What Apple’s new Mac Pro Teaches Us About BI Power Users

Power users may be few in number but large in business impact.

Today, Apple began accepting orders for its latest computer, the Mac Pro. The new Mac Pro was unveiled last summer at Apple’s 2013 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). An unusual computer even had an unusual promotional campaign, as Apple released the following WWDC teaser video in movie theaters.

Video – 2013 WWDC Mac Pro Teaser

Apple’s computer lines are organized into “consumer” and “professional”, a practice that began in 1996 shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. A product line previously filled with a glut of overlapping offerings was simplified to just four. A consumer desktop and laptop and a professional desktop and laptop. Apple’s product lineup is an acknowledgement that consumers and professionals not only have different budgets, but different requirements as well.

Apple Product Matrix 1997 PocketNow
Image credit: Pocketnow

The new Mac Pro was created as a response to (valid) criticism that the previous model was stale and in need of an update. But at the same time, many pundits have questioned the need for a professional desktop due to the increased capability of the consumer-level iMacs.

A similar distinction exists for business intelligence users, typically organized with the terms like “casual user” and “power user” or “analyst”. As with Apple’s pro users, business intelligence power users are typically a small number of the overall user base. However, by definition, these are the people that are identifying and exploiting new business opportunities for the organization.

Power Users Need Bigger Software

Apple provides Logic Pro for professional musicians but GarageBand for home and amateur musicians. Similarly, it provides Final Cut X for professional movie makers but iMovie for home and amateur movie makers. The products are built around a common core, but the feature set is tailored for each audience.

Power users typically work with larger volumes of data than casual users. That is because they are performing analysis, looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack as opposed to running daily or month-end reports that return smaller data sets.

After years of replacing desktop software with web-based software, the pendulum is once again swinging in the other direction with software vendors providing a new breed of desktop applications known as “data discovery” software such as SAP Lumira, Tableau Desktop, and QlikView.

Regarding older tools such as Web Intelligence, organizations should give their power users with the desktop edition, the Web Intelligence Rich Client. The Rich Client offers a more responsive experience with larger data sets and can interact with local data sources such as Microsoft Excel. Because power users often work in Excel, IT organizations should make available Excel plug-ins such as Live Office or Analysis for Microsoft Office and allow users to discover which data access tool best suits their work habits. And even if you disable certain features of browser-based Web Intelligence for casual users, power users should have unrestricted access to all Web Intelligence features.

Power Users Need Bigger Hardware

Power users also need bigger and better hardware. In many organizations, I’ve seen power users struggle to use underpowered and aging “standard” desktops. Although the new breed of data discovery tools run on 32-bit Windows, power users will have a better experience if they are given fast desktops with 64-bit Windows and larger amounts of RAM (typically 4 GB or more) than the typical desktop worker. Executive sponsors and BI Competency Centers should work with desktop PC support teams to insure a second tier of more powerful desktop machine is available to their power users.

Power Users Need Enhanced Support

Lastly, power users need enhanced support. A customer ordering a Starbucks Triple Grande Skinny Vanilla Latte gets more attention from the barista than a customer that merely orders brewed coffee. Unlike a casual user’s standard routine of daily and monthly tasks, a power user’s “typical day” is often atypical, filled with special projects and short deadlines. These users need a higher level of responsive support than casual users who have fairly routine and predictable use of the BI system.

BI competency centers should be staffed with analysts that have bandwidth to address the needs of power users. In some cases, BI organizations have found that embedding and co-locating BICC staff members with users, especially power users, results in higher productivity and higher customer satisfaction for the BI system.

Conclusion

Just as Apple’s consumer-level iMacs now have performance that satisfies “pro-sumers”, today’s BI tools satisfy the needs of a broader audience than they did 10 years ago. But there will always be power users— users that are always pushing boundaries. And there will always be a need to create experiences— with software, hardware, and customer service— that make them as productive as possible.

The new Apple Mac Pro is breathtaking, both to the eye and to the wallet. But it is a serious computer for demanding users. I predict that in the coming year, the Mac Pro will the de-facto choice for product placement on television shows, movies, and software vendor demonstrations. Next year, Tableau will introduce a new version of Tableau Desktop for Mac OS. Perhaps we will see SAP Lumira on a Mac Pro at next year’s SAPPHIRE?

Video – Making the 2013 Mac Pro

What Does the Fox Say?

What does Andrew Fox have to say about dashboards?

What does the fox say?

With an ocean in between us, I’ve never met Andrew Fox in person. But it’s on my bucket list to do so.

Andrew has written some helpful insights about dashboarding. Timo Elliott found much to like in Andrew’s article, which was also cited in last week’s ASUG Weekly News Roundup.

What does Andrew Fox say? That dashboard designers need to find balance between the need for sticky- sometimes flashy- dashboards and good visual design.

In delivering easy to consume, information rich, actionable insights maximising the use of the real estate available on the consumption device you stand the greatest chance of adoption by the “floating” users.

A Hobbits Tale…  My journey in dashboards: From Flashy to Few and back again…
Andrew Fox, Pre Sales Principal at itelligence UK

There’s a lot of hard-earned insights about business intelligence and analytics on Andrew’s blog – you should bookmark it.

Andrew Fox on Social Media

Now go build some dashboards! Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!

But really- what does the fox say?

What does the Ohio University Marching 110 say?

 

Future Pack 3

The wait is finally over. The future of SAP BI is here.

The wait is finally over. On Friday, June 15, 2012, SAP released SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Future Pack 3. No, that isn’t a typo. Future Pack 3 (and its already generally available successor, Support Pack 4) is finally here. The latest iteration of SAP’s business intelligence platform isn’t intended to merely warm over your current business intelligence infrastructure but instead extend the reach of your corporate BI platform to places in the organization it could never go before.

The worst thing you could possibly do in an upgrade kickoff meeting is send your business users the message that “the upgrade will be long and painful but the charts will be prettier”. In my first article written for the EV Technologies blog, I examine three ways that you can reinvent the typical business intelligence upgrade and use SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 and Support Pack 4 to take your business into the future.

Read Future Pack 3 and Reinventing the Business Intelligence Upgrade on the EV Technologies blog.

Read Feature Pack 3, We Hardly Knew Ye

 

Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix – Part Two

Despite some missteps and a thorough hammering by technology writers and customers alike, we can still learn from Netflix.

In part one of Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix (see related article, Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix – Part One), I shared a negative lesson about what Netflix is doing “wrong”. In this post, I’d like to look at something that Netflix is doing right. I figured now would be a good time to finally finish this article since Netflix has been declared “broken” (see related CNET article, Netflix is ‘broken’ with no fix in sight) and it’s stock price is spiralling downward.

No, I’m not going to talk about pricing. And I’m not going to talk about selection. Let’s talk about accessibility. You can watch Netflix virtually anywhere. You can watch Netflix on the three popular gaming consoles: Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii. You can watch Netflix from an Internet connected HDTV or Blu Ray player. You can watch Netflix on your phone or tablet. You can watch Netflix from a dedicated television appliance like Apple TV, Roku, and Tivo.

Have you thought about all the technology required to make this possible? Ryan Lawler has and wrote an interesting article about Netflix’s innovative use of WebKit and HTML5 (see related GigaOm article, How Netflix uses WebKit and HTML5 for TV devices).

Netflix currently has three tiers of devices based on their configurations, with the lowest tier having zero animation and small cache sizes. On the top end, devices have animations, large cache sizes and frequent pre-fetching of data. According to the presentation, all devices start in the middle tier and are then throttled up or down based on performance.

What are the lessons for business intelligence? Analytics anywhere! For the past year we’ve heard SAP’s co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagermann Snabe talk about “on-premise, on-demand and on-device”.

SAP BusinessObjects can deliver business intelligence to a web browser, to an email inbox, to Microsoft Excel, to the HDTV hanging from the wall in your distribution center, or to a mobile device. But it can only do these things if enabled by you, the organizations that deploy SAP BusinessObjects.

I’ve noticed a bit of reluctance in IT organizations. Mobile? Nope, nobody has asked us for that. We’ll wait until they do and then tell our users that they’ll have to wait months for us to implement a project. Web Intelligence Desktop (formerly Rich Client)? Live Office? Nope, that’s client software. We don’t deploy that here (despite the fact that Microsoft Excel is, um, client software).

Just as Netflix doesn’t care if you own a Nintendo Wii or an Apple TV, you shouldn’t care if your users prefer browsers or spreadsheets. What you should care about is if they are basing their decision making on an accurate, single version of the truth. If your C-level executives carry iPads, you had better carry one, too.  If your users live in Microsoft Excel, decide if Web Intelligence Desktop, Live Office, Analysis edition for Microsoft Office or some combination best meets their needs. Meet your users where they live and give them a tailored experience for their preferred environment.

What steps are you taking to deploy Netflix, uh, I mean, business intelligence everywhere?  Share your thoughts below.

Read Part One of Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix

Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix – Part One

Netflix’s recent moves illustrate some fundamental lessons for BI practitioners.

“All I want to do is watch a movie.”

That was my first thought when I heard of the news to separate Netflix’s streaming content from its DVD rental business (see related Wall Street Journal article, Netflix Separates DVD and Streaming Services). I’m a latecomer to the Netflix party, having only recently put a HDTV in our home as a 2010 Christmas present. I subscribed because a coworker sung the praises of Netflix, not only for home viewing. But because movies could be streamed to a PC or tablet over hotel WiFi, a very attractive service for the road warrior. I noticed pretty quickly that I was placing movies into my streaming queue and only resorting to a DVD if the title wasn’t available to stream. So I’m definitely not excited about having two separate queues and two separate bills from two separate web sites.

Netflix is a business intelligence poster child. Much has been written in the BI trade press about Netflix and their use of predictive analytics to recommend movies, including Thomas Davenport’s book Competing on Analytics. But Netflix’s most recent moves illustrate some more fundamental lessons for business intelligence practitioners.

I agree with John Gruber (see his Daring Fireball article) that Netflix is preparing to sell either one or both halves of the company. Why else establish two distinct brands? Qwikster has neither “net” or “flix” in its name, so it’s a clear separation. Despite CEO Reed Hastings’ claims that Netflix and Qwikster will provide customers with faster innovation, the move is clearly an advantage to Netflix and a disadvantage to customers. And here lies a lesson for business intelligence teams.

“All I want to do is run my report.”

If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. But just like Netflix, corporate business intelligence can excel at erecting then rationalizing barriers to our users. We have multiple business intelligence tools from multiple vendors. Or we have multiple versions of a single business intelligence vendor’s tool. And many times there is a reason for the current state of affairs. The problem is, the advantage in our business intelligence architecture is really for us, not our users. And many times, we come up with a lame “but this is better” rationalization to our users, just like Netflix & Qwikster.

One Queue
Just like I want a single Netflix queue for both DVD and streaming video, our users want a single queue for their business intelligence. Here are three things we can do to support a user’s vision of one queue (and our vision of increasing user adoption of business intelligence).

One Business Intelligence Portal

Regardless of the number of vendors or portals in your business intelligence environment, all of them can be unified via your corporate intranet. Provide your users with a single, easy to remember web site to access all business intelligence. Want to go fancier? Many organizations have standardized on tools like Microsoft SharePoint and many business intelligence vendors, including SAP, provide integration tools for seamless integration. And yes, you should be asking yourself why your organization has three different installations and three different versions of the same vendor’s BI software.

One Help Desk

Business users need “one number” to call. Look at all of your customer touch points and eliminate complexity. Don’t require that users need to know that they have to call the Cognos team for situation A but the BusinessObjects team for situation B. Or subject them to endless finger-pointing between the reporting team, the data integration team, and the DBA team. Let your help desk software or business processes manage the complexity of getting the right help to your users.

One Governance Board

Create a single governance board for business intelligence. And a single steering committee with input from the user community. And give them authority. If your organization has three BI tools but one is the corporate standard, business process has to insure that new requirements are implemented on the standard platform. Yes, there’s short-term expediency in having Ralph deliver the solution on a three-versions-old BI tool because he has the bandwidth, but it’s really not serving the long-term interests of the organization. Wayne Eckerson has some excellent ideas about governance and steering in his book Performance Dashboards.

I’m not naive. These ideas are difficult to execute because of corporate politics, not technology barriers. So they must be championed at the management or executive level of either the IT or business organization. But there are tangible cost savings in their implementation. And tangible benefits to happy customers.

Just ask Netflix.

Or is it Qwikster? I’m confused…

Has your organization had success implementing a single queue? Share your thoughts with us.

Read Part Two of Business Intelligence Lessons from Netflix

 

 

No SAP BusinessObjects Professional Left Behind

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 training is right around the corner.

Last Thursday, SAP had a kickoff call with its SAP BusinessObjects Authorized Education Partners (AEP) regarding SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.  Historically, training materials have lagged several months behind each major release, so one of the side benefits of SAP’s ramp up process is that training materials will be ready to go on day one of general availability (GA).  I’ve been a certified trainer for nearly seven years, beginning with classic BusinessObjects 5.1, and I still approach each major release with the same combination of excitement and dread.  Excitement over new toys, but dread over new concepts and training manuals to master.

I’m focusing this post on classroom training (both in public training centers and on-site at customer sites).  In the future, I’ll discuss other options like e-Learning.

New Training Material Format

The big news for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 classroom training is the new training material format. Paper manuals have been phased out of public classrooms in favor of Adobe Digital Reader E-books. SAP has responded to customer requests for training materials that have greater portability, accessibility, and flexibility. And SAP will be able to reach its sustainability goals by having a more eco-friendly training format. In the classroom, Students will be able to toggle between the E-book (which can be annotated, bookmarked, and use desired font sizes) and the training system from the same PC. After the class, students will be able to read their E-book on their work or personal device. Printed manuals can be ordered after the class is taken for a nominal (and currently unknown) materials fee.

SAP customers that arrange for on-site training at their facilities will still have a choice between E-book and paper until the end of 2011.

New Course Offerings

As one might expect, there are new classes to support new tools.  Courses for Crystal Reports 2011 and the classic Universe Design Tool (formerly known as Universe Designer) are largely unchanged from their previous iterations.  But there are new courses for Crystal Reports Enterprise 4.0 and Information Design Tool.  And the Data Services curriculum is revised in format to reflect the integration of text analytics and other new features.

SAP Crystal Reports Enterprise 4.0
BOCE10 – Crystal Reports Enterprise : Fundamentals of Report Design (2 days)
BOCE20 – Crystal Reports Enterprise : Advanced Report Design (3 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Information Design Tool 4.0
BOID10 – Information Design Tool I (3 days)
BOID20 – Information Design Tool II (2 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Data Services
BODS10 – Data Services – Platforms & Transforms (3 days)
BODS30 – Data Services – Data Quality Management (2 days)

SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (BOX310), formerly Xcelsius 2008, is now a 2-day offering.  I always managed to get students through the previous 3-day class in around 2.5 days, so it will be interesting to see what’s changed.  The administration series (BOE310 2-day/BOE320 3-day/BOE330 4-day) have the same course titles and durations, but the Administration and Security (BOE310) and Administering Servers (BOE320) courses are supposed to have a lot of new material.  And lastly, Web Intelligence has the same course numbers and durations (BOW310 2-day and BOW320 1-day) but it’s effectively a brand new tool with a lot of new workflows.

I can’t comment on the actual course materials yet, as SAP Authorized Education Partners are not involved in the process to create SAP BusinessObjects course materials.  Keep in mind that SAP uses its own trainers for education while BusinessObjects used a combination of its own trainers and partners, a trend that has thankfully continued since the BusinessObjects acquisition.  I hope that the new BI 4.0 guides have more emphasis on hands-on activities for students, as the previous XI 3.0 manuals reduced hands-on learning in favor of instructor demonstrations.  I’m looking forward to ordering my new instructor guides when they become available at the end of the month (August 2011) and will be furiously working through them during the month of September so I can quickly get through SAP’s instructor vetting process.

Certifications

The certification process to become a SAP Certified Associate is largely unchanged, although the exams will obviously be new. New exams for Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports, and the Business Intelligence Platform (formerly BusinessObjects Enterprise) will be available on October 31, 2011. Exams for SAP BW 7.3, Business Planning and Consolidation, Financial Consolidation, and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) will be available by the end of 2011.

Conclusion

Well, that’s all I have right now.  In the meantime, check out the latest Diversified Semantic Layer podcast where Jon Reed, Sheila Ryan and myself discuss SAP education and certification with Eric Vallo, Jamie Oswald, and Greg Myers.  And take a look at my ASUG presentation on user adoption, as classroom learning is a key component but not the only component of a successful user adoption strategy.

Follow the Diversified Semantic Layer on Twitter, @DSLayered, or visit their web site.

What are your thoughts on SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 education, e-Books, and certification?

Branding Business Intelligence

Business intelligence teams can avoid being at the mercy of any vendor’s marketing team.

The lone BusinessObjects sign at SAPPHIRE 2011In a recent article, I shared my belief that SAP is phasing out the BusinessObjects brand (see Whistling Past the Brand Graveyard with BusinessObjects). A few weeks later, ASUG News included the following quote in a piece entitled “SAP BI 4.0 Launch: Still Counting Down to GA from John Schweitzer, SVP of Business Analytics for SAP North America:

As to the future of the BusinessObjects brand, Schweitzer is resolute. “The BusinessObjects brand took years to build and has a fanatical following,” he says. “We have no intention to kill it off.”

Regardless of whether the BusinessObjects brand’s days are numbered, we do know that SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 (BI4) has many new product names. For example, “BI Launch Pad” is the new name for the “InfoView” user portal (here’s a helpful SAP Community Network Wiki cross-reference for BI 4.0 names).

Business intelligence teams can avoid being at the mercy of any vendor’s marketing team by building their own business intelligence brand using these three steps.

Create Your Business Intelligence Brand

This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Don’t worry if you aren’t creative enough to create a splashy and original name like “Xcelsius” because somebody in your organization will eventually shoot it down and make you change it to something dull like “Dashboards”. Sometimes boring is good. You work for the Acme Corporation? Easy. Call your BI portal the “Acme Business Intelligence Portal”, or “Acme Business Intelligence” for short. Or maybe “Acme Analytics Portal” if the term “analytics” isn’t a loaded term (or somebody else’s turf) in your organization.

Similar branding should occur for your BusinessObjects development team, which should become the Acme Business Intelligence team. If your organization uses multiple information delivery tools or teams, present a single, unified face to the user community regardless of how your development teams are actually structured.

Implement Your Business Intelligence Brand

Once you’ve established your brand, you’ll want to implement it on your SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise server, regardless of which version you are using. I’ve blogged previously about the specific details (see related articles Customizing BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 and Customizing SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0, and Customizing SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1), but here are the high-level steps:

  1. Work with your corporate art department to create a suitable and small version of your organization’s logo to replace the default “SAP BusinessObjects” logos in InfoView or the BI Launch Pad. Just like SAP, you might want the image to be mostly text (for example, the “Acme Business Intelligence Portal” or “Acme Business Intelligence”)
  2. Modify the InfoView or the BI Launch Pad home page greeting with your own name for the BI portal.
  3. Create a modified version the default InfoView Cascading Style Sheet (style.css) that aligns with your organization’s color palate.
  4. Add a favicon.ico of your organization’s logo to the appropriate directories of the web application server to replace the default InfoView or BI Launch Pad icon.
  5. Replace any common DNS redirects like http://businessobjects.acme.com with http://businessintelligence.acme.com or http://bi.acme.com, although you might want to defer this step and its complexity until your organization adopts BI 4.

You’ll also want to read Eric Vallo’s post, “Defining a Business Intelligence Branding Strategy“.

Promote Your Business Intelligence Brand

This is probably the hardest step, but it doesn’t require much technical skill. Once you’ve created your organization’s BI brand, you need to promote it. Begin by searching your corporate intranet. Replace any links to “Business Objects” or “InfoView” with “Business Intelligence”. Be sure to look for popular abbreviations like BO, BOBJ, or BzO.

Next, look at internal user documentation.  It’s OK (and helpful) to let your users know that they are using software from BusinessObjects (take a moment to update any vendor references to SAP BusinessObjects). But there will be many references to “BusinessObjects” that should be changed to “Acme Business Intelligence” or “Acme Business Intelligence Portal”. Again, eliminate any references to InfoView.

Finally, review your customer support mechanisms such as a help desk systems and software. For example, instead of a user hearing “Press 1 for BusinessObjects”, they should hear “Press 1 for Business Intelligence, including SAP BusinessObjects”. And tickets logged into help desk software should be classified as “Business Intelligence”, not “Business Objects”.

Some of these changes can be made quietly and without fanfare. But at some point, you’ll want to promote your BI team’s new brand in your organization’s corporate newsletter and on the corporate intranet. Larger organizations usually have a change management team that can assist with the communication effort. This is your team’s big moment, so be sure to remind your readers why they need (and should love) your business intelligence team.

Conclusion

Create, Implement, and Promote your organization’s own internal business intelligence brand. Use the brand to establish a stronger connection to your user community and to reduce the impact of vendor name changes.

Has your organization created its own BI brand?  I’d love to hear your best practices.  Please share your comments.