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!

Collaboration and BI?

One of the first things we learn from our parents and teachers is that we are stronger when we act as a team. 1+1=3 or something like. And it is true! I have had some of my best learning experiences in a team environment. Every once in a while, we forget just how powerful teamwork and collaboration can be. We get stuck trying to solve a problem by ourselves and we loose a lot of time. Okay. Everybody knows that.

But what about Business Intelligence and Business Analytics? Are we really collaborating with that team idea in mind? Even more important: even if we wanted to collaborate, would we be able to do so in an effective and efficient manner?

What does collaboration for BI and PM look like. Think about the following common situation. It is early Monday morning and you conduct some analysis in your BI portal. You quickly realize that there is a big problem. And you have no idea what to do about it. The first question that comes to mind is whether anybody else has come across this issue. But what do you do? It’s early in the morning. Nobody is in the office.

Social media are changing the way we communicate with each other. Email did that for us 15-20 years ago. Today we are at the start of a new revolution again. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc allow us to collaborate in an unprecedented way. We can leverage the wisdom of large crowds of people. People we don’t even know. The other day, I had a problem with my camera. I sent out a tweet with a question about it. 20 minutes later I had the problem solved with the help of other photographers out there on this planet. And this new way of collaborating is now entering the corporate world.

Back to our little Monday morning problem. We still have no idea what to do. Imagine we could quickly identify whether another colleague had reviewed this dashboard and come across this problem? What if you could see what steps they have taken to identify a solution? Wouldn’t it be nice to search for similar problems and find out how colleagues fixed this in the past? How about we could help other team members by contributing to their questions?

The time is right. We should be able to collaborate in our corporate world just like we collaborate in our private lifes. Cognos 10 allows us to just that. We can comment on dashboards, reports, cells, graphs. We can share activities, we can assign tasks. We can discuss, review and share. Just like we do on Facebook and Twitter. Within our own company. I have had to opportunity to test this functionality and I love it! But most importantly, the many customers I have shown this to love it just as much. When I return from travels through Europe and the Middle East I will share some additional thoughts and reactions about this. What do YOU think about this?

The Speed of the Dragon

The other day I met a good friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks. But it felt a lot longer than that. A ton of stuff had happened. A sign of the times? The speed of business and our personal life seems to increase steadily. The economy already feels like a freight train racing through the night. But I believe that we are about to ditch that train and replace it with a high-speed bullet train.

ENTER THE DRAGON

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to run a bunch of performance management workshops for finance professionals in China. I do have to admit that I was blown away by what I saw and experienced. Hustling & buzzing cities, shiny buildings, fancy airports, giant construction sites and many ambitious people. Many, many ambitious people. People that are starving for success.

Early morning traffic & smog in Beijing

THE SPEED OF CHINA

Time seems to run faster in China. Construction sites are open 24*7. Co-workers from that region told me stories about areas of large cities changing within just a few weeks or months. Changes that would take years in the US or Europe. And that was evident everywhere we looked. Our hotel had just opened a few weeks before.

THE STRADDLING BUS

But there was one story that really told the story of Dragon Speed. Right about when I left for this 14 day trip, some newspapers reported that Chinese engineers had developed a futuristic concept for a straddling bus. This bus literally straddles the road. Passengers sit in a cabin high up over the street allowing cars to travel underneath it. Well, that was a concept. We didn’t think much of it at first. But I almost could not believe my eyes when I read the paper in the Air China lounge on the way back to Europe: The city of Beijing had reviewed and approved the concept. And not only that: they were expecting to have a working prototype with the next 6-9 months. Wow.

THE ECONOMIST

In 2007, the Economist had predicted that China would overtake Japan as the 2nd largest economy in the world within the next ten years. It only took three years. What’s next?

Western governments & businesses will hardly be able to ignore this trend. We will all have to pick up speed and it will affect businesses across the globe. It will be ever more important to make sound decisions quickly. Performance Management plays a crucial role in this.

An interview about Performance Management

IBM Switzerland conducted an interview with me a while ago. For some reason, a friend of mine stumbled upon this last week. The interview was conducted in German, but I have attached the English transcript produced by IBM. The Podcast appeared on the Swiss IBM website.

Welcome to the podcast on the subject of optimized performance management. In the discussion is Christoph Papenfuss, director of the IBM Cognos Innovation Center. The interview was conducted by Christian Achermann.

Christian Achermann: „Mr Papenfuss, could you provide us with some information about yourself and your function at IBM?“

Christoph Papenfuss: „Gladly. My name is Christoph Papenfuss. I have been at IBM Cognos for six years. I began my career at Cognos in the USA, in San Francisco, where I managed the consultancy business for our customers on the West coast for many years. In this function, I worked actively together with the customers to implement performance management solutions. Two years ago I returned to Europe with my family to set up the Cognos Innovation Center.”

Christian Achermann: „With which difficulties are finance managers currently primarily confronted?”

Christoph Papenfuss: „We are certainly living in turbulent times, there’s no doubt about that. With the collapse of Lehmann Brothers on 15th September 2008 our world changed, and our finance departments were thrown into turmoil. The year 2009 is of central importance with regard to the finance department. If you look around at how companies are reacting to the crisis, you very often see cost management, active cost management, focus on cash-flow management, profitability of various products etc. and of course risk management. When examining the various areas in which companies are currently active, the finance department emerges as the expert in these sectors.“

Christian Achermann: „At the moment, access to the capital market is rather limited. Despite this, financial resources are urgently required. Which demands does a company need to fulfil to acquire financial resources in such uncertain times?“

Christoph Papenfuss: „It is in fact true, that at the moment, it is extremely difficult for certain companies to obtain new capital. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the CFOs of large German banks. The general tone at this event was that, in the future, banks want to receive completely reliable and sound information from the companies in which they are considering investing. This information must be provided rapidly, and the banks want to be sure that they are investing in a company that is being capably managed. As I said before, companies today must be in a position to provide the figures very quickly in order to fulfil this requirement. The figures must be available for various scenarios, and the investors of course want the figures to be reliable, i.e. so that as far as possible, there are no surprises. This requires very sound reporting and analysis processes; however, the forecasting processes are also highly important, and it is precisely here that performance management is applied.“

Christian Achermann: „A volatile market environment on the one hand conceals risks which need to be identified and managed, and on the other hand also hides chances which should be exploited. In addition, finance and business managers are under great pressure to take better decisions faster. Isn’t there a contradiction here? How do performance management solutions support the creation of well-founded decision principles and the measures defined on this basis?“

Christoph Papenfuss: „The volatile environment does hide risks, but as has been said, it also hides chances. This fact is unfortunately sometimes forgotten. Let’s take the example of options. The greater the volatility, the more valuable they are. It is precisely this current volatile environment that offers very many opportunities to companies. They can strengthen their position in the branch and generally position themselves better, i.e. implement new measures to strengthen the company in the long term. Let’s take a look at the effect of performance management. At IBM Cognos, we assume that the performance management focuses on three critical questions. What do we accomplish and how are we currently doing? Second question: Why is this so? And the third question is: what should we be doing? Should we stay on the same track or should we change something?“

Christian Achermann: „The IBM Cognos software serves to automate and reorganize financial and operational performance management processes. Could you explain this statement by means of an example?“

Christoph Papenfuss: „One of our very good customers approached us. He was confronted with a succession of negative events, and felt compelled to issue a forecast relatively quickly. The process took the following course. The event was registered. The management team developed a forecast: a global forecast for all finance data. This involved the creation of 150 Excel templates, the manual input of current data from the ERP system into the templates, the processing and sending of these 150 templates to the various business units. The finance departments had to sit down together with all the 150 departments and explain to them how these templates worked. Errors in formulae occurred relatively frequently. The 150 templates therefore had to be collected again to correct the errors, and then be resent. Only then did the actual process begin: the time-consuming collection of data as well as the consolidation of the spreadsheets. This can last hours, or even days. Moreover, specific parameters had to be changed as „what-if analyses“ were necessary. The process is extremely time-consuming. With performance management processes, this is a whole new ball game. Here I can manage my models and templates centrally, i.e. I need only change a formula in one place and I can send it automatically and selectively to specific business units. The business units can then process the templates further, and we as the finance department, support them. The data is then automatically consolidated. In this way I can create my analyses very quickly, or examine scenarios etc.; and all this in real time.“

Christian Achermann: „Which innovative solutions can be expected in the future in the area of performance management?“

Christoph Papenfuss: „Generally, I think we will see a significantly greater focus on the end user. It is a fact: today’s end users are highly qualified. They want and need to create analyses and reports very quickly. Today it is neither possible nor desirable to wait days or weeks for the IT department or other departments to create certain reports, carry out analyses for us or develop databases for us. This means, as an end user, I now need to be in a position to create my analyses personally, independently and fast. For this reason, the focus will increasingly be to provide the end user with an increasing number of and more efficient tools in order to fulfill this need. Naturally, you don’t have to look far for the integration of new technologies such as Web 2.0, mobile technologies and others. Over the coming years, many changes are in the offing.“