BI

7月 092014
 
Business Intelligence (BI) can mean many things to many people, but generally BI is associated with business reports. When you fold business analytics (BA), especially advanced analytics that are predictive or prescriptive, under the BI umbrella you inherently dilute the value proposition that analytics can provide to an organization. Why […]
1月 212014
 

Lights, Camera, Analytics! These three words best describe the unique experience which we had in India recently. Five days packed with customer interviews, recording insights on how they are leveraging analytics and data management to drive business outcomes, curb fraud, increase efficiencies and create a better future. Technical and business users, from organisations across Indian industries such as automobile, utilities, banking, government, education, etc., shared their views on SAS Solutions and also underlined the creativity with which they are using analytics to drive business impact.  It is clear that analytics is gaining acceptance as a key enabler of competitive advantage. Are you getting the most out of analytics?

To give you a feel of it, let me take you seventeen years back in time - When Arnold Schwarzenegger ventured on a mission to buy an action figure for his seven year old son, in the movie ‘Jingle all the way’. In the ensuing chase, he lands-up attaining much more than he ever thought and shares a delightful moment with his loved ones. In no ways, did I go out on a chase to procure a Christmas sell-out toy. However, the results derived out of this busy week was nothing less than a delight. While I was hoping that we get a chance to interact with 3-4 customers, we landed-up recording eight success stories. We interacted with customers from across Indian cities and industries. The week was packed with customer interviews, event, travel, interactions and loads of business insights. Right from the largest automobile manufacturer in India to an organisation that provides power to the commercial capital of the country to state government to two of the best B-schools in India to private banks, the week unfolded a new story with every passing day.

I wasn’t alone in this initiative, though. Bill Marriott, who’s the Sr. Director of Video Communications and New Media at SAS, travelled all the way from Cary, North Carolina to Mumbai. The week started with an interview with one of the largest private sector banks in India. The interaction highlighted how this growing private sector bank leverages analytics for curbing fraud and deriving insights from their goldmine of data. They shared valuable views on how the Indian banking industry has transformed over the years and explained the underlying importance of creating a delightful customer experience. After interviewing both the Chief Risk Officer and Head of Analytics at the bank, we ended the day with a great start to the week.

Day 2 was packed with three back-to-back interviews with the IT Secretary of one of the states in India and with two leading B-Schools in the country. The customers travelled down to SAS’ Mumbai office for the interviews. The first one to be interviewed was the IT Secretary of State Government. He talked about his experiences with data management and its importance in delivering citizen benefits. The importance of integrating data from multiple sources, removing duplicate entries, ensuring quality data and assigning unique identification to citizens. It was very insightful to learn how a technology like data management and data visualisation is empowering government to ensure that the needy citizens derive benefits of government schemes and fraud/leakages are plugged. By the time this interview was over, it was time for a heavy Indian lunch, especially for Bill. Later in the day, we interacted with senior associates from the B-Schools. This was a different experience altogether as the institutes shared how they are leveraging SAS’ analytical expertise to create business leaders of the future. They receive student admissions from varied cultural and professional backgrounds, with each student having a different career aspiration. They leverage SAS to impart MBA aspirants with a confluence of managerial and analytical skills.

Day 3, we were on the other side of the city for an interaction with a leading power distribution company. Electricity is something that we take for granted. Seldom do we think that if one machinery gets malfunctioned or one switch gets erroneously turned off, it can bring the entire city to a halt. Senior executives from the organisation talked about load forecasting and how it enables them in meeting the regulatory requirements and at the same time distribute power efficiently and save costs. They also showed us their distribution, operations and monitoring facilities. It was truly a great learning experience.

Day 4 and we were off from Mumbai to another beautiful city – Kochi. Here we interviewed the IT Head from a leading bank. He shared his views on how SAS has helped them in creation and allocation of unique customer identifications to customers and removing duplicates from customer database. This helps them meet regulatory requirements, gain a unique view of their customers, create a customer family view, optimise marketing campaigns and empower the branch manager/staff. The day not only ended with insights but also ended with an extra-large plate of South-Indian food, besides the pool.

Day 5 was a tricky one, as I had to head back to Mumbai for attending an event which we were conducting in association with InformationWeek and Bill had to fly down to Delhi to interview a leading automobile company in India. On one hand the event saw good turnout despite the bank holiday. Bill, on the other hand, conducted a successful interview with the customer. Their IT Head shared insights on how they are using SAS Solutions in order to optimise production, reduce delivery times, improve marketing ROI and derive customer intelligence.  Back in Mumbai, the event was the perfect conclusion to my action-packed week. The event saw participation from industries such as insurance, consumer goods, manufacturing, banking, telecom, oil & gas, etc. CIOs, IT heads and senior analytics professionals presented their views on upcoming trends in analytics, usage of analytics in their organisation, importance of business intelligence, data management in the age of big data, road to an analytical enterprise, and so on. To me, this was the perfect summary of the week.

Five days… multiple experiences. Experiences that reflected how organisations across different parts of the country and different industries are creatively using SAS’ expertise in analytics, business intelligence & data management to drive business objectives. Each organisation has a different set of goals and different game-plan to achieve the desired growth. Each one leverages technology for a different purpose altogether. They view technology not just as an enabler but as a secret sauce, that can be mixed with the overall business recipe to create a competitive edge. My moment of delight was not when the week ended. But, it was hidden within every interaction – especially when customers talked about the value which they derived from SAS solutions and how SAS helped them in driving business impact.

Stay tuned for a host of Customer Success Videos coming-up soon.

Click here to view a host of existing Customer Success Stories.

tags: analytics, BI, case study, customer success, data management, India, sas
10月 172013
 
There's no shortage of hype and confusion surrounding big data. Plenty of companies are starting to dip their toes in the pool despite the relative paucity of documented case studies – at least compared to ERP, CRM and BI applications. Sometimes people ask me, "Can you give me one tip [...]
10月 172013
 
There's no shortage of hype and confusion surrounding big data. Plenty of companies are starting to dip their toes in the pool despite the relative paucity of documented case studies – at least compared to ERP, CRM and BI applications. Sometimes people ask me, "Can you give me one tip [...]
12月 112012
 
To read more ongoing tips and insights for small and midsize businesses, follow our SAS4SMB blog series or visit SAS for Small and MidSize Business. Data underpins the operations and strategic decisions of every business. Yet these days, data is generated faster than it can be digested, making it challenging [...]
11月 272012
 
To read more ongoing tips and insights for small and midsize businesses, follow our SAS4SMB blog series or visit SAS for Small and MidSize Business . The software industry is a complicated place, with new technologies constantly being introduced. As a small and midsize business (SMB), how can you keep up [...]
9月 142011
 

Right of the Date Line...

So this is the first overseas trip in recent memory where I do not have a laptop with me. It feels strange. You might say, a bit of a gamble...
No laptop? Bit of a gamble...

It doesn't seem so long ago that "Mobile BI" was realistically BI running on a laptop and the early attempts at BI on smartphones really little more than a gimmick. Security was typically the first objection raised (either "I don't want corporate data stored on a mobile device" or "I don't want my corporate data stored offshore" such as in Canada ... ).

Adoption rates of mobile devices are far outpacing previously observed adoption rates of Internet or desktop-based technologies. In fact, Gartner predicts 1/3 of BI content will be consumed on mobile devices by 2013.

So why the rapid adoption? First and perhaps most importantly, the increased "form factor". Smart phones were really too small for interfaces of much sophistication but with the advent of the iPad and other tablet devices, we now have an interface large enough for "real" applications. Secondly, improvements made around security (more if this in a moment). Add in the potential for improved productivity (faster time to decisions, end-user self-service) and we are finally starting to see the "democratization" (is that a word?) of BI.

One critical area for BI vendors to get right right is the UI itself. My 4 year old son is already a proficient iPad user and if an iPad App doesn't work the way he expects (ie natively, supporting gestures like pinch and zoom), then he exits out in disgust and declares, "It's broken!". So treating mobile devices like "just another interface" or 'supporting' mobile devices via the browser rather than a native App has the potential to create user dissatisfaction. As Lalitha Chikkatur recently wrote: “The important thing to remember ... is that mobile BI is not just a mobile version of traditional BI; it is a mistake to overlook the unique considerations required for implementation.’’ (“10 Mistakes to Avoid in Mobile BI Delivery”, Information Management).

A key challenge in the past has been security. Mobile device vendors are finally starting to address these concerns, reducing the barriers to adoption from corporate IT. Seven device policies are currently supported:

  1. Require email session encryption.
  2. Wipe devices if they are lost or stolen.
  3. Protect devices with a passcode lock.
  4. Autolock devices after periods of inactivity.
  5. Autowipe devices after failed unlock attempts.
  6. Protect the configuration profile.
  7. Continuously refresh policies.

With Enterprise Security improved, reduced cost (compared to, for example, laptops), improved/unlimited data plans (in some countries at least!), and an improved form factor enabling business applicability, it is easy to see why analysts are predicting such a huge uptake in Mobile BI over the next few years:

“Forrester predicts that this future generation of mobile devices will eclipse the use of traditional laptops for mobile BI applications within three to five years”
(Boris Evelson - A Practical How-To Approach To Mobile BI, March 2011)

Here in the US, I'm finding that WiFi is available, for free, in many places eg malls, shops, hotels - thus enabling me to avoid the need to activate my iPad SIM (and incur very expensive Australian data roaming charges).

Free WIFI
Here in the US, I'm finding that WIFI is available, for free, in many places eg malls, shops, hotels - thus enabling me to avoid the need to activate my iPad SIM (and incur very expensive Australian data roaming charges).

With VPN, secure 'Cloud' data solutions like Dropbox and iDisk, and Office-compatible and other related business Apps on my iPad (including Roambi ES for SAS!!), I hope to find that I'm not missing my laptop too much. Let's see how that goes ...

Update:

Here are some things that I've noticed after a week or so with only my iPad and iPhone....

  • WiFi is not always reliable. While some may advocate a WiFi-only infrastructure strategy as 'good enough', I have found it at times frustrating to not be able to 'plug in' to broadband via Ethernet (wired) where available. In fact, in some hotels wired Ethernet is the only option. Pro-tip: Travel with a small wireless router such as the Apple Airport Express for such situations!
  • No ability to save-as or print to PDF. It makes it difficult to do things like saving online invoices, confirmations, sharing reports, and so on.
  • No access to Flash-based web apps or online Flash content. While this may become less of an issue as HTML5 matures, for right now it's an inconvenience.
  • Spreadsheet functionality is limited. I have a spreadsheet App installed on my iPad, but it does not offer full spreadsheet functionality. With spreadsheet use still so prevalent within organisations, I could see such limitations being an issue for some business users. In fact, In my recent survey of over 200 Australian managers and executives, I found that 90% still use spreadsheets for their reporting needs. This may be somewhat due to limitations with traditional BI solutions; newer BI capabilities such as SAS Add-in for Microsoft Office (AMO) now offer much tighter integration with Office components such as Excel, so I would expect to see this rate reduce over time.

Overall, I have found that I've missed my laptop for some of the reasons above. This leads me to wonder whether the estimates of Gartner/Forrester and others predicting such high adoption of BI on mobile devices within relatively short timeframes to be perhaps optimistic? While this could be possible in countries with extensive (free) WiFi for mobile business users, in other countries where WiFi connectivity is patchy or expensive, it may be that Mobile BI adoption could be somewhat slower.

tags: BI, business intelligence, Mobile BI
7月 062011
 

We are starting to see the emergence of so-called "Next Gen" BI. Trends include mobility, visualization/busines discovery, collaboration & search, cloud, "big data", and a move back to self-service or 'departmental' BI. Long gone (thankfully!) are the days of "BI is dead", "BI is just Reporting" etc.

According to @Claudia_Imhoff, Business discovery has 4 key points:

  • Simple & fast
  • Focused & personal
  • Shared & social
  • Mobile

Cindi Howsen is also making a list for 2011 and it’s called 5 Big Themes in BI for 2011. Cindi predicts, "Business intelligence will become more visual, mobile and social in 2011. But how should you balance central vs. departmental control, and does it make sense to upgrade?"

Here are the 5 Business Intelligence Themes:

  1. Advanced Visualization and Dashboards Go Mainstream: Advanced visualization and discovery tools continue to garner significant interest because of their ease of use, visual appeal, and ability to speed the time to insight amid vast amounts of data.
  2. Mobile BI Gets Recharged: Mobile BI didn’t even make my top trends last year, so one could say its appearance this year is quite a leap. In the cool BI class I teach at TDWI events, this innovation rarely gets top nod from attendees. However, few could have foreseen the wild adoption of Apple’s iPad. The wider screen real estate and sheer beauty that this tablet brings to BI is reason to take stock of your mobile BI strategy.
  3. Facebook Gives BI More Than a Facelift: Envision a Facebook influence on BI. Decision-makers bring together the right people virtually and users themselves control the flow and content instead of a central IT group who secures the data and subsequent analyses. Tasks, comments, opinions, and even new sets of data and analyses are brought together seamlessly.
  4. Economic Recovery Stretches BI Teams: The economy shows signs of recovering. Companies that weren’t using BI to work smarter are no longer with us. BI budgets are once again expanding. The challenge is to continue to spend wisely, but also, to keep up with insatiable user demand. Central BI can’t handle it all.
  5. New Releases May Bring Upgrade Fever or the Flu: The top-four BI vendors (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP) all had major new product releases in 2010. Customers who have been burned with painful migrations in the past will not rush to adopt the latest versions. In some cases, 2011 will be a time to assess the cost of upgrading versus the cost of switching preferred vendors.

I’m happy to see the move back towards 'Self-Service' BI. When traditional BI vendors walked away from their sweet-spot of quick-win, departmental BI solutions in pursuit of the 'holy-grail' of Enterprise Standardization (many users = big $$$!), they lost sight of some of the original attractions of BI in the 90's: Ease of Use and Time to Value. Hence I was interested to hear how the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) developed a flexible BI environment to help meet the energy needs of 30 million Californians.

2011 looks like being an exciting year for BI. And not just for vendors.

5月 222010
 

SAS-Excel

晚提到Excelpro的新书,《Excel图表之道——如何制作专业有效的商务图表》(刘万祥,北京:电子工业出版社,2010)。说些Excel,从一个SAS程序员的角度。

相对SAS,或其他的软件包(SPSS、R/S-Plus、Matlab等),Excel都是一个轻量级的分析工具。本来,Excel无意在统计分析方面跟那些统计工具包一较长短,各有适用的地方而已。但在商业世界,用Excel做分析的用户太多了,说最流行也不为过,一些统计学者,就提醒广大用户,用Excel做统计分析时一定要谨慎些,它有时候不够严谨有时候不够靠谱。详细的,可以参考谢益辉的三篇博文(以及他文中所附的参考材料):

1.Excel中的缺失值和0

2.为什么避免用Excel作统计计算

3.再谈为什么不用Excel做统计分析

用Excel本身的计算引擎有时是不够严谨,这是故事的一个方面(当然,它应付日常工作还是可以胜任的,对Excel,我们这点信心还是有)。故事的另一个方面,是鉴于Excel的广泛流行,各大BI(商务智能)套件,包括SAS系统,都要提供与Office/Excel整合的功能。上面就是 SAS Add-In for Microsoft Office在Excel里面的一个截图。利用这个Excel插件,商业用户可以继续使用他/她熟悉的Excel,访问SAS数据,并利用SAS的计算引擎来分析和作图,最后结果返回到Excel(或者Word、PPT)。一家公司不提供这玩意,它的BI技术就要受到质疑,至少也是没有做到user-friendly。夸张点说,小小的Excel就这样爬上了BI平台的最顶端。

我们注意到,与Excel的整合,重点是把它作为用户接口和展示平台。对一个传统的SAS程序员,与Excel打交道也是他职业生涯的一部分:

1. 有时候,数据会存储在Excel里面。你可能没法理解,为什么要把数据存在Excel里面,这样轻量级的数据,存在文本里面不是更好吗?在真实世界里,大部分人的行为模式一般是这样,他们打开Word来记事,打开Excel来记录数据。数据存在Excel或许也能接受,如果它们规规矩矩,行列有序。有一种情形就是,在一个Excel Book里,数据散布于各个Sheets,在同一个Sheet,数据可能不是按行列来排,而是长得就像一个report。平心而论,这样的数据真的是user-friendly,只是不够machine-friendly。在Windows平台下,SAS Base有三种最常用的方式读取Excel数据:

1-1 proc import or Import Wizard

1-2 SAS Excel Libname Engine

1-3 SAS DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange,这属于Windows的技术)

Excel不是一个跨平台的数据格式。在Unix平台下,如何读取Excel数据呢?SAS也有解决方案,那需要用到一个SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files for UNIX和SAS PC File Server for Windows,这也是一个Libname Engine的方式。

2. 读入Excel数据,一个相反的操作就是把SAS数据(或output)转化成Excel。程序员或许不太愿意,但这在商业世界有需求。这里SAS更是提供了五花八门的解决方案:

2-1 proc Export or Export Wizard

2-2 SAS Excel Libname Engine

2-3 SAS DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange)

2-4 proc printto

2-5 SAS ODS

2-6 data steps

2-7  SAS Add-In for Excel

……

除了DDE,你还可以利用其他非SAS技术,比如ODBC、OLE DB等。有一个小花招。利用ODS,可以把数据转化成用户可以用Excel打开的CSV、XML或者HTML格式,而它们本身是比.xls更优越的存储格式。特别是CSV(comma-separated values file),本身是文本文件,在Windows世界里,很多用户都把它当成Excel的一种格式,默认的打开方式也是Excel(而不是文本编辑器)。

罗列了这么多SAS与Excel的交互,回到Excel本身。它是一个功能强大的电子表格,在数据分析与展示方面也有不俗的表现(Excel作图,可以参考上面提到的Excelpro所达到的境界)。它赢得如此多的用户,说明它能满足大部分人大部分的需求。一个SAS用户,或者SPSS、R/S-Plus、Matlab等用户不必在统计分析方面展示对Excel的优越,这样显得就不够大气了——本来Excel就无意在这方面跟它们竞争。况且,即使工具之间有优劣,工具的本身的先后也不代表他们用户的先后,急于争辩工具厉害的人,往往忽略了人本身,自以为手持屠龙刀,就无敌于天下。笑话。

————————————————————————–

再讲个笑话,跟谢益辉有关(最近举例似乎老拿谢同学说事)。谢于数据可视化颇有研究,最近秀出了不少的工作,当然都是用R来展示。楼下便有人惊呼:R好强大啊。不知道谢听了做如何想。