Blog: Tom Breur Welcome to my blog! Copyright 2010 Fri, 04 Dec 2009 17:54:18 -0700 BI Trend 2010: Bashing BI Trends There is a new hype on Twitter: bashing BI trends. This is so much fun. Since everybody is making their BI trends list for next year, let’s all do something else. Let’s find out which trends are real and which are BS or let me rephrase that editorials from the marketing department. The winner of the best bashing of the most repugnant, far away, non inspired BI trend of 2010 will receive many thanks and perhaps a small price.

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Microsoft Business Intelligence: More Power to the Pivots PivotAt the last Microsoft BI conference in Seattle ¬†project “Gemini” was annouced. Gemini is now available as Powerpivot (see also Powerpivot (inspired by pivot table?) allows users to analyse the data within the comfort of their Excel 2010 interface. In my experience however 99% of the data contained in an Excel sheet is often a datadump from operational systems or a datawarehouse (like) environment. Nothing wrong with that by the way. It allows users to play around with the data. But my point is that the data comes from the companies own operational systems. As most of us know (except perhaps the deaf and blind) the majority of data is to be found outside our own organizations. If you can find some way to combine your own data with relevant information from the net your quickly on your way to making smart decisions. As Rick Mans and I wrote in our recent article Samen Spelen (We are working on a English translation) the challenge is first to find the right information and than to make it manageable. So we want the slicing and dicing we do in BI classic on the web as well in combination with search. Well, Microsoft must have read our minds because they are working on something called Pivot ( It uses collections of large groups of data with a similar item and uses visualizations to find hidden patterns. Take a look at some of the demo’s and in your mind replace datasets like dogs, cars and playing cards with mortgages, prepaid customers or dairy products. I think Microsoft has taken a first step in the direction of mixing structured and unstructured data. Too bad it is still in two seperate worlds. Who knows what can happen if you mix it together. This leaves one final question. How to call such a product? Power Pivot Plus?

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Samen Spelen Samen Spelen, Samen delen. Het lijkt een bezwerend mantra om de lieve vrede op de crŪ®che te bewaren. Maar er is meer. Kinderen zijn eigenlijk continue aan het leren. Kruipen, leren lopen. Later spelen ze met lego, kralen of blokken. Het liefst doen ze dat alleen en zijn ze nog niet goed in staat om te delen. Ze houden liever alle leuke dingen voor zichzelf. Langzamerhand ontdekken kinderen echter dat spelen ook kan met andere kinderen. Maar dat betekent ook speelgoed delen. Dat gaat eerst nog gepaard met tranen maar later ontdekken kinderen dat samen spelen goed kan samengaan met samen delen. Sterker nog, het wordt steeds leuker zo samen. En voor je het weet, heb je een beste vriend of vriendin. Als volwassene is de wereld niet vaak niet veel anders. Wij vinden het ook soms moeilijk om ons speelgoed te delen. Laat staan bedrijfsgegevens of vergaande analyses. Maar ook hier blijkt weer groot voordeel te behalen. In dit artikel wordt ingegaan op de rol van bedrijfsinformatie (of business intelligence) en welke rol externe sociale netwerken (Internet Social Media) kunnen spelen bij het nemen van beslissingen. Wellicht zal een manager in de toekomst niet veel meer hoeven doen dan interne data te publiceren op het net en $50 te bieden voor de beste synthese.


 Samen Spelen, Samen Delen

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New article on BI & Social Media (Dutch) I have written an article with Rick Mans on BI and Social Media. It was published on the BI platform ( Article is in Dutch.

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Interview with BI platform (Dutch) was interviewed by Hans Lamboo (Database Magazine, BI platform) on the development of BI.Interview is in Dutch.

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3000 nieuwe collega’s

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Quick Solutions: Self Service Reporting IT budgets are down. That’s a fact that nobody can deny. At the same time the need for relevant information has increased considerably. That is another fact. As a result IT is reconsidering its position whilst the business is waiting for the much needed report or analysis. This need for faster time to information and less IT involvement has given rise to something that is often called Business or Self Service Reporting (SSR). Traditionally BI reports are created by the IT department. SSR allows business users to do this for themselves.


This might sound like a radical new way of delivering information but it is nothing new. Gartner for example has always placed the Report writing function in the business part of the BICC. What is different now is that the tools have become more intuitive and easy to work with. Business users, albeit power users, can build their own reports with a relative ease. IT responsibilities for SSR are limited, or should I say focused, on delivering the quality data on time. Which is not bad considering the lower budgets. Another great thing about letting business user build their own reports is that it improves the quality of the requirements (no more misunderstandings) and the setting of priorities (they will probably build what the need the most first). So it really sounds like a win-win situation and often it is just that. But... there is a down side to this as well.


By spreading the report function across various lines of business a dilution of knowledge arises which is often strengthened by the information silos that are created. In a way it is back to the old days with the business (intelligence) silos across the company. Did I hear somebody say: single version of the truth? But the IT department has also a hard time in monitoring the use of the report function and keeping the performance on an acceptable level.


So how can we do something to solve these problems? One way is to make the SSR a little bit more IT monitored by setting up a ‚Äėmanaged‚Äô self service environment. That is something Microsoft has done. Another solution would be to create an organization structure to support these changes. This would be something like a BICC but more business orientated. Let‚Äôs call it a BI Service Center or BISC. A third possibility would be to limit the SSR to a certain kind or reporting. When there is a need for fast time to information or when there is a high need for business involvement SSR is the way to go. All other reports are created in some sort of central function. A hybrid solution can even arise where personal or self service reports become centrally maintained standard reports in time, thus solving the single version challenge.


Self Service Reporting can be a great thing. It will decrease the time to information for many people which is much needed in these roaring times. However SSR must always be implemented and positioned in a way that its benefits will not create concerns for others involved. Always keep the impact of SSR on your information architecture in mind while seeking for quick solutions. 

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Quick Poll: The beard Should I shave it off or not? Should I keep the beard or loose it? Voting is now open on linkedin: ( Extensive Data Analysis  reveals that younger people and females say SAVE IT.  However Older people and men say SHAVE IT. So the question now is which group to focus on? For now I have decided to keep it at least until thursday (Nationale BI Event in Leiden).

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Agile and Advancing Understanding Agile


I was asked the question: ”Is Agile the correct development method for Business Intelligence?”.¬† An interesting question. According to me any development method that takes BI characteristics in mind is better than a method that does not. Therefore I would say that Agile is better than most waterfall based methods.


So, what are some of the BI characteristics that we have to take in account while using any development method? First , BI projects almost always have some sort of business purpose. For example, sales insight or call center performance improvement. But the business case is not always clear upfront. So the BI contribution to the bottom line is often unknown as well. Another thing is that the business requirements are also often not very precise. At the start of any BI project getting the detailed and finalized requirements from future information product users is a challenge at best. Finally, the whole development process is pretty much linear. We get data from the source, we ETL it to our warehouse, fill the data model, ETL it to our data marts and build the reports. So before any user sees the final result 80% of the work is already done. The biggest challenge for BI development methods is to deal with the ‚Äėadvancing understanding‚Äô.


Agile can contribute to this as it works with: small iterations, used cases, fast and frequent releases, much interaction with the client, integration of testing in the development cycle and so on.


The key question that remains: ”Are agile methods being adopted and used in the BI world?”. The answer to that is very simple: Agile is all in the mind. The question is not if Agile CAN be used, the question is if BI people WANT to use it.¬†

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Live tweets in your presentation Last week at the Butler BI event in the Netherlands, Timo Elliot from SAP BOBJ, gave a presentation. The cool thing was that his presentation featured live tweets. He integrated Twitter in the Powerpoint presentation. This opens up all kind of possibilities: remarks, voting … Check out his website and download the tool. I love this kind of innovative features.¬†

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Is BI … ? A survey on - It only takes seconds!

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How the BI market develops

Is BI going to be a commodity?

A commodity, according to wikipedia, is a bulk product where supply and demand determines the price. What is often meant is that is something is no longer distinctive. When examining BI as a whole there are some tools that may have reached commodity such as reporting or OLAP as evidenced by the rise of the self service tools as an indication for this. As a result the commoditization of BI will certainly ¬†change the way IT is executed, and the implementations will change the paradigm so that IT is viewed as a ¬†supplier of data. Despite this change the full ¬†potential of BI is still untapped. Above and beyond the ¬†traditional factors of production such as labor and money, the most significant factor ¬†is information or knowledge (the knowledge economy), which is a critical component of the equation. As a result there is a ¬†shift in focus from technique towards added value of information. People, process and technology are all interconnected by the use of information. This is an aspect that is sometimes ignored in the world of IT, the owners of BI. Now is the time to bring the ”I” back in IT.¬† At this juncture this is especially relevant given the unusual circumstances in the economy which have led to higher demand for information to reduce uncertainty. ¬†Companies that have traditionally survived with limited information have come to realize that a lack of intelligence can lead to a single wrong decision that has a ripple effect of magnitude that may put their business at risk. Simultaneously, IT information supply has been reduced to lower cost or as a result of lower budgets. Viewing this through a microeconomic lens this appears to be a scenario of more ¬†demand, less supply, and hence a scarcity of BI and an increase in the value of BI.


Which role will BI play for the mega vendors?

One of the trends in BI is the integration of BI with the business process, essentially that any KPI, dashboard, report is completely integrated to a decision or operational process.   To accomplish an information centric organization information supply is crucial.   BI is no longer limited to a specific breed of highly evolved knowledge workers but part of every day work. Terms like Pervasive BI or information democracy (BI for the masses) are often used to describe highly evolved organizations.  . Integration with operational processes leads to an integration with operational systems or ERP platforms. What we have seen is that large platform vendors have started acquiring BI vendors to add them to their (operational) platform. This is likely borne out of the gap of large ERP implementations that are left with a significant gap in reporting, analytics, and information.  Because both world (operational versus informational) are so different this has led to many challenges. Also as they have often bought two or more of the same flavor there are enough decisions to make a new BI suite. The result of this consolidation is the death of innovation.


Is BI getting less generic?

Customers are being very clear in their demand, and there is a very common conversation that is occurring between IT and the business.


The business is asking: ”How can I save money or create new opportunities by leveraging BI?


IT is asking: ”How can I reduce the costs of BI projects and software?” ¬†


For both the business and IT there are some answers  to their questions, but to answer these questions in a way that both audiences are satisfied becomes a much trickier problem to solve. For example IT can reduce the cost of labor using outsourcing, volume deals or service models. IT can also achieve price optimization during delivery process through industrialization and using accelerators and agile development techniques. Another cost out option is through  introducing new architectures (applications) or the good old rationalization of the BI tools. The answers for  the business are significantly  different as  the value is in the use of information, such as analytics. As many projects are caught in a current focus on technology, it is inevitable that  a significant shift is going to take place. As a result one can expect that  BI will become increasingly more business specific and require the intersection of IT and business to provide maximum value. This will certainly transform the role that IT plays into an infrastructural hero and a supplier of data. But their business days might be numbered.


Is BI getting more vendor specific?

The consolidation of vendors into large agglomerates is not only happening in the BI domain but all over the world of business and IT. This means that many companies face a quilt of IT systems to manage. In order to easily integrate new systems in their organization there is an upcoming demand for standardization and service oriented architecture. Often there is a platform vendor specific unless policy or functionally specifically dictate another vendor is required. As both the informational and transactional systems become more tightly integrated  the technical BI challenges  can be limited to that one vendor. However it is an illusion to think that all data sources will be limited to that one vendor, as there will always be enough challenges within IT for BI through innovation or  niche products.  Certainly  the most important challenge for BI will be in fast access to and insight in relevant information that is truly actionable.   


What will be the role for the surviving parties?

Given the significant acquisition history it is expected that the large platform vendors will be focusing their product development efforts on  the technical integration of the acquired products in their operational systems. Also their roadmap towards a new BI suite will be full of choices balancing legacy products and choosing the best of breed products for the future.


The business is asking: ”Which tool will be the new standard if you have three perfectly fine tools for the same area of expertise, say CPM or OLAP and dashboarding.


From a communication and strategic planning perspective  current and new customers must be visited to inform them about the potential of this new platform. Partners, System Integrators, and shared services organizations also need to accommodate the changes as well as the integration opportunities.   These  all  take a lot of time, effort and money that will not be focused on  innovation. The remaining smaller BI vendors must find their niche and come with innovative solutions. Most obviously there are significant opportunities in the field of advanced analytics, advanced visualization, right time intelligence and sharing data. It is more than possible that these vendors or their solution will be bought up by the platform vendors in time.


What is the future of the BI market?

The use of as a service like solutions will increase as they appeal to ease of use and less cost. Conceptual solutions like cloud are still to vague to be understood by most. Not unlike SOA was or is. The current focus is still very much on technology which provides opportunities for data warehouse appliances but also modeling techniques like data vault.


On the whole the IT spend is down and BI is no different. There are fewer  projects even if they have a solid business case. IT continues to pursue projects, primarily leveraging the  increased demand for outsourcing. The large system integrators are the ones that profit from this as business expects a long term solid partner that have long term viability rather than small BI consultancy firm (boutiques). All of the players in the system integration ecosystem must work together or go bankrupt (so consolidation continues). An example in the Netherlands is BI United where freelancers have formed a union like entity to face the future more together than ever before.


What is the future of BI?

We see six mega trends in BI. There is an increase in the size, speed and impact of BI. There is more insight due to analytics and visualization. Integration with operational processes and systems continues as well with other types of data (like unstructured internet data). The interactivity between man and machine is on the rise. Also we see a more industrialized approach in BI delivery (build and run). Finally, BI is getting more Business and less IT. This has implications that are summarized in three major areas: increased performance (focus on speed), useful insight (focus on analytics and visualization) and information relevance (focus on business rules, filters and alerts).


The future of BI is fast access to and understanding of relevant information. This means BI will be much more part of an overall Business Information Management strategy than a standalone field of expertise.


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Mindmap Retail Intelligence Presentation This is the mindmap that I used for the Retail Intelligence presentation that I gave at the microstrategy event. It mentions the trends in BI and Retail and how they come together. If you are interested in receiving the slides drop me an e-mail.

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BI in retail

I will be presenting - tomorrow 9 september - at the microstrategy symposium in Amsterdam. The topic will be BI in retail. I will share the slides with you afterwards.

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Facts are stupid things Ronald Reagan”Facts are stupid things”, Ronald Reagan once said. But in Business Intelligence we believe that facts are just about the most important thing in the new world. Way up there, with God (Bill Inmon) and the ‚Äėsingle version of the truth‚Äô. So, if facts are stupid what happens with our beloved area of expertise: BI. Let‚Äôs take a look at what Reagan meant instead of what he said. For starters, he misquoted somebody else. What he really wanted to say was: ”facts are stubborn things”. Ah, well. That we can agree on. A fact is a fact is a fact. And shall remain unchanged forever and ever, amen. But the message he tried to bring across was that facts are one thing but the way they are perceived can be completely different. This brings me to cognitive dissonance. This is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. New facts that rock the world you already believe in and perceive as being true. One possibility is to just ignore those new facts. The simple solution is often first resistance and after that ignorance. The other position is to be open to change and explore these new facts. Interpretation of these facts is then determined by its context. With that I mean that a number ‚Äď let’s say 100 ‚Äď only has value if you know if it applies to meters or miles, turnover or monthly salary. ¬†Also some facts have meaning for some but none for others. Accountants and sales people view the world differently and will therefore have different interpretations or even interest of let‚Äôs say turnover. Instead of working towards some kind of shared single version of the truth, we should write down the context or definition of each fact. With that you know if you can ignore or explore and decide if facts are really stupid.

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