Month: August 2013


There’s no video, and even memories may be sketchy of an historic few seconds in the exhibit hall of TDWI conference last week in San Diego. The word is that Steve Swoyer, prolific industry journalist and recent reporter at the Pacific Northwest BI Summit in July, displayed the Summit’s secret handshake. That one existed at all was news even to Summit producer Scott Humphrey, who happened to see it all from across the room. Real or not, it’s strictly NDA (not for disclosure).

People who analyze data, collaborate!

In business, we’ve got data scientists, we’ve got accidental analysts, and we’ve got a million variations in between. Dave Wells thinks they can learn from each other. To help that start up, he’s forming an organization he’s calling Business Analytics Collaborative.

The diversity and fragmentation that challenge those trying to reach this market are the reasons that community building is difficult. Our conclusion is that we need to build the community from the ground up – taking a sort of grass roots approach that begins with local meetups. By stepping away from digital overload and starting locally and face-to-face we can move away from fragmentation while at the same time finding value in the diversity of the analytics space. Once we achieve a workable level of local communities, we can then start to bind the local groups together as a virtual analytics community where collaboration becomes a powerful tool for innovation.

You may recall Dave as the education director at TDWI. He still teaches at TDWI conferences. Now at his new organization, he’s modestly named himself director of community development.

He’s holding a series of meetups. The first occurred on August 8 at Tableau headquarters in Seattle, where 82 people showed up. The next was Wednesday night at TDWI conference in San Diego.

To keep up, go to And show up at a meetup when there’s one near you.

The value of small industry events

Any run-of-the-mill industry event calls itself a failure when just 24 attendees show up. An audience of that size tempts any keynote speaker to flee. The so-called “welcome” reception seems more like a wake for an unpopular deceased. Throughout, a deadly calm fills every room.

Some events of that size, though, sparkle with life. Potential for real, meaningful contact is rich. Interesting conversations last longer. You get to know people better.

The Pacific Northwest BI Summit, held every July in Grants Pass, Oregon, is my prime example. It is the Bohemian Grove of the business intelligence industry. I attended as press for the third time this summer.

“The Summit” really is a summit. For three days in rural Grants Pass, Oregon, attendees are among a few of the BI world’s most interesting experts and some interesting vendors. Four formal discussions take place in the conference room with, this year, four media representatives. Information Management held a live webinar. You’re one-on-one with anyone: on the deck at meals, floating on the Rogue River, croquet on the lawn, or poker at night.

The value is not in numbers, but in the elemental human comfort one finds from prolonged and varied proximity to others. During serious discussions, you notice some who talk a lot without much to say, and others who speak only when there’s something to add. I pay full attention whenever certain people clear their throats, and I catch up on notes while others fill the air. One person in particular is worth watching to see what makes him stop surfing on his iPad.

There’s also croquet on the lawn, and it counts. Did your opponent let you take that shot again? Floating down the Rogue River counts, too. You see the two CEOs reveal their inner pirate. You see the businessman on the beer raft year after year, revealing his inner merchant. You notice who floats in packs, as most do, and who paddles alone. Before long, it’s time for dinner, and you notice a new comfort with those who’d been strangers. Whether you’re actual friends or not with any, your feel for who’s who is better. Familiarity breeds rapport.

The event sprang 12 years ago from the bulging Rolodex of public relations consultant Scott Humphrey. Year after year, counting all experts, vendors, and press, he’s held the number at 24 — which has to do with the Weasku Inn’s capacity, so old world that Clark Gable vacationed there.

At any event afterward, you spot people from The Summit first in any crowd.

This year, it didn’t take long for me to see that recognition at work. The day after Summit closed, a new small event opened. SPARK!, on the northern end of Silicon Valley, is the second in a series from Radiant Advisors — first in Austin, TX, and over the next weeks or months also in Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. It’s low on exotica — none but a faint French accent at the Hotel Sofitel registration desk — but it shows big promise.

For one thing, it’s got what sparked the Summit: good friends. There in SPARK!’s first session was Shawn Rogers, the popular ring leader of several industry institutions and the Summit’s poker dealer. Other Summit regulars showed up, too: John Santaferraro of Actian and Robert Eve of Cisco.

We sat outside at the end of the first day with a new acquaintance, Linda Sharp, author of Customer Relationship Intelligence. We asked about her book, and talked for a while in simple, unhurried comfort.

Radiant intends to keep it small. People more easily ask questions, connect with people who might otherwise float in bubbles they’ve brought with them, such as from the office. Ad hoc communities form for a day, which makes all kinds of discovery easier.

Perhaps most refreshing, Radiant wants to look further ahead than one usually finds at big, established events, to the future of BI. I say throw gasoline on that “spark.”

I take the small-event ethic with me now: One acquaintance made stronger is worth countless fast-forgotten handshakes and five-minute chats. We all promise to be in touch soon, but many of these promises evaporate before the name hits the address book. Instead, give me two or three days with people I don’t know and I may come up with someone I actually remember and talk to again.

This is the heart of business. Sure, big data and the other things we talk about in this industry are things to behold. But conversation is the glue. That just works better at small events.

It’s “business UN-intelligence” without intuition, insight, and inspiration

The little joke among people who first hear of business intelligence is that it sounds like an oxymoron. But now someone who’s high on my list of experts in this industry, a founder of data warehousing, has used it seriously in a challenge to the business intelligence industry.

Barry Devlin writes in a blog post, “Much of the business behavior I’ve encountered has been far from intelligent.”
No argument there. He keeps going. “What about intuition, insight or inspiration? Should we not also consider social aspects, given that business is largely a collective, collaborative venture?”

I like it. It’s all in the first blog post of a series that introduces his forthcoming book, Business unIntelligence: Insight and Innovation Beyond Analytics and Big Data.

His post explains his term “business unintelligence.” Business does a poor job of business intelligence, he writes. Decision makers don’t make use of the evidence they’ve got, and they ignore psychological and sociological underpinnings. “Clearly, this is unintelligent behavior by business.”

On first encounter, this may sound like a negative phrase. But slowly, gradually, it also became clear that Business unIntelligence is precisely what business today needs in order to benefit from extensive information, adaptive process and the strengths of actual people. Rationality of thought and far beyond it. Logic of process, predefined and emergent. The confluence of reason and inspiration, emotion and intention, collaboration and competition–all that comprises the human and social milieu that is business. Not business intelligence. But Business unIntelligence. Insight and Innovation beyond Analytics and Big Data.

You can read Thomas Frisendal’s review and see Barry’s presentation at BrightTALK Business Intelligence and Big Data Analytics Summit. You can also pre-order on Amazon, as I have. It’s available in mid-October.