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Month: December 2010

Impress your colleagues with year-end predictions!

Why should the smart people have all the fun with year-end predictions? You can issue your own! At this time of year, even hopeless nitwits can seem smart.

Once you set up a blog — any free service will do — all you have to do is throw together your trends. Keep these easy-to-use techniques in mind.

• Re-use last year’s trends. Does anyone really believe that 2010’s trends sat down in December for a cosmo and never stood up again? You can safely predict that this year’s trends will be next year’s, too.

• Search in Google for your industry’s name and “trends.” Take notes, rewrite a little bit and, boom, you’re an expert.

• Water the evergreens. For 2009, someone predicted, “Data interpretation will become a significant challenge for new BI users.” Will become? Can you imagine fewer business people having trouble interpreting data no matter what year it is?

• Follow in the draft of top vendors. Competition cyclists know that the easiest place to ride is just inches behind another rider. See where Oracle, IBM say they’re going and point in that direction. If a gang of marketing departments push an idea, it’s guaranteed to find at least a few new customers.

• Quantifying is risky but, done cleverly, it adds credibility. Just make sure your numbers can’t be verified. One clever expert sees 15 chiefs of analytics being hired in 2011. Bingo! The mere presence of a number, any number, gives the feel of certainty. Even if someone wanted to count, how would they do it?

• It’s good to be vague, but better to be incomprehensible. Suppose your crystal ball shows video becoming a big deal in 2011 (as if it weren’t already). Don’t just write “video,” as one hapless analyst did. Instead, pile on enough mumbo jumbo to let readers feel smart for having understood anything at all. Those who’ve tried to read 50 or 100 words will tweet about your “great” predictions.

• Aim for the horizon. Don’t let yourself be bound by others’ definition of “year.” If your vision fails to come true in 2011, you’re just that much further ahead of your time.

Above all, you must enter to win. After the first weeks of January, normal standards set in. If you feel like a fraud, remember that last week’s predictions are like last night’s eggnog. All people remember is the party, and all your readers will remember is your name.

Answering the real questions in data analysis

A guy walks into your cube and asks you to whip up an econometric model. You’re a statistician, after all, and you’ve got a Ph.D. in something or other. You do this for lunch, he figures.

He “over-thought,” says the one whose cube such a guy walked into. Theresa Doyon has been routinely navigating datasets in the 50 to 300 million-unit range for 10 years. She’s good at all-terrain tools like SAS and KXEN. She could have produced the report he wanted. Instead, she asked him, “Why?”

They talked for an hour. What he actually needed, she discovered, was more of a descriptive report — something that gives a picture of a current situation. All he wanted to do was figure out how to allocate resources.

This is where things usually go wrong. “We’ve got all these great tools,” she says, “but I don’t see us using them as well as we could.” We could write this off as a communication problem, but she believes it’s much more than that.

It’s something like a man who walks into a kitchen with a carton of eggs and tells the cook to fry them all — when actually he’s just hungry and happened to have found eggs. Something else might suit him better. Bacon?

Business people complain that they get reports, not insights. But they’re not sure how to ask for the data. Meanwhile, analysts complain that they’re asked for a fire hose of analysis and that it’s always due yesterday. But they deliver. Asked for a report, they produce a report. Asked for a model, they produce a model.

“But that’s not what the business people really want,” says Theresa. ‘What they really want is to answer some sort of business question, like how’s my marketing doing? What can I do differently?”

“If you had a strategy and you did bite-size tests and learned as you go,” she says, “you could start to use the analytics that would really drive the insight.” We can really improve the way things are done. That’s the missing link.

At least some organizations have found that link. A home furnishings retailer she worked with recently had her work closely with marketing people as their questions and her analysis evolved.

The retailer had been suffering as ever more of its customers feared they’d soon lose their homes. The living room sets that looked so good just months before seemed to lose their appeal. Theresa’s assignment was to, in effect, come up with a silver lining.

“It was a very big and ambiguous question,” she recalls. She worked with the client on a series of projects over nearly two years as the sour economy evolved. She estimated opportunities, customer targets, and gave the marketing people she worked with critical guidance on the launch of new programs. She recalls, “It came out quite well.”

See her LinkedIn page here.

Scott Humphrey’s been steeling the show

How do you know when the business intelligence industry goes on break? It’s when Scott Humphrey goes fishing. He’s the man with the industry’s “golden Rolodex” to whom vendors, industry analysts, and press call to catch a story or to release one. The only news now is that last week the man behind the news took his brother and his nephew for a week of catch-and-release steelhead fishing on the free-flowing John Day River, four hours east of Portland. Cell-phone reception caught them now and then, and their phones “made noises,” but no one answered. That’s release.

Put a mobile device on your dashboard

What if you could snap an iPad into your car’s dashboard to let the device listen to your car’s murmurs? Perhaps it could receive its maintenance-alert emails, the ones that let you know when it’s ready for an oil change or new seat covers. If you also kept your calendar on the iPad — and who wouldn’t? — your iPad could schedule a date with the mechanic.

Howard Dresner, the man who revived the term “business intelligence,” is now excited about mobile devices. This fall, he issued a study. And though I have been ambivalent — and who hasn’t been? — I like the science fiction-like joy of dreaming about the possibilities. We talked on the phone last week, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

Just think, your iPad (or, if you must, your Android device) knows where you car is parked at night, doesn’t it? It does if you turned on your GPS, and who hasn’t? Your maintenance could be run the way airlines do it — overnight, by unseen mechanics, wherever the airliner or car happens to be. So long, courtesy shuttles! Just ignore the sounds coming from your driveway at 4 a.m. It wouldn’t be who it used to be.