Interview Evan Levy Baseline Consulting

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.

Interview Timo Elliott SAP

Here is an interview with Timo Elliott, Senior Product Director SAP Business Objects.

Ajay- Describe your career in science from school to Senior Director in SAP to blogger/speaker. How do you think we can convince students of the benefits of learning science and maths.

Timo- I studied economics with statistics in the UK, but I had always been a closet geek and had dabbled with computers ever since I was a kid, starting with Z80 assembler code. I started my career doing low-level computer consulting in Hong Kong, and worked on a series of basic business intelligence projects at Shell in New Zealand, cobbling together a solution based on a mainframe HR system, floppy-disk transfers, and Lotus 1-2-3 macros. When I returned to Europe, I stumbled across a small French startup that provided exactly the “decision support systems” that I had been looking for, and enthusiastically joined the company.

Over the last eighteen years, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies around the world on their BI strategy and my job today is to help evangelize what works and what doesn’t, to help organizations avoid the mistakes that others have made.

When it comes to BI initiatives, I see the results of one fundamental problem almost on a daily basis: 75% of project success depends on people, process, organization, culture, and leadership, but we typically spend 92% of our time on data and technology.

BI is NOT about technology – it’s about helping people do their jobs. So when it comes to education, we need to teach our technologists more about people, not science!

Ajay- You were the 8th employee of SAP Business Objects. What are the key turning points or transition stages in the BI industry that you remember seeing in the past 18 years, and how has SAP Business objects responded to them.

Timo- Executive information systems and multidimensional databases have been around since at least the 1970s, but modern business intelligence dates from the early 1990s, driven by the widespread use of relational databases, graphical user interfaces, and the invention of the “semantic layer”, pioneered by BusinessObjects, that separated business terms from technical logic. For the first time, non-expert business people had self-service access to data.

This was followed by a period of rapid expansion, as leading vendors combined reporting, multidimensional, and dashboard approaches into fully-fledged suites. During this period, BusinessObjects acquired a series of related technology companies to complete the existing offer (such as the leader in operational reporting, Crystal Reports) and extend into enterprise information management and financial performance management.

Finally, the theme of the last few years has clearly been consolidation – according to Gartner, the top four “megavendors” (SAP, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle) now make up almost two-thirds of the market, and accounted for fully 83% of the growth since last year. Perhaps as a result, user deployments are accelerating, with usage growth rates doubling last year.

Ajay- How do you think Business Intelligence would be affected by the following

a) Predictive Analytics.

Timo- Predictive analytics has been the “next big thing in BI” for at least a decade. It has been extremely important in some key areas, such as fraud detection, but the dream of “no longer managing by looking out of the rear-view mirror” has proved hard to achieve, notably because business conditions are forever changing.

We offer predictive analytics with our Predictive Workbench product – but I think the real opportunity for this technology in the future is “power analytics”, rather than “prediction”. For example, helping business people automatically cluster similar values, spot outliers, determine causal factors, and detect trend inflection points, using the data that they already have access to with traditional BI.

b) Cloud Computing.

Timo- In terms of architecture, it’s clearly not about on-demand OR on-premise: it’s about having a flexible approach that combines both approaches. You can compare information to money: today, we tend to keep our money in the bank rather than under our own mattress, because it’s safer, more convenient, and more cost-efficient. At the same time, there are situations where the convenience of cash is still essential.

Companies should be able to choose a BI strategy, and decide how to deploy it later. This is what we offer with our BI on-demand solutions, which use the same technology as on-premise. You can start to build on-premise and move it to on-demand, or vice-versa, or have a mix of both.

In terms of data, “cloud intelligence” is still a work in progress. As with modern financial instruments, we can expect to see the growth of new information services, such as our “information on-demand” product that provide data feeds from Reuters, Thompson Financial, and other providers to augment internal information systems. Looking further into the future, we can imagine new information marketplaces that would pay us “interest” to store our data in the cloud, where it can be adapted, aggregated and sold to others.

c) Social Media.

Timo- Conversations and collaboration are an essential part of effective business intelligence. We often talk about the notion of a “single view of the truth” in this industry, but that’s like saying we can have “a single view of politics” – while it’s vital to try to give everybody access to the same data, there will always be plenty of room for interpretation and discussion. BI platforms need to support this collaborative decision-making.

In particular, there are many, many studies that show up our all-too-human limitations when it comes to analyzing data. For example, did you know that children with bigger feet have better handwriting?

It’s absolutely true — because the children are older! Mixing up correlation and causality is a common issue in business intelligence, and one answer to the problem is to add more people: the more reviewers there are of the decision-making process, the better the decisions will be.

Analysis is also critical to the development of social media, such as analyzing sentiment trends in Twitter — a functionality we offer with SAP CRM — or tracking social communities. For example, Jive, the leader in Enterprise 2.0 platforms, offers our BI products as part of their solution, to help their customers analyze and optimize use of the system. Administrators can track if usage is trailing off in a particular department, for example.

d) Social Network Analysis.

Timo- Over the last twenty years, partly as a result of extensive automation of operational tasks with systems such as SAP, there’s has been a huge shift from “routine” to “non-routine” work. Today, fully 90% of business users say that their work involves decision making, problem solving, and the creation of new analysis and insight.

To help support this new creativity, organizations are becoming more porous as we work closer with our ecosystem of customers, partners, and suppliers, and we work in ever-more matrixed environments and cross-functional teams.

We’ve developed a Social Network Analyzer prototype that combines BI and social networking to create a “single view of relationships”. It can gather information from multiple different systems, such as HR, CRM, email distribution lists, project teams, Twitter, etc., to create a multi-layered view of how people are connected, across and beyond the enterprise. For more information, see the SAP Web 2.0 blog post, and you can try it yourself on our ondemand.com web site.

Ajay- What is the area that SAP BusinessObjects is very good at (strength). What are the key areas that you are currently seeking to improve ( opportunities)

Timo- Companies evaluating BI solutions should look at four things: product functionality for their users’ needs, fit with the overall IT architecture, the vendor’s reputation and ecosystem, and (of course) price. SAP BusinessObjects is the clear leader in the BI industry, and I’d say that SAP BusinessObjects has the best overall solution if you’re a large organization (or looking to become one) with a variety of user needs, multiple data sources, and a heterogeneous IT infrastructure.

In terms of opportunities, we have high expectations for new interfaces for casual users, and in-memory processing, which we have combined in our SAP BusinessObjects Explorer product. Initial customer feedback has been excellent, with quotes such as “finding information is as easy as using the internet” and “if you can use a computer, you can use Explorer”.

In terms of future directions, we’re taking a very transparent, Web 2.0 approach. The SAP Business Objects innovation center is modeled on Google Labs and we share our prototypes (including the Social Network Analyzer mentioned above) with anybody who’s interested, and let our customers give us early feedback on what directions we should go.

Ajay- What does Timo Elliott do for work life balance when not writing, talking, and evangelizing about Business Intelligence?

Timo- I’m a keen amateur photographer – see www.timoelliott.com/personal for more!

Biography- http://timoelliott.com/blog/about

Timo Elliott is Senior Director of Strategic Marketing for SAP BusinessObjects. For the last twenty years he has been a thought leader and conference speaker in business intelligence and performance management.

A popular and engaging speaker, Elliott presents regularly to IT and business audiences at international conferences, drawing on his experience working with enterprise customers around the globe. Topics include the latest developments in BI/PM technology, how best to suceed with BI/PM projects, and future trends in the industry. 

Prior to Business Objects, Elliott was a computer consultant in Hong Kong and led analytics projects for Shell in New Zealand. He holds a first-class honors degree in Economics with Statistics from Bristol University, England.

Additional websites: http://www.sapweb20.com —  web 2.0 technology by, with, and at SAP

Email: telliott@timoelliott.com or timo.elliott@sap.com

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/timoelliott

Twitter: http://twitter.com/timoelliott

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/timoelliott/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Timo-Elliott/544744135

For an earlier interview with Oracle Data Mining Product Management, Charlie Berger see https://decisionstats.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/oracle/

Interview Neil Raden Founder of Hired Brains Inc

Here is an interview with one terrific person who has always inspired my writing ( or atleast my attempts to write) on data and systems. Neil Raden is a giant in the publishing and consulting space for business intelligence ,analytics, and decision management. In a nice interview Neil talks of his passion for his work, his prolific authoring of white papers, his seminal work with James Taylor and how he sees the BI space evolve.

The history of BI pretty much follows the history of computing platforms. First we had time-sharing, then mainframes, then mini’s, then client-server vs. PC, then a number passes at distributed computing, such as CORBA, then SOA and now the cloud.- Neil Raden


Ajay- Describe your career in math and technology and your current activities. How would you explain what you do for a living to a group of high school students who are wondering to take up mathematical and technical subjects or not.

Neil- I didn’t earn a dime at the career I was meant for, consulting, until I was 33 years old. So I would tell college students not to be in such a hurry to corner themselves into a career. It may take a while to figure out what you really want.

Though I went to college to study theatre, within a few weeks I was inspired by a math professor and switched my major. From that point on, it was pads of paper and sharp pencils. I was totally in my own head with math. I never took a statistics course, or even differential equations, because I was consumed by discrete math (graph theory too), topology and logic and later game theory/economics.

When I went looking for a job in 1974, in the midst of a deep recession, I was confronted with the stark reality (in New York ) that I could be a COBOL programmer or an actuary. I chose the latter. Working at AIG in New York in the 70’s was pretty exciting. We broke new ground in commercial property and casualty insurance and reinsurance every week. I was part of a small R&D group under the chief actuary, who reported directed to Maurice Greenberg, the legendary (but now maligned) inventor of AIG, and I loved the work.

I had to go back and teach myself probability and statistics to get through the exams, but ultimately, two kids and one on the way in NYC on one not-so-great salary was a deal-breaker. I left AIG and joined a software company doing modeling and prediction. The rest, as they say, is history. I formed my own consulting company in 1985 and I’m still at it.

To me, consulting isn’t something you do between jobs or a title you get because you implement software for clients. Consulting is a craft, it’s a career and it is rather easy to do but very difficult to learn. I work very hard to teach this to people who work for me. It’s about commitment, hard work and, most of all, ethics and being authentic with your client.

Ajay- Writing books is a lonely yet rewarding work. Could you briefly elucidate on your recent book, Smart (Enough) Systems?

Neil- I have to credit my partner, James Taylor, with the concept for the book. He was working at Fair Isaac (now FICO) at the time and this was exactly what he was doing there. It was a little tangential to my work, but when James approached me, he said he wanted a partner who was proficient in the data integration and analytics aspects of EDM (Enterprise Decision Management).

James made it pretty easy because

1) he is very prolific and 2) he took most of my comments and integrated them without argument.

I’d say I was pretty lucky and it went very well. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book. I suppose I won’t know until the idea hits me. I’m sure it will be more difficult doing it on my own.

Ajay- What are the various stages that you have seen the BI industry go through. What are the next few years going to bring to us-

What is your wishlist for changes the industry makes for better customer ROI.

Neil- The history of BI pretty much follows the history of computing platforms. First we had time-sharing, then mainframes, then mini’s, then client-server vs. PC, then a number passes at distributed computing, such as CORBA, then SOA and now the cloud. But while the locus of BI storage, computing and presentation has changed, it’s focus changes very slowly.

Historically, there have been two major subject areas in BI: f inance and sales/marketing, All of the other subject areas still rest on periphery.

Complex Event Processing ( CEP ) for example, is making a lot of noise lately , but not much implementation. Visualization is here to stay . When the BI app and the Web a pp are the same, BI will be everywhere, but it will be a sort of pyrrhic victory because it won’t be recognized as such. Now you can take all of this with a grain of salt because I don’t really follow the industry per se, I’m more interested in how my clients can apply the technology to get the results they need.

Ajay- There is a lot of buzz about predictive analytics lately. Do you think it will have a noticeable impact or is it just the latest thing?

Neil- There are only so many people who understand quant itative meth ods and it isn’t going to grow very much. This puts a damper on PA (Predictive Analytics) because no manager is going to act on the recommendations of a black box without an articulate quant who can explain the methodology and the limits of its precision.

That isn’t a bad thing, and those who practice in predictive analytics will prosper.

On the other hand, I believe there will be an expansion of the use of generic PA models that have been vetted in practice. The FICO score is a good example, and the ability to develop and implement these applications (it’s much easier now thanks to PA software and computing environments in general) should allow for a nice market to develop around them. This is especially true with decision automation systems, like logistics, material handling, credit authorization, etc.

Ajay- What were your most interesting projects as an implementer? Most rewarding?

Neil- Most Interesting: I was the Chairman of an Advisory Board at Sandia National Laboratories for a few years.Our goal was to encourage the lab to adopt more modern and effective information management tools for their dual purpose of

1) designing and manufacturing nuclear weapons (frightening isn’t it?) and

2) certification of nuclear waste repositories.

I was able to work with scientists, physicists, engineers, geologists and computer sciences, all from backgrounds very different from those I normally engaged. The problems were monumental.

Most rewarding: We developed a data warehouse to capture the daily sales of products at the most detailed level for a cosmetics company. They never had this information before because the retailers were counters in hundreds of department stores. Thus they were able for the first time to truly understand the “sell through” of their products. Beyond just allowing a better understanding of the flow, they could tailor their promotions and, not much later, implement a continuous replenishment system.

The president of the company came to the launch and explained how we had allowed the company to do things it had never done before which would change it for the better. You don’t get those accolades from the CEO very often.

Ajay- You’ve written forty white papers. That’s a lot. What impact do you think they’ve had?

Neil- I couldn’t tell you. I don’t track downloads, my website doesn’t even require registration. I don’t see them quoted or cited very often, but then, people don’t quote or cite other’s work in this field very often anyway. I can say that I have many repeat customers among the vendors, so they must be deriving some value from them.

Ajay- What are your views on creating a community for the top 100 BI analysts in the world – a bit like a Reuters or a partnership firm. How pleased do you think will BI vendors be by this.

Neil- I was actually involved in an effort like this about a dozen years ago, called BI Alliance . Doug Hackney and I started it, and we had about a dozen BI luminaries in the organization. I’ll try to remember some: Sid Adelman, David Marco, Richard Winter, David Foote, Herb Edelstein.

You could only join if you were an independent or the head of your own firm.

It was a useful marketing tool as we were able to 1) share references and 2) staff projects. But it sort of lost its inertia after a few years.

But a few hundred BI analysts? Are there that many?? LOL I don’t know how the vendors would react, but I sort of doubt this sort of organization would have any kind of clout – too many divergent opinions.

Ajay- Do you think the work you do matters?

Neil- It certainly has an economic impact on my family! LOL I don’t know, I hope it does and proportionate to my income versus the size of the industry, yes, I guess it does. Not necessarily directly though .

A company in Dayton or Macon doesn’t make a decision because I said so, but I think I do influence some analysts and vendor s a nd to the extent I influence them, then I guess I do . I limit my analysis to my clients. If they think this work matters, then it does.

Biography-

Neil Raden, consultant, analyst and author is followed by technology providers, consultants and even other analysts. His knowledge of the analytical applications is the result of thirty years of intensive work. He is the founder of Hired Brains, a research and advisory firm in Santa Barbara, CA, offering research and analysis services to technology providers as well as providing consulting and implementation services. Mr. Raden began his career as a casualty actuary with AIG before moving into software engineering and consulting in the application of analytics in fields as diverse as health care to nuclear waste management to cosmetics marketing. His blog can be found at intelligententerprise.com/experts/raden/. He is the author of dozens articles and white papers and he has has contributed to numerous books and is the co-author of “Smart (Enough) Systems” (Prentice Hall, 2007) with James Taylor. nraden@hiredbrains.com

Alternatively you can just follow Neil Raden at his twitter id neilraden

Interview Merv Adrian IT Market Strategy

An interview with renowned technology analyst Merv Adrian is as follows. Mr Adrian has spent three decades in IT industry and has also served as SVP at Forrester Research, and now is founder of IT Market Strategy. Merv talks on his views on technology and how he sees the next big tech trends coming.

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Ajay- Describe your career in science and technology. What do you think is the best thing that science careers offer to people.

Merv- I wouldn’t characterize myself as having worked in science – even computer science implies a direction quite different from my own. I began as a statistician, and after getting the opportunity to learn some computer skills, spent a number of years coding a variety of decision support and data integration programs. I joined the software industry as a technical journal editor, and held a variety of marketing, strategy and analyst relations positions before beoming an industry analyst.

Ajay-  With your background in finance, how do you think the next generation of financial reporting systems should be built for early warning signals of crisis. Due to think predictive analytics can play a bigger role than just traditional reporting and metric aggregation.

Merv- We’re already seeing greater specialization in financial applications that provide context: an understanding of the industry the firm is in, and its special requirements for industry standards, compliance, etc. This added specific depth and breadth, combined with increasing sophistication in pre-built models for predictive analytics and access to hitherto unavailable volumes of historical data, will extend the reach of applications used by financial professionals. Guided analysis and advanced visualization will make more sophisticated tools available and understandable, promoting more awareness of impending problems and recommending courses of action.

Ajay- What tips would you like to give to aspiring analysts or science journalists and bloggers. What are the top 5 things do’s /don’ts that you refer to while writing a report or analysis.

Merv-

* Never stop learning, and never assume you know enough. Be humble enough to acknowledge that the person you talk to may have something to teach you – and ask about anything you hear that you don’t understand.

* Remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, how can you decide what matters to them?

* Explain why what you’re saying matters, and to whom. Don’t assume your readers know.

* Be clear about what is new or changed. If it’s business as usual, there should be a good reason to write about it – maybe change was expected but is slow in coming.

* Acknowledge your sources and collaborators. Be generous with credit.

Ajay- Recently some BI Analyst firms saw the departure of star analysts to found their own firm. How do you think tech companies can manage the retention of talented people especially those who become a bigger brand than they were originally supposed to.

Merv- I’m assuming you want the response to refer to analyst firms. “Bigger than they were originally supposed to” is not an accurate way to describe the sitution.

Analyst firms don’t put a ceiling on their employees’ brand building; quite the contrary. They train them, give them a platform, and sustain them as they do so. Nonetheless, the firm’s brand, not the individual analyst’s brand, is what matters to them.

In general, the big ones don’t care about retaining people. They believe they can easily replace them, and history shows that they recover well from such departures.

Ajay- What incentives apart from the usual financial ones can help build a culture of intrapreneurship in which employees help build startups within the parent firm.

Merv- You can’t leave finances out of it. The business model that has been shown to work for intrapreneurs is partnership, where the partners share significantly in successful practices they build and deliver.

In consulting firms, if you build a practice, you benefit from its success. Analyst firms are increasingly making consulting part of the analyst job description, but the big ones have not made any moves to institute a partner-style model. So to your point, those who build their own brand successfully are likely to leave.

They become entrepreneurs, not intrapreneurs.

Ajay- What are your views on the next 12 months in terms of technology and BI industry dynamics. What is your wishlist- the top three things that you wish happen in the field of technology.

Merv-

* We’re entering a period of great ferment in data management as a set of upstarts has had early success with specialized analytic database platforms. As spending rebounds, most will see their momentum continue. Several have new funding, strong management teams, and early successes to build on.

* The rest of BI will see similar expansion. BI is a perennial growth market and it’s not about to slow down – predictive analytics, advanced visualization, more spohisticated and widespread use of text analytics, and the movement to SaaS models will play a role.

* True analytic applications, as described above in a financial context, will also continue their momentum. You’ll see them in other places, from manufacturing to retail, as micro-verticalization and the proliferation of templated best business practice models roll out form the largest players.

Those are both predictions and a wish list – they move us closer to delivering on the promise of having computing power help us improve business results. There are many more changes coming in packaging, licensing, the emergence of dramatically more powerful hardware platforms – but that’s business as usual. The aging server population will need replacement, and the rebound will be substantial, hastening the generational shift. And a skills shortage will re-accelerate the growth of offshoring. The next decade will be transformational in many ways.

Ajay- How does Merv Adrian balance his work and home life? How important is work life balance in this profession and do you think younger analysts sometimes dont pay attention to it.

Merv- As a manager, I always did my best to remind analysts working for me to leave time for the things that define us a humans – family, friends and faith. What we leave behind will be there, not in our reports, no matter how good they are. We all find ourselves consumed by our work, and social media exacerbates the situation unless we build in ways to be human too.

Youth will always be in a hurry, but the natural maturation process usually works out fine. Where I see balance begin to reassert itself is usually in the family – when your kids arrive, you must stop and remember to be there for them. You mustn’t delegate that one – nobody has ever looked back at their life and said “I wish I had spent less time with my kids.”

Thanks for asking, Ajay. My final thought is that all this guidance is aspirational; I struggle for balance every day. Sometimes I do pretty well at it,and often I fall short. I try to keep my values firmly in mind and strive to live up to them, as we all do.

Analyst and consultant Merv Adrian founded IT Market Strategy after three decades in the IT industry. During his tenure as Senior Vice President at Forrester Research, he was responsible for all of Forrester’s technology research, and covered the software industry. Earlier, as Vice President at Giga Information Group, Merv focused on facilitating collaborative research and covered data management and middleware. Prior to becoming an analyst, Merv was Senior Director, Strategic Marketing at Sybase, where he also held director positions in data warehouse marketing and analyst relations

For more on Merv’s views you can go here

Merv’s B-Eye Network channel at http://www.b-eye-network.com/channels/5097/
Blog: http://mervadrian.wordpress.com
Twitter: merv

Interview Sarah Burnett BI Analyst,Ovum group

Here is an interview with the terrific Sarah Burnett, well known BI analyst at Ovum Group.

sarah

Ajay- Describe your career in science. How do you think science careers can be made more popular to young students.


Sarah-
Other than a little time in electronics engineering, I have spent all my career in the computer industry. Science degrees give you the kind of training and credentials that you need for a good start in the world of work. There are many jobs in the applied sciences domain e.g. electronics and computer science, but science graduates get into a number of other fields e.g. the financial markets. We are having a crisis in science education here in the UK where a number of good universities have had to close some of their science departments. This is primarily due to the lack of students. The trouble is that science is not considered to be “cool” amongst the would be students. I believe the way to tackle this is by making science more interesting at school to inspire young people to take it up in tertiary education. Without science and innovation we will be on a slippery slope to economic decline. TV and the media in general do not help with their constant portrayal of scientists as geeks. Perhaps we should find a couple of good looking scientists to promote in the media to compete for the attention of young people against celebrities. Do you know any Brad Pitt look alike scientists?

Ajay- I feel the Business Intelligence world is overwhelming male in terms of statistics. Do you agree- what makes BI and data mining a not so attractive career traditionally for women.

Sarah- I agree. I think it reflects the general trends in the take up of science and mathematics by girls at university and also the number of women in management positions. Whatever we do to increase the number of women in those areas is likely to have an effect on the number of women in BI. My view is that we need to make subjects such as statistics more appealing and relevant to girls at school. I believe we can do that by teaching analysis of trends in some weird and wonderful topics with some funny facts thrown in to make it fun. I also think that women tend to be less confident than men in trying technical or scientific subjects. Again, I do not think that the culture of celebrity helps. It puts pressure on girls for the wrong reasons and discourages them from pusuing some worthwhile careers.

Ajay- What are your views on Government spending to be measured by Business Intelligence tools the same way as corporate spending is measured by it. Do you think that some of the stimulus package to shore up failing banks was big enough to educate every high school graduate through college ( in both UK and the US)

Sarah- I am a proponent of BI in public sector and have written articles and blogged about it. There are many examples of Government bodies getting into financial or capacity difficulties due to the lack of good data and actionable information. BI can be applied at departmental level to improve departmental outcomes and services. BI at multi-agency level can help make the customer/citizen’s journey a positive experience through the maze of public services and help with efficiency targets. The trouble is bringing data together from multiple-agencies within legal frameworks such as the Data Protection Act in the UK and also without losing the trust of voters that the data is not being shared amongst Government bodies for some sinister reason.

Ajay- If you can not measure it, you cannot manage it. Do you think measuring carbon footprint of organizations is the first step to managing environmental fallout. How can IT help make the world greener?

Sarah- Yes, it is a start but like any other performance measure, it has to be linked to strategic objectives and the findings have to be acted upon in order to reduce the environmental fall out and towards achieving objectives. IT can play a number of different parts in this: automate the necessary processes, capture data and then enable the measuring, monitoring and reporting part of the initiative. IT of course has to put its own house in order to become a sustainable service that helps with the overall green objectives.

Ajay- Increasing number of personal data is now available on the web about consumers, just as financial records are available from credit bureaus. How long do you think will it take for software to catch up in text mining for propensity to buy, or risk behaviour by adding this social media data to traditional data sources.

Sarah- I do not believe it will take long at all. Text analytics solutions can be trained and put to analyse the sort of information that you are interested in. Of course where personal information is concerned legal requirements have to be complied with.

Ajay- What are your views on social network analysis and how it can help BI measurement and predictive analytics.

Sarah- It is an interesting and developing area that can augment BI. From an analysis point of view, I think it is important to validate the source and the accuracy of information and to give it some kind of relevance and quality mark. The information must then be treated in accordance to its mark so that pointless hype can be eliminated. Although, in some cases hype might matter e.g. we need to understand if it is likely to affect our business. For that, we need to predict when hype or word of mouth can rapidly spread through a social network. The network itself can provide some information revealing its influencer/follower relationships so that hype can be predicted by what the influencers are saying.

Ajay- What are the biggest, most common mistakes you see in implementation of Information technology strategy.


Sarah-
My answer to that question could take several pages and I speak from bitter experience. For now lets just mention a few examples: Trying to do things too fast, not gaining end-user buy-in or input, lack of communication, failing to appreciate the extent of skills requirements and supposedly cutting costs by avoiding consultants, not enough hand-holding of end-users on roll out and so on.

Ajay- What do you do while not working or writing to relax. How important is the work-life balance for analysts.

Sarah- Pilates keeps me sane during the week. Other times I enjoy playing sports and doing leisure activities with my family and friends. Work/life balance is very important to me – so much so that I took a break from corporate life during a peak in my career to raise a family and have never regretted it. Many years ago I read a poem by Nadine Stair called “Afterwords: If I could live it over….”. The best line says “If I had to live my life over again I would eat more ice cream”. Joking apart, I do not want to be old and regretting all the things that I have not done.

Sarah Burnett is a Senior Analyst with Ovum. An experienced analyst and consultant, Sarah has worked in a variety of IT roles over the last twenty years including software development, programme management and project management. She provides analysis and thought leadership on Business Intelligence software and market; she also provides expert analysis of public sector IT developments and trends. Sarah is a regular contributor to the company’s monthly journals providing articles as well as writing a monthly column on public sector IT. She is a regular speaker at conferences and provides personalised advice and consultancy to Ovum clients.

Biography-

Since joining the Ovum-Butler organisation three years ago, Sarah has co-authored a number of in-depth reports and recently led the research and production of the Business Intelligence (Corporate Performance Management) report.

Sarah holds a BSc in Physics and Electronics as well as an MSc in Applied Optics. She has Prince2 practitioner qualifications and is a member of the British Computer Society. Sarah can be found on-line on Twitter -sarahburnett- and on her own blog, Sarah Burnett’s Web Musings.

How they stack up: IDC on Business Analytics

So here is intelligent enterprise on the latest IDC rankings on Business Intelligence and Business Analytics vendors. If you ever wondered how big the bog boys were- read it at

Citation:

http://www.intelligententerprise.com/info_centers/ent_dev/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=QL4IYMWB1MSIHQE1GHPSKHWATMY32JVN?articleID=219401120

In 2008, Oracle led the overall market, followed in order by SAP, IBM, SAS and Microsoft, the report said. Rounding out the top 10 were Teradata, Fair Isaac, Informatica, Infor and MicroStrategy, respectively

and

IDC divides the business analytics software market into four primary segments: analytic applications, business intelligence tools, data warehousing platform software and spatial information analytics tools.

and

Fourth-place SAS’ broad portfolio spans all business analytics market segments and is exclusively dedicated to this market. “The company leads in the advanced analytics tools segment and is within the top two vendors in two other market segments,”IDC said.

It’s a brilliant analysis and survey. IDC and Intelligent Enterprise- thanks a tonne for letting us know.

The Top Decisionstats Articles -Part 2 Business Intelligence and Data Quality

I am self convinced novice at business intelligence. I understand the broad concepts, understand reporting tools, and definitely forecasting tools. But the whole systems view baffles me enough. Fortunately I have been learning from some of the best writers in this field. Here in order of circulation are the top Business Intelligence articles.

Business Intelligence


1) Jill Dyche

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/06/30/interview-jill-dyche-baseline-consulting/

Jill is a fabulously wise and experienced person with a great writing style. Here answers were some of the most educative I have seen in Bi writing.

2) Peter Thomas

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/07/02/peter-james-thomas-bi/

The best of British BI is epitomized by Peter Thomas, and he is truly a European giant when it comes to the field. His worst weakness is a tendency to disappear when Test cricket is around- but that is

eminently understable. I can relate to the cricket as well.

3) Karen Lopez

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/07/28/interview-karen-lopez/

Karen gives an excellent insight on creating mock ups or data models before actual implementation. She has worked on it for three decades and her wisdom is clearly visible here.

Data Quality

Data quality is such an overlooked and easy to fix issue, that I belive any BI vendor that builds the best, most robust data quality architechture will gain the maximum Pareto like benefits out of results. Curiously competing BI vendors will often compete on price, grahics appeal, etc etc, but the easy Garbage In Garbage Out rule is something they should consider. The Data Quality Interviews gave me an important tutorial in these aspects of data management.

1) Jim Harris

http://www.decisionstats.com/tag/jim-harris/

Jim is an one man army when it comes to evangelizing data quality and his OCDQ blog is widely read and cited.

2) Steve Sarsfield

http://www.decisionstats.com/2009/08/13/interview-steve-sarsfield-author-the-data-governance-imperative/

His excellent book is the one must read item that people in cost cutting corporations should buy especially if they are considering to go down the Davenport competing on analytics model.

( To be continued- Part 3 Modeling and Text Mining

Part 4 Social Media

Part 5 Humour and Poetry )

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