For the Love of Spock

A fascinating look at the actor that made an extra-terrestrial from a cancelled 1960’s TV series into a cultural icon.

For the Love of Spock is a documentary released in 2016 for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. It’s directed by Adam Nimoy, the son of the late Leonard Nimoy, who died on February 27, 2015. Because of the actor’s death, the focus of the documentary shifted from being a documentary purely about the Star Trek character Spock and his influence on society to a documentary about the actor himself and his often difficult relationship with his son.

Star Trek was cancelled shortly after I was born, so my first memories of it was it running in syndication when I got home from school. Later, I was able to see the feature films, starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

I find it fascinating that both Leonard Nimoy and Harrison Ford both wanted to kill off the characters that made them household names, Spock and Han Solo, respectively. Spock originally died at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 only to be brought back to life in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in 1984. Leonard Nimoy continued to portray the character while directing both Star Trek’s III and IV. He portrayed a much-older Spock both on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as on the big screen with JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek. It seems that Leonard Nimoy came to terms with his signature character, or at least appreciated its financial success.

Regardless of whether you love or hate Star Trek, Spock’s influence on popular culture is undeniable. The half-human, half Vulcan character inspired many well-known scientists, interviewed for this documentary, to pursue their careers. I hope you’ll check it out either on Netflix, Amazon Video, or DVD and Blu Ray.

Live long and prosper.

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