Archive for February, 2012
The Government of Canada has spent the last year on a strategic review of programs, with a stated goal of saving 5 to 10% on current program expenditures. One initiative that has come out of this exercise is Shared Services Canada, a centralization of many IT assets including email services, servers and other IT services. I have watched with interest to see how business intelligence is going to fit. BI is uniquely positioned to shed light on a program’s, department’s, or even entire government’s efficiency and effectiveness. But at the same time, BI is best done as an iterative approach, and therefore doesn’t fit so well into a top-down centralized role as Shared Services Canada appears to be. It is the big picture versus the little picture. While ideally it would be great to have a whole picture view of an enterprise’s operations, in practice these views are usually built from the ground up piece by piece.
So will the Government of Canada pursue the ideal or the practical? It is hard to say. But we will know more when the budget is released next month. I am hoping that Business Intelligence will continue to play a important role as we move forward, and that the Government of Canada can find the efficiency it is looking for without sacrificing key tenents of effective business intelligence strategy.
Wayne Eckerson is a noted BI consultant who spoke recently to the Ottawa TDWI chapter. I’d call Wayne a guru, but someone once told me that guru was a polite word for charlatan. Wayne is the very opposite – he is a very down-to-earth speaker who delivered a direct, unpretentious and thoughtful presentation on the subject of BI organizational architecture.
One of Wayne’s interesting observations was that he sees the need for what he calls “purple people” for any successful BI organization. If we think of people on the business side as “blue” and the people on the IT side as “red”, then “purple people” are people that have a mix of skills that enable them to be effective at bridging the gap between the two worlds. I spoke to Wayne afterwards and he elaborated on the idea:
“Purple people are a blend of business and IT – not blue in business or red in IT but a combination of both. These are both senior and junior level folks. At the senior level, some start in the business and end up in IT and then usually come back to the business where they run a business technology group that acts as an interface between the business and IT. (In the BI world I call these teams BOBI – business-oriented BI teams.) Some in IT become very conversant with the business and do a good job meeting business needs. These are directors of BI who interface with business executives more than their technical teams just about, to present budgets, roadmaps, funding requests, etc.
At the junior level, things are trickier, and not as effective. Most companies have business requirements analysts who interview business people, gather requirements, and translate those into specs for developers. I usually find there is a lot lost in translation with these junior level purple people.”
Another one of his key observations in the presentation was that from a BI architecture/organizational perspective, we can think of reporting as being a top-down process, with (we hope!) needs analysis, clearly defined specs, a process for building and moving data marts and reports into production, various controlling structures and so on.
Analysis, however, doesn’t really lend itself to this kind of approach – analysts may not know the questions that they want answered until they begin to delve into the data in a very ad-hoc kind of way. They want to quickly add data sources, join things together, and perform analysis that will lead to more questions, potentially the requirement for more data sources, and so on.
This leads to the business attempting to work around IT to get what they want, including bringing in tools that IT isn’t prepared to support. Analysis ends up being a volatile, bottom-up process, driven by the business, and the organization may struggle to keep it under control. IT fears chaos, but – to some degree – real analysis has a chaotic, or at least unpredictable, character. BI practice has to recognize the contrast in the very natures of reporting and analysis to be effective.
Wayne is a regular blogger and author of books and reports, such as Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business. If you get the opportunity to hear Wayne speak take advantage of it – he delivers a lot of thought-provoking content that has application in the real world.
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” – Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
My six week experimentation with Android is over. I am back on the Blackberry network. My aging Blackberry finally gave up the ghost in December. While I was seduced by the siren call of the iPhone, my carrier provided such a steep discount on the Samsung Galaxy S2 that it made the iPhone ridiculously expensive in comparison (my choice was free or $200+). So I made the switch to Android.
I should tell you that I was warned. A friend of mine who had both a Blackberry and an Android phone described the Blackberry as a communication device and the Android as a toy. I soon understood what he meant. For while the Android had a great screen, wonderful web surfing ability and more apps than you could possibly imagine, I did not like typing on it. At all. Maybe it was because I was a Blackberry user for 3 years. Maybe it’s because I like to use proper punctuation. Whatever the case, I couldn’t stand it.
I had tried typing on the iPhone of a friend. It was surprisingly easy. But in my test, I hadn’t tried to punctuate, type numbers or special symbols, write a full email, or fix a typo. So it seemed easier than it really was. The split of special characters into 3 screens was especially annoying, as was trying to move the cursor around with your finger. A few weeks into my life as an Android user, I quickly found myself back on my PC for all of my day-to-day email functions.
So like most people who don’t like something, I used it less and less. And then one day I missed a very important call. That was the last straw and I decided I had to switch back. Switching was easy thanks to Kijiji, where I quickly found a Blackberry user who wanted to switch to Android. We did a fair swap of my used Samsung Galaxy S2 for his used Blackberry Bold 9900. I couldn’t be happier about it!
Why I love my Blackberry:
- The keyboard. The Android (and iPhone) keyboard were not adequate for my needs. The shift, alt, and symbol keys on the Blackberry are like gold to me.
- The cursor control – what used to be that little white ball on my old Blackberry. I found that I really had no adequate cursor control on the Android phone. It was usually easier to erase everything I had written than to try to pinpoint my error with my finger on the screen.
- The red light that tells you there is a new message. I want to know at a glance.
- Push email. I like getting my email when it is sent, not when my phone gets around to checking it.
- The scheduled shutdown – I can’t believe other phones don’t have this as a standard feature! I never want to hear from my phone after I’m in bed. I have young kids who keep me up at night – I don’t need my phone to join the parade! I attempted to have the same effect on Android with Flight mode, but then you have to remember to set it every day.
Blackberry apps certainly do not have the same diversity as the Android or iPhone apps. But then most of the Android apps I saw were either games or micro-tasks, neither of which were generally relevant to my life. So I can’t say that I’ll miss them.
Now if RIM could just get that pinch zoom to work on Blackberry… That would be something!
A Newly Loyal Blackberry User
P.S. I got pinch zoom working too!
I know that a junk dimension is standard Kimball theory, but I still find it to be unfortunately named. When talking to other BI professionals, it is OK to refer to a junk dimension – but when it comes up in conversation with business users, I find that they start to register alarm. “Why are we storing junk?!” I can read on their faces. What is worse is when you actually name your junk dimension D_Junk. Now you are just asking a DBA to delete your table!
Don’t get me wrong – a junk dimension plays a very important role in a data warehouse. It allows a single physical table to store small groups of codes or descriptions that may otherwise require numerous additional tables. It is a central repository of groups of codes that don’t fit anywhere else and are too small to need their own table structure. But I would never name the table D_Junk, just as I don’t use the prefix x_ on any table I don’t want deleted. I prefer to name my junk dimensions D_Other or some variation like that.
Perhaps the term junk was chosen for the very reason that it is a word that would not be commonly used to describe a standard dimension. But it should still be a term you use with care. Make sure your audience knows what you are talking about before you start throwing this term around.