December is always an interesting month. Analysts, software companies and journalists post a ton of predictions, reviews and opinions to celebrate the start of the new year. 2012 is not different. Here are a a few posts that I highly recommend reading.
Most influential visualizations
Tableau Software without a doubt knows a lot about data visualization techniques. That’s why I happily viewed one of their new presentations out on Slideshare. It’s called ‘The 5 most influential data visualizations of all time”. Some of the featured visualizations have been discussed by Stephen Few and Edward Tufte, but it’s well worth spending a few minutes reviewing and thinking about how they changed the course of time.
Are you ready for some hilarious reading? Well, here it is. The good folks over at the Simply Statistics blog compiled a number of data visualizations that appeared on Fox News (don’t worry – this is NOT about politics). Most of the featured charts are flawed from a technical point of view, but it turns out that they do an excellent job of communicating the intended message (which can be very different from what the actual data says….). Read with a smile but don’t loose focus on the idea that there is an important message! Most of us strive to produce visualizations, dashboards and reports to provide an accurate portrait of reality. But we can also twist this around and do the opposite: confuse and mislead. You might also want to take a quick look at the comment section of that blog entry. That’s where the post starts getting political.
Nucleus Top Ten Predictions for 2013
Nucleus is one of those research houses that produces very interesting reports. I don’t always agree with the stuff that they write, but it is certainly amongst the most tangible in the industry. Their 2013 predictions don’t disappoint. And guess what – BI is on top of the list. The remaining predictions represent a mixture of different trends – most of which affect analytics to a certain degree. In any case, the free report is well worth a five minute investment. One of my favorite statements is: “It’s time to make sure HP has signed its organ donor card.”You can download the free report from the Nucleus website.
Many of us get really frustrated when business people do not immediately embrace our analytics solutions. But let’s step in their shoes for a moment. Trusting analytics for decision making is leap of faith. Imagine you are a manager who is used to listening to his gut feeling and intuition. We can’t expect that person to immediately embrace the latest and greatest analytics solution. As a matter of fact, data can often be viewed as some scary. Starting to rely on analytics can therefore often feel like the proverbial leap of faith.
Why is that so? When we simplify the feelings that a new analytics user experiences we can identify three major stages.
Reject: Can I trust the data? What am I supposed to do with it?
Accept: I can see the value but I can’t identify the stories
Embrace: This is cool! What else can I do with this?
We as analytics professionals have the duty to help people make that leap of faith. We have to make it easy for them to get from stage 1 to stage 3.
A personal story
About ten years ago, I got really serious about my running and cycling. Instead of just following my gut feeling for developing a training plan, I purchased a heart rate monitor, a cycling power meter and some analytics software.
Stage 1 – Reject: The initial experience was intimidating. Getting everything to work was complicated and there were a ton of data drop-outs. What about the data itself? It did not tell me anything. All I saw was a bunch of colorful charts and nothing else. I was ready to throw the stuff out of the door. It felt like a waste of time.
Stage 2 – Accept: After a few weeks, however, things started to work smoothly and a coach finally helped me understand the charts and taught me how to identify a few weaknesses in my approach. Based on those insights, I tweaked my plan a little bit. It was a positive step forward but I was still waiting for the big impact.
Stage 3 – Embrace: Studyingbooks and consulting with other athletes allowed me to achieve a real break-through. That’s when I finally learned to really rely on the data. Here is an example: Analysis showed that I had trained too hard for over two years. I needed to change my approach and spend more time recovering. It sounded scary: Train slower to race faster? Guess what – it worked! Once I started to back off, I was able to dramatically improve my performance. And that is my personal story of moving from stage 1 (reject) to stage 3 (embrace).
Don’t expect your users to immediately embrace your cool analytics solution. It is a leap of faith. It is your job to help and coach them. Show them how they can apply their data and the associated insights. Also, make sure that you develop solutions that are easy to use and that communicate clearly. Don’t let them alone. Move them along these three stages. It’s your responsibility! You can also find some ideas how to do that on this blog.
Greetings. It’s been an incredibly busy few weeks for me with lot’s of travel through Asia. The IBM Finance Forum events for that region were kicked off last Wednesday. I was pleasantly surprised by the huge number of finance professionals that joined the events in Taipei, Hong Kong and Shanghai. As I am still recovering from a serious jet lag, here are some short and pointed news for this week.
IBM Innovations in Smarter Analytics Launch event: Make sure to register for the June 19th launch event. IBM Business Analytics will launch and present a bunch of really exciting and cool new capabilities. The big focus will be on Analytical Decision Management. This is an area that combines predictive analytics, business rules and business intelligence. Using analytical decision management, you can optimize and automate transactional decisions by combining predictive models, rules, scoring and optimization techniques. Very cool stuff! There are also a bunch of updates to other products such as Cognos Express and SPSS Modeler. This is a virtual event and you can attend from your desk. Make sure to register today.
European Soccer Cup 2012: If you love soccer, make sure to watch all the exciting games that are happening this month. It’s been an interesting tournament so far. As a business analytics guy, I love to check out the statistics for the match. You can find some interesting information on the official site.
What does it feel like to run a company? How cool would it be to make really important decisions? How awesome would it be to have all the critical information that you need to get your job done? Good questions? Here is the good news for you: You can certainly experience what it feels like. How? Simply join the Business Analytics Experience Workshop. IBM has developed these workshops together with the team from Align-Alytics and PMSI. Participants get to run a fictitious company called Future Chips. Together with your team mates and a workshop host, you will analyze the past performance of Future Chips and you will get to develop strategic plans, marketing tactics, pricing strategies etc.. But it doesn’t stop there – the business analytics experience workshop gives you real-time feedback. All your decisions will be executed by a simulation engine. It’s quite cool!
The Mini-MBA in a fun format
A participant of the workshop recently said: “Attending the workshop is like getting a mini-MBA. And it’s fun!”. The business analytics experience workshop does teach you quite a bit about real-life business. It is based on the book “The Performance Manager“. Along the way you will also experience what it feels like to have business analytics available to prepare and make decisions. But rather than me describing it in more detail, you should hear from the creator of the workshop. My friend Roland Mosimann is the CEO of Align Alytics. We recently met at the IBM Vision event in Orlando. The team hosted one of the first CFO versions of the workshop.
The Business Analytics Experience Workshop
Come and join the Business Analytics Experience Workshop! First of all, it’s great fun and you can learn a lot. I have hosted close to a hundred of these and I love it. Find out more about the upcoming schedule on the IBM page. You can also read more about the workshop in a prior post on this blog.
Greetings from Munich, Germany! Just a quick update for this week.
New Business Analytics blog
There is a new business analytics blog you should check out. It is written by my Australian colleague Katrina Read and it’s called Kat’s Insigh. Her blog focuses on thoughts and ideas around IBM Business Analytics. Make sure to bookmark the site and/ or to subscribe to Katrina’s RSS feed.
The IBM Vision 2012 event in Orlando was awesome. Almost 800 finance and risk professionals met last week to discuss trends in processes and technology. I personally enjoyed the clear focus on the conference. The break-out sessions were fantastic. I will try to post a few customer interviews next month. In the meantime, I would like to encourage you to watch the keynotes from Vision 2012. The Livestream channel features some great stuff including a thrilling presentation by Mt Everest explorer Alison Levine and IBM’s CFO Mark Loughride.
Greetings from Orlando. I left Munich Saturday morning to attend the IBM Vision 2012 conference. This three day event for finance & risk management professionals will be exciting. There are fantastic keynotes lined up as well as a ton of awesome break-out sessions. I am really looking forward to it.
The keynotes at IBM Vision 2012 promise to be especially interesting this year. The list of external speakers includes John Hagerty from Gartner, book author Michael Mauboussin and Everest explorer Alison Levine. Of course, there are also exciting IBM speakers including Les Rechan (GM for Business Analytics) and Mark Loughridge (CFO of IBM). I will be showing some great new solutions as part of the general keynote Tuesday morning from 11am – 12am EST.
Join the conversation
For those of you who will attend IBM Vision 2012, please do reach out to me (@cpapenfuss). I would love to connect. If you cannot attend the conference, you can still participate in the conversations. There are two main options:
Join via Twitter. The official hashtag is #vision12 . Also, make sure to follow @ibmcognos for updates. I will try to tweet whenever possible.
View the keynote sessions from your desk via Livestream. All keynote sessions will be broadcast and should be available for viewing after the event as well.
Do you enjoy wasting time? I surely don’t and I do not have patience engaging in activities that do. Unfortunately, over the past few months I did witness several completely useless discussions about tools and their specific features and functions. So much wasted time and energy! While everybody focused on boasting & bitching, core issues were completely ignored. This is so wrong! But let’s back up for a second…
Tools, tools, tools
Back in February, my favorite camera manufacturer released a groundbreaking piece of equipment. The discussion forums and relevant blogs were going crazy for a while. People expressed their enthusiasm for the new features. However, the general tone in the discussion forums quickly turned sour. Photographers were lashing out at each other. It got really stupid (“Do you know how to count megapixels!”) and the discussions were far removed from the subject that should be at the core: photography. Photography is about taking great photos that touch people. It’s not about pixel peeping. One person made an especially smart comment: “Finally. This is the camera that provides me with endless freedom. All other cameras in the market have limited my creativity so far.” Oh well…..I am sure Ansel Adam would hold his belly laughing on the floor. His creativity was truly limited by his huge camera and the heavy stacks of film plates…..NOT!
There is a similar issue in business analytics. We sometimes spend too much time thinking and talking about the tools. Back in my Big 5 days, I sat with a client who was very dissatisfied with his BI tools from a certain vendor. He claimed that the lack of gauge charts amongst two other things explained the low user adoption. Guess what – the company bought a different tool but the dashboards still sucked. Why? They thought the tool would provide a miracle fix. All their discussions were focused on the tools and not the business process. I am still 100% sure that they could have built a highly valuable solution with their old software. Granted, it did not look sexy. But it was highly functional. Time for a reality check: High-pixelated garbage is still worse than a low-resolution masterpiece.
“Men have become the tools of their tools.” Henry David Thoreau
What’s the issue here? A ton of time is wasted discussing tools. The sad truth is that a new tool won’t guarantee success. Poor data sources, sloppy business processes or lack of user engagement are often counteracting the new benefits. etc.. Better tools alone won’t create better output. It takes skills to put the tools to good use. A poorly composed photograph that was taken with an expensive camera is still a crappy picture. A poorly designed dashboard built with an expensive tool will collect dust. It’s that simple. Ansel Adams is one of the most admired photographers out there. He used ancient tools. Would he have been able to make even better photos with today’s equipment? Most likely, but his photographs are still absolutely amazing.
Work on your skills instead of wasting time.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a time when it is really important to think about your tools. But it can’t be the constant focus. It’s easy and comfortable to drool over or to bash a set of features and functions. It’s a lot harder to put these tools to their best use.Pixel and dashboard peeping is a form of laziness. It distracts us from what’s important. Instead, we should take the time to hone our skills: data modeling, dashboard design, visualization techniques, business trends, etc.. My prior client that I mentioned earlier never took the time to work on the inputs for the dashboards.
Well, I stopped reading the camera forums and have decided that the discussions won’t help me take better photographs. Instead, I have resorted to taking more photos, instead. Why don’t we take the time to sit down with our business partner and build a solid prototype? Why don’t we attend a training in report design? Why don’t we read an article about data visualization?
There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in the Business Analytics area. Last week, I wrote about the release of the personal analytics tool Cognos Insight. But there is more. Along with Cognos Insight, IBM also released the latest version of TM1. And let me tell you, IBM Cognos TM1 10.1 is a significant release. There is a lot of new and really exciting stuff in there. Here is a really short preview. If you want to see more, make sure to register for the official virtual launch on Wednesday, March 7th.
One of the most significant enhancements to TM1 10.1 is the addition of Performance Modeler. This is the environment where you can build and maintain the different models for planning, forecasting, profitability analysis and such. Performance Modeler provides new and highly visual tools for getting the work done. There are guided processes for standard tasks such as importing data and deploying models to end users.
About six months ago, I had the honor to write a short article for the business magazine SUCCEED which is distributed via Austrian Airlines. Succeed is actually one of the frequent flier magazines that I love reading. There is a ton of valuable business content in there. The purpose of the bilingual post (German & English) was to explain what Business Analytics is all about. (There is a download link at the bottom of this post)
New Rules of the Game – English version
Business intelligence: Simply relying on gut feeling and limited information is dangerous. Successful businesses today work differently.
Think back 15 years ago: many of us had just gotten our first email account. Fewer people had mobile phones and the internet was just taking off. Many companies knew their competition pretty well and change usually happened slowly. Decision making was often slow due to a lack of information systems and we had to rely on intuition. Fast forward to 2011: Competition is intense, volatility is at an all-time high and constant change has become the new normal. Stakeholders, governments and customers are more demanding. To survive and thrive in this environment, different rules apply. Simply relying on gut feeling and limited information is dangerous. Successful businesses today work differently!
Last week, I wrote about Dan Zarrella’s book ‘Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness‘. The author declares that many marketing professionals often follow fluffy ‘guesswork’ when it comes to social media. The book implies that the marketing profession is struggling with social media. Is that really so? Are professionals maybe in denial of the new normal? Good questions. It seems like many of them might be scrambling, indeed. At least that is the finding of the 2011 IBM CMO study. IBM conducted interviews with 1734 different Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) from 64 countries. The results are very interesting and I highly encourage you to download and read the study. But let’s focus on the social media aspect today.
The IBM CMO Study shows that CMOs share a feeling of unpreparedness. Take a look at the following chart:
Interesting! Social media ranks second. However, many of the other factors are related issues (customer collaboration & influence, for example)