Friday, February 19, 2016

When Business Intelligence isn’t Intelligent Business (and what to do about it)


The great conference hall fell silent when the CFO stepped up to the front of the room.  He hadn’t called the whole IT team together since he had taken that position three years before.  The rumors and speculation of why he was doing this brought out everyone’s fears and excitement, not to mention creativity. There was even a rumor that he was going to leave the company and teach sky diving.  “There’s less risk in sky diving,” he often remarked.

“All of you know I’m the first person to encourage good Business Intelligence projects that can save us money or give us a competitive edge, but our track record with BI projects indicates that the cost simply isn’t justified in most cases. In fact, our track record is abysmal!

The soon-to-be sky diver turned on the projector. “Here we are. This is the bottom line.”


“Last quarter we approved twelve projects, and only one has been completed… three months later. We can’t pretend any longer, and it’s my job to say this.   These are all projects that theoretically could save us hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the data preparation is so complex and time consuming that that by the time we’re ready for the analytics, business drivers have shifted, which means that the data requirements have changed. I’m seriously tempted to get us out of the BI business.

“I expect everyone in IT to put some thought into this. My door is open, so bring me a solution.”

After the meeting, Marvin-the Millennial was already in the CFO’s office waiting for him.

“Hi, I’m Marvin. Fairly new here, but I have the answer. Remember Terri, the Data Warehouse architect, who…um..sort of disappeared a couple of months ago?”   CFO nods, “Very smart but, I must say, a little odd.”

"Well, her legacy is a couple of huge data warehouses that, as you know, sir, constitute the official repositories for all BI and BA dashboards. If I may be so bold, I believe these are the root cause of the long implementation times.  Since Terri left, I have been working with Enterprise Enabler, which is a data virtualization technology.”

“And what might that be?” interrupted CFO.

“Well, basically, instead of building ETL scripts and moving all the data into the Data Warehouse, you just grab the data from the original sources, live, with Enterprise Enabler resolving the BI queries on the fly and returning the data exactly the way it would if the data were physically stored in a database. You can avoid that whole classic data prep exercise and all the associated risk. On top of that, you can bring live data instead of data that is stale.”

“This whole story sounds like fiction to me. What if some of the data comes from systems like from  SAP instead of relational databases. That must require custom coding?”
“No – Out of the box.”
“Online data feeds?”
“Out of the box.”
“IOT, Big Data, flat files…”

“Same, same, same. Everything is configured from a single extensible platform, and the data relationships across these totally different sources are associated as easily as making a relationship across tables in a regular database. And by the way, these Virtual Data models can be used as Master Data definitions.

“You are not going to believe this, but yesterday I made a slide just like yours showing the data prep time with Enterprise Enabler.” Marvin unfolded his dog-eared slide on the table in front CFO.



“Come. I’ll show you what I’ve been working on. I’ve configured several virtual data models and set up various analytics dashboards using Tableau, Spotfire, and Power BI. Oh, and there’s another really cool thing! I can write back to the sources or take other actions from the dashboard based on decisions I conclude from playing around with the analytics.”

“Ok, Marvin, how are we going to get everyone trained on Enterprise Enabler?"
"They can start with www,stonebond.com"

"We are going to scrap any more Data Warehouse projects unless we need to capture the data for historic reasons. This will bring an important competitive advantage (unless our competitors discover Enterprise Enabler, too.)

Guess sky diving will have to wait. Let’s get this show on the road!”

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