Professionalism – 5 Things We Can Learn From Athletes

PROFESSIONALISM

Professionalism is on of those things that is hard to explain. We admire people that are really professional. And many folks would probably think of themselves as being highly professional. Yet, many people are frustrated when it comes to their careers. They are either not getting promoted or they feel that their accomplishments are not being honored by their colleagues. Instead of complaining, I suggest that we all look in the mirror and ask ourselves an important question: Are we really demonstrating true professionalism?

THE RISING STAR

The other day I saw an interview with one of the rising soccer stars in Germany. This 21 year-old ‘kid’ was asked about his plans for 2012. Let me tell you, I was blown away by his response. First, he presented his progress in 2011. He was very specific. Then he proceeded to discuss some of the gaps he was looking to fill. And he finished by providing a quick overview of his planned activities for closing his perceived gaps. That raised a question: How many of us would be prepared to do the same?

5 THING TO LEARN

To compete at the highest levels in sports, you really need to demonstrate professionalism. Talent alone is not enough. It will get you to the 96% level but not any further. To be successful, athletes make huge sacrifices and investments. Having had the opportunity to work with a few professional cycling & running coaches in the past, I pulled together a short list of things professional athletes do. Take a look and ask yourself how you rate in each one of these items:

Continuous improvement: Athletes cannot afford to stagnate or to stand still. The competition is intense. They are extremely focused on continuously improving their skills. Day after day, week after week. These guys set themselves challenging & objective goals and they go after them with a club. Ask yourself: Are you really working on improving your skills, or are you just getting work done. It is worth taking a moment and reflecting on where and how we have improved. How can we make sure that we stay competitive? Set some ambitious developmental goals and work on those every day.

Discipline & Sacrifice: Athletes are extremely disciplined. They focus on their goals like there is no tomorrow. Training at a high level can be extremely painful sometimes. If achieving the individual training goals requires riding a bike in freezing rain for six hours, they will do it. There is no partying on the day before an important competition. Ask yourself: Am I really disciplined at work or do I choose the  ‘let’s wing it approach’? Am I prepared to do whatever it takes to reach my personal goals and the goals of my company? Review some situations where a more disciplined approach could have improved your performance. Work on your discipline.

 

Professionalism
Looks smooth. But it hurts. It really hurts.

Coaching: Professional athletes work with coaches. Coaches help us identify strengths and weaknesses. They help us develop improvement plans. And they provide feedback which we can use to increase our performance. Ask yourself: Have you actively solicited feedback from your manager, spouse, friends? Who could act as your coach? At a minimum, plan to take some time to review your performance once in a while.

Innovation: Athletes typically have the latest and greatest material. Whether it is a super-light carbon bike or a stiff ski, athletes know how to use innovation to their advantage. They probe, they test and they demand the best. And it is not just about materials. There are also training methods. Lance Armstrong always pulled together a team of experts from different disciplines to craft new training methods. They pushed the envelope. Ask yourself: Are you trying to push the envelope or are you set in your ways?  Are you actively trying to educate yourself in the latest and greatest materials for your job? Develop a healthy level of curiosity. Take some risks. Try something new. Adopt new technology. And keep an open mind.

Rest Periods: Athletes know that they can’t run one marathon after another. Our capacity is limited, unfortunately. Rest periods allow our bodies to replenish resources and to heal. Athletes therefore schedule frequent rest. During these times, they let go (think: less discipline), they relax and they step back from their demanding jobs. Soccer players stop chasing a ball, cyclists put their bike in the garage, etc.. Many people are afraid that rest will set them back. But as a matter of fact, we typically return in much better form. So, take a good look at your schedule. Are you engaged in a never-ending race? Schedule active rest periods (vacation, etc..) and don’t feel guilty about it. Plan on doing something completely different and leave your Blackberry at home.

IMPROVING

Implementing a few of these things can make a huge difference. If you want to learn more about professionalism, I highly recommend David Maister’s classic book True Professionalism. This makes for great reading over the holidays!

Charts? Yes, I know….

Dashboarding….Part 2.

Yes, we do know that we shouldn’t eat those chips. Yes, we do know that we should read more books. Yes, we know that we shouldn’t drink that much coffee. But…..BUT…..We all know that there are small things we can do that could really have a big impact on our life or job. But we still don’t do these extra little things but they take time and effort. We are all guilty of that. I am for sure. Most of us can tell some stories about that.

CRITICAL SKILLS

About a year ago I had a revelation. Together with two hundred other business and IT people, I was listening to a presentation about common data visualization mistakes. YAWN…. How exciting. A few minutes into the presentation it dawned on me. I actually didn’t know all that much about proper charting techniques. I had never actually paid much attention to it. By looking at the reaction of the other attendees around me, I noticed that they were in the same boat. How can that be? We are all professionals that are dealing with data on a daily basis. Yet, so many of us have never paid much attention to proper visualization techniques.

THE MAGIC PIE

What is the message?

That day I decided to make a change.  I felt a pressing need to learn more about charting techniques. And when you look around you can easily see that many of us need to make this change as well: We use ugly pie charts left and right, we create meaningless 3D visualizations and we connect data points that should not be connected. And that is not too surprising. Nobody ever really taught us how to properly visualize data and when to leverage which type of chart. To make things worse, nobody ever questions this. Executives seem happy with their colorful 3D charts. I will never forget the day when my then-boss at a traditional German company almost fell off his chair when saw a ‘cool’ 3D diagram I had produced with Lotus 1-2-3. But at the end of the day, many charts do a very poor job at telling a good story about the data.

DATA IS THE NEW OIL

Data volumes grow. The speed and volatility of business are increasing. As a result, we all need to make sure that we find meaningful trends and insights in our growing pool of data. There is a lot of insight to be unlocked. Many people are therefore saying that ‘data is the new oil’. But in order to really get the best out of our data we need to learn how to visualize it properly.

THE POWER OF VISUALIZATION

As John Medina points out in his bestselling book ‘Brain Rules’: “Vision trumps all other senses.” The nerve pathways of our eyes to brain are extremely powerful. John Medina continuous by saying that “Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images”. In other words: dry tables of numbers just don’t cut it. A picture says more than a thousand words. Let’s create charts that tell a powerful story. And those charts are especially useful when we utilize them in dashboards. Dashboards should be visual to allow users to quickly absorb and digest critical information.

CHANGE

Charts can convey a powerful message

We should therefore all take the time to learn more about charting techniques. And it’s a simple thing to do. Pick up a copy of one of Stephen Few’s books (see below for a list of recommended reading). Roam around the website of visualization artist David McCandless (I wrote about him a while ago). Play with your current numeric reports and put them into charts. Compare the different stories. Over the next few weeks, I will write some posts about some of the powerful charting options in IBM Cognos 10. IBM Cognos 10 comes with almost 160 different chart types. There are some fantastic tools in there that can really make your data fly. Make sure to follow along to get some tips and tricks.

Recommended reading:

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?

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.


Never trust a statistic?

Everybody hates and loves statistics. Right? If we can, we use statistics to obtain buy-in. Otherwise we might argue against them. They always say: “Never trust a statistic that you haven’t manipulated yourself.”

Regardless of what we think about statistics, we are constantly being bombarded by them. News, websites, TV, etc.. They are everywhere. In business we drown in metrics. In our personal lives we suffocate from mind-boggling numbers like deficits, deaths, cost and you name it. But there is a fundamental flaw with the way we communicate data points: They are often meaningless. Because we do not understand them. What’s a 23 billion USD deficit? Hmm…a lot of money. As much as I hate to quote a dictator, but there is truth in the words: Joseph Stalin apparently said: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

When we quote numbers we need to make sure that we put things into context. We need to make numbers more relevant for them to have impact.

In a future post, I will provide some tips for making data in reports & dashboards more relevant. Watch this inspiring yet frustrating performance by Chris Jordan to find out more about the blinding side of numbers:

And now something completely different….

Happy Holidays! Hope you will have time for a break to recharge the batteries.

A few weeks ago, I started reading a great book by Garr Reynolds: The Naked Presenter. The author turned my attention to a wonderful speech by John Cleese. Yes, the famous comedian. And this is not a speech about comedy but about creativity. One of the key thoughts that really struck me is the following:

“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. We do know that we do not get them from our laptops.” John Cleese

A simple but very powerful thought. Think about how much time we spend on our gadgets. We tweet, we blog, we chat, we email, we SMS. But do we truly spend enough time offline to spark our creativity?

John Cleese makes some additional excellent points:

  • We need to set time aside for uninterrupted thinking
  • We need to set ourselves boundaries: time & space
  • We need to be self-reflective

Folks, I highly recommend this short video! It has really made me think and I honestly found that I am not doing all too well with this stuff. There are periods when I get it right. Other times I just get lost in busy work (because it’s easy!).

Well, I have decided to take John’s advice and will take a break from technology over the holidays.

Wishing you a great start into the new year. Speak soon!

5 things we can learn from professional athletes

Here we are again. It’s that time of the year. We sit down and review our accomplishments for the year. And we are also starting to plan ahead for the next year. We craft plans and we get excited. Excited about improving our performance and the performance of our teams (apart from personal goals). Many of us typically focus on specific items that we can check off (attend a class, get my CPE credits, travel to Dubai, etc.). While these type of goals are great, we rarely focus on continuous improvements. And that’s a bummer. Research has shown that short-term initiatives typically don’t necessarily bring about lasting change (think about the infamous diet schemes). It is changes to our behavior that typically have a lasting effect.

Last weekend, I was watching winter sports on TV. Biathlon was on. The TV showed pictures of guys floating through the snow-covered landscape, they showed athletes trying to get their heart-rates down to steady their rifles. Pretty impressive stuff. And one of the commentators talked about the summer program for a certain athlete. Amazingly impressive stuff. The guy he was talking about (sorry….forgot the name…) is highly professional and scientific with his approach to achieving excellence in his sport. That made me think. We all admire professional athletes. And most of us have dreamed about being a professional athlete at some point in our lives. So we want to be like them, but are we really as professional in our jobs as these guys are? I honestly have to say: not always and I could certainly do better sometimes. Having had the opportunity to work with a few professional cycling & running coaches in the past, I pulled together a short list of things professional athletes do. Take a look and ask yourself how you rate in each one of these items:

  • Continuous improvement: Athletes cannot afford to stagnate or to stand still. The competition is intense. They are extremely focused on improving their skills. Day after day, week after week. These guys set themselves challenging & objective goals and they go after them with a club. Ask yourself: Are you really working on improving your skills, or are you just getting work done. It is worth taking a moment and reflecting on where and how we have improved. How can we make sure that we stay competitive? Coasting is not an option. Set some ambitious developmental goals and work on those every day.
  • The author demonstrating discipline - WOW this REALLY sucked!

    Discipline: Athletes are extremely disciplined. There is no partying on the day before an important competition. There is no casual approach to eating & drinking. If achieving the individual training goals requires riding a bike in freezing rain for six hours, they will do it. But they let go (within limits) and relax when they know they can. Ask yourself: Am I 100% disciplined when it comes to my profession? Am I 100% prepared for meetings or am I taking the ‘let’s wing it approach’? Review some situations where a more disciplined approach could have improved your performance. Work on your discipline.


  • Coaching: All professional athletes work with coaches. Coaches help us identify strengths and weaknesses. They help us develop improvement plans. And they provide feedback which we can use to increase our performance. We are sometimes too lazy or too afraid to ask for feedback. Ask yourself: Have you actively solicited feedback from your manager, spouse, friends? Who could act as your coach? At a minimum, plan to take some time to review your performance once in a while.
  • Innovation: Athletes typically have the latest and greatest material. Whether it is a super-light carbon bike or a stiff ski, athletes know how to use innovation to their advantage. They probe, they test and they demand the best. And it is not just about materials. There are also training methods. Lance Armstrong always pulled together a team of experts from different disciplines to craft new training methods. They pushed the envelope. In our jobs we often get too busy to look for ways to innovate? We are afraid to test new tools to deliver a superior performance (example: there are plenty of managers that are still afraid of social media). Make innovation a core value. Develop a healthy level of curiosity. Take some risks. Try something new. Adopt new technology. And keep an open mind.
  • Rest Periods: Athletes know that they can’t run one marathon after another. Our capacity is limited, unfortunately. Rest periods allow our bodies to replenish resources and to heal. Athletes therefore schedule frequent rest. During these times, they let go (think: less discipline), they relax and they step back from their demanding jobs. Soccer players stop chasing a ball, cyclists put their bike in the garage, etc.. Many people are afraid that rest will set them back. But as a matter of fact, we typically return in much better form. So, take a good look at your schedule. Are you engaged in a never-ending race? Schedule active rest periods (vacation, etc..) and don’t feel guilty about it. Plan on doing something completely different and leave your Blackberry at home.

Good luck with your annual planning! This is one of the most exciting times of the year. Implementing all this stuff is damn hard. It sometimes really sucks but it can also be a lot of fun. Nothing feels better than getting a lot of stuff done and to realize how much progress we are making.

As always, I’d like to hear from you to learn about your own experiences. That’s it for now…I gotta prepare for a long run out in the freezing cold snow…hmm…maybe…;-)

Cool software? The Connected Business – Part 3

Yeah, those spreadsheets. Welcome to part 3 of this series of posts. An interesting special section in the Financial Times prompted me to post a quick summary with interesting quotes. But the report did not necessarily provide some specific details about why spreadsheets make our lives difficult. Part 2 then focused on the particular pain points we all experience in our daily business lives.

THE PROBLEM & ANSWER

But how exactly does Business Analytics software help and how can we replace spreadsheets? I get very frustrated when I read white papers that talk about ‘gaining efficiencies and critical insights with the push of a button’. There is so much BS talk out there. And as a result, I find that there are many managers out there that still don’t understand what technology can do for them. It’s time for clarity, isn’t it?

A FAIRY TALE?

Let’s take a look at one of my clients. When we first met, the new CFO was extremely frustrated with the tedious annual budgeting process. A team of six well paid finance professionals spent almost seven months pulling the annual budget together. The entire process was run through spreadsheets. The team spent an awful lot of time managing the 250 something workbooks for the different cost and profit centers. Complex formulas had to be fixed, data had to be copied & pasted from SAP R3, files had to be distributed and collected, reports had to be manually compiled and reconciled. In other words: it was painful and the team of six had very little time to do something fun. Their workload was extremely close to the picture we discussed in part 2 of this post.

HERE COMES THE SOFTWARE

The CFO decided to do something and selected Cognos to help automate the budgeting process. It was actually a rather short project with only 35 business days for the expense budget. Cognos replaced the entire spreadsheet jungle. But why and how did it help exactly. Here are some basic examples:

  • Centralized model maintenance: One of the key issues with spreadsheets is formula maintenance across different workbooks and files. Instead of copying and pasting, BA software allows me to maintain my formulas in a central repository. One change in one place only. That saves a ton of time and also ensures data integrity. How is that?
  • Automated interfaces: Why should we have to manually load actuals or other data from transactional systems into spreadsheets? There is a lot of risk (apart from the boring manual labor). BA software allows you to run automated interfaces. Just like in our transactional systems. Nothing fancy. It just works. And it saves a ton of time and frustration.
  • GPS: One of the other frustrations with spreadsheets comes from the inability to track progress. A simple question like: “Has Ted started his budget?” can be extremely difficult to answer. The file is not on the central server anymore as Ted is out on a business trip (and then he deletes his file by mistake..). BA software allows us to keep track of progress and it stores all the data in a central repository. Again…a very simple thing. But extremely effective. Imagine a spreadsheet with a powerful GPS on the roof!
  • Cool interface: Working with a spreadsheet template can be very frustrating. Either the templates are completely locked down or they are so flexible that I can break them. Modern software provides us with easy-to-use interfaces (web-based). They are actually fun to use and I can customize the layout to my personal needs – all that without breaking the model. This is a great way to engage managers that are not so technology-savy.
  • Automated aggregations: Getting a snapshot of your budget can be a bit tedious with spreadsheets. We need to make sure all files are accounted for so that we can link our master spreadsheet to them and aggregate the numbers. BA software takes care of that….in real time. All the data is stored in a central repository. You need a snapshot? Give me a minute. Here you go!
  • Easy analysis: Performing detailed analysis on a spreadsheet budget can be extremely difficult. Management decides to make some top-down changes and finance then has to figure out how to push this into the different organizational units. Asking some what-if questions can turn into a tedious exercise. BA software allows us to perform analysis in real-time. It’s that simple. We make change somewhere, and we can report on that right away. Cool!

Ok…I admit it. This is probably a bit ‘salesy’. But that’s the way it is. By the way, this particular client is now able to turn the entire budget around in less than 1.5 months. They actually like the budget process (scary thought?) now. It’s nice to talk about this but it’s better to see this in action. Why don’t you come and join one of our global workshops?

The connected business?

The Financial Times from December 8th 2010 included an interesting special report called “The Connected Business”. A bunch of great articles about technology in the office of the CFO. One thing that caught my attention was the fact that the entire section highlighted the problems caused by the use of spreadsheets.

For people who work in the field of Business Analytics it has long been clear that while spreadsheets are useful, they are not the right tool to manage your company. People like us sometimes take that knowledge for granted. Here are some interesting pieces I picked up in the section.

Nigel Rayner from Gartner is quoted as saying: “But when I talk to them [CFOs] about management reporting, understanding the drivers of profitability, forecasting or planning, all they know are spreadsheets because they have always done it that way. They are not aware of how the technology market has developed.” Andrew Meade from Accenture confirms this notion in another article: “Most companies bemoan the fact that they have a spreadsheet jungle.”

Mr Giles Thomas from Revolver system highlights some of the inherent risks: “Businesses that start using spreadsheets for a specific purpose can get grabbed and they never escape. When you have a spreadsheet with thousands of rows in it, things can get quite nasty.” He highlights this problem with the case of an unnamed investment company: “For several months, they had been running the business on numbers that were meaningless. When people copy and paste, they often forget to incorporate the changes they have made.” The FT then highlights some of the other associated risks like proliferation, tracking, version control etc..

One article raises the question of whether the massive use of spreadsheets is likely to change in the near future. But the somber conclusion is: “He (Mr. John Van Decker – Gartner) and other business analysts do not see this situation changing quickly, because they say most business and finance education does not address these issues“. Mr Rayner adds “It is a cultural issue, because finance folks tend to be very conservative. They are comfortable with what they know, which is spreadsheets, and having an army of spreadsheet jokeys.

The point about education is an excellent one. I used to be an active  member of the Institute of Management accountants (IMA). The organization itself is great and I highly recommend their professional degree CMA (Certified Management Accountant). But they consistently frustrate me with their singular focus on spreadsheets. Hundreds of articles in their publications teach people how to leverage spreadsheets. They offer courses for managing a complex budgeting process with spreadsheets. Time to wake up, from my perspective.

The conclusion? Well, the section does offer some nice examples of how technology helps and I will continue to write more blog posts in the near future about that. But the key finding for me here is the astonishing fact that there is a serious opportunity for all of us. As a CFO I have the ability to gain a serious competitive advantage (or: to avoid disaster) and as a Business Analytics professional I can make a serious contribution to the success of many businesses. Let’s use this opportunity.

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Behind the scenes – Middle East Cognos 10 launch

Snow. Massive amounts of snow. And it’s really cold. Hmm…Do I really want to leave here? Greetings from Dubai airport. My colleague and I are stuck here right now. Most flights to Europe are delayed due to winter weather. Oh well….the joys of traveling. But this trip was really worth it. We just finished a three-country tour through the Middle East for the Cognos 10 launch. Three days, three cities. Three amazing launch events in Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait. Some of the customers I talked to were wondering what it was like to execute such an event series. Well, here is a little peak behind the scenes.

The amount of work that goes into these large customer events is crazy. Our great marketing teams spend a lot of time arranging locations, speakers, food, drinks and inviting customers etc.. Luckily, I hardly ever get involved in these activities. But let me say that much: I admire my colleagues for consistently doing an amazing job. It really makes a difference. I get to focus on the content and the presentation delivery.

For this particular event series, we had to leave Munich on Saturday evening to get to Dubai in time. The first event started on Monday. Getting up in a new time-zone always hurts on the first day. And so day after day we rush out to the event location early in the morning to setup the room, prepare the laptop, make sure that all the demos are working, check the microphones, upload additional presentations from other speakers etc.. I am always amazed at how much can go wrong with these type of events: The demo that worked in the morning suddenly stops working. The laptop shuts down without notice. The beamer does not receive a signal. Murphy’s Law?

The event in Dubai was a success but I am tired after delivering three presentations. Right after lunch, our team of close to ten people rushed to break down all the banners, pack up brochures, badges, lists etc.. Then off to the airport with a ton of extra luggage in hand. A few hours later, we sit down in Qatar for a quick debrief and discussion of the next event. There is always some tweaking that needs or should happen. Every country is different. Cultures are different. Audiences are different. There is no one-size fits all. Each and every presentation needs to be customized.

The next morning looks similar. Setup at the hotel around 8am, preparations and then another round of three presentations with a few breaks between. Before heading off to the airport with all our extra luggage, a journalist from the Qatar Tribune comes over for a quick interview about the launch. We finally arrive at our hotel in Kuwait around 9pm. Quick shower than out for a quick team dinner at a local place. Back at the hotel I can’t remember my room number and head back down to the reception. Long day.

The 7am wake up call feels like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day. Shower, pack, quick breakfast, taxi to event location, setup the laptop, discussions with the local team and a quick cup of java. As much as most of this is really busy routine work, I always get excited when the event finally starts. Presenting our products and talking to customers is a privilege and it is a lot of fun. Luckily, the Kuwait event was very special again. The audiences in all three countries were great. Unfortunately, I had to leave for Dubai right after the final presentation. On the way to the airport, my colleague noticed that the cab driver was falling asleep. So we engaged him in a discussion even though he did not speak a word of English. The surprises never end. Check-in at the Air Kuwait counter and then a quick snooze on the plane.

Waiting for the flight

8pm…I am checking into my hotel room in Dubai. 8:01pm….I am checking out my mind but I am very grateful for four special days with amazing colleagues & customers. But everything seems like a blur now. Too many impressions to process at this point. But it feels good.

Some final statistics:
Days: 4.5
Total travel time: 32h
Presentations: 8
Tired: Yes!