Stephen Few talks about living room challenges of Analytics

Stephen_FewIf big, old, traditional BI companies are going to find their way from the back room to the living room and kitchen where people live, they’ll need …..

……………………As an attention grabber I just love this line, as it makes me want to read more.

Many people in the business intelligence business know Stephen Few. I am a fan as well and a regular reader of his blog and his books. He pulls no punches when it comes to dealing with Smuks and Cowboys in the business intelligence game. A master of information visualization himself and a champion for value in business Stephen Few deals severely with slick airbags who dress up the and try to sell an old product as new. They are fair game for his napalm like penetration as it goes to work when he spots them.

Stephen was just in Melbourne, my home town, presenting along side some SAP people. My son Trevor was getting married so I could not attend, but he sent me a summary via his blog, A comment he makes is his post entitled Old BI and the Challenge of Analytics has an example that of his skill spotting a sham-up as he discusses a co-presenter.

The fellow from SAP didn’t describe anything new in the realm of data visualization, but referred to Crystal Xcelsius (recently re-branded into two products, SAP Crystal’s Dashboard Design and Presentation Design) and Business Objects Explorer as SAP’s current datavis offerings. Both of these Products demonstrate SAP’s lack of expertise in this area. What he featured most was a new in-memory technology called HANA, which promises to speed up access to data considerably, but at significant cost. While he was describing HANA, I couldn’t help but fear that it might at best enable a faster trip to nowhere.

He goes on to say

They (vendor’s) must commit their efforts to what actually works, rather than silly, shiny features that fill their existing products with smoke and mirrors.

One metaphoric comment made by itcouple. says a great deal about the people who buy these products .

I think we can compare it to a sales person trying to sell a car… he/she will probably find plenty of reasons to buy a certain car but trying to sell a car to a racing driver who is after a “good car” is a different story; the sales person will have to find really the right car “compatible” with the racing driver otherwise they will fail miserably.

Unfortunately businesses usually buy cars for their racing drives so they usually agree with sales person more then with the driver Smile

Another comment I really like is one by By Mark Burnard who in my view goes to the heart of joining the businesses and the people who run them with the intelligence it has delivered 

Getting the org structure and roles & responsibilities right is another key factor in actually getting the right result at the front end.

In his conclusion Few tops off with a high temperature blast:

Despite the acid that often drips from my tongue when I speak out against SAP’s contrived and clueless attempts so far to support data visualization, I’m not rooting for them to fail. That is, unless they continue to promote hollow promises about dysfunctional products, in which case they’ll deserve to fail and I’ll gladly bid them goodbye.

As one who also represents another giant software solutions product in Infor and some notable others he certainly keeps us honest for sure lest I come under his notice.  But in thr end despite what some may see as vitrioled language, integrity is king. On that score if you enjoy a good read with some no-nonsense common sense stuff Stephen Few is  highly recommend. And  be sure to read. the contributing comments .  Here is a link and for our preservation of his words on our site I have copied it below this fold line too



Old BI and the Challenge of Analytics

I recently spoke at an event in Melbourne, Australia that was sponsored by Innogence, a consultancy that exclusively supports SAP business intelligence implementations. My presentation was followed by two others: one of Innogence’s customers described his experience of turning around an SAP Business Objects (hereafter referred to simply as SAP) implementation that was failing, and an employee of SAP previewed coming attractions.

The fellow from SAP didn’t describe anything new in the realm of data visualization, but referred to Crystal Xcelsius (recently re-branded into two products, SAP Crystal’s Dashboard Design and Presentation Design) and Business Objects Explorer as SAP’s current datavis offerings. Both of these products demonstrate SAP’s lack of expertise in this area. What he featured most was a new in-memory technology called HANA, which promises to speed up access to data considerably, but at significant cost. While he was describing HANA, I couldn’t help but fear that it might at best enable a faster trip to nowhere.

Big, old, traditional BI companies are good at producing technologies that enhance the infrastructure of business intelligence—more and faster—but not the actual use of data in ways that lead to greater intelligence. Being big, focused primarily on technology from an engineering perspective, and devoutly sales driven makes it difficult for companies like SAP to develop useful tools for activities that support decision making: data exploration, sensemaking, and communication. To meet this challenge, they must shift their focus from technology to the humans who use it—our needs and abilities—and expand their perspective to embrace design. They must commit their efforts to what actually works, rather than silly, shiny features that fill their existing products with smoke and mirrors.

It will be hard for large organizations to turn their ships against the tide of tradition into unfamiliar waters. If it can be done at all, it will take time. Will SAP and other big vendors find their way into the analytics age? If so, will they do it in time, or will analytics become the exclusive realm of smaller and more agile vendors, leaving traditional BI companies in the back room to maintain the infrastructure (data collection, transformation, cleansing, warehousing, and production reporting)? Only time will tell, but I recently received a glimmer of hope that SAP just might discover the path forward. I had lunch three weeks ago with John Armitage, who has been tasked with improving the user experience of SAP’s information visualization offerings across the board. I’ve known John for a few years, and although I don’t know him well, I believe he has the perspective, experience, and skills that are needed to give this big ship a new bearing. John is a designer with years of experience working in the field of usability. He’s one of the guys inside the company who quietly thank me when I point out flaws in SAP’s data visualization capabilities and challenge them to do better.

If big, old, traditional BI companies are going to find their way from the back room to the living room and kitchen where people live, they’ll need people like John Armitage, and they’ll need to listen to them. John’s role can’t be token; it must help drive the organization.

Despite the acid that often drips from my tongue when I speak out against SAP’s contrived and clueless attempts so far to support data visualization, I’m not rooting for them to fail. That is, unless they continue to promote hollow promises about dysfunctional products, in which case they’ll deserve to fail and I’ll gladly bid them goodbye.

Take care,

Monday, March 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Stephen Few, is the Founder & Principal of Perceptual Edge

2 thoughts on “Stephen Few talks about living room challenges of Analytics

Leave a Reply