How Business Analytics can drive creativity & innovation

Last weekend I was reviewing my recent photography portfolio. I noticed an interesting theme: my favorite photographs seemed to be clustered around certain months. There are a few months when my activity was low and the resulting photos were not that great. That raised an interesting question: Do we get more creative by being more active?

CREATIVITY IS FUELED BY INPUTS

Simply taking more photographs will probably not increase your creativity. But, there seems to be a clear connection between being curious and immersed in a certain field (e.g. photography). Indeed, several creative minds have confirmed this link.

The path towards creativity & innovation

In his excellent eBook “The Inspired Eye” Master photographer David duChemin says:

“Creative people are raw material gatherers, they hunger for ideas and go outside of the camp to find them. You must increase your inputs, the more ideas and influences you ingest, the more your creative being has to work with – the more Lego blocks your inner creative has to work with.”

In other words, the more we experience, the more interesting things we see, the more we try new things, the higher our creativity will most likely be. That explains why me taking more photographs, me being engaged in the process probably led to better results.

THE SECRET OF STEVE JOBS’ SUCCESS

How does this relate to business? Let’s look at Steve Jobs. Most of us admire Apple for for it’s enormous amount of creativity. In his book ‘The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs’, Carmine Gallo looks at several factors that are responsible for Apple’s tremendous success at delivering innovation. Turns out that Steve Jobs and his team are indeed fueling their brains with multiple experiences. They hire diverse people with different backgrounds. They study the designs of ‘boring’ products such as rice cookers, blenders, cars. Steve Jobs studied calligraphy during his student days which ultimately resulted in Apple’s huge focus on beautiful design. To back up how and why this results in higher creativity, Gallo quotes neuroscientist Gregory Berns:

“To see things differently than other people, the most effective solution is to bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before. Novelty releases the perceptual process from the shackles of past experiences and forces the brain to make new judgements.” 

BUSINESS ANALYTICS & CREATIVITY

If you think about it, Business Analytics is an ideal platform for driving creativity and innovation. The technology allows us to to effectively ‘bombard their brains with new things’:

  • We are able to explore and to relate
  • We are able to slice and dice
  • We are able to drill-down
  • We are able to quickly identify and analyze trends
  • We can create what-if scenarios on the fly
  • We can probe, we can test
Business Analytics - the better approach

Do you see the connection? But not only that – Business Analytics software also lowers the barrier towards asking new & different questions. The ability to view data from different angles, to ability to associate new sets of data has the potential to create new insights. People are no longer afraid to analyze their business from a different perspective: they don’t have to wait and they don’t have to go through a complicated process to obtain the data.

In her excellent article “Data dive reveals and ocean of trends’, Lynn Greiner states:

“BI software gives you the ability to dive into data and find trends and relationships you may not have considered, or to find the cause of anomalies you’ve noticed.”

Keep this in mind!  Business Analytics can make a big contribution towards higher creativity. Just take a look at some of the really successful companies these days…chances are they are very analytical! What are your thoughts and experiences?

7 must-have business books

Do you love to read? I do. Business books are high up on my personal favorite list. Luckily, the Kindle and the iPad make it so super easy these days to find and enjoy new books. While I was returning home from a recent trip to London, the person sitting next to me on the plane asked me about some book recommendations. Why not share some ideas here on the blog? The following seven books belong to my current list of favorite books. All of these books have one thing in common: I keep coming back to them. The insights are either so profound and interesting or the book is that fun to read.

  • Simply Strategy (“Financial Times” S.) – The shortest route to the best strategy
    Strategy is always a fascinating topic and but way too many books are too complicated and boring. This book is different. The authors break-down the strategy development process into simple steps and they provide two case studies to highlight how the principles work. It is really fun to read. You literally want to sit down after each chapter and try the different things out yourself. The authors have done a fine job. The design of book is a true eye-catcher as well.
  • The 33 Strategies of War (Joost Elffers Books)
    One of the first classic books about strategy was Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’. Managers around the globe have a copy sitting in their offices. This book goes much further: The author researched famous military strategies and develops several ideas that apply to modern businesses. What makes this book unique is the amazing storytelling. Author Peter Greene has collected a huge library of fascinating stories to highlight his points. This is a book you will pick up over and over again. The stories are that interesting. The title is a bit aggressive, but the content is amazing.
  • How to Have Kick-Ass Ideas: Shake Up Your Business, Shake Up Your Life
    Creativity is one of those areas that we tend to overlook when it comes to personal and organizational success. Many people think of themselves as not being creative. Yet, we admire creative people. This book takes a nice and sometime funny approach to teaching us how to be more creative. There are great exercises that will make you think.
  • TRUE PROFESSIONALISM : The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career
    What does it take to be a true professional? What does it take to gain the respect of our clients and colleagues? Is it all about knowledge? The answer is “No”. This book provides amazing insights into what constitutes a ‘true professional’. David Maister, provides profound ideas and challenges to improve your overall market value and success. This is one of those books that can really change your career. My copy has traveled across the globe many times and I keep coming back to it.
  • Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
    Death by Powerpoint? We have all sat through too many boring presentations. One bullet point at a time. And most of those presentations fail to grab our attention. Garr Reynolds proposes a different model. The old bullet-point presentations are outdated and need be replaced with a new presentation style. This book is really fun to read and it will change your perspective on presenting. Watch out: Once you have read this book you will be a different person.
  • The Management Mythbuster
    TQM, Six Sigma, BSC, Budgeting. Oh boy, there is no shortage in new management ideas. But do they all work? David Axson has written a fun book about various management practices. He uses hilarious storytelling to highlight some of the absurd situations we encounter in modern business life. You will really enjoy reading this book while also developing a critical eye that can help you pick the right practices for your business. But watch out: you will not be able to put this book down.
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
    We all spend a lot of time trying to sell ideas and messages. But it is really hard. Most ideas fail to inspire. Whether it is a new product, an idea for our next vacation, etc.. This classic book outlines what makes ideas sticky. The authors introduce a few principles that you need to be aware of and each one of them is highlighted through some seriously fascinating stories. The lessons apply to various aspects of our life. Be aware: The book will change the way you communicate.

Have fun with this. If you want more ideas, feel free to check out my Amazon.com reading list as well. Happy Reading!

P.S.: Many people ask me why I have a Kindle and an iPad. Here is why.

What “Brain Rules” teaches us about Business Analytics

The other day I took some time to review a few chapters of John Medina’s excellent book ‘Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School‘. It is a great read. There are a lot of interesting stories and insights that apply to various different aspects of our lives. One chapter in particular is quite relevant for Business Analytics: Rule #10 – Vision trumps all other senses.

THE POWER OF VISION

Dashboard DesignAccording to Medina, our brains devote over half of their resources to vision. The nerves between our eyes and our brains are much more powerful than those of our other senses. As a result, pictures allow us to absorb information much quicker and the information also tends to be stickier in our brains. Medina says:”Put simply, the more visual the input becomes, the more likely it is to be recognized – and recalled”.

THE PROBLEM WITH TEXT

Text on the other hand is very inefficient. It takes us longer to recognize information and we are likely to retain less of it. Medina states that each letter is technically a separate picture. When we see words we see tons of little images and our brains have a harder time to process the information. George Bernhard Shaw once said “Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap.”

THE LESSON FOR BUSINESS ANALYTICS

Brain Rules
A picture says more than a thousand words

Most of this is common sense, but many of us still choose to ignore these facts. We create long reports with hundreds of columns and numbers. We spend hours analyzing these numbers. And we have a hard time recognizing the important patterns. If we want to follow Medina’s advice, we should visualize our data, instead. This not only speeds up our ability to recognize patterns and dependencies, but it should also help us with retaining the information. The old saying goes “A picture says more than a thousand words”, right?

AN EXPERIMENT

Dashboarding guru Stephen Few created a nice little experiment that shows how true and important this insight is. Take a look at the simple report below. It shows revenue numbers for two regions. Spend about 30 seconds to study the table. Then look away ask yourself what you saw.

What do you see here?

Most people are only able to recall three to four different things from the table. The bigger picture usually remains hidden for a while. Now, take a look at the chart below. This is the same data. What do you see now?

Same information...

Notice the difference? The chart is a lot easier to read and chances are that you are able to retain a lot more information.

THE SIMPLE LESSON

John Medina’s advice can be extremely valuable for all of us. We should strive to move away from pure number and text based reports. Instead we should visualize as much data as possible. But that requires us to spend some time to learn more about charting techniques. There are a lot of different options and not all of them are appropriate for any given set of data. You can find a bunch of valuable tips on this blog to get started. Also, utilize the appropriate Business Analytics platform. Cognos 10 offers over 160 differrent chart types, for example.

So, toss those tables and go visual. Inspect your current repository of reports and think about how you can improve in this area.

Listen to John Medina:

Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effect of images.”

 

How to read more blogs on your iPad

About a year ago I discovered a true treasure: Blogs. No, I didn’t find out about them a year ago. Just like everybody else, I had been reading some of them here and there. Sure, I had a few bookmarks on my work & personal laptop. But I never really got into the habit of actively leveraging the awesome, inspiring and educational content many blogs offer us today. I never systematically participated in highly valuable discussions around certain posts that cover topics that are important to my job and personal life. And that is really too bad. Many of my friends and colleagues are running into the same issues. But the iPad and some awesome apps changed that. Here are some ideas for you to get started with enjoying the valuable content.

“The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.” Shawn Achor

The biggest hurdle for me to really enjoy blogs was the process of sourcing the content. Bookmarks here and there didn’t do it for me. I tried loading a few RSS Feeds into my mail program but that didn’t work either. Google Reader did a somewhat decent job for a while but I do not usually enjoy reading on my laptop. Plus, I spend so much time on the road. But the iPad started offering some amazing Blog Readers. These apps allow you to easily subscribe to your favorite blogs and to take the content with you. Even offline. The apps basically automate the sourcing process.  Suddenly I had access to valuable blog content even while sitting on an airplane. And that is what did it for me. Today, I read a ton of blogs on a daily basis. What apps are there? Well, I use three different ones. And I am not quite sure yet, which app is my favorite.

EARLY EDITION

The Early Edition looks and handles like a regular newspaper. You can literally sit down every morning with your coffee and read your personal blog and newsfeed paper. New blog posts and news are easily identified. Navigation is intuitive. The layout is very simple but effective from my point of view. All synchronized content is available offline (except for photos and graphics).  The app is pretty fast overall. However, subscribing to new blogs is a bit tedious: You have to know the feed address and copy it into the app. This app currently costs USD 4.99 making it one of the more expensive readers.

PULSE

Pulse is one of the most popular readers (it’s currently free!) But I am still warming up to it. The interface looks sophisticated but it is a bit too loud for my taste. There is a lot going on which impacts the reading experience. On the other hand, subscribing to new blogs and newsfeeds is super easy: there is a catalogue and you can search for specific blogs. The original setup process is therefore a lot easier than with the Early Edition. You can also add Facebook updates to the reader. Content is available offline but without pictures and graphics.

BLOGSHELF

Blogshelf is an app that I just recently added. I was a bit frustrated with the fact that Early Edition and Pulse do not synchronize photos and graphics for offline use. Blogshelf fixes that issue and even allows you to save certain pictures to your photo collection. The app has a clean interface that looks and feels like iBooks. Searching for new blogs and other feeds is extremely easy and pleasant. It took me under five minutes to get the app up and running with my content. But organizing blogs is abysmal. The other two readers are much better at that. Identifying new blog posts requires you to scan through your entire bookshelf and to look for little orange triangles on the different subscriptions.

GET STARTED

If you own an iPad or a smartphone, take a look at these iPad Blog Readers. My personal favorite is still Early Paper but I am slowly migrating towards Blogshelf because of the ability to view the entire post (with graphics) in offline mode. All apps have definitely made a huge difference for me. There are some excellent blogs out there and it would be a shame to miss engaging with the content and/ or the authors. These apps lower the hurdle towards actively reading and following the blogs. And of course: Make sure to subscribe to this blog! 😉 Let me know if you have other iPad Blog Readers and experiences to share.

UPDATE – September 2012

Things have changed since the original post. Blogshelf is no longer available in the app store. It still works on iOS 6, although it does crash often. The Early Edition has received a major make-over and looks better than ever. You can also export all your feeds and import them easily to Google Reader. This app is by far my favorite. Pulse has improved dramatically as well. However, it only allows 60 feeds. I do follow a ton of blogs and this is not enough for my only personal taste.

Three lessons from the Flip story

Did you read the news the other day? Cisco is shutting down it’s Flip business unit.  I was a bit stunned. They had just bought them for around 590 million USD two years ago. The first Flip hit the markets less than four years ago (2007). And it was (and still is!) a huge success. In his book ‘The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs‘, Carmine Gallo states:

“The Flip changed everything. From 2008 to 2009, the video camcorder market grew by 35 percent. Flip products represented 90 percent of the growth.”

What is going on and what can we learn from this story?

THE FLIP

Simple enough! The Flip

In case you don’t know the Flip: it is the simplest camcorder available in the market. Its inventors took a highly complex product (that was probably collecting dust in the camera bags of millions of people) and made it super simple and easy to use. The Flip only has a few simple buttons and even a kid can learn how to use it in under a minute. The quality of the recordings is excellent for most situations. This simplicity lowered the barrier to shoot high quality video and people starting buying and actually using the Flip everywhere.  The Flip has been ranked as one of the bestselling items on Amazon for a long time. I am personally sad to see Cisco shut down this business. But I believe that there are three lessons we can all learn.

EMBRACE SPEED

This story is an excellent reminder of how quickly things can change these days. Product lifecycles are getting shorter and shorter. It supposedly took the radio over 38 years to reach 50 million users. The iPod did that in just about three years. A different camcorder I bought just four years ago now has a market value of roughly 5 Euros on eBay. Businesses need to embrace this speed. They need to be prepared to deal with this. Complacency is no longer viable. What worked yesterday doesn’t have to work tomorrow.

STAYING ALERT AND AGILE

Smart phones & tablets push out the Flip?

The other lesson of the Flip is that all businesses need to stay on their toes. Competition for products and services can come from completely unexpected areas other than our traditional competitors. The Flip for example was not threatened by the traditional camera manufacturers like Canon or Panasonic. No, the biggest competitor is/ was the smart phone. Why bother with a Flip if you can use your iPhone to record decent video? And the smart phones threaten some other product categories as well. Just like Cisco, the traditional GPS producers have been trying to figure out how to compete in this new smart phone world. Traditional media like TV stations and newspapers are now facing severe competition from Twitter, blogs etc.. In other words, we all need to stay agile and aware. We also need to encourage our organizations to keep innovating. If we stop doing that we will most likely loose out. If you look at some of the successful businesses these days, you will find that most of these are known for its agility and innovation: Apple, Gore, Google to just name a few.

DECISION MAKING

April 19th, 2011 - The Flip is still popular on Amazon.com

But the biggest lesson for me here is that all companies need to get better at decision making. It is easy to believe that the smart phones have pushed the Flip out. But as of today (April 19th, 2011) the Flip is still one of the top-selling products today. No, there must be more to it. The reason for Cisco’s decision is probably caused by either a wrong decision they made two years ago or by a sound forward-looking decision they made last week. Many people were surprised when Cisco announced the acquisition of Flip. It just didn’t seem to fit into their portfolio and the smart phone market with integrated video was just taking off. This raises the question whether Cisco really went through the proper decision cycle including a thorough market analysis and also proper scenarios techniques. But another way to look at this is that Cisco might be really good at making decisions: the Flip is still selling well but the outlook of small camcorders being replaced by better smart phones is on the wall. Either way, given today’s rate of change it is ever more critical for all businesses to have situational awareness (how are we doing and why?) and to have the ability to think and plan ahead. Business Analytics help us make those critical business decisions.

RIP FLIP

Too bad about the Flip. I love it and still use it frequently despite my iPhone. Lessons learned here: Embrace the speed; stay agile & creative. But most importantly: let’s get better at making sound business decisions. Cisco spent 590M USD on this specific decision. Too bad!

 

Future Ready? A discussion with Steve Morlidge

Steve Morlidge, Future Ready

The IBM Finance Forum 2011 events have officially started in Europe. These events are designed for Finance professionals seeking to deliver stronger business insight to their organizations. Apart from being a great networking opportunity, we focus on sharing a lot of best-practice knowledge. Customers share their stories. And IBM also bring in great guest speakers like Steve Morlidge who share their tremendous knowledge in the finance area.

Steve MorlidgeSteve Morlidge will be joining many events across Europe this year. He is a true thought-leader in the area of financial performance management. In 2010, he released a ground-breaking book called ‘Future Ready – How to Master Business Forecasting’. Together with co-author Steve Player, Steve shares a lot of valuable knowledge that he gained in over 25 years as a senior finance executive working for international companies like Unilever. He is also an active member of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable (BBRT).

Steve Morlidge and I were able to talk over the phone right before the first Finance Forum event in Zurich.

Christoph Papenfuss: Many companies are still developing annual budgets. Is this approach outdated or is there a place for the annual budget?

Steve Morlidge: I believe that conventional budgeting is dead, or at least very much on the way out. It takes too long, hinders responsiveness and fosters all kinds of damaging political behavior in enterprises. Companies still need to do things like setting targets, and this may still be called ‘budgeting’, but it is a long way from the traditional process many of us grew up with.

Christoph Papenfuss: What are some of the key issues associated with the traditional forecasting process?

Steve Morlidge: In my view most companies do not understand the difference between budgeting and forecasting. As a result, forecasting is done in too much detail, but not frequently enough. More importantly, the mindset is very often all wrong. Budgeting teaches us that gaps (between target and prognosis) are bad, whereas the primary purpose of forecasting is to detect deviations from plan so that corrective action can be taken; so unearthing such discrepancies should be positively encouraged, not punished.

Christoph Papenfuss: Many people talk about rolling forecasts. Are rolling forecasts a viable approach?

Steve Morlidge: They are, but too often people underestimate the task. In my book, rolling forecasts are forecasts with a consistent horizon: 12 months, 15 months or whatever. As a result, at any one time a significant chunk of the horizon may extend beyond the fiscal year end. Many of the processes upon which forecasting relies – like activity planning and so on – are anchored on the annual budgeting process so sourcing the information you need beyond the financial year end can sometimes be a challenge, unless these supporting processes are remodeled at the same time. Also, conventional annual target setting, particularly if it is tied to incentives, can distort a rolling forecast process to the point that it falls into disrepute. As a result, my advice to people is to fix the ‘in year’ forecast process first, before you tackle rolling horizons and the ‘out year’.

Christoph Papenfuss: We all know the saying ‘You get what you measure.’ Does this apply to the forecasting process?

Steve Morlidge: Absolutely. In fact, if you don’t measure the quality of your forecast process and, most importantly, act upon it, you have no kind of guarantee that the forecast can be relied upon. Proper measurement – closing the feedback loop – is the only thing that separates forecasting from guesswork, and in my book, 95% of corporate forecasts fall into the latter category.

Christoph Papenfuss: Many organizations utilize spreadsheets to manager their forecasts. What role does technology play to improve the forecasting and planning processes?

Steve Morlidge: At one level technology isn’t important at all – the main deficiency with business forecasting is the processes used and the thinking that lies behind it – not the toolset. Having said that, few companies can sustain a successful forecasting process without technology that enables them to streamline processes, provide appropriate modeling capabilities, support rapid reiteration, provide insightful measures, communicate results effectively and so on. Tools don’t make a master craftsman, but without them nothing would ever get built.

Christoph Papenfuss: You will be delivering a keynote presentation at many IBM Finance Forum events. Can you share a few things you will be talking about?

Steve Morlidge: My main message is that the practice of forecasting is broken, not because we don’t have the tools, but because we don’t know how to use the tools we have. I will be sharing what I have learned about mastering forecasting articulated in the form of six simple principles.

You can find out more about Steve on his website: http://www.satoripartners.co.uk. To see a full list of the Finance Forums 2011 events and to sign up, click here.

The great productivity leap?

THE GREAT STAGNATION

Last Wednesday evening while waiting for a connecting flight at Vienna airport, I came across an interesting eBook by Tyler Cowen: ‘The great stagnation. Thanks to the iPad, I ended up reading the entire short book on the flight back home. To keep things short, Tyler Cowen looks at some of the reasons why the US economy is in a slump. One of the key points of the book is that the US (along with the majority of the Western world) have hit a technological plateau that results in slower growth, slower increases in median income and also slower productivity gains. While some of the earlier innovations such as the steam engine, refrigerators, air travel or TV had a huge impact on our overall quality of life and also our productivity, many of our recent innovations like the internet have had less of on impact (compare having or not having a fridge with having access or not having access to the Internet, or look at the options that air travel opened up for international trade).

PRODUCTIVITY

This blog post is not intended to be a book review, although I do highly recommend this quick and insightful read. But there is an interesting aspect that Cowen mentions: productivity gains are slowing down. We have already grabbed the ‘low-hanging fruit’ by exploiting machinery for example. This got me thinking: What about all the great technology that we have implemented in the past 20 years? Could it really be that we are not experiencing substantial productivity gains by using this technology in a smart way? The statistics apparently say no (Cowen points out that the productivity surge in the US from 2009-2010 was mostly driven by a substantial reduction in headcount). And what about Business Analytics? Shouldn’t that help us be more productive and to drive profitability?

ARE WE REALLY PRODUCTIVE?

To answer that question let’s take a look at a very simple example: the office of finance. A few weeks ago, I posted the results from a survey we conducted. It showed that many professionals still conduct their work by copying and pasting data into spreadsheets. And that type of activity is error-prone and takes a lot of time. As a matter of fact, many finance professionals still spend a solid part of their week loading, scrubbing & massaging data. And the resulting reports often leave a lot to be desired. They are static and not interactive. The result? A bunch of highly qualified and highly paid individuals do work that they shouldn’t be doing. Wikipedia defines labor productivity as “amount of goods and services that a worker produces in a given amount of time”. Spreadsheet maintenance hardly qualifies as a service or good, wouldn’t you say? In other words: whether we like it or not, many of us have a very low level of productivity.

BUSINESS ANALYTICS AND PRODUCTIVITY

Business Analytics has a huge potential to help us increase productivity. And I would argue that there is plenty of ‘low-hanging’ fruit. Think about a story that happened to me a short while ago: A CFO decided to implement a dashboard of about 50-60 KPIs (let’s not start arguing about that part…). His team was excited and started building a 65 page Powerpoint master template. The CFO was delighted. Guess what – three people spent almost two weeks per month on preparing this dashboard. Lot’s of time was wasted on extracting data from different source systems. Lot’s of time was wasted on creating Excel lookups, queries and charts. To sum it up: A big waste of time. The low hanging-fruit came in the form of a traditional BI platform. We hooked up the source systems, created the reports once, linked different charts to Powerpoint and voila: the monthly reporting book. It took one person about a day per month to check & refresh the data (there was still some manual labor involved). Consider the difference: three people for 10 days vs 1 person for 1 day. 30 man days vs 1 man day. Not bad?

THE BEGINNING

Based on my own experiences, I would argue that we have a huge opportunity on hand. Many companies have started Business Analytics projects but a lot projects are still highly focused and not pervasive. Once we start pushing capabilities out to a broader audience, we should be able to see significant increases in productivity. And this is not only about driving efficiency. This is also about driving effectiveness: just imagine what we could do, if we had the ability to understand our customers better. Just imagine what we could do, if we clearly understood which products are truly profitable. Business Intelligence allowed us to get to a lot of this valuable information. But I believe that we have only scratched the surface. The addition of predictive analytics to the mix offers completely new opportunities for all of us. I frequently work with some clients that have done some amazing stuff with the software. And their overall corporate performance is very impressive. I highly recommend reading the IBM CFO study which provides some great examples and insights about this topic. We just have to get started! What are you thoughts?

Social Networking = Better Performance = Happiness?

Amazon.com’s recommendation engine is pretty amazing I have to admit. The algorithms at work clearly know how to expand one’s horizon beyond the obvious choices. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised and almost annoyed when the engine suggested the fluffy sounding title ‘The Happiness Advantage’. Does amazon.com really think I need some self-help books??? To make a long story short, I ended up buying the book based on the enormously positive reviews and my general curiosity. Turns out that this was a good decision. But apart from providing some provocative ideas the book also revealed some highly interesting research about social networks. And this research is relevant to Business Analytics.

SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

One of the key points in the book is that the quality and the strength of our social network has a big impact on our happiness and our job performance. In other words: The more stressed we are, the more time we should invest in social interaction. We all seem to know that…sort of. One of the researchers mentioned in the book is George Vaillant. In an article from 2009 in the Atlantic Monthly he stated that there are ’70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.’ That is a pretty big statement, but I guess we all agree with that. So, that is not a surprise. But there is a big surprise.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK AT WORK

Shawn Achor goes ahead and describes that studies have found that positive social interaction between employees during work hours are tremendously effective at protecting people from the stress of their job. As a result, those people that invest in these interactions typically perform better. Again. Seems like common sense. But it gets better. The MIT was looking at this stuff as well. So they spent an entire year at a small company that you might have heard of: IBM. The researchers from MIT followed over 2600 IBM employees over an entire year. The guys monitored and analyzed various different aspects of the social network of these employees: Buddy lists, size & scope of their address books, social interactions. Here is how Shawn Achor describes the core findings of this study:

“(The researchers)… found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every email contact was worth and added $948 in revenue. There in black and white is the power of social investment.”

Wow….interesting insights. Wouldn’t you agree?

1+1 = 4?

In a previous blog post I discussed how IBM Cognos 10 allows users to leverage the power of social networking. Using the latest Cognos 10 platform, we can collaborate around Business Analytics using the same techniques that we use on the popular platforms like Facebook, Flickr & Twitter. Most of you would probably agree that this is a powerful value proposition. And the findings make sense if you think about it: Business today is complex and finding solutions to problems is complex as well. The better networked we are, the easier we can pull relevant people into the problem solving process. And if all this is facilitated by technology, we can collaborate in real-time.

THE PATH TOWARDS HAPPINESS?

Over the past few months I did run into some skeptical people. They still regard social networking as ‘a thing that teenagers do’. But let’s face it: the way we communicate has been changed once again. Email did that a while ago. And this study shows that there is a tremendous benefit in expanding and using our social network. And if it’s not just about better job performance, how about increasing our own happiness? Now that is a unique value proposition, isn’t it?

IBM Business Analytics at the Gartner BI Summit 2011

It’s that time of the year! The annual Gartner BI Summit is just around the corner. This year’s edition will take place from January 31st through February 1st at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London.

IBM is one of the main sponsors for this event, and my team and I will be quite busy during those days. We have planned some great activities to connect with our customers, partners and friends. There will be a big booth at the conference where we can meet. Some of our most knowledgeable resources will there. We are really excited to show our Cognos 10 platform. Here is a quick pre-view of some IBM Cognos related activities that might be of interest for you:

Monday, January 31st:

  • 08:30 – 10:30: The traditional Gartner keynotes should not be missed.
  • 11:45 – 12:30: Panel discussion – Peter Griffiths, our VP for Business Analytics development will participate. I love those panel discussions
  • 12:45 – 13:45: ‘Preparing a BI Strategy’ workshop hosted by @tracyleeharris
  • 14:00 – 16:00: ‘Best Practices in Rolling Forecasts‘ workshop….hosted by me. This is a great workshop for all people interested in finance processes.
  • 16:15 – 17:15: ‘Demonstrating Value’ workshop hosted by @tracyleeharris

Tuesday, February 1st:

  • 10:30 – 11:15: ‘Navigating Politics & Culture’ workshop hosted by @tracyleeharris
  • 11:30 – 12:00: Our keynote ‘Smarter decisions, better results’. Leah Macmillan will be delivering this presentation and I have the honor to demo our cool Cognos 10 platform.
  • 12:00 – 13:00: ‘Organizing for Success & Building a BICC’ hosted by @tracyleeharris

I have pasted the detailed descriptions of the workshops on the bottom of this post. We have limited space in all of these. So, please visit us at the booth early enough to sign up.

You might have noticed that my colleague Tracy Harris will be quite busy at the conference. She actually released a neat book towards the end of 2010. We will have plenty of copies for you at our booth.  If you want, you can also download a copy for free before the conference. Tracy will be spending a lot of time at our booth….so get your questions ready!

That’s it for now. Looking forward to seeing everybody at the conference. Drop me a note if you want to meet.

Workshop Descriptions

Best Practices in Rolling Forecasts Workshop
This workshop is a highly practical one where our team will share key insights on designing, implementing and using rolling forecasts as part of a best practice performance management process. You will find out whether rolling forecasts are right for your organisation, what the best time horizon would be, and how rolling forecasts can alert you to emerging threats and opportunities.  Discuss the relevance of forecasting, review best practices for implementing a rolling forecast, and identify how you can improve the forecasting process

Demonstrating Value Workshop
What kind of ROI do organisations see from BI and PM deployments? How do I
demonstrate the value of my investment? In this session, learn about building your
value portfolio for a strategic BI and PM investment including demonstrating ROI,
justifying your strategy, demonstrating value and how to embrace, enhance and
extend your investments.

Navigating Politics and Culture Workshop
Having trouble extending your BI deployment? Gaining user adoption? Learn some of
the most common practices and pitfalls that organisations encounter as they
implement BI enterprise-wide. Find out how they gained executive buy-in, managed
change, gained adoption and showcased initiatives within their organisation. By
learning more about these pitfalls and how other organisations have overcome them,
you will be more prepared for success.

Organising for Success & Building a BI Center of Excellence Workshop
In order to be successful at a strategic business intelligence or performance
management initiative, you need to be properly organised to execute. Learn about
the value of a Business Intelligence Center of Excellence, and discuss functions and
structures of these organisations.

Preparing a Strategy Workshop
What are the sweet spots of information? What key elements do I need to consider
when building a strategy? What is my business alignment strategy, my organisational
and behavioural strategy and my technology strategy? In this workshop we will
discuss the key elements to consider when building a strategy and roadmap to help
your organisation become best-in-class using analytics.


Books, books & the Kindle

This device is almost as polarizing as American politics. Crazy! I spend close to 200 days on the road per year and to me, this thing is the best thing since sliced bread…well…almost. I am talking about the Kindle – Amazon.com’s eBook reader. We are in the middle of the holiday season and many of us still hunting for presents. Many of us have to read a ton to stay current with business practices and we also travel. As a result, I wanted to share some thoughts about the Kindle. I have had one for a long time. Since the very first version. It is an amazing, yet extremely boring piece of technology. I do recommend it to anybody who likes to read and travel.

AMAZING STUFF

Kindle vs the iPad

This Kindle is amazing because it allows you to read books on an electronic device that doesn’t feel like one. The Kindle is as light as a small paper back and the screen looks and feels like a real book. When you first read something on the Kindle it feels almost fake. Yes, the screen does look that real. Start reading something on a Kindle and you will notice that it ‘disappears’ within  a few seconds of reading. You just become one with the content. Just like with a real book. And you can read it anywhere. The screen is just as good as any book. Event at the beach.

COMFORT

The Kindle is extremely light. You can hold it easily. It is actually a lot easier to hold than many books. I have read books on a plane (less space needed), on a train, on a ship, in a car, in a bed, at the coffee machine and on the beach. It simply feels really good in your hands. Much easier to handle than a book. Seriously.

HEAVY STUFF

And then there is the capacity. I used to travel with a bunch of books. No more. Books are heavy. eBooks typically don’t require much storage and the Kindle can easily hold 100s of books. Perfect. Think about going on vacation. One tiny device instead of 5 hard-covers.

REAL-TIME

You see a book and you want it. The Kindle allows you to download books instantaneously. Once again…great for traveling. And they are typically pretty cheap.

NOTES & HIGHLIGHTS

One of the best things about the Kindle is the ability to highlight sections, to annotate them and to bookmark pages. The kicker is that you can download the highlights and annotations to a PC or MAC. Extremely useful for business books. I love having a txt file with all my highlighted and annotated sections. It is perfect for sharing with friends & colleagues or to use stuff for presentations.

THE iPAD

The Kindle iPad App

Some people thought that the iPad would kill the Kindle. Not really. The Kindle is like a real book. The iPad is icing on the cake. The Kindle App works extremely well. Books synchronize with the Kindle so you can read books on both devices. In terms of actual reading, I do not like the weight of the iPad. It is quite heavy. And the screen is not suited for reading outside. There is too much glare. BUT the iPad works extremely well for certain graphics-intensive books. Reading business or photography books on the Kindle is a real pleasure. So the combination between both is great. But the iPad is definitely not a Kindle killer to me. On the contrary: it really enhances the Kindle experience.

THE BORING STUFF

Did I mention that the Kindle is extremely boring. Perfect. It looks a bit dull and there isn’t much you can do with it. Sure. You can browse the web but it is a poor experience. There are some games, but they suck. Really boring. Some bloggers have called that the biggest flaw of the device. One magazine was disappointed that the Kindle wouldn’t support Voice over IP. Hmm. Not really. When is the last time, we placed a call using a book? The Kindle’s lack of functionality is its greatest asset: it retains the real character of a book. I sometimes read on the iPad at night. But guess what: I end up checking email, looking at Twitter, surfing…it is just too tempting. That doesn’t happen with the Kindle. It is a real eBook! And that is awesome.

Shhh…THE SECRET

The 3G version of the Kindle allows you to go online pretty much anywhere around the world. That means you can access social websites like Facebook and Twitter. There are some countries on this planet that do not like social media and they block access. Not with the Kindle, apparently. When I traveled to China I noticed that I could get my tweets. At first I thought that it must have been a mistake. But when I returned from the trip, I found some reports that confirmed my suspicion. (see…the Kindle is revolutionary!)

THE UGLY?

Honestly, there isn’t anything worth writing about. The Kindle is that great. Sure. It could look a bit nicer. I certainly do not like the fact that I have to turn it off during take-off and landing. But I honestly don’t care. The Kindle has allowed me to read a lot more than I used to.  And it is really fun and extremely comfortable. Hope you are enjoying your eBook readers as well!