that change and how best to communicate that change.
So it’s really a process of bringing the because we can do, build the best widget ever, build the best data warehouse ever, or put the information out there as quickly as possible. But until an information worker, an information consumer actually uses that information or actually goes out and uses self-service access to BI to impact a process, we’ve not really achieved any of that.
So, a big part of self-service BI is when we do deliver it, we need to show the value. And the business usually needs to go back in and modify existing process to take advantage of this new capability we’ve built. So, part of it is beyond just building the widget, it’s also going out and impacting the business process so they can take advantage of a new capability.
And I think that once we show how that’s done incrementally – obviously you don’t go out and do it all at once – but pick an area, show how it’s done well and let that success kinda build upon its own and snowball from there.
Jonathan Wu So pick an area meaning… a defined subject area, say customer, for example. Which clearly provides tremendous value to any organization understanding who their customers are, what services or products you’re selling to them, their profitability, any sort of characteristics that allows you to gain greater insights.
That’s what you’re talking about?
Herschel Chandler Exactly it’s something and it depends on the organization, pick something that has meaning to it. So for instance, one of the big mortgage companies here, mortgage backers here in D.C., they’re all about data, financial data, so they were more worried about loans or things along those lines. So, pick something that has meaning,that has broad meaning across the organization.
Pick something that also has a lot of meaning but it’s easily achievable, because what you want to do is you want to have a quick venue and you want to have a success. Don’t take the hardest problem in the world as your first problem. Pick something that has broad meaning. In your example customer, most every organization out there has a customer in some way, so yeah, that would be a good way to start.
Jonathan Wu And then from there, providing that environment, which is the data sets, the rules that are associated with it, but going back to Neil’s point that is, not changing the data so much that you’ll lose some of the inherent value that’s captured from the transactional systems.
Herschel Chandler Exactly.
Jonathan Wu Yes. Those are some of the challenges that are there. Which still drives the need for some sort of comprehensive information plan that then, I would think, segregates responsibility. If you’re gonna take a look at self-service BI, clearly IT is gonna have to manage the back end at this point in time.
Would you agree, Lyndsay?
Lyndsay Wise Yeah, definitely. I mean, I was almost trying to merge both what Herschell and Neil were saying in terms of developing out a competency center and really developing the processes that surround it. And then on the other side really having that younger generation that almost wants Facebook-type access to BI.
And how do you get there in terms of a self-service model where right now we really do require so much that goes onto the back and an even business requirement in terms of what processes, what are the business rules, how do we integrate that and kind of merge our business needs and what we need to get done in a processed way to the technology.
Versus the fact that now companies and people, just because of the way we interact with technology, want things immediately.
So, there’s definitely going to be in terms of how – there’s going to have to be a way at some point to merge that gap, to be able to provide new process integration and kind of all of the development that needs to go into things with an ease of use. That really does kind of mimic the way people are using technology now and will continue to use technology and actually respect it more efficiently, quicker and just better access and more interactive access.
Jonathan Wu Yep. Yeah, I would agree. So, let me just summarize this from the different perspectives. If you were to evolve to a self-service, business-intelligence-type capability, clearly, starting off with a subject area that provides the greatest value to the organization. You know, you don’t want to, you know, be distracted by data sets that provide limited value.
Say fixed assets for example, would not necessarily be a good use, but that maybe customer that provides great value and then creating an environment with the BI tool on top of it that allows individuals to easily access it which means making sure you’ve got data standards in place. Where IT is spending the time maintaining the environment while allowing the individuals to freely access the data.
Is that a good summary or other perspectives that I may have left out.
Lyndsay Wise Sure and if I think even going beyond what you said is it’s not necessarily only just accessing it, but also sharing it and collaborating it and being able to use it make decisions and to ask other questions and to share the information and to be able to create discussions about it, you know, on a broader level.
Even in some cases, you know, when you’re looking at customer, if you’re looking a product. It could be speaking with outside partners, or customers, or really being able to identify how do we make the customer experience better? How do we increase retention? How do we make our supply chain more efficient?
All of these things that really do require an aspect of collaboration as well.
Jonathan Wu Right. Well, you’re touching on a subject that is dear to me and that is: extending the value of business intelligence beyond just providing you access to the data, but being able to take a look at it from a collaborative perspective and make it more actionable. Which I think is a whole nother conversation but I appreciate what you have to say.
We’ve got a series of questions that have come up. And let me go through and take a look at these and start posing it to the group. We’ve got one here which says: Does a single underlined deployment of a data warehouse platform work for all self-service BI applications? And then it goes on to say, if you need BI views for multiple functions within your business, does a single deployment of the underlying data warehouse service infrastructure of work?
If so, which is it and what are the best practices?
Neil Raden Jonathan, I’d say that the tools and technology to do that are certainly out there, but a lot of implementations I’ve seen have fallen far short.
Jonathan Wu What do they need to do in order to be successful, Neil?
Neil Raden They’re just poorly designed. They’re based on some limited thinking. You know, they’re constrained by previous ways of doing things and the whole idea just gets watered down as it’s implemented.
Jonathan Wu So are you talking about in the process of extracting data out of these operational systems and put it into a counter repository there is, I would say business value, business rules that are lost in the the translation of that data into a new environment?
Neil Raden Well, yeah, I suppose that’s it, but I mean, there’s other things that happen too, like limiting access to the data her house and, you know, putting governors on queries and, you know, under staffing and under powering the process and, you know, building a bunch of independent data marks or even just building data marks in general when if they had a better database, they could run the queries against it.
Just, you know, a million things.
Jonathan Wu Well, yeah, but I don’t think you’re advocating for an enterprise data warehouse, are you?
Neil Raden Sometimes, depends on the company. Some companies, they’ve been very successful.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, but trying to go back and answering this question from a single data warehouse, you know, I can see your point is, you know, case by case you gotta take a look at what you’re trying to do.
Neil Raden Yeah, well if you create data marks you are automatically creating extra maintenance and that adds to longer development time and longer maintenance Time and so forth. Look. Every company is different. Which, by the way, this isn’t the answer to the question, but it reminds me of something else I wanted say.
And that is, if you took 10 companies and you lined them up together and looked at their data requirements, what you would find is that they have a lot of stuff in common. But what we do is we go in and model every single company separately. And I’m a big proponent of systematic technologies and ontologies, where you can take common ontologies and snap them together and just do the incremental stuff you have to do that’s special to that organization .
Jonathan Wu You know, I would agree, but I think it goes back to that 80/20 rule where you take a look at business processes by business functions and 80% are probably standard across most companies. I mean, you’ve got general accepted accounting principles as well as other requirements that are out there that require that standardization.
The 20% make it unique by, I would say, industry as well as organization. And that’s where value takes place, where you may be more efficient in your business processes, or you may be able to provide your competitive advantage within that. That’s the differentiators? That I’ve seen in the past. Lyndsay or Herschel, any thoughts in terms of that last question?
Lyndsay Wise No, I pretty much agree with what both of you have been saying. I’m trying to think if there’s anything additional that, you know, I see different, but there’s nothing really that’s coming to mind.
Herschel Chandler Yeah, I would only say that, you know, in theory having that one single data, enterprise data warehouse that is the oracle to ask all questions is a great idea, but in practice, I, you know, there are exceptions, in practice I haven’t seen that. You know, I love going into organizations and, you know, there are three or four enterprise data warehouses.
So it’s a good idea, but I think, in practice, it doesn’t always spell out that way.
Neil Raden Well, Lyndsay and I, Lyndsay and I saw one last week from eBay. What was it? Thirty-seven petabytes?
Lyndsay Wise Yes.
Neil Raden One database.
Lyndsay Wise Yeah.
Jonathan Wu And performance?
Neil Raden Fantastic. I mean, it’s in this place the size of eleven football fields.
Jonathan Wu Okay.
Lyndsay Wise It was quite impressive.
Neil Raden With a bunch of ex-Marines guarding it.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, which is unrealistic for most organizations.
Neil Raden That’s right. Not everybody’s eBay, I agree.
Jonathan Wu All right. So, here’s another question that we have, and that is: how do you overcome any sort of privateer or security concerns? Neil, you want to kick this one off?
Neil Raden Well, I’m going to go back to ontologies and that is, if you make the data smart, you can make the applications dumb, and that means if a piece of information or a string of information can be defined in a certain way, and then its attributes are definable that can relate them to some mailed out scheme or something, then you don’t have to do anything in particular.
But we insist on building metadata in relation databases where there are no semantics. The semantics are only added in the WHERE clause of a query. So I think we’re going down the wrong path and that It’s why I’m not that crazy about master data management either. I know that the Department of Defense and the intelligence community has made huge strides with ontology and I don’t know why it hasn’t had a bigger impact in the commercial sector.
Jonathan Wu Yeah. Herschel, what are your thoughts in terms of privacy and security? First off.
Herschel Chandler Well, I think, you know, I think that most of the, most of them are all mature tools out there today, and even going back to the database level, have this kind of built-in. It’s there. And you have to have, obviously, when we start talking about privacy and security, you’ve got to have policies in place, which is kind of outside the realm of this, but the actual implementation of those policies are part and parcel of even the mature tools out there.
So I don’t think it’s a concern. I don’t think it’s something that isn’t already handled in big vista tool base.
Jonathan Wu Right.
So you’re saying the tools have the capability. Just making sure that you utilize those capabilities in order the secure the data itself.
Herschel Chandler Correct. Defining the policies and then having the tool implement those policies.
Jonathan Wu Yeah. Lyndsay, any?
Lyndsay Wise Yeah, I agree with Hershel. I mean, I think that especially as organizations who, you know, have sensitive data or have different requirements or compliance really need to address these issues. I think over time, you know, the tools and products that are out there really do allow them to address it, it’s just how the organization itself actually adopts its and implements it.
Jonathan Wu Yeah, and it forces it. I would completely agree. I think there is, taking a look at the data itself, who has access to it as well as what levels of information that they can actually take a look at. It reminds me of several organizations where we’ve built, you know, a finance solution and these were publicly traded companies.
Yeah, you needed to provide a period of blackout when it came to the information, especially when they were taking a look at quarter end results because, you know, being publicly traded there was a fear of insider trading if individuals knew how well the company was performing.
So, you do have to provide that level of security, especially when you’re, when you’ve got a self serviced environment where anyone can ask a question and ideally receive the information there. They want it now.
What else do we have? So we talked about privacy concerns.
Neil Raden Hey, Jonathan, there’s something I wanted to bring up, but I didn’t get a chance. What’s the most successful piece of software in the world? In fact, what’s the one piece of software that’s actually changed the world, from Tunisia to Egypt to China?
Jonathan Wu Well, I would have to say Twitter and you’re?
Neil Raden I would have said Google, but Twitter is fine too, because the question I’m going to ask would have the same answer anyway, and that is, how much time did you spend in a training class to learn Twitter or Google.
Jonathan Wu Right.
Neil Raden And I think that’s where we’re going wrong. We need to aim for that.
Jonathan Wu You know, I would agree. When it comes to the self-serviced element of business intelligence, being able to allow individuals to easily access or answer the questions that they have in a manner that is very intuitive. To the point that we were making earlier.
A lot of these BI tools, they’re not very intuitive. It requires extensive training.
Neil Raden Yeah.
Jonathan Wu Training on, you know, what are these features, the functionality that’s provided? So that’s one set, which is how that interface works. The second set is on the back end. Yeah, one of the corresponding business rules to your point, you know, a lot of these environments have inherent business rules.
You know, I remember one of the first finance data warehouses that we built you know, it was self-service. Individuals had access to it and even though they went through training, a lot of them forgot that, you know, this finance data warehouse multi-currency. So, if they didn’t clearly state, you know, as a condition what currency they’re dealing with, they were getting everything.
Neil Raden Yeah.
Jonathan Wu So, it created results that far exceeded their expectations. When they started tuning down the currency it narrowed down the results and gave them the information that they wanted. Those were inherent business rules in the solutions which, you know, even for some of these finance professionals that we were working with, they would forget.
It wasn’t that intuitive, you know.
Neil Raden Well, the other thing I would say is compare the success of Google with Wolfram Alpha which hit the ground like a safe, and if you look at the two of them you can see the reason why. It’s that it wasn’t at all intuitive when you went to Wolfram Alpha. I would ask ten questions and not get an answer to any of them.
Jonahan Wu Yeah. Yep, so some of the challenges. Taking a look at the time and trying to wrap this up, concluding thoughts? Hershel, you want to kick those off. Any concluding thoughts on self-service BI?
Herschel Chandler Well, I guess the closing thought I would have with self-service BI is again, don’t get so caught up in the tools and technology. I think self-service BI, the tools are out there to deliver. They have to architected well; they have to be set up well. But I think the piece that’s often missed is, we have to have the people processes around self-service BI to ensure that this new capability is used for best advantage.
It’s not all about tools and technology. It’s also a lot about process.
Jonathan Wu Yup, very good. Lyndsay Wise?
Lyndsay Wise Yeah, I agree. And then, on another note, I was kind of thinking, for people that really wanted answers in terms of how to get started with Self-service BI. It’s almost been a depressing roundtable just because we’ve talking a lot about the challenges.
So, I also think that it’s possible and I think that it’s definitely you know, possible right now based on certain solutions that are out there and I also think that the market’s going to really have to change, because as organizations start to demand things, and as people demand certain levels of interaction and certain ways of asking questions and expecting the answers that are relevant in a timely fashion, that, you know, solutions are going to have to be developed that can actually achieve that.
Otherwise, you know, the value proposition of BI really won’t be able to be justified on a long-term continuum, and least not in a self-service perspective. Obviously there are different uses.
Jonathan Wu Right. And Neil?
Neil Raden Well, we’re sort of like Moses at the Jordan River, right? We can get them that far, but we haven’t gotten them across. And I think that people aren’t interested in data; they’re interested in answers. And in order to do that we have to spend some time not just on making it easier to use, whatever that means, because ease of use is dependent on getting the right result, not just how easy it is to ask the question.
And I think we need to spend more time finding ways for them to understand the relationships and the models. I hate to use the term models, cause that scares people, but the relationships between the data and how it all pulls together. And then they’ll be able to ask the kinds of questions they want.
Jonathan Wu Very good. Well thanks everyone for participating in this roundtable. All the questions will be posted to this event page on Focus so the conversation can live on. Questions that we weren’t able to answer from the audience during the time allotted will be posted for further discussion. Thank you again to our experts for this lively and engaging conversation