The business intelligence debate: Who has the right skills? By John Stokdyk

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Last week, consultant editor David Carter published a tirade about business intelligence (BI) tools that produced summary totals, but wouldn't let him drill down to the underlying transactions that made up the figures.

His argument, triggered by a series of frustrating product demonstrations, touched on technology tools such as online analytical processing (OLAP), but took on a political hue as he called on accountants to rise up and take control of business intelligence systems from technologists who had no appreciation for what the numbers meant.

The article was deliberately provocative and spilled out into the wider blogosphere. The result was a stimulating, high-quality debate about purpose and processes of management reporting, and the respective roles of finance and te...

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21st Jun 2007 22:43

David, don;t be so sure
it is sometimes appropriate to use a dimensional database structure for the technologies referred to (although not always), but that would not prelude drill down.

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04th Jul 2007 18:35

Let's not get hung-up on BI
I find the definition of BI changes with each vendor.
BI = whatever tools they have to sell at the time
(just like the definition of "lunch" changes with each restaurant you visit)
There's nothing wrong in this... as long as we all understand

There's another approach...
Business decision-makers should make business decisions, not mess about with listings or OLAP cubes

They shouldn't waste time, spotting an "interesting number" and spending the rest of the day drilling in, out and all about, then calling up the scan of that petrol receipt which was erroneously entered into June instead of July

Create the reports (based upon the information you need in order to make the decisions)
Test them to destruction - once (with an occasional "audit")
Run them as often as you need to make a decision

Don't waste your time looking at a 4-page list, trying to find the exceptions
Just report the exceptions, which are based upon your rules

Better still
Get the system to report when it needs to
If you're not getting any reports about motor expenses, everything's operating within your rules - think about something more urgent/important

So BI's good, but it's "lunch" you still need breakfast and dinner

(Have I just agreed with Dennis?)

Mark Ryan
[email protected]

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25th Jun 2007 11:28

Business Intelligence Survey
Hi, you may remember from the VoIP discussion i posted a free guideline download on that very subject, well this time I can offer a free download on a recent survey we, at the the National Computing Centre, have just released. You can download it here.

This Rapid Survey conducted by NCC looks in more detail at the expectations and experiences of organisations, that are using or planning to use Business Intelligence (BI) applications / technologies.

Hope you find it of interest.

Andrew Thompson
National Computing Centre

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21st Jun 2007 17:22

disagree with Denis and Alastair
Denis and Alastair are wrong, I think. The data structures required to support BI are completely different from the data structures of existing transaction processing systems. The two cannot be reconciled and trying to run BI straight off the transaction processing system is always going to be a bodge job, I think. (Jim Johnson's last sentence says it all).

The correct approach is to generate a secondary database that is optimised for reporting, and run BI off that..

Please read my interview with Stephen Bow of Topaz who is charge of designing Topaz's own BI system with SQL Server and Analysis Services. Stephen convinced me that a secondary database is the correct approach.

Denis, I'd also make the point that Performance Point, who supply an alternative BI system for Dynamics NAV and whom you've praised on your blog, take the secondary reporting database approach and create a separate data warehouse. Their MD, Nigel Geary, claimed to me that the biggest issue in BI these days was reconciliations - it seems that the practice of providing uncheckable figures is now starting to worry some BI customers.

[sorry, posted this last night and some of it dropped off]

[more apologies: sorry Dennis, that should have been PrecisionPoint, not PerformancePoint]

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25th Jun 2007 17:00

Ummmm - 2
With respect Andy - this is a vendor sponsored survey so it's tainted and it doesn't answer the fundamental question except to conclude (as might be expected): Throw more technology at the problem.

Interesting note in the forward though:
"Our experience leads us to understand that it isn’t easy to derive ongoing, tangible benefits from any BI system. It’s a careful balancing act to provide sufficient BI capability, at a controllable total cost of ownership, without losing agility, insight or competitive edge."

So if it doesn't work out then don't blame us, we did tell you. That's a dreadful indictment from a company that punts this stuff.

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21st Jun 2007 17:24

In which case David I suggest you check out SeeWhy and LucidEra, both of which are running production systems.

And BTW - in this particular article, BI is very poorly defined. Reporting per se doesn't provide 'intelligence.' That's so 1990s.

Update: David - I've never praised Performance Point on my blog

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21st Jun 2007 13:04

Not true
You CAN do real time analysis - even with large systems and no oit doesn't blow systems away. It's a different approach.

So Paul White's assertion may be true for Microsoft customers but it's a sweeping generalisation. I'll write about this as a separate blog post.


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21st Jun 2007 13:21

business intelligence
is such a wooly phrase. don't you think?

Vendors tend to use it as a shorthand for big ticket sales, and I suspect see their customers as mug punters. More to the point they tag a product as BI and then assert that BI is their product!

I have to agree with Dennis - of course you can do real time analysis and drill down.

More to the point I would welcome a more detailed analysis of how such things are and could be made relevant to the SME world.

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21st Jun 2007 14:01

ROI is the Real Challenge
Technology, and finding the skills to exploit it, can be difficult. However the greater challenge, in my opinion, is delivering a return on the BI investment. This challenge has three parts:
1) design reports that are actionable, that can be used to influence positive business changes;
2) educate managers to read and use the reports and overlook their shortcomings.
3) identifying and measuring the value return from the BI investment
BI systems from the bigger players can be very expensive, so it's important to buy wisely to maximse the chance that the ROI will be positive.

On the topic of whether reports can be delivered in real time, in practice it very much depends on the complexity of the reporting involved and the design of the underlying transactional systems. I consider these factors more important than simply the size of the databases involved. Complex reports from databases not designed to support real time reporting often can't be made to work in real time.

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