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Month: August 2008

Don’t blame the BI tools

I’ve heard some BI leaders this week complain of stalled innovation by the vendors. But Sid Adelman says, “I think the tools are fine… We’ve handed a Stradivarius to a kid after a couple of lessons and we wonder why the violin doesn’t sound so good.”

We’ve done a “shitty job” of the basics, he says. Too much metadata lacks adequate definitions and genealogy—resulting in distrust among business users—and testing and training are too often done poorly.

The most troublesome basic is the human factor. “The organizational and cultural issues will screw us every time,” he says. People who don’t like each other but have to work together, for example, will too often let their adversaries crash on the rocks at the organization’s expense.

For that, one banking executive Sid knew of found a solution. Five of his managers ran the ATM operation, and they hated each other. The executive one day announced that henceforth no one got bonuses if any of their metrics sank below acceptable levels. Suddenly, the five managers and their teams found harmony.

Not by muffins alone

Do the TDWI San Diego organizers think we’re on a diet? Are attendees and exhibitors no longer paying full fare? I try, but I can’t quite forgive the elimination of hot breakfast.

You may recall the spread that once honored us: chafing dishes full of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes, biscuits alongside gravy, crisp red seedless grapes and fans of sliced honeydew and cantaloupe. Also three kinds of muffins, cold cereal and hot cereal, too. All were continually refilled to encourage bountiful first and second helpings.

At this show, sadly, there are no hot chafing dishes, there is no melon, there is no cereal of any kind. There are just muffins and, far off to the side as if to retard consumption, a tray of bagels.

Though I cannot imagine why TDWI would risk everlasting shame in Chowhound or Yelp, I do know one thing. Muffins alone don’t cut it. Bring back the hot breakfast.

Better than free food at TDWI San Diego

Two BI leaders walk into the Sunday night reception at the TDWI conference in San Diego. Each is as eminent as you get in BI, and they hadn’t seen each other in months. After hello, they got into what’s more important to them than the free food. One says, “Business Objects and Cognos just don’t get it,” by which he meant all the once-standalone vendors that disappeared last year. As these companies get dragged further into the new parent, they’ll get it less and less.

The other added, “They don’t get collaboration, and they don’t get visualization…The big vendors just can’t innovate fast enough for the market…The next generation of BI will come from a new generation of vendors.”

I just happened to witness this conversation, but the same thoughts seemed to be just under the surface for several other industry experts I’ve talked to here.

On Monday, I talked to one of those innovators. LucidEra CEO Ken Rudin uses an analogy for business intelligence I like: owning a car shouldn’t require fixing it yourself. He hopes that within the next five years, conferences like TDWI’s deemphasize the technology and instead discuss effective metrics.

His company’s offer is intriguing. Give LucidEra access to your data, and within 48 hours his people will deliver two things: a full analytic environment in which you can see your data anew, plus the BI equivalent of an EKG.

Earlier Monday, Howard Dresner said after his keynote that there’s a “vacuum” of innovation and it’ll be filled from the little vendors who’re now sprouting.

This afternoon, Mark Madsen presented “Clues to the Future of Business Intelligence” at the Executive Summit. (See his slides here.) Among other clues, he compared the clumsy map of Oakland crime—developed by the city for more than $300,000—with an intuitive, almost Google-like map developed by a developer in his spare time. (The city’s response was to ban his IP to stop the developer from collecting data.)

The iPhone, the Mac, Google, YouTube and others have shown users much better interfaces than BI vendors have been delivering. And they’ve allowed people to interact online.

That’s what users expect of their BI interface now. He says it’s what they’ll demand.