Business Intelligence for everyone – Self Service BI

With more and more push on cutting cost, increasing productivity making right decisions it is becoming important that managers make information driven decisions. Most of the decisions that need to be made can be instantaneous and are often require some kind of filtering or drill down on the information in hand. Reports provided by IT are static, if there are and to get exactly what you need you might have to go through information request and there can be a big time until the requested information comes back. That is the reason there is a need for non-technical managers to have access to analytical solutions and respond to changing market situations within time.

Exploration Analytics or Data Discovery is the new wave in  Business Intelligence. The way it has been working or used to work is that IT generated reports for the end users but with desire to find more and more information to be able to cut back on waste or resources there are more and more requests for different view of same data or with slightly different data or what if this filter is applied. It will lead to lot of waste of time and resources between passing on requests between end users and IT. Which also contributes to the reason that many companies and manager still want to stick to low capable Excel.

Myth: You will give a tool to user and he can start using it in no little time like a web browser. An interesting example that I heard yesterday was of Office 2003

Now with the self service BI, the main objective is BI for everyone give data and easy to use tool to everyone and let them play with it and explore and analyze himself


  • Bring Business Intelligence information to non-technical user
  • Let business user explore and find never-realized-information
  • Create, collaborate and share information
  • Less burden on IT
  • Less time and resources spent on information

According to Aberdeen’s research, In best in class companies 81% if users have access to BI and it is 2.4 times more likely to have BI initiatives driven from Line of Business manager.

Key features to look for, in your serf service BI tool:

  • Business oriented ETL, minimal training required
  • Data connectors
  • Ease of use
  • Minimal programming
  • Customizable BI reports and dashboards templates
  • Ability to publish information
  • Easy to use prompts and filters
  • Preferably zero foot print browser based access

While small business and midsize companies would be able to serve most of their needs using tools like Qlikview, Tibco Spotfire and Tableau but big organizations with Terrabyte and Petabyte of data and already having a legacy or more enterprise and scalable BI solution in place can benefit by adding one of these self service tools or visualization and data exploration. Other data discovery tools worth considering are Advizor, Lyzasoft and Endeca.


Measuring Sales Effectiveness

I am often asked how Business Intelligence can help one’s organization measure sales channel effectiveness, sales team effectiveness, lead to sales insight and insight into sales process. This blog is dedicated to all such customers and all others interested in knowing a) why they need Sales Performance Management, b) how one can achieve it and c) what can be measured.

Lets start with a quick poll


Sales like every other department in a company wants to measure how they are doing it, why are they doing it this way, and how can they do it better. Sales managers wants to see how their reps are working and CSOs wants to see how their RMs are working, who bought how much revenue, in how much time, with how much expense incurred etc. In today’s market with never-seen-before increase in competition, no company can afford to stay on top of game.

Organizations often suffer from missed sales quota, increasing staff turnover, slower revenue growth, decreasing customer satisfaction and loyalty, slower customer acquisition, smaller sales pipeline, fewer sales per salesperson, insufficient account penetration, lost revenue opportunities, missed revenue targets, poor pipeline management and slower close rate. Auditing and verification of prospects and expected revenue often stays out of trust, sales numbers are often pumped up, and often faked many times. Declining revenue and low sales productivity, new competition, high dependencies on too few customers, dissatisfied major customer, dropping market share and growth rates below industry levels are few out of many challenges that sales organizations often face

Companies often kicks in sales training programs, hiring of more sales force, reorganization of the team and many other measures which sometime may help to solve the problem but only to a little depth prove to be a weak exit strategy. It is more important for Sales manager or CSO to know exactly what their team is up to and have a complete transparency and insight into sales operations.

Data (information) led driven initiatives and decisions could help organization understand and zero down to exact problem and guide them on the best possible measure to rectify It. Business Intelligence in sales could help organizations improve reporting, sales forecasting, provide insight into sales operations, enhance sales management capabilities.

Let’s have a look at the A2Z of sales performance and see what can be measured to know all (at least most) about sales operations and enhance sales effectiveness:

A. Sales by region, channel, product

B. Profit  by region, channel, product

C. Profit margin %  by region, channel, product

D. Pipeline by age, stage(potential lead, short list, selected, closed), type, channel

E. Wins by size, revenue, industry

F. Sales cycle for wins(prospecting, qualification, need analysis, value proposition, identify decision makers, perception analysis, proposal/ price quote, negotiation/review, closed won)

G. Lead Responsiveness

H. Average deal closing time

I. Operating cost and expenses incurred

J. After sales support revenue

K. Customers acquired (by product, branch, region, customer segment)

L. New product activation

M. Target achievement (by region, branch, customer segment, product)

N. Revenue per month (by product, branch, region, customer segment)

O. Expenses Incurred (by client, region, month, customer segment, branch)

P. Pipeline analysis (new customer analysis, stage wise aging analysis, health check for new accounts)

Q. Client satisfaction

R. Number of repeated customer

S. New customer

T. Sales forecasting (risk mitigation, predictable revenue, sales forecasting)

U. Pre mapped plan Vs. achieved results

V. Targets Vs. achieved (by product, branch, region, customer segment)

W. Lead closure ratio

X. Client meeting effectiveness

Y. Sales team analytics (customer acquisition, product sales, book growth)

Z. Sales Funnel Analysis (new opportunity, initial communication, fact finding, develop solution, propose solution, solution evaluation, negotiation, purchase order, account maintenance)

Information led decision-making could enable accurate sales forecasting, early identification of cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, insight into sales operations, faster and smarter decisions, help companies close deals faster and help increasing sales volume in a shorter period of time.

‘You can’t fix you do not measure’

-Abhinav Abhinav

First look at SiSense Prism

I have recently started to hear about Prism, which utilizes Column storage and this ‘cool’ just-in-time in-memory processing it has got. This weekend, I got a chance to play around and do some basic research on it. Here are my first few observations.



Web demo provided on their website looked neat, clear and seemed like an easy to read interface. I found Prism demo less crowded with basic colors but still very readable or as they like to call it ‘intuitive’. Seemed like an interface for efficiency or as windows phone commercials say it: Get-in, Get-out. I liked the ability to highlight, add subtotals, sort visualizations etc on the go for better understanding.

In addition to filters the ability to filter out all the visualizations based on selection on one, helps to quickly analyze and understand relationships on the go. Although for now, it seems selections made in visualizations can be changed only by clicking at a little icon that pops when you hover your mouse over that visualization. But sometimes it can be difficult to figure out where selection has been made and you would have to hover over each and every chart and click to remove selection. I have not looked much into it but it might already have another way to remove selections.


“Prism stores all the data it processes in ElasticCube data repositories, which are column-based data stores containing the unified data of all combined data sources.” 

“Prism performs all query processing on data which is loaded into memory only when it is needed for a query”. My concern to this just-in-time in-memory is the performance compromise on this addition step of loading data every time however it does mean no more compressing and loading of all data and in-memory saving tons on hardware and need to reload the whole data if there are any additions or changes in data model.

Prism’s data storage and handling is based on an “elastic data structure,” ….. Virtual data merging and multi-source data abstraction are performed automatically by the software, allowing the user to create “data mash-ups” across data from multiple sources, effortlessly.”


  • Good price-quality ratio
  • Scalability
  • Self-service, no programming or scripting (SQL scripting available if desired), drag and drop report creation
  • Query against of data files,  ODBC-compliant databases, OLAP cubes and cloud data sources
  • Column storage based, high performance central data repository
  • Zero foot print web browser-based analysis

Although it does lack the ‘sticky’ feeling and might need more visualizations to be added to stack but no doubt Sisense has thought clear and far enough to put together a tool with a solid foundation and is equipped with latest technology to handle scalability and performance.

BI – Logistics and Transportation

Supply Chain involves moving a product or a service from supplier to customer and involves activities like sourcing, procurement, conversion and logistics. Logistics deals with the management of flow of goods and services between point of origin and point of consumption. Logistics is subset of Supply chain and depends largely on Transportation of goods and products within targets. Because of asset intensiveness transportation is often outsourced to Transportation Service Providers (TSPs). Often TSPs act as LSPs Logistics service providers by providing assistance in whole operation.

Today in the world of data driven businesses and need for access to right information in right time logistics and transportation industries need query and reporting solutions to access critical business information for strategic decision making.

Business drivers in transportation include:

  1. Increasing competitiveness in market
  2. Unpredictable market trends
  3. Cost cutting
  4. Need for granular visibility into dollar spending
  5. Trends in cost and performance
  6. Root cause analysis
  7. ‘What if’ scenarios for resources

Few of the areas that BI can impact in Logistics and transportation industry are:

Some of the KPIs worth measuring are:

1. Carrier Management (planning, capacity utilization, resource utilization, load balancing)

2. Route Management (lane utilization, scheduling accuracy, line haul efficiency, and planning and deployment efficiency)

2. Terminal Management (dock productivity, vehicle load/unload time, dispatch operations, labor efficiency, carrier selection, on-time vehicle arrival, order receipt accuracy, percentage of goods damaged, damages as a % of throughput)

3. Productivity (load efficiency, on-time delivery %, average transit time, cost of transportation, empty miles)

4. Financial (Net revenue per terminal, fuel surcharge per terminal, fright bill audit, bill processing, payment service, total transportation cost as a % of delivered sales)

5. Order Analysis (order receipt time, order information accuracy, revenue per order, percent order discount, cancellations, returns, fulfillment %)

BI in Small and Mid-size Companies

Regardless of size, 80,000 or 80 employees, 2 million dollars or 2,000 million in revenue; almost every company suffers the pain on multiple versions of truth, inability to perform in-depth analysis, inability to locate important information, inability to differentiate and prioritize problems, nonalignment of operations with strategic goals and data governance issues.

Belief that mid-size companies cannot afford and handle Business Intelligence. Small and mid-size companies which do not have vast resources are inclined more towards a complete, less expensive easier, fast-to-deploy-and-administer applications. They need to be agile and quickly respond to changing market conditions

Most of Business intelligence applications targeting this sector of market offers integrated planning, reporting and analysis solution e.g. IBM Cognos Express, it targets specifically mid-size companies and provides them an integrated package consisting of Reporter(Reporting), Advisor(Visualization), Xcelerator(Excel based analysis) and Planner(Planning), Cognos express provides capabilities of both Cognos analytics and Cognos TM1. Others in the same category are SAP Business Object,  SAS etc. Some of other smaller BI vendors that target small and mid-size business market include Bitam, LogiXML, Targit and Dimensional Insight. Qlikview that held strong in mid-market until recently and now can also been seen getting adapted in much bigger enterprise environment.

Quick deployment, low-cost and ability to use  external business knowledge and technology makes SAAS also as a good option for small and midsize companies. Microstrategy, one of the largest pure BI vendor, is soon coming up with Microstrategy Cloud Intelligence offering, which is in Beta testing right now enabling its BI software platform available as a service in the cloud. Good thing about SAAS is that the vendor hosts and maintains the entire BI environment including servers, operating system, BI application and network and small and mid-size companies can enjoy the elasticity and scale their implantation if needed.

Another considerations while picking up the vendor/tool is the license cost; is it server-based or on the number of users. Which model will give you that magic number that can you afford. Low cost vendor, Logixml gives you server license independent of number of users. If your company has lot more information consumers that generators that going for vendors that does not require a client license to be able to view the reports will prove a god option for you. Many vendors have now option where reports can be published over the web, these reports can be refreshed after every certain hour and can be viewed in a web browser.

Depending on the size and type of organization they could leverage using one or more following applications:

  1. Planning Budgeting & Forecasting
    1. Planning
    2. Workforce Planning
    3. Capital Asset Planning
    4. Operational Planning
    5. Margin Planning
    6. Budgeting
    7. Services Planning
  2. Business Intelligence and Performance Management
    1. Reporting
    2. Dashboarding
    3. OLAP
    4. Data Mining
    5. Real-time Decisions
    6. Predictive Analytics
  3. Customer Relationship Management
    1. Channel Revenue Management
    2. Order Management
    3. Service
    4. Marketing
    5. Sales
    6. Partner Relationship Management
    7. Social CRM
  4. Financial Management
    1. Accounts Payable
    2. Accounts Receivable
    3. Fixed Assets
    4. Asset Lifecycle Management
    5. Cash & Treasury Management
    6. Financial Control and Reporting
    7. Financial Analytics
    8. Governance, Risk & Compliance
    9. Travel & Expense Management
    10. Treasury Management
    11. Disclosure Management
    12. Financial Close Management
    13. Financial Data Quality Management
  5. Governance, Risk and Compliance Management
    1. Financial Governor
    2. Risk Management
    3. Environmental Governance
    4. Fraud and Error Reduction
  6. Supply Chain Management
    1. Procurement Management
    2. Asset Lifecycle Management
    3. Global Trade Management
    4. Manufacturing
    5. Order Fulfillment
    6. Product Lifecycle Management
    7. Logistics
  7. Human Capital Management
    1. Human Resource
    2. Talent Management
    3. Workforce Management
    4. Workforce Service Delivery
  8. Project Portfolio Management
    1. Project Contracts
    2. Project Grants
    3. Project Billing
    4. Project Costing
    5. Project Resource Management
Please vote on the below and comment on this blog on what you think about the challenges faces by SMBs worldwide.

KPIs in Retail and Store Analytics

It was very likely that I would write on KPIs in Retail or Store Analytics since my last post on Marketing and Customer Analytics. The main motive behind retailers looking into BI is ‘customer’ and how they can quickly react to changes in customer demand, rather predict customer demand, remove wasteful spending by target marketing, exceeding customer expectation and hence improve customer retention.

I did a quick research on what companies have been using as a measure of performance in retail industry and compiled a list of KPIs that I would recommend for consideration.

Customer Analytics

Customer being the key for this industry it is important to segment customers especially for strategic campaigns and to develop relationships for maximum customer retention. Understanding customer requirements and dealing with ever-changing market conditions is the key for a retail industry to survive the competition.

  • Average order size per transaction
  • Average sales per transaction
  • Average number of items per transaction
  • Average profit per transaction
  • Number of trips per month
  • Average shopping time
  • Visit to buy ratio

Financial Analytics

Sales analytics is key to track trends in product demand and opportunities in sales. Marketing analytics can help us track effect of campaigns in sales and help us target customers and plan for promotions.

  • Total Sales
  • Gross Profit Margin
  • Price premium
  • Actual expenses
  • Total payable
  • Total receivable
  • Return on capital invested
  • Margin %
  • Markup %
  • % of revenue generated from non-house brands
  • % of profit generated from non-house brands
  • % of revenue generated from house brands
  • % of profit generated from house brands

Store Analytics

Monitoring store operations is vital to measure management efficiency and how campaigns are working regionally.

  • Sales per hour
  • Sales per labor hour
  • # of transactions per hour
  • Sales per m2
  • # of products per m2
  • Revenue/Profit per m2
  • Store conversion rate
  • % of returning customer
  • Fixed cost of opening per month
  • Variable cost of opening per hour
  • KWH per square foot
  • % of not displayed inventory
  • Average time on shelf
  • % of expired products
  • % of damaged products
  • % of returned products
  • Average # of employees
  • Wage to sales ratio
  • Average Inventory value
  • Inventory Turnover

Other areas BI can impact in retail include supplier management, budgeting, planning, supply chain, logistics, branding, social analytics, merchandise management, market analysis etc.

Making your next or current Business Intelligence initiative in your organization fail-proof by staying on top of latest Business Intelligence trends and technology and learning best practices from leaders in retail industry, and covering your bases on  are doing is the ‘key’ to avoid commonly faced challenges such as user adoption at later stages.

Marketing and Customer Analytics

Most retailers admit that they traditionally have been product-focused and know surprisingly little about their customers. Their desire for more insight into customer buying behavior has driven many to invest in business analytics solutions… The reports generated by existing tools are primarily performance summaries, great for understanding overall sales or same-store performance, but they don’t help retailers fitness their assortments and promotions to attract and retain customers“. – Report by Fact Point Group.

I have been thinking of writing on Marketing Analytics since the last round-table at BI-Exchange here in Pittsburgh, where the topic was being presented by speaker from large health and nutrition product retailer. It was interesting to listen on how they manage their customer database and use lots of email marketing for campaigning and promotions.

While email marketing and loyalty card and social media has been picking up, it is important to know how customers have been reacting to it. As recommended  in good marketing practices by Dr. Dave Schrader, Director Marketing and Strategy at Terradata,  Collect the ‘clues’ (purchases, browsing history, calls to call center, responses to marketing campaigns, survey responses etc). Then use these ‘clues’ to make customized offers.  He also emphasizes that fewer-but-relevant messages is all needed for higher conversion rate and satisfaction. So what all clues or in technical words KPIs should we be monitoring while planning or measuring success of our Marketing strategy? I think like most other BI recommendations there is no direct answer or ‘n’ KPIs that can give you an answer. It really depends on lot of different factors like company structure, presence, marketing channels etc. In some cases a lot can be achieved just by monitoring few KPIs and in others advanced tools like basket analysis or statistical techniques like predictive analytics are required for effective Marketing analytics. Some of the common KPIs that we can possibly capture or mine using all this data for planning, development, execution, management, monitoring or collectively MPM (Marketing performance measurement and management) are:

  • Response rate
  • Lead to pipeline ratio
  • Lead to closed sales ratio
  • Inquiry growth following campaign
  • Lead to pipeline conversion
  • Marketing cost per lead per segment
  • % of leads generated
  • Marketing budget ratio
  • Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI)
  • Contact rate
  • Effective reach (% of targeted-audience)
  • …etc.

What can we expect to achieve using Marketing analytics?

  • Demographical demand analysis
  • Direct Marketing
  • Lead Generation
  • Cross and Up-Sell
  • Customer Insight
  • Loyalty analysis
  • Customers buying pattern
  • Promotions effectiveness
  • Product/Service Analytics
  • Pricing and sales modeling
  • Coupon conversion percentage
  • Store conversion rate
  • …etc.

It is important to consider all the channels while running marketing analytics (Tele Marketing, Direct Mail, Emails, Trade shows, Organic Traffic, Social Media etc.).

Email Marketing is no more sending promotions or newsletter. It has rather become ‘preference driven’. Netflix and Pandora are two of my favorite examples when talking about preference driven options. Companies have similarly been using analytics on email marketing analyzing factors like what links were clicked, click to sales conversion, customer patters, cross sell etc. Some of the email campaigns that are actively used are:

  • Active Subscribers
  • Welcome campaigns
  • Preference campaigns
  • Birthday campaigns
  • Holiday campaigns
  • Special promotion campaigns
  • Reactive campaigns

Rewards Programs or Loyalty Cards are win-win for both company and customers. Credit card companies and Airlines were the first ones to start these and soon taken over by many others like car rentals, hotels, super markets, grocery chains, retailers, restaurant chains to anything, even the smallest local coffee shop or spa  in your neighborhood where you can get your nth coffee or haircut for free.  Companies can learn about purchasing patterns and cross purchasing while customer get rewarded for their loyalty to stick with the same company. Some of the KPI that can be are:

  • Conversion rate
  • Response rate
  • Time taken to reach reward
  • Rewards used

With the popularity of facebok, twitter, linkedin etc. Social Media Marketing has been picking up. You can now find your favorite airlines, bands, retailers or events like concerts or conferences  etc on these sites advertising few extra miles or discount coupon when you subscribe or ‘like’ their page. Why is it all this hype about followers on social media? These platforms are not just an interaction medium but really is a huge customer database but now the question that lies in front of everyone is how to use it. One of my favorite example from the Microstrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor at his keynote at Mircostrategy World this Feburary in Las Vegas was of I-phone/Android app by a wedding dress retailer that taps into Facebook data for relationship status changes to Engaged, send targeted customized messages with promotions and have an option to update the status for bridesmade to register at website for futher discounts on dresses. If you really think there is lot that can be done with the huge customer data that has been accumulating everyday. Some of the KPIs that can be used for social media marketing are:

  • Message reach
  • # of tweets/mentions
  • Ratio of positive comments
  • # of followers/fans
  • Links to th sites
  • Topic trends

When we talk of Marketing analytics, Customer Analytics is something that does not go untouched. Looking at customer behavior helps to make important business decision regarding direct marketing, geographic selection and CRM. In simple words, is it profitable to acquire or retain the customer or let it go. Affinity or Market Basket Analysis is one of the often asked advanced data analysis technique that is used to discover co-occurrence relationships among activities performed by specific individuals or group e.g. if you buy a certain group of items, you are more (or less) likely to buy another group of items. It can be used for cross-selling and up-selling, in addition to influencing sales promotions, loyalty programs, store design, and discount plans.

Please provide us feedback by taking the poll below and adding comment on this blog on how you are using marketing analytics within your organization.


In-memory Business Intelligence

Traditional BI technology loads data onto disk as modeled tables and multidimensional cubes, queries are then made against the tables and cubes on disk. Limitations of disk based (RDBMS or OLAP) techniques include performance limitations requiring intermediate aggregation tables, low flexibility to adapt to changing business needs, limited scope of analysis and long implementation cycles.

In-memory technology removes these steps, as data is loaded into RAM and queried in the application or database itself. This greatly increases query speed and lessens the amount of data modeling needed. Memory prices keep dropping which makes it economically viable to increase capacity for in memory processing. Faster performance on larger data sets with less data management seems like a win-win situation for the organizations.

While data warehouses guarantee integrity and provide a stable server environment for managing data, in-memory can make information accessible at the time it is needed and available to anyone who requires it.

In-memory technology is not in and of itself a driver of BI growth, despite the massive hype of many vendors. To drive adoption, in-memory must be coupled with consumer-oriented BI tools, a combination that has been at the heart of data discovery tool success. As they have been to date, in-memory capabilities will continue to be an enabling technology. They will expand BI to a broader range of users, as more and more BI vendors incorporate it into their portfolios to deliver Google-like responses in exploring vast amounts of increasingly diverse data types via intuitive, yet sophisticated and mobile BI tools and applications.“, Gartner Jan 2011.

There are few articles I would recommend reading including Top 10 technical requirements your in-memory analytics vendor by James Mandrid, What to look for from you In-Memory BI platform by Qliktech and finally my favorite from Boris Evelson, at Forrester on Not All In-Memory Analytics Tools are created equal. Another interesting article you might enjoy is by Elad Esraeli where he talks about how In-Memory is not the future, It’s the past.

Qlikview, Tibco SpotfireIBM Cognos TM1 (formerly Applix TM1), SAP BusinessObjects, MicroStrategy, Microsoft, Tableau are some of the in-memory vendors in the market. Personally I think in-memory is not the best option for scalable, multi-user BI apps. 64 bit computing on column based technologies can provide another alternative to hefty OLAP projects.

Why there is all the hype on in-memory BI?, Why it has become so fashionable?, How new and innovative it is?, Will it kill off disk based BI and the is th next breakthrough and What is the next breakthrough? Here is a link to a report on What in-memory BI ‘revolution’? by Business Application Research Center (BARC) would answer most of your questions along these lines.


Cost was much higher purchasing driver in 2010 as compared to 2009 as per Gartner’s survey showing organizations consideration to open source or low price vendors for BI deployments.

New addition to Gartner’s magic quadrant this year and such a low cost BI vendor is LogiXML, based out of Washington D.C which if I remember right used to had 1-50 employees few weeks back on their Linkedin profile, recently changed to 50-200.

LogiXML has a single sold platform and attracts smaller to mid size deployments because of their of course much smaller cost as well as ease of use, rapid deployment and embeddability. As it is quoted in the Gartner survey “It is chosen more often than most other vendors for overall TCO, license cost, and implementation cost and effort

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Microstrategy Business Intelligence

Microstrategy specializes in enterprise BI deployment and according to latest research by Gartner has the largest average deployments in terms of number of users .

Microstrategy as a company have excellent support relationship and as a product one the best performance. It is also one the early adopter of Mobile strategy and personally I think have one of the best mobile strategy and interfaces. You can check out my notes fromMicrostrategy World 2011 I attended early this year, powerful technology they are working on and Microstrategy’s vision and keynotes.

Lets have a look at Microstrategy’s enterprise solution stack

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Tibco Spotfire

Spotfire one of the easiest platforms to use this year Gartner’s survey of BI vendors, ranked second right after Tableau for interactive visualization and first for being able to support most complex types of analysis.

Real time analytic applications, ad-hoc analysis, what-of modeling, statistical and predictive analytics yet easy to use tool seems to getting popularity in the market giving ability to users to do basic to advanced analytics.

Spotfire products

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IBM Business Analytics (Cognos and SPSS)

IBM with the acquisition of Cognos (Jan 2008) and SPSS (July 2009) has definitely built a nice and a complete stack on BI offerings. They are on top in Gartner’s famous Magic Quadrantfor completeness of vision and right below Microsoft, Oracleand Microstrategyfor ability to execute.

Below is a easy-to-read-and-understand chart on IBM’s Business Analytics products. Image below can be clicked to full-size preview.

IBM Business Analytics

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IBM Cognos

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Do not forget to check out Oracle’s solution stack in my last blog. Please comment and let me know if you [ The readers of the blog :-)] would like explanation or comparison on any of their products.

Oracle Offerings

When I first looked at Oracle website couple years ago, it was not that bad, but with all the aggressive acquisitions over last couple of years and continuous addition to their solution stack, it can get little difficult to find what all you can do or find the right solution for you.

For sake of my understanding, I have created a Mind Map and it keep it easy for me to browse or show it my clients while working on ‘BI Readiness’.

(Images below can be clicked for actual-size display for readability)

Oracle Databases

Oracle Solution Stack

Oracle Business Intelligence and Performance Management offerings

Do not forget to check our my last post on famous Gartner’s Magic Quadrant on BI vendors for Oracle’s positioning on the quadrant.

Garter’s BI Magic Quadrant 2011

Lets see quick highlights on what’s new this year:

Among big vendors in leader’s quadrant Both Microsoft and Microstrategy seems to have made a big leap on the chart unlike Oracle and IBM but still holding strong position on the chart as well as market.

Among data discovery vendors Tableau, Spotfire and Qliktech, Qliktech made it to the leader’s quadrant this, I would not doubt Qlikview getting high points for the best use of in-memory technology and user adoption but as given in Gartner’s report has no expansive product strategy and offers limited metadata management. Tableau with its overwhelmingly positive customer survey and strong interactive visualization for analysis has made a big jump on the quadrant but it still lacks broader BI platform capabilities. Although there are many companies that have other BI platforms in place and use Tableau on top of it for visualization.

New additions to this year’s magic quadrant are Bitam, Corda Technologies, Jaspersoft and Salient Management Company. Another tool that has been added for first time to Magic Quadrant and has been catching our eyes for quite some time is Logixml, which has lately been getting customer preference because of its low-cost offering.

Microstrategy World 2011 (keynotes)

Michael Saylor, founder and CEO of Microstrategy

Turning our civilization into software driven processes

“You might not be interested in technology but technology is interested in you”

It is an exciting time, BI is coming out of back offices and paper reports into hands

“Blockbuster went down and Netflix went up. Filing cabinet and paper trash bags went down but I-pads went up”

Michael’s keynote was definitely one of the high point at the conference. He is a visionary and will make you think. I did hear him couple other times including partner address, examples he provide and analogies he draw are just phenomenal and as I said will make you think.

New visualizations in Microstrategy mobile includes Heat maps, calendar, time series, map network visualization, embedded pdf reader, embedded web reader, RSS widget. Among all the BI competitors, Microstrategy seems to have the biggest push for mobile and as Mike quoted about I-pad “I-pad is the first device that competed with paper“.

Another discussion was on updating reports that were built long back. “Every report that was being built-in last 10-15 years is obsolete and needs to be rebuilt”. And it does make sense, it is not the same business forever, things change, market change and so do KPIs and end-user requirements. Every company should have a plan to sit back in X number of years and see what are they doing, how are they doing and why are they doing it. And if does not fit in their ‘current’ company scope, it means, its time to rebuilt it.

Another good example that Mike quoted was of a Family credit card where one can manage finances on the go using their mobile devices and allocate different settings for credit/debit cards for family members. e.g. son can only use the card within school campus, daughter can only use allocated x $ every week, every purchase wife makes over 500$ needs approval in real-time.

One of the examples that Michael quoted is a very normal day-to-day case when you request someone or specially a sales person for a document and you hear back “I will get back to you”. And what it used to 20 minutes, sending the document on email, before has now reduced to 20 seconds, point it on your mobile device and share it with contact right away does not matter if you are standing at a subway station or just met a potential client in a coffee shop.

Some of the examples Michael quoted for where mobile will be playing a big role in future were Traffic ticketing, doctor prescription and mobile payments. As he quoted “mobile transaction changes (will change) the relationship with customers

Another good example of using mobile computing was of a bar code scanner example and retail shopping. Believe it or not that is something I have myself done, went to Bestbuy last December scanned bar code of a Toshiba laptop using barcode app and did a quick search online to find the cheapest price and see if there is any online store selling it for cheaper, it was Bestbuy itself and hence I bought it for them but think if it would have not been them, I would have used Best Buy store to find my product test it and then perform a little query on my phone and with  few clicks buy the cheapest one from online retailers such as Amazon etc provided they sell it for cheaper.

But imaginations went further when Michael gave an example of a friend that walks in your door looks at your TV in your living room, likes it scans it right there, find the cheaper online store provider and have it ship it to his door next day. There would be no need to walk into store have your phone handy, scan bar code on items you like around you scan them and order online.

Sanju Bansal, COO and Co-founder of Microstrategy

Sanju Bansal, COO and co-founder of Mirostrategy presented 5 awards to different organization and individuals in different categories including Linkedin and Starbucks followed by a customer presentations. One of my favorite was the I-pad app demo presented by GAP, it was not only fully functional but aesthetically very appealing. Good part about their demo was use of pictures, if you have to select category of apparel, there will be pictures on your desktop and when you will click a picture of the model wearing a jeans, it will filter the data for jeans. It not just made the application very appealing but I bet I might be faster to scan quickly the pictures and pick what you want to select than reading through the list.

Kurt Schhgel, VP Research Gartner

User adoption – Best measure of success”. Very similar to what I heard at Sanju Bansal’s Keynote and I would second this statement any day. Does not matter what technology or tool you implement, if you can make your end users work enough on it, you will never be able to achieve the final goals. That is the same reason why new tools like qlikview and tableau have been working on what they call “sticky feeling” users have with their tool and like to work on it. I hear on twitter or Linkedin every other day when a developer or end-user says, I love working on your tool. Is is not the measure of true success ?

He also recommended the book (which he had it in his hands all the time on stage): Seeing what’s next. I am ordering my copy!

Jeffrey A. Bedell, CTO Microstrategy

“70% user running machines with less than 2GB RAM” under power machines, invest in memories, it is cheap now”

I would not disagree I face the similar problems with my customers when I hear problems about program being slow when they are trying to run applications on under powered machines. Just with a small investment of  couple hundred bucks, lot of time and efforts can be saved.

You can also find more information on my blog on Microstrategy technology and an overview of the Microstrategy world conference.

Let’s see why companies wants to go Mobile

Ease and speed of data query, that’s it! right?

Other than the fact it is mobile and you have access to data on the go, second big reason is the way we query the data. It is much simpler and faster and let see how.

Lets see what all features makes it possible:

1. Touch and Swipe

2. Bar Code Scanning

3. Spatial location

4. Geo-position

5. Bluetooth

6. Speech recognition


8.Near field communication

Instead of traditional way of querying data by writing long SQL queries on desktop is now replaced by something as simple as changing orientation of mobile device in your hands. Geo positioning can provide exact location and save another step of typing in the location and filter data based on where we are standing at the moment. Think of the app which tells you nearest bars, coffee shops and ATM where you having to type in the location. With all this built-in features of present and coming mobile devices the why we use to query data has completely changed, giving us access to instantaneous information with a touch of our figure tips.


Microstrategy World 2011 (technology)

One of the features in release 3 or Microstrategy 9.0.2 (yes it is confusing!) is the ability to use SAP BO, Microsoft Analysis Services, Oracle Essbase and Cognos TM1 as the data sources.

  1. MSTR -> OLAP BAPI’s      -> SAP BO
  2. MSTR -> XMLA Protocols -> MSAS
  3. MSTR -> XMLA Protocols  -> Hyperion Essbase
  4. MSTR -> XMLA Protocols  -> Cognos TM1

Most of these connections leverage security and authentication and automatic metadata replication.

Object Manager and Application Manager

Other new features include Object Manager and Application manager. Object allows us to manage objects such as metrics and filters, compare projects, merge projects and user profiles etc. Application manager, which is cloud aware, is another very powerful tool which allows us to design workflows using its powerful graphical workflow designer.

Application manager can be used both behind the firewall deployment and SAAS deployment. It supports:

  • Platform operations,
  • Services,
  • File operations and
  • Amazon cloud.

Also any executable file can be executed from within. It can also help to automate deployment and installations.

Another feature that should be out with the new release is Managing Governing that will help us to govern privileges by:

  • Users,
  • Applications,
  • Application types,
  • Reports,
  • Report types

Governing can be pin pointed to:

  • Change execution times
  • Users session idle times
  • Report Execution limits
  • Session creation limits

Supporting Multi Talent Applications

Security and Dialects can be implemented in a single project using Internationalization feature. It also allows us to have different tenants have access to different columns.

Microstrategy Transaction services

This new upcoming Microstrategy product will enable businesses to connect mobile devices to back-end transactional systems and databases to initiate actions and transactions. This will make the apps bidirectional.

Cloud Intelligence

Microstrategy BI platform will be available in cloud as a service. This offering will have two parts 1. Metered cloud intelligence and 2. Named user cloud intelligence. Cloud will definitely be useful in places where requirement is of elastic scalability.

Self Service Data Exploration

At first look at seemed to be something very similar to Tableau software. Similar drag and drop interface for quick information discovery for exploration.  “Business users will become information publisher” seems to be coming true. Another article from Qliktech seems to be covering the same path.


  1. Caching
  2. In memory cubes
  3. MDX Aggregated cubes

Microstrategy World 2011 (overview)

It’s not more than 2 months since I last went to Las Vegas last (Information On Demand 2011 by IBM, over 9000 attendees and 600 technical education sessions with the official release of Cognos 10) and here I was there again last week. This time I was there for Microstrategy World which was held at Wynn, one of the newest casino hotel in town.

Unlike IBM or other big vendors like Oracle and Microsoft with stack of products, Microstrategy is a Pure BI company and it was impressive that they could pull up a crowd of around 1800. I really enjoyed their technical sessions, customer presentations and keynotes. Not only that, I was again successful in keeping myself away from pouring down money down the slot machines or at the Roulette table. I wonder if Microstrategy extended an invitation to Wynn casino at the conference and presented them what all they can do using their BI tool to keep customers with in the casino.

Intelligent Businesses and Business intelligence is everywhere in that city. Excalibur, where I stayed last time when I went for IOD, has no wonder just one moving walkway that will save you one-quarter mile of a walk !! into the casino but going out: ‘do you really walk all the way out, while you can stay in trying luck on these slot machines’. Well that was the case at Excalibur but to my surprise many others that had two walkways or escalators had just the one going in working and I am surprise if it a conincidence that most of them were now working both in Nov10 and Jan11 or it is another intelligent business.

Speaking of Business intelligence, most of these casinos are advertising big, right outside to sign up for rewards card, which works very similar to a debit card where you can put money into the account and use that card instead of cash at slot machines, and get anything between 20-200$ depending on casinos for free to play in there. What we do not realize is that these reward cards are not just money holder but a data generator, where casinos can track you in real-time, how much you won or lost, how often you come there, what games do you play and what is your lost threshold before you leave. And may be they can use it in real-time to lets say send you a complementary drink or a buffet coupon if you are losing beyond your calculated threshold and might loose interest.

An interesting book that we often give out to our customers is Competing on Analytics by Thomas Davenport with a foreword by Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. You can find a lot of examples in there on how business are using numbers to make even a simple decision.

Predictive analytics

In simple words Predictive Analytics deals with prediction of future probabilities and trends utilizing statistics modeling and data mining techniques on the historical data.

Think how helpful would it be if, using predictive algorithms and models, if we can identify patterns and predict likelihood of let’s say, possibility of fraud in the credit applications, requirement of frozen tuna cans right after oil spill in gulf, predicting potential number of auto insurance claims in Boulder even before a snow storm hit etc.

Predictive analytics exploits the historical data along with business rules and uses statistical techniques and data mining to predict risk and opportunities in businesses. Learning from the collective experience of your company’s records and producing a predictive score. Predictive model can not only predict outcomes but also the range and probability of the likely outcomes.

Lets have a quick look on what goes inside Predictive Analytics:

It is an iterative process, where predictions are made and weather predictions were successful were not, there is a lesson learnt from this and is used further to improve the process. Statistical techniques like regression, time series models, neural networks etc. have been used actively in this process.

Some of the vendors currently in the market providing some kind of predictive analytics piece with their offering are SAS, IBM’s SPSS, SAP, BO, IBI, Oracle Corp, Kxen Inc., Potrait software, TIBCO Spotfire, FICO, Angoss software etc.

Technology| Then & Now

I heard sometimes a picture says more than thousand words, so I am going to save you lot of reading and here is pictorially how I see changes in technology in past 5 years.



Please vote on poll below and comment to tell us where do you think or want to see more revolution coming in terms of technology in next 5 years.

Social Analytics

Some of the companies I found while looking around on web for social analytics and it seems the list is increasing everyday and I will try to keep up with it and come back and update this later but in the mean time I am posting it here as the heat is picking up in this area and if you are interested in knowing more, please click the on the websites and see what all is being offered now.

Facebook Analytics – Kontagent

Twitter Analytics – Tweetstats

Others – Kickapps, Mzinga, Telligent

I really think social networking sites like Linkedin, Facebok and Twitter have been very successful in capturing humongous amount of data over the years with growing user base. But what we need to think now is how we can use this data. How we can leverage the data we have out their with all this information about the customers for our businesses.


Why does BI initiatives fail

Couple days ago, I got a chance to speak and discuss with a good friend, ex-oracle, and a BI guru with expertise in Retail, Healthcare and Manufacturing on most common reason for a Business Intelligent project to fail and I think it is a good idea to share here and see what readers have to speak about it.

Please comment and share what you think are additional factors and you are facing within your organization.

Challenges with BI Implementation

Although more than two third of the organizations are considering or actively implementing BI technologies, top management faces numerous challenges in their ability to execute company’s strategy utilizing their current BIU approach.

What we usually hear:

Some of the challenges organizations have been facing but not limited to are:

BI at your fingertips

BI has become the backbone of many businesses and better decision-making is the key to make an impact. The very essence of BI is to provide users with up-to-date insight allowing them to make informed decisions. What if these decisions can be made on the go? What if one gets real-time alerts? What if we are informed when an action is needed? What if we can have access to real-time Information with a touch of our figure tips?
Sales, Logistics, Finance etc. everywhere there is need to have access to information anywhere anytime. and increasing mobile workforce, adoption of smartphones and browser technology has been the main factors behind the big push on Mobile Business Intelligence or has been quoted by couple authors on the web MOBI. Latest innovations in the area of supporting cross platform delivery, improvements in mobile bandwidth 3G-4G, and support for wireless connectivity are eased with the confidence in mobile deployment of BI.
There are many vendors currently competing in this space right now. To name a few: Targit BI, PushBI, RoamBI from MeLLmo, Qlikview, Microstrategy, Oracle, IBM Cognos, SAP, Visual KPI from Transpara, Yellowfin, Business Objects and others.
However the biggest challenges come with the deployment of mobile apps. Small screen sizes, lesser processing power, ease to lose vital company data with the loss/theft of your handheld devices.

Let’s have a look on what you might want to consider before deploying mobile BI within your organization and deciding on the tool:

Aesthetics: Are charts, graphs, and other data visualizations actually legible on smart phones or tablets
Alerts: Capability to alert your mobile device if a certain threshold is reached
Authentication: Automatic user role identification either at the handheld or server level
Auto screen orientation detection: Although most of the handheld devices now offer this
Barcode scanning: most devices now use camera phone for 2D 3D barcode scanning
Battery consumption: Amount of battery consumption
Bookmarking capability: Possibility view bookmarked selections and/or to bookmark your selections from within your mobile device
CoverFlow: Visually flipping screenshots, charts, tables
Custom App: Is there a custom app that needs to be downloaded to be able to access your reports or your mobile browser can be used for it. Apple iTunes store
Detail: Ability to show and hide details
Double-click: Are you using object that needed to be double clicked e.g. I-pad does not support double-click and you might not be able to achieve what you want
Drill-down: Is it possible to drill down in charts/ tables etc.
Filters and Prompts: Ability to select filters and prompts
Guided navigation: From one chart or table to another based on selection on that chart or table
Hardware: Windows Mobile devices, iPhone, iPads, Blackberry etc. While blackberry may be dominant in business world I-phone, I-pads and android market share has been picking up rapidly. So it is important to know, the capabilities of the BI tool of your choice in the hardware your choice.
Licensing: Individual licensing through apple store or android market or fees based on number of mobile users or licenses sold based on mobile server authentication for number of users.
Location Intelligence: Customization of App based on User and Location information enables by GPS, User’s IP, network address, cell-tower triangulation or user reported location.
Long-press: Long press capabilities can be used for ease of navigation
Mobile Network: 3G Vs. 4G
Multi-touch: Support for better visualization using multi-touch
Optimization: Mobile BI apps optimizes tradition BI reports so they can be viewed easily on a small screen and is ideal for displaying reports on a small screen.
Processing power: Processing power required from hand-held
Real-time monitoring: Is it possible to keep a track on the numbers e.g. Inventory, Sales etc. in real-time including calculated BI fields such as profit/last year’s profit
Resize and sliders: Auto resize for best readability of reports. Ease to use sliders
Search: How easy is to search charts or reports
Security: Remote lock and data wipe capabilities to deal with lost or stolen devices1
Sorting: Can reports and charts be sorted from within the mobile device
Toggle Full screen: Toggle between full screen and default visualization
Touch-screen: If there is touch screen capabilities or is it just an image
Training: How easy is to duplicate your knowledge of using interface from desktop version to the mobile version
User experience: Not everyone is ready to digest mobile BI and user experience is an important factor in Mobile BI implementation
Zoom: Ability to zoom in and out of report based on user selection

-Abhinav Abhinav

Last but not the least

2010, a year that started with an earthquake in Haiti killing over 230,000 and devastating the nation’s capital Port-au-Prince followed by largest oil spill in the history damaging waters and United States coastline, is almost about to over leaving its way to the new year full of hope and excitement. Well, with every ending there is a new beginning. This year had been challenging but a great learning experience for me, I have finally, after four memorable years in Cincinnati or as Winston Churchill called it “the most beautiful of America’s inland cities”, moved to Pittsburgh, a city with remarkable tableau of rivers, hills and valleys and the one with the maximum number of bridges only after Venice, Italy. I now, am working with Datavibes Inc. a consulting firm specializing in the Business Intelligence domain enabling clients to make right decisions based on right business results.

After many soft attempts to start this blog, here I am, posting my first blog entry hoping that you might find the upcoming posts useful and enjoy even the tiny bit of information posted here.

‘From small beginning come great things’

More to come…
-Abhinav Abhinav