Month: October 2008

“Going through the roof” at Corda

Evidence came in yesterday afternoon that, so far, BI is doing well in the new economy. Greg Turman, director of sales for the Western Region at Corda, phoned to say, “I’m going through the roof,” by which he means sales are good. “I’m seeing tremendous startup activity. People are saying, ‘I can no longer guess. I’ve got to know what’s happening so in case things get tight I’ll survive.'”

What’s behind the surge? He figures that people have finally understood the value of analytics and visual analysis.

Why they resist open source

In defense of the lively, Mark Madsen observes the nature of resistance to open source BI tools. An excerpt:

Overcoming someone’s resistance to open source in your organization means that you probably need to educate them, given that they use open source every day without thinking about it. It’s in everything from cars to cell phones, as well as almost all the commercial BI tools shipping today. More likely, they are resistant because they (a) are threatened in some way by the change you propose, (b) face organizational obstacles like educating the legal department about licenses or (c) face political consequences you aren’t aware of. It’s often their personal situation that is the biggest factor, given that most objections are easily refuted as myths.

Craving value: sparks for a new economic engine

It’s hard to see through the smoke as our financial house burns down, I know. But what I’ve noticed is more interesting: the first signs of rebuilding.

This month, three experts I read—visual analytics expert Stephen Few, Competing on Analytics author Tom Davenport and digital-media economy specialist Umair Haque—all seem to have knit recent blog posts with the same thread: honest value in business and the economy.

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Off the charts: “black swan” ahead?

“Black swans” are the anti-gravity of predictive analytics. These events are so far off the charts that we dismiss the possibility out of hand. But when one occurs, it’s a doozy.

The Panic of ’08 may lead us straight into one of these, says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness among other works. He and his mentor, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, told NewsHour’s Paul Solman last week that what’s coming might make the Great Depression and the Long Depression of the 1870s seem small.

But before you lose sleep, mind this caveat: Taleb himself calls predictions “bullshit.” In a talk he gave in 2006 he said, “We’re suckers for anyone who talk to us about the future.” (Listen here.)

He’s getting lots of attention these days. Taleb foresaw this financial crisis. Lately, he has made money for investment clients based on that prescient gloom. Others saw it coming, too. A banker told me in 2003 when I asked for his outlook, “Oh, pal! You’re talkin’ to Darth Vader,” and he sketched the scenario that began unfolding last year.

It’s all about turbulence, Taleb theorizes. Our system is “over-optimized” and has too little slack. It can’t absorb much shock. Taleb says that’s how a small shortage of oil sent the per-barrel price from $25 to $150. It’s also how a small mistake in one big bank sends shivers through other banks.

Perhaps it’s also how a dollar bill on a Wall Street trading floor—imagined last week by The Onion—caused a surge of optimism.

The Onion’s jokes often come true, but optimism is out for now. Today the world feels like it did after September 11, when we assumed the terrorists had another one coming at us. Or after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. I had grown up in the area and had felt lots of quakes, but a year my stomach clenched whenever a heavy truck rumbled by.

If there’s any comfort, it might be in what the ever-entertaining Ed Brown said once in a talk at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He told about a middle-aged man he’d seen at the baths, submerged in the hottest water. A few kids watched him as he encouraged them to try it. The man said, “Don’t resist the heat. You just kind of let it enter you.” Ignore the voice in your head that screams at the unknown.

While there’s time, read Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness. I haven’t yet read The Black Swan, but I’ve heard it’s also very interesting. Available now.

Oh, and take off your scary mask when you walk through any financial district on Halloween.