Sunday, June 25, 2017

Business Intelligence is necessary for small business, and doesn’t need to be confusing.
When I started my career in Business Intelligence, only big companies with big IT budgets and large IT departments dared an implementation. Nearly twenty years later, lots of technological changes and advancements have transpired. Everyone knows about these changes, they’re relatively obvious; from low cost high power computers to mobilization, to social media and more... tech is broad reaching and prolific.

Much like the realization of the mid 1990’s that a business must be on the web, to be taken seriously and compete, the same realization is being made by small businesses with respect to Business Intelligence. Although technology and marketing has made it possible for small business to seriously consider a Business Intelligence solution, the sheer number of options and confusing buzzwords and claims can confound even the most tech-savvy CEO or CFO.

I have witnessed more misdirected, misguided, and botched Business Intelligence initiatives than I care to recount. Most of this wasted effort, time, and money can be attributed to two things; first is the endless tech jargon and alphabet soup of IT. I personally believe this first element is an intentional attempt at making things confusing to obscure how things are actually working in the physical world. The second reason is pride and protection of one’s own solution, or the solution of the company they happen to be working for is the only solution. These are the reasons I decided to start my own consulting company (Univant) five years ago. We work at eliminating these two killers of a good IT solution.

Unique challenges of Business Intelligence in a small to medium sized business.
The first challenge faced by small to medium sized businesses attempting to implement a Business Intelligence solution is a lack of skilled IT staff on-hand. Most of the big players in the Business Intelligence space, like Oracle (Hyperion), IBM (Cognos), and Microsoft (Sharepoint) assume that a full-time team of IT Database Administrators, and Developers are on hand to implement and maintain the system.

This first challenge is part of my personal assertion that a one-size-fits-all mentality exists within the big Business Intelligence companies. Simply put, they just can’t think in terms of a small business and expect that you just implement their solution their way. When working on a solution with Univant, the first order of business is to get to know you and your business. Only then, can we assume to know which solution is best and how it should be implemented. If you contact Oracle or IBM, I’m pretty sure they each have a different opinion on which solution will work for you.

The marketing departments of these big Business Intelligence companies will have you believe that the smaller / lower-end and open source solutions are impractical to implement. In some cases they’re right, open source can be difficult and usually requires specialized knowledge of programming. However times are changing and many of these companies have been leveraging the open source community in their own products.

The next big challenge for small business, especially at the smaller end of the spectrum is that time is at a premium and implementing a Business Intelligence solution (especially when using a solution from the big guys) takes time and money. The reality of making a costly mistake is very real.

Taking a phased approach to implementing a Business Intelligence solution.
Using a blended and phased approach is the best way to approach Business Intelligence at smaller businesses. Beginning with a hybrid Open-Source commercial product with a Hybrid cloud implementation provides the most immediate ROI, as well as the room to grow in any direction. Add to this that the pricing structure is also very small at the outset and can be managed as you grow your solution.

Univant is not only uniquely qualified to understand the struggles of small business, we are also users of Open Source Business Intelligence, as well as partners with more than one Business Intelligence companies. We also have experience in implementing commercial and open source projects in a variety of industries.

Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are not always the best in the long run.
Sometimes the quickest is not always the best, sometimes it is… However, rather than simply making that assumption, and signing on for a subscription based one-size-fits-all solution a quick evaluation of your needs can save you big.

For a quick no cost, no obligation evaluation visit our page and fill out this Business Intelligence Interest Form.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Passing Parameters to a Scripted DataSet;or any DataSet for that matter

The first time I heard the phrase "parameter binding to a data set" cold chills shot down my spine. I was thrust right back into my first OO Programming Class, where concepts like "pointers", "polymorphism" and others were thrown around like we were all just born to understand these abstract descriptions. Why not call it something simpler... like Parameter "place-holder" or "access point" ? Using the word "parameter binding" just makes it sound more complicated than it has to be. ...Maybe that's the idea? We are talking about nerdy techie types after all.

That said, I will try to make sure I don't needlessly try to impress with my cryptic verbage. So, here it goes. If you are both new to BIRT and have to use a scripted source the way IBM’s Maximo implementations do, you might not know where to begin right off the bat. I will break it down into smaller pieces, so that it is easier to follow and less complicated.

Start with a report that is easy for you to understand from a conceptual perspective if nothing else. In this case person_details.rptdesign should do just fine. What you see here is the 7.5 Maximo Server. In the spirit of keeping it easy, the report chosen has a single user prompt, PersonID.

The purpose of the report is to display all Assets, Contracts, Tickets or Work Orders that the selected person is assigned to. This is shown by utilizing multiple sub-tables within the primary summary table listing information coming from the Maximo person table. Looking at the report layout perspective you see each sub-table maps to a DataSet.

The first thing you do is add the Parameter, this can be done under the Data Explorer or Outline view (I find it easier to do it in the Outline). Here is where you define the parameter prompt for the user as well as consider the type of data you are expecting to work with in the dataset. This parameter was defined as a String value that will be provided via a Text Box.

Once you have a parameter you have increased the usability and functionality of the report significantly. But the most effective, or rather most efficient one is utilized in this report, it is applied at each DataSet level. Let’s take a look at a portion of the open event of the first DataSet, assetdetail:

You can see where BIRT is going to replace the ? with the provided Person ID in the where clause. But it can be used against multiple fields. For example, here is the workorders DataSet open, in this DataSet it will compare against 3 fields; the owner of the workorder, who it was reported by or on behalf of:

The best way to tackle handling anything new, and in particular anything new with BIRT or even troubleshooting complicated reports or queries is to break the system down into simpler and simpler terms until you begin with something which is easy for you to understand. This report is a good example of creating a highly functional report using small manageable pieces. Using a default parameter values you not only makes unit testing quicker for you, you also have the ability to run each DataSet individually to troubleshoot any potential scripting issues.

Like I often mention to my clients, and any of my BIRT classes, if you are confused by the BIRT report development process, you are not breaking it down into it's three simple parts....
  1. Data 
  2. Layout 
  3. Formatting & Features 

If you would like to take a class from us, or would like to get some help with your BIRT Project(s), please visit our Website or give us a call (888)234-DATA.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Business Intelligence Implementation & Project Help...over here.

The Better Pathway to a Successful Business Intelligence Implementation.

Like Raw Chicken, Raw Data is NOT usually good for you:

More and more companies are jumping on the Big Data, Data Analytics, Data Mining, Data Science, Data-Driven bandwagon(s). Nothing like stating the obvious, but I made reference to the first five "Data" buzzwords I hear throughout the course of any given day. Why only five? After all, there are plenty more "Data" buzzwords out there... and lets not forget "Analytics"!   

The point is, that it's no secret that businesses recognize what they need to stay in business; Data! Actually it is my belief that data in an unto itself is not inherently good. Consuming raw data, much like consuming raw chicken is not all that good for you. In fact trying to consume it raw is likely to produce sick behavior at best and could lead to the death of your business. 

Business Intelligence is a mind-set:

As companies go, I have consulted the whole spectrum; small start-ups to fortune 100 multi-national well established firms. I've even been exposed to a wide variety of market segments, from the tech-sector to federal to manufactured goods. So, it is fair for me to say I have seen almost every permutation of Business Intelligence implementation. So, here are a few overall sentiments I've encountered. 
  1. Data users believe if you "just show them all the data, they'll sort it out..." 
  2. Business data, is either not reliable, not timely, or both. 
  3. Business Intelligence tools and applications are complicated and very difficult to use. 
  4. IT and in particular DBA's are very protective of their data stores. 
  5. It takes too much time! 
Just like any worthwhile endeavor, implementing and using a business intelligence solution takes dedication, hard work, time, and even maybe a little pain or sacrifice. Being open to new ideas, trusting your team, and a little focus will go a long way toward a successful implementation. By no means should you take shortcuts. There is no magic wand. 

Choose the right tool, and you'll achieve the maximum benefit:

I'm not sure how many times I've heard the question "can we get it in Excel?"... But it does confirm a statistic I've recently heard; "...1 in 5 businesses are using spreadsheets as the main tool to communicate data internally."[forbes] With all the inexpensive and even free Business Intelligence tools out there, why jump straight to Excel? It is my opinion that the answer is, "because it is familiar". 

If you have ever wondered "...what happened to that spreadsheet with all those formulas" or "who changed the columns!?!!?? now my look-ups don't work" or "...that data doesn't look right..." you'll get a kick out of the Forbes article I've linked to in the previous paragraph. The bottom line is that for as popular, familiar, and easy as Excel is, it is NOT always easy, it is NOT always popular, and it is NOT always the fastest way to communicate your data. 

Choosing Excel, just because you don't know anything else, or because you feel like it is the quickest solution to your BI and Data problem is almost always neither. In the long-run, just like crash diets, it will likely make you fatter, or in the case of data give you a bigger headache! 

Choose your Business Intelligence partner wisely:

More money is wasted on failed Business Intelligence efforts than I care to admit. Most of the time the wasted money comes from a handful of reasons. One is that the company or sponsor of the project doesn't know exactly what they've signed on for and jumps at the first thing through the door. Another reason is that internal politics and protectionist attitudes in the Information Technology group, hinders true and efficient implementations. Sometimes it is because resources are more focused or familiar with IT projects than they are BI projects. 

Ultimately it comes down to who you engage with, and why. To find a true Business Intelligence partner, you'll need to choose them for just as much their ability and experience in BI implementations, as well as for their ability to align with and identify with you and your business. Business Intelligence implementations are more about the BUSINESS than the TECHNOLOGY. 

UniVant Corporation

We at UniVant Corporation strive to do one thing for you. We strive to help you achieve a unified vantage point into your companies data. No matter the source of the data, be it inside your own systems, in the cloud, or maybe you simply want to leverage social media, we can help you. You can find out more about us here: UniVant.