The business intelligence project assembling line.

Business Intelligence Stack

In business intelligence projects, assembling the data is large part of the deal as you go about building an independent data warehouse or set one up in Business Intelligence reporting software itself.

The Pareto theory toclip_image002 focuses on 20% of effort to get 80% of the value does not work in business intelligence projects. You need to get 100% of the data right and cleaned up before it can be mapped and reported consistently.

Even cutting corners by doing a departmental business intelligence may work for a while. But in the end if it is not linked to the published finance results it will be soon be undermined and will eventually end in the scrap bin of good ideas that did not fly; along with those who attempted to fly them.

Using an enterprise level business Intelligence project as a focus to clean up data in itself is a great way to go. The benefits are most often immediate. In fact to get those jobs done any other way almost never happens as the business continues to struggle on with hybrid decision processes that hinder progress.

Building a consistent data-warehouse in fact is the real job in setting up business intelligence reporting. The problem there is cleaning up is often costly and the perception is by most that there is no problem or cleaning adds no value, so it gets left out of the value discussion.

As a Finance or IT manager how often have you heard, “We already have a good data warehouse and all we need is a Business intelligence tool to do our reporting from it.” clip_image004

As one who lives in both worlds and in my case as a consultant too it actually tells me to beware to do much more proving work on the business case. And do more project due diligence work before locking in on contracts. 

In the case of the CFO or Business Vice President  championing the work, this should also be done before seeking the budget and letting procurement loose to go find a vendor and a competent consultant. Finding the bad data story after the fact, when the installed team and software is on deck, is far too late. No-one cares by then as they know you are between a rock and a hard place with little or no way out.

And if the business is performing well and the goal is for faster decisions information to maintain momentum, then  time to delivery as goal is seen as the most critical project driver. Then things like consistency are automatically assumed to be there or must be dealt with regardless of other change impact considerations.  But of course in this type of case given performance is relative in terms of these constraints, problems that most often show up are on the enterprise’s source systems themselves. So then the paradigm shift as a goal is stalled and the project, which may get off to a great start, quickly falters as these issues surface.

So it actually does take a great deal of resolve, process change management and team work to agree consistent business rules at all levels to solve the issues. That is at the heart of it all. And it is what can trip you up if you don’t stay focused and get it under control. The rest of the work is really just technical and is quite straight forward with limited risk.

Hence in well thought through projects where the value of cleaning is recognized and the correct value focus is brought to bear, it can pay for the project many times over. In such cases this should be recognized as a business benefit to be targeted and not just left as a by-the-way or left out as a buyer beware tactic to get unknown issues solved and cost savings on the cheap.

And in the end who cares what BI tool we use. The truth is if you don’t use one you are foolish as the disciplines they bring alone are worth the money, I should quickly add that this only applies if they are setup by people who actually do know what they are doing. I have seen too many IT selves with software still its shrink packed box never opened. Or when it does it is badly used by installation novices. As one of my software vendor contemporaries said to me recently

“if you don’t have a competent data management team included in your BI project, then I hope you don’t choose my software as I don’t need the reputation”

As too often we aim for the utopian state to exploit what comes only after the hidden work is done. getting there is often actually where the value is as your conversations across the business sort-out the issues in a more natural way. So seeing it as a burden and a delay to project is folly. Doing this will invariably cause frustration and loss of focus and may cause it to even falter and/or fail.

More to the point business leaders who provide budgets for this work, who may also have been part of the evolution that unknowingly or clip_image006otherwise create the issues, invariable underestimate what it will takes to fix them. They must understand it takes momentum and motivation to get the tough and dirty job of cleaning done. And that business intelligence is about their future and not just some fancy reporting process that sends emails on delinquent performance and helps cuts the costs of doing things in spreadsheets.

As sponsors entitled to see more visible progress to the end game solution that they approved the budget for, they  should call to account project managers to bring to attention any value that gets the money back earlier than expected. By simply enforcing standards and making data process improvements before the project is even completed will delver this.

Hence the value is in the understanding the secondary benefit of cleaning up data and continually selling the value of the process it takes to get that work done is vital.

It is not just all about setting up dashboards and dials to help focus and understand the data but also about having consistent data that has universal acceptance and integrity.  This combination in turns allow business intelligence to be used to create an intelligent business

For many of us doing this do we really need to rethink our mission and how we manage.



In a related post Failing-address-data-quality-and-consistency here are some very key points

Don’t fall into these traps. Don’t assume anything about the state of the data. The areas where data quality and inconsistency problems lurk:

  • Data quality within systems-of-record applications may be “masked” by corrections made within reports or spreadsheets created from this data. The people who told you the data is fine might not even be aware of these “adjustments.”
  • Data does not age well. Although data quality may be fine now, there’s always the chance that you’ll have problems or inconsistencies with the historical data. The problems can also arise when applications like predicative analytics need to use historical data.
  • Data quality may be fine within each systems-of-record application, but may be very inconsistent across applications. Many companies have master data inconsistency problems with product, customer and other dimensions that will not be apparent until the data is loaded into the enterprise Data warehouse.

Is there still a place for the human brain?

It has been said that the best business brains are the inquisitive ones. But is it possible that this inquisitiveness will lead to its own demise as the leapfrogging emergence of global commercial processing power accelerates and unprecedented information ready to hand takes even greater control. With so much pre-programmed reactions being built in, will the human brain become redundant as a force driving humanity itself?

In pondering this, I chanced on the SAGE business brain training site which made me look at it clip_image002this in more practical detail. It has some great insights into the types of business skills needed by successful people. The site, which runs Business Brain Training a quiz, also points out to me what people in business and young people learning should developed to be successful.

So in a debate with myself taking the side to argue in favor of brain keeping the power I concluded that it is actually even more critical to build management skills to ensure systems that run most of our lives don’t die.

Each of the items in the following quotes bare definitions I got from the SAGE site. I am not sure where they got them from but they are excellent food for thought. It was a fun to work thru hence I am posting it here. Perhaps someone may like to take the opposite view.


It is been put that with much of the worlds commercial and logistics now being connected by intelligent systems, the human brain can soon be replaced.

Here are 6 reasons why that will never happen.

Foresight by analytical system only helps predict futures but to spot opportunities takes more.

Foresight is the quality that will help you identify what success looks like for you. Good foresight is the sign of a great decision-maker, and someone who is equally strong at spotting opportunities that can lead them down their own path to success

Logic is at the heart of the heart of all systems. But even the most sophisticated NASA computers and commercial aero planes still need highly skilled people to tactically interpret information and react quickly to make critical decisions.

Logical thinking links up well with foresight. It’s the ability to recognize the order of events necessary to achieve success. The logical thinker’s strength is in identifying and processing patterns and seeing how they could work advantageously. Individuals with good logic skills are good at creating a practical order of a series of facts or events.

Concentration and sustaining focus on the right things is something systems can only support.

In a fast-moving business environment, people are faced with many different challenges, often in quick succession and sometimes all at once. Concentration is the ability to provide the necessary level of focus for each challenge, so that an individual can identify the key actions needed to achieve a solution.

Responsivness can be programmed but without human intervention disaster is inevitable.

This is the ability to work well under pressure and to adapt to a constantly changing environment. Individuals who excel in rapid response skills tend to be good all-rounders who can call on a range of skills when they need them. They can balance the adrenaline-fuelled thought process that is created by high-pressure situations with the calmness and control needed for intelligent decision making.

Memory just cannot be replaced by systems. System don’t remember anything they just store and process information.

It’s rare that all of the information you need to overcome a challenge will be readily available to you when you need it. The ability to retain key facts and carry forward lessons learnt from previous experience is vital to effective problem-solving. The knowledge stored by an individual gives them the power to continually improve the efficiency of business processes.

Numeracy is about joining the dots and not only about being able to calculate and understand numbers. It’s about understanding what is at the heart of the critical numbers and how they may change dynamically. Numeracy is also about understanding and reacting to what caused the numbers not in numerical terns but in the human activity terms that created them. 

Success in business cannot be measured by profit alone. However, the ability to operate at a reasonably high level (and deliver profit) is an essential factor in determining long-term success. An agile numerical brain is a key part of making the right decisions to make a business profitable.

In conclusion it is easy to observe that good use of information systems and applications extensively improve intuition in the human brain of those who use and understand them well. And the human brain because of that improves the systems. Therefore these six highly important human abilities can never be replaced by synthetic brain power. 

I rest my case.




Disclaimer / Acknowledgment

For those interested SAGE is one of the words large application technology companies with an impressive track record for quality business management products.

At the time publishing this post I can say with impurity that I have no association with SAGE at all nor am i aware do any of my affiliates. The information on their site referred to here is acknowledged as their material posted under international copyright and is used here for the purpose of debating arguments it poses.

Any inference or presumption that I or any of the contributors to this post represent SAGE or its views by association is denied. I do however acknowledge the excellent value of the material they posted and I recommended it.

If you are not having fun it never gets done.

image As a consultant most is know that much of our work is detailed and exploratory. Making change means we need to study and discuss the gaps in the “what is” position so you can have a discussion about changing that state. This takes planning thought and collaborative skill to get people to dig in to the detail and then go a new way to fix the problems we find. That process can be both continuous and radical.

Either way it happens best if the process is fun so people enjoy engaging to get detail information and explore looking for solutions and best practices.

I read something recently about teaching, and it seemed to me the parallels with consulting are similar. The article about teaching in an Asian culture pointed to quite different approaches needed to what we see in the so-called traditional west. A British teacher posted this in the Naked Farang entitled Working teaching Thais

In it he reinforces to be a successful teacher, the best advice is to steer away from boring lectures, long explanations and tests. Like we find also in consulting workshops, making your classes interactive and fun works best. Then not only do students enjoy the classes, but they also learn from them by being involved. The post goes on to explore some great examples that are thought provoking for every culture. It well worth a read.

We have to take all of this into consideration when we decide how we are going to manage change too, In addition to human cultural difference there always different business cultures which vary from business to business too. The common thread however is that people everywhere like to have fun, even at work. The corollary truism to this makes sense. “If you are not having fun it is very hard get things done”

In a work place it important, like it is with most students to win them over early. If they think that learning about change is going to be too serious, people involved will mentally switch off, turn up late or skip sessions and make minimal progress. The flip side is people will be more motivated to be productive and learn effectively if they enjoy the work and have a rapport with the leader.

This is deeply ingrained into Asian cultures more so than the west as following is more encouraged rather than making direct contributions at the risk offending or losing face. In fact, why should we want to change it? We should be flexible enough to adapt the way we teach or engage with people in any cultural styles.

In a workplace these cultural differences can be used to advantage as people who work in silos have fun with to joining the dots when you get them together.

As an example an Asia culture with students and what westerners regard as cheating in class can be of great value, In Asia this is almost pathological. As left to their own devices Asian students will typically gather round to just copy their answers. The counter-productiveness of this has absolutely no logic but you can do nothing about it.

Knowing this means at work however getting people to work things out as a group can be used to great advantage when they are given a problem to study and naturally relax under the protection of group discussions.

Another aspect of leading for results I have found useful, being foreigner is to set the scene in the common language of English then allow it to debated out in the native tongue. This can be very effective in facilitated workshops if it is allowed to run under this protection. By contrast to large passive participation in lecture style workshops, allowing time for discussion in the native tongue sees the noise levels and participation very high from all levels with occasional so called clarification feedback so you can keep it on track. That can be a tough call if your local language skill is not good. But other signals and natural group dynamics tell most of the stories as you just watch while people get comfortable and to the point. It is far from boring with the challenge to get agreement to move to the next steps.

The spoken language too is not the only tool. As we all know speaking is based on not only being cohesive with words and body language but also on the history in local cultures that have much deeper meaning. So unless you are stupid and use a Shakespearian style straight forward English is common use and widely accepted as the written structure format. Most Asians in business now have better understanding of written English even more so than a locally expressive document. Hence we often find people at all levels ask for a document before they ever ask for an explanation. The trick then, as with everyone, is it walk them thru it and allow learning process to take its course.

Another wonderful example of understanding rote learning is in the Naked Farang post.

He says, “When I was in high school in England, one of my favorite subjects was history because I enjoyed hearing about how important events and people changed the course of history.  We would analyze these lessons to see what we had learned and how they affected the present. It was, to me, fascinating and stimulating. In contrast, I hated maths because it just seemed too inflexible and boring.

For Thai students, history is one of the least favorite subjects simply because of the way it is taught. The students are simply expected to memories names and dates without actually attaching any significance to them. There is no wonder they find this boring. In contrast, maths is a popular subject. Why is maths so popular? Well, instead of rote learning names, words or dates, maths offers the students a relative degree of academic freedom because they can learn formulas and experiment with them. In an environment where everything else is so rigid, this is their chance to express themselves.

In our business world of consulting to identify problems and find solutions is always a challenge. But as always the biggest challenge is implementing in diverse cultures that by nature don’t really want to change. The process of learning how to do this is constant and ever stimulating to me

I am always fascinated reading and taking to others about their insights and experience. If you feel inclined please share your experience. I would love to hear about it.