Tag: Information Management

“BI for the other 80 percent” at
Information Management

How can business survive without data? Well, 80 percent of eligible users, according to most surveys, do seem to go without. The industry salivates in anticipation of someday colonizing that territory, and it shudders in frustration because they haven’t done it yet.

That topic came up last summer at the annual Pacific Northwest BI Summit. I’ve written here before about the session led by industry icon Claudia Imhoff and IBM vice president Harriet Fryman. Now I’ve published a column about it to a bigger audience at Information Management.

The column offers a strategy: storytelling. Humans are wired for it. The industry might as well take advantage.

The trick is to learn how to do it. Or even before that, the trick might be to accept storytelling as legitimate business practice. Though it’s widely practiced in the C-suites, those below them, the middle managers — so prone to insecurity — seem queasy about it.

See the Information Management column here.

“Storytelling: Gimmick or Real?” My latest in Information Management

I’m stalking the data-story story. One of the first stops is with a few smart people I know and trust to have given it thought. Scott Davis, whose name long-time Datadoodle readers will recognize, has thought about it deeply. I talked to him in June, and in August finally wrote it up.

By the way, part of the delay had to do with my attempt to make it into a podcast. That would have been a Datadoodle first, and there was no better way to start off than by hearing Scott say, “I’m going to give you a cliché that’s repeated so often it’s taken as truth, and I’m going to tell you it’s straight up false: Information is not derivative of data.” But the task of learning the new software was just too much; I fell back to text.

Read it here.

First comes the data story, then comes the shadow

Nothing interesting goes without simultaneous celebration and condemnation. Back in 2008 when I wrote that “Tableau is the new Apple,” data visualization was widely pooh-poohed. “Pretty pictures,” I heard so many say.

Now the pretty boy is data storytelling. “Cue the data storytellers,” which ran in Information Management the other day, got a good round of tweets (62 by Wednesday night). But the few complaints were also fun.

It’s easy to brush off the silly stuff. One self-identified data scientist grumbled in a tweet the morning “Cue” appeared, “We don’t need more storytellers … We need more talent.” Somehow, this person’s presumably logical mind construed the choice to be one or the other.

Perhaps the sight of “story” touching “data” excites anxiety among those who still believe, despite the evidence, that data is by nature true like a compass. These are the dreamers.

The story-first people are the realists. They know that data is just a fact like any other. If data’s a compass, data analysts have magnets they wave at it.

Data is nothing without a story wrapped around it, explicit or not. If a story isn’t offered by the analyst, it’s conjured by the consumer. We live by stories, conscious and unconscious. Stories eat data and spit out the feathers.

I’m a story-firster. When cave people lit a camp fire, they told stories. “One night, they ran out of firewood and the aardvarks came in and ate them all,” was no doubt one early one. Only later did they quantify their firewood or count their toes and the shiny eyes from just beyond the light.

Of course, sooner or later someone invented the stove — followed immediately by stories told in different ways. The saved labor, for example, might have made stories much, much longer. “You wouldn’t believe who I ran into at the market today!…” was probably how one started.

Technology came and went, and stories adapted. In books, people told stories with words and graphics. In songs, they told stories in lyrics. In oil painting, images. On the side of trains, spray paint. In solitary confinement, they tapped on pipes and shouted through the plumbing — morphing to suit each medium. Each method was artful.

Now here comes data, followed right behind by visualized data and right behind it by data stories. And right behind those two come the story purists who despair of the new form.

I’ve already debated the first purist. Stay tuned for that account.

My latest in Information Management: “‘Sexy'” Data Science is a Team Sport”

The word got out last year: data scientist is the “sexiest job,” a late-2012 declaration by the renowned Tom Davenport of “Competing on Analytics” fame. Trouble is, “sexy” goes bad faster than fish.

“Data scientist,” still fresh, is my word of the year. In 2013, the data analysis industry discovered it, many loved or hated it, but most of all, we repeated it. Google Trends shows the mention of it soaring like the 1990s Dow Jones Industrial Average — and you know what happens next.

Alert as data scientists are to patterns, I wonder if many don’t shudder at the “sexy” label. If so, they might have had some comfort from a discussion around the big table at the Pacific Northwest BI Summit. There, calm conversation displaced the industry’s noise around the topic for nearly two hours last summer.

Read the rest of it here, on the Information Management site.

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.