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Interview Evan Levy Baseline Consulting

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Here is an interview with Evan Levy, founder of one of the best and most practical business consultancy Baseline Consulting. The lower the bull-shit the better the consultant ( forgive my ….) Read here why Baseline’s frank and fast technology acumen have made it a rising star in the this fast growing field.

Businesses realize that there’s more to information delivery than just distributing reports; companies rely on data analysis to support operational decision making.- Evan Levy

Ajay- Describe your career in science and technology.

Evan Levy- My formal “science and technology career” started during college. I received degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. While in school, I had several programming jobs both on and off campus: a systems integration team within a large government contractor; a research study within the Psychology Department; and the university Computation Center. After graduation, I worked at a database computer startup (Teradata) for several years beforeco-founding Baseline Consulting. I’ve been here 18 years.

Ajay- How would help solve the problem of chronic technology worker shortage in the United States?.

Evan- I think the “technology worker shortage” in the US is a problem with multiple facets. I don’t think it can be addressed simply by “throwing bodies” at the problem. I tend to view IT as two distinct areas: processing operations and information delivery. Processing operations includes the development and maintenance of all of the operational computing platforms (applications, mainframes, servers, desktop systems, processing infrastructure, etc.) Information delivery focuses on a company’s data and the associated integration and analytical infrastructure (data integration, analysis tools, processing platforms, etc.)

There’s been a fundamental shift in operational systems development over the past 15 years. The belief that most companies had unique, specialized business processes requiring custom developed applications proved unrealistic. The costs, resources, and long timelines associated with these activities weren’t practical in today’s business environment. Most companies have been willing to shift to “packaged applications” that allowed them to evaluate and trade business process customization for time. This has caused skills within development teams to change dramatically; the need for business process and data analysis skills has exploded.

The growth and adoption of business analysis as a core business capability has also changed the approach to technology development. The time of distributing standard reports across the company in the weekly or monthly format simply isn’t sufficient any more. Businesses realize that there’s more to information delivery than just distributing reports; companies rely on data analysis to support operational decision making. Detailed data analysis and exception reporting isn’t a luxury, it’s become part of the core business functions required by most companies. This has caused business users to become much more sophisticated in data analysis – and it has caused a need for IT to expand their focus from simply providing applications to having to provide detailed data to business users.

I think these two changes have caused a significant shift in the “technology worker shortage”. I don’t think we’re living in the time where the application is the key business asset for companies. I think folk are beginning to realize that the key asset is data. The only way to address the backlog in applications is to fundamentally shift how we approach the problem. Our users are learning to solve their problems with desktop tools; we need to be able to deliver detailed data to them in a more efficient manner.

The only way to address this challenge is for the technology worker to become educated on their users’ business practices and methods. I don’t think throwing thousands of programmers at the issue will solve the current problem. I think we need to capitalize on the skills that already exist within our user communities and position IT resources to make them more self sufficient. I don’t think there’s any short cut to building and maintaining operational applications; programmers will always be needed for that. However, in the growth area of business and data analysis, I think we need to take an entirely different tact. We need to make users more self-sufficient with data.

Ajay- Unemployment in the United States is now touching 10 % yet millions of jobs that went overseas remain there. How good or bad has the technology sector been affected by offshoring compared to other sectors.

Evan- I’m no economist, so I’m afraid I can’t offer much of an opinion regarding the impact of offshoring technology jobs. I do know that in business, there will always be a desire to build and deliver products in as cost-efficient a manner as possible. We’ve seen numerous industries expand through offshoring and outsourcing. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the technology industry is maturing in much the same manner as every other industry. We all expect companies to stay competitive through managing costs; offshoring and outsourcing is an accepted practice.

I think the impact to offshoring and outsourcing will continue to impact the technology sector. We continue to see companies reevaluate their technology investments. As some technologies mature, evolve, and become commodities, I suspect we’ll continue to see jobs associated with those technologies to be outsourcd.

I think the challenge to those of us that work within the technology industry is to continually invest and grow our skills. As any industry matures, the products transition from being specialized to commodities. Look at the internet and web applications and tools. Prior to 2000, building even a simple website proved expensive and resource intensive. Today, most anyone with fundamental pc skills can build their own website. This industry has collapsed in size – but many continue in that space because they’ve grown and expanded their skills. A look at the sophistication of today’s websites reflects this shift.

Ajay- What data solutions would you recommend for the United States government to better channel its stimulus spending.

Evan- I actually think the government has taken an interesting approach with some aspects of the current stimulus spending. I can’t remember when it was possible for any of us to quickly determine where and how federal money was distributed. Today, there are several websites that provide detailed information identifying individual projects and their related funding levels. I wish this type of detailed data was made available for federal spending related to Hurricane Katrina, or the activities in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would provide clarity to where our tax dollars go and raise visibility to the inappropriate distribution of funds.

It think it would be valuable that any and all government spending to be made available to the public in a simple online manner.

Ajay- Do you think Business Intelligence is a male dominated sector. If so, why?

Evan- I’m not sure BI is any more male-dominated than any other IT area. But I’ll say one thing: we need more women in IT. It’s not about gender-specific skills or even about unique talents. It’s just about balance and perspective. Some of my best friends are women! Seriously, I think women do bring some cultural and knowledge assets to the table that just make the overall environment better for everyone. The women who work for me are so exceptional that I should probably be working for them.

When it comes to BI, Cindi Howson—a BI thought leader in her own right and someone who knows a LOT about the vendor space—wrote a great blog post about women in BI. It mentions my partner Jill, whom you interviewed a few months ago. Jill and Cindi are only two of a stellar group of women in BI. (I’d call them “BI babes” but I’d be seriously hurt if I did that.) But I think Cindi’s blog says it all.

Ajay- What do you for relaxing? How important are hobbies and family life for busy career professionals.

Evan- I’m a strong believer in the balance of work and play. My colleagues and staff at Baseline work hard with our clients. Many of our client projects require time and travel flexibility that doesn’t align with the traditional 9—5 world. It’s important for individuals to spend time with their friends and families – to enjoy the things that are outside of their jobs. Personally I spend my time volunteering with the YMCA. It’s a life-long cause for me, and the source of many of my best friendships.

Ajay-  What are your views on mis-selling in consulting- selling something which you are not really an expert of. Does this happen in your opinion in BI.

Evan- That’s a pretty interesting question. I’m sure we all know about situations where an aggressive sales person made impractical promises to address business challenges and established unrealistic expectations. Individuals are driven by their company’s incentive system. I find that when a company rewards its team members on client satisfaction and project success (instead of simply the numbers), mis-selling rarely occurs. I often recommend that our clients ask their suppliers how their sales people and client teams are rewarded. We often see those questions in RFPs.

Most of the consulting problems we see aren’t related to aggressive selling, but simply a gap between the requirements and the solution. While this sounds trite – we often find that the solution providers don’t fully understand the problem they are solving. Whether it’s because the problem wasn’t well understood (by the solution provider) or well analyzed and described (by the prospect) is sometimes impossible to determine; it’s usually a combination of both.

Preventing (or limiting) these surprises is very doable; short-term and small deliverables, frequent and thorough project reviews, and measureable acceptance criteria is a good place to start.

I’ll be the first to admit that at Baseline, we’re much better at delivery than we are at sales. This means that we don’t chase deals, but when we get them we deliver. We like to delight our clients. And our consultants really know their stuff. Because of that we have great client references, for which we’re grateful.

Biography

Evan Levy is a partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting. Evan has spent his career leading both practitioners and executives in delivering a range of IT solutions. In addition to his executive management responsibilities at Baseline, he regularly oversees high-profile systems integration projects for key clients such as Charles Schwab, Verizon, State of Michigan, and CheckFree.

Evan also advises software vendors in the areas of product planning, and continues to counsel the executive and investment communities in applying advanced technologies to key business initiatives. Evan has been known to shave off his beard on a bet. He can whistle most of the songs in the Sesame Street oeuvre, has a thing for silicone kitchen implements, and helped design the data warehouse at one of those superstores that is inevitably coming to a neighborhood near you.

Author

Evan writes frequently for leading industry publications, focusing on the financial payback of IT investments, architectural best practices, and data integration alternatives. He is a regular online contributor to DMReview.com and SearchDataManagement.com.

Evan is also co-author of the book, Customer Data Integration (John Wiley and Sons, 2006), which describes the business breakthroughs achieved with integrated customer data, and explains how to make CDI work. Evan also writes a regular blog for Baseline http://www.evanjlevy.com/

Industry Leader

Evan has been a thought leader at major industry and vendor conferences, including the American Marketing Association, DAMA International, MDM Summit, MDM Insight, and TechTarget conferences. He is a faculty member of TDWI and delivers regular presentations on data integration alternatives. Recent seminars have focused on the application of emerging technologies and use cases for master data management and data integration solutions.

Baseline Consulting, an acknowledged leader in information design and deployment, helps companies enhance the value of their enterprise data, improve business performance, and achieve self-sufficiency in managing data as a corporate asset. Baseline provides business consulting and technical implementation services in four practice areas: Data Warehousing, Data Integration, Business Analytics, and Data Governance. Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Baseline changes how companies leverage information. To learn more, visit Baseline’s website at www.baseline-consulting.com.


2 Comments

  1. As an MDM Professional Services consultant – specialising in helping client identify their MDM needs – I found the points made fascinating.

    Many thanks for posting this.
    Graham Charters

  2. Suzanne Gilly says:

    When you use the phrase “labor shortage” or “skills shortage” you’re speaking in a sentence fragment. What you actually mean to say is: “There is a labor shortage at the salary level I’m willing to pay.” That statement is the correct phrase; the complete sentence and the intellectually honest statement.

    Employers speak about shortages as though they represent some absolute, readily identifiable lack of desirable services. Price is rarely accorded its proper importance in their discussion.

    If you start raising wages and improving working conditions, and continue doing so, you’ll solve your shortage and will have people lining up around the block to work for you even if you need to have huge piles of steaming manure hand-scooped on a blazing summer afternoon.

    Re: Shortage caused by employees retiring out of the workforce: With the majority of retirement accounts down about 50% or more, most people entering retirement age are working well into their sunset years. So, you won’t be getting a worker shortage anytime soon due to retirees exiting the workforce.

    Okay, fine. Some specialized jobs require training and/or certification, again, the solution is higher wages and improved benefits. People will self-fund their re-education so that they can enter the industry in a work-ready state. The attractive wages, working conditions and career prospects of technology during the 1980’s and 1990’s was a prime example of people’s willingness to self-fund their own career re-education.

    There is never enough of any good or service to satisfy all wants or desires. A buyer, or employer, must give up something to get something. They must pay the market price and forego whatever else he could have for the same price. The forces of supply and demand determine these prices — and the price of a skilled workman is no exception. The buyer can take it or leave it. However, those who choose to leave it (because of lack of funds or personal preference) must not cry shortage. The good is available at the market price. All goods and services are scarce, but scarcity and shortages are by no means synonymous. Scarcity is a regrettable and unavoidable fact.

    Shortages are purely a function of price. The only way in which a shortage has existed, or ever will exist, is in cases where the “going price” has been held below the market-clearing price.

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