Did you know that it is illegal to play music in some places in Boston? – More on that later.
Mister Cheap (me) arrived in Boston on a cross country red-eye, just in time to catch the first Sunday morning session of TDWI’s World Conference. (I can’t resist saving a night’s hotel and
getting cheap air fares.) Fortified with caffeine, I trundled off to an appropriate class, Jonathan Wu’s “Assessing the Financial Impact of Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing
Having done my graduate work in economics and having struggled with the ‘soft’ benefits of decision support systems in the past, I have developed an ongoing interest in various approaches to data
warehousing financials. I have attended presentations in the past where the instructor either threw out half the traditional tools for doing this sort of thing or used them incorrectly. Wu got it
right. He led us through the business of computing TVO (total value of ownership), TCO (total cost of ownership), Payback periods, ROI (return on investment), and NPV (net present value). He also
covered sensitivity analysis (probability of successful outcomes). Wu pointed out that some execs want to focus on one or maybe several of these measures and that knowing how to put together a
complete financial picture will help your case. His hands-on exercises drove home his points, and I appreciated the large motor activities during the morning after a red-eye special.
As classes drew to a close, most intelligent, travel weary conference goers would have made an early night of it. However, sometimes an evening with old friends that I rarely see except at TDWI
conferences requires that red-eye recovery be rescheduled. In the spirit of never doing what you can put off until tomorrow, I decided to put a good night’s sleep off until the next night.
TDWI had decided to focus this conference on business performance management (BPM) and it brought out one of the big guns for the Monday morning keynote, Robert Kaplan, Balanced Scorecard guru.
Kaplan and David Norton have been studying companies that have adopted the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) for over a dozen years. I have to admit that I haven’t given BPM such as the BSC much thought
other than to consider it just another application that the data warehousing team needed to support. However, Kaplan’s keynote, “Creating Strategy Focused IT Organizations with the Balanced
Scorecard”, changed my thinking.
A good Balanced Scorecard initiative is wide, deep, and dynamic. It involves four general ways of measuring the organization. They include financial, customer, internal, and learning and growth
perspectives. Kaplan stressed that all of the measures in the BSC need to be tied into the strategic direction of the organization and that everybody up and down the food chain needed to pay
attention to these measures. He then talked about a technique for identifying the right metrics through the use of strategy maps. Kaplan also explained that organizations should constantly review
their key performance measures and adjust them periodically. This sounds like it needs more than a simple dashboard application to support it. In fact, Kaplan’s presentation made me reflect on
everything we do in data warehousing from basic architecture to program management.
My guess is that a BSC initiative that has strong executive support might serve as the “killer app” for real time data warehousing if the organization doesn’t already have one. Data warehousing
programs that spawn individual projects for well defined deliverables will need to make room for a permanent team to support the BSC. This team will need to be made up of business specialists with
a technical bent as well as real time oriented development staff. This stuff goes well beyond standard ETL, basic report writing, and/or custom dash boards.
Next on my dance card was a stop at the “Business Intelligence Strategies: BPM Trends and Issues” session which included several presentations. Wayne Eckerson presented “Case Study: Integrated
Planning, Budgeting, and Scorecarding” in which he described the best practices for BPM report that he did for TDWI. I was impressed by the work that went into this study. If you are a member of
TDWI make sure and read this work.
That afternoon I attended a session that was unusual to say the least. Meg Dussault from Cognos and Robert Kaplan teamed up to talk about implementing the Balanced Score Card at Cognos. Cognos has
made a heavy investment in BPM technology and has produced a wide ranging and flexible scorecarding application, Metrics Manager. We did see the app in action, but the focus of the session was how
Cognos determined and managed to its own metrics. It gave us a view into a software company that you don’t often see. I was ready for “the pitch”, but instead we got a honest, somewhat humble,
“this is the way we are making this work for us” presentation that transcended technology. I was impressed.
Night School at TDWI is a good way to gain familiarity on a subject without devoting a day to it. Rajeev Rawat was giving a session titled “Demystifying Sarbanes-Oxley for BI Professionals” that
seemed like the right sort of subject for night school. I came away with feeling that the net for Sarbanes-Oxley or SOX compliance is that now executives are being held accountable a much higher
standard for reporting on anything that affects company performance. It looks like data warehousing and sound BI strategies will essential to meet SOX requirements.
Later that night I met Marilyn Monroe and Jack Nicholson at Firstlogic’s hospitality suite. We paused for a hug and a handshake and then I went in and had a bite to eat. Later on I played the
tables at Microsoft’s casino. What one has to do in the name of the profession…
Pat Cupoli, Kewal Dhariwal, and I met for breakfast and discussed how the CBIP (Certified Business Intelligence Specialist) exam program was going. A number of candidates were taking different part
of the CBIP exam in evening sessions and there seemed to be a lot of interest in the program. It’s something that every experienced professional should dial into his or her development plans.
Tuesday is the day that vendors open up shop at TDWI. I dropped by Information Builders to check out their reporting and analysis product, Web FOCUS. They are partnering with ESRI to do spatial
analysis and from what I have seen they have cracked the code in terms of moving back and forth between map and tabular data. Web FOCUS also has a great visualization tool that gives
non-statisticians the ability to do serious exploratory data analysis. Information Builders stresses enterprise reporting as their core strength, but they have extended their capabilities well
Later on I attended the “Business Intelligence Strategies: Panel Debate: Doing BPM the Right Way – A Discussion of Best Practices and Pitfalls” by a panel of vendors that included Business
Objects, Hyperion, Cognos, and Applix. Each of the vendors had serious BPM products, but I found that they all seemed to have different approaches from open to one-stop and from tool to application
based architectures. It became obvious to me that any team looking at BPM vendors should really understand its own strategy and resources before searching out a software vendor that is aligned with
Bill Inmon, the father of data warehousing, came to town to present a session on “Bridging the Gap between Unstructured Data and Structured Data”. Inmon is one of the most prolific writers and
foremost thinkers in data warehousing and it was interesting to see what he had to say on this subject. There seem to be two schools of information studies, one focused on tabular data (data
warehousing etc.) and the other on the web and unstructured data. The tabular school centers on architecture and the unstructured school on search engines. Inmon spent most of the morning bringing
us, the ones from the tabular/data warehousing school, up to speed on search engines and the problems of creating structure where none seems to be apparent. This issue is likely to be the next big
problem that our discipline takes on.
Wednesday afternoon is about the time when I start to feel sensory overload coming on and I asked Wayne Eckerson for suggestions on where to mellow out in Boston. He suggested the Swan Boats in a
park within walking distance of the conference. It sounded like a kids’ ride, but Wayne assured me that it was a “Boston thing to do”. He was right.
The Swan Boats are powered by a skipper who peddles up to 20 people at a time around a small lake in the park. I was enjoying a sunny leisurely ride when we came around a corner and I heard a
Djembe drummer and a Didgeridoo player laying down a meditative drone. After the Swan Boat landed, I went over to enjoy their chant. During a break we started talking. I had brought my Native
American flute with me incase I found a quite place to noodle and they asked me to join them. We had a great time and collected quite a crowd. However, after a half hour or so, one of Boston’s
finest informed us that although he liked our tunes, there was an ordinance against playing music in this park. He was mellow and we moved on. It was time for me to get back to the conference.
During breakfast, Bill Inmon delivered the Thursday Keynote, “Data Warehousing – The Road Ahead”. He and others have refined data warehousing architecture, industries have sprung up to support
data warehousing, and more than just a few of us make our living at it. So Inmon asked if this was the end of the road? Of course, he saw a number of challenges ahead for the discipline. In the
course of a very short hour he took us on a tour of growing data volumes, distributed metadata management, decision support applications, unstructured data, global warehouses, data warehouses in
government, ERP data warehouses, and the growth of mining.
During his wrap-up, Inmon observed that many vendors, especially ERP companies were starting to get data warehousing right. His implication was that if we might have dismissed their early efforts,
we should periodically re-examine our assumptions about the potential value that they can now add to our own efforts.
Later that morning, Jonathan Geiger offered a session on “Metadata Strategy in Support of Regulatory Compliance”. I went thinking, now how is Geiger going to tie these two subjects together, but
he did so artfully. When you think about it, metadata defines and locates data. As Geiger pointed out it can tell an exec where the data came from, when they were last updated, and how often they
are used. Once an exec receives an alert or questions a reading on his/her dashboard, it stands to reason that a little exploration will be in order. Metadata supplies the map. It all started to
make sense. SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley, remember?) may just energize that back burner effort to bring your metadata up to snuff!
That afternoon I caught Len Silverston’s session on “Universal Models to Successfully Integrate Government Data”. Silverston showed how to achieve integration though high level models, i.e.
customer, employee, and supplier all include attributes of person. He brings real value to the modeling discipline, but I would have liked to have had a little more time to explore the implications
of extending these models out to the actual delivery of data to end users. I have always found that there are important differences in attribution once you get into the roles that these high level
That night I mellowed out with friends at the hotel bar & grill. Ray Santisi was playing with his trio. I heard Santisi the last time I was in Boston and really enjoyed his sounds. It was a
pleasant way to wrap up the week.
Michael Gonzales was offering one of his hands-on labs. This one was on advanced analytics. Gonzales’s labs are a great way to actually work with products from various sectors of data warehousing
and BI. During this session, took products from Sagent and PolyVista for a spin. Both were impressive, but the PolyVista session really fit into one of the themes of the week. Although PolyVista is
gaining a reputation as a great tool for visualization, we checked out its text mining capabilities that morning. PolyVista can reveal patterns in semi-structured data (tabular data with comment
fields), email, and other sources of text. I can see every law office in the land hooking up with this tool. Gonzales is going to offering these sessions around the country in conjunction with TDWI
seminars in the coming year. I would plan on catching one in a city near you.
Each TDWI conference has its own special flavor. I learned more about BPM than I had expected to learn. It was a good session, and I am looking forward to San Diego in August. See you there.