my recent reads..

The BI/EPM Revolution (..needed, please!)

Frank Buytendijk makes a good case for why generic BI/EPM frameworks are most probably pretty useless in practice.

What puzzles me deeply is that so much of the focus of BI remains concerned with the technology infrastructure and dashboard bells and whistles. This is seen most clearly when a new enterprise application or business process is being introduced, and you hear the almost dismissive assertion made that "it will integrate with you DWH", or that it will "plug in to your management dashboard". And "we'll scope for, let's say, 20 reports to be built".

I think we are all missing the point.

I'm going to suggest that on the whole, business is still struggling with two symptoms of IT growing pains ...

  • The IT profession has lost sight of the fact that reports, dashbords and the like are not end products in their own right. They typically have no intrinsic value. The value lies purely in the decisions and actions that may be taken as a consequence (the exception perhaps being for reports that are required by an external party such as shareholders, government or regulatory authority).

  • Equally, I think business management is still adapting to a world where information is plentiful. Even when fact-based decision making is practiced, it is all too common to find it be based on spreadsheets (which may or may not have had their original source data pulled from an enterprise system).

Every time I hear the ERP vendors boasting about enterprise adoption, I cynically imagine a Microsoft advertisement that could (probably truthfully) claim
"99.9% of Fortune 500 companies run their business on Excel!!"

I think its easy to understand how we got to this position. I remember working for a reinforcing mesh ("fabric") manufacturing company in the late 80's. We had factories filled with fabric machines like the one in the picture. They weren't networked or anything. The only information that the production manager had to work with were the production sheets filled out by the operator each shift, and the maintenance manager had to send his technicians around to check out the machines periodically.

We were working in an environment where information was scarce, yet the business imperitives were very much the same as today: production manager was concerned with productivity and profitability; and the maintenance manager cared about the maintenance costs and machine performance (netting to the "TCO" of the plant). We managed through a combination of MWA (Management by Walking Around, aka gemba / genchi genbutsu), MGF (Management by Gut Feel! .. some would say experience;-), and also selected special projects to capture data related to problem hypotheses [what I was most involved in].

But the world has turned in the last 20 years. Today, most organisations have more information sitting in various databases and enterprise systems than they know what to do with. I believe the challenge these days is firstly to make that information accessible, and then - most critically - to ensure that our management practices can make effective use of that information.

We actually have great technology these days for cracking that first challenge - making information accessible and actionable. I like to think in terms of three tiers (management, operational, infrastructure), as in the diagram.

Unfortunately, that's often as far as our thinking (and implementations) go.

However as Frank points out in his post, we need to address the strategic framework for BI. How BI impacts, changes or even transforms the business.

For me, the implications are clear for all decision-makers (which may or may not just mean "management")...
  • In the past we have excelled at managing in an information-poor environment. Now we need to go back to school, unlearn some of our assumptions and practices, and start exploiting the information that (should be) at our fingertips.

  • This means a renewed relevance of management science, particularly quality management (e.g. 6 Sigma) and key concepts such as kaizen/continuous improvement.

  • In true "Flat Earth" style - if you don't, someone else will and then you are history, mate.

And for IT, I think a few things to consider...
  • First, get real and get connected to your business. You are not delivering 20 reports, you are delivering information that will hopefully help your business users may really good decisions, impact the bottom line and keep your job safe.

  • Avoid the temptation to dumb-down and de-scope BI and reporting. It could be the most business-critical aspect of the whole project ... Promote monitoring and management to first-order use cases.

  • Consider all tiers of monitoring and management: from corporate performance, to operational management, to infrastructure.

So maybe this is an aspect of what Enterprise 2.0 is really all about?
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Take the 2007 Perl Survey

Take part in the 2007 Perl Survey! The Perl Survey is an attempt to capture a picture of the Perl community in all its diversity. No matter what sort of Perl programmer you are, they'd love to hear from you.

The survey can be found at:

It only takes about 5 minutes to complete, and will be open until September 30th, 2007.
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My Crazy Roommate

If you've ever known or lived with someone who seems to lived in an alternate reality, you need to check out the My Crazy Roommate blog. This site is hilarious. Make sure you checkout his superpowers ..
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The Ambler Warning

I remember first getting hooked on Robert Ludlum when I was about 13. Desperate for something to relieve the boredom while sick for a few weeks, I borrowed The Chancellor Manuscript from my Dad. For many years, devouring and disecting the latest Ludlum was a unique pleasure we shared.

I guess my reading interests wandered, and The Ambler Warning is one of the first Ludlum books I've read for some time. I was surprised he was still writing. A quick check unfortunately confirmed that the newer books are ghost-written under the direction of Ludlum's estate, and apparently based on the wealth of notes and partially completed works he left behind. Sadly, Robert Ludlum himself died in 2001.

Putting these thoughts aside however, The Ambler Warning stands up as a very engaging read in true Ludlum style. Harrison Ambler, former covert operative, escapes from a state psychiatric facility. Even as he tries to make sense of his own memories, it seems everyone is out to kill him. Finding out why is the key to his sanity, and also stopping the bad guys.

Coincidentally, it proved to be an evocative counter-point to the last book I read, blink. Harrison Ambler is so successful in the field because he has the ability to instantly and accurately read people .. "the walking polygraph". At the outset, he has uber-rational CIA auditor Clayton Caston on his tail .. "..don't talk to me about feelings..". Ironically, they find that only in teaming up can they win.

So in a way, this is affirming one of the central themes in blink: sometimes you can't trust gut reaction, and sometimes you can't trust rational analysis either. But if you consider both, then you have considerably increased your chances of being correct.

Still more coincidences in the cameo department. As the book reaches a climax, action centers on the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos..
"A couple of yards away from him, an older, rangy American billionaire - someone whose 'enterprise software' was an industry standard across the globe..." Hmmm, ring any bells? If you don't think Bill makes 'enterprise software', then I reckon it can only be one person ... but then again, I did just read Softwar.

"Another audience member - a woman Ambler vaguely recognized from pictures, a CEO of a tech company, blond and perfectly coiffed - looked distracted, as if rehersing talking points for an upcoming interview.." Got to be Carly!

Favourite quote:
"There's a difference between risk and uncertainty .. Risk is quantifiable. Uncertaintly isn't. It's one thing to know there's a fifty-fifty chance of something going wrong. It's another not to know what the chances are at all."

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