November 5, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Today’s Financial Times ”Weekly Review of the Fund Management Industry” has an interesting front page article that really struck me. The article describes how a firm which specializes in longevity research for pension funds recently discovered a spike in death rates when more than half of the moon is visible in the night sky.
My immediate reaction, and one that I think is relevant for any of us in the field of research and predictive modeling, is “Who even thought of data on the moon phases as an input variable to this research??” Some think predictive modeling is an automatic magical black box exercise. But it really is just math and depends on the capacity to throw the net wide, so to speak, across a range of seemingly completely unrelated data to see if patterns emerge.
Now, does knowing that there is a higher death rate at certain points in the lunar cycle help with predicting longevity? The article suggests not, but it does help with predicting payout patterns, which is of concern to pensions as well.
Now, let’s see… what kinds of things might cause students to drop out? Donors to increase giving? Students to default on Financial Aid payments?? Maybe that crazy full moon has something to do with it! And now I have the King Harvest “Dancing in the Moonlight” song stuck in my head…
April 18, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Potomac, MD April 18, 2012 – ASR is pleased to announce the addition of a new Managing Consultant, John Marsh. He was formerly the Lead Software Designer/Developer for Business Intelligence and Reporting Solutions at Datatel (now ellucianTM.) In his role at Datatel he created advanced data model, reporting, and analytic designs to support the needs of a diverse client base of nearly 800 colleges and universities across North America. Prior to his work at Datatel he worked at Qwest where he was heavily involved in data warehousing design and implementation.
At ASR John has joined the Higher Education practice to implement a variety of Business Intelligence (BI) solutions for our growing client base. Some of the projects currently underway include implementation and knowledge transfer of the popular SAP Business Objects Enterprise, SAS Enterprise BI, and Microsoft BI platforms.
Beyond the technology itself, many institutions are struggling with getting data across their numerous systems organized, defined, and delivered to internal and external constituents. Our “analytic accelerators” leverage the higher education expertise, data and systems knowledge along with predefined template designs for student enrollment and retention analysis, student outcomes analysis with course completion and success. Coupled with recommendations for Data Governance processes, this approach covers three key success factors — people, process, and technology.
One of the more interesting projects currently underway begins to address the void of information about a student once they leave an institution. Student “swirl” as it is called, presents even greater challenges for institutions trying to understand the ultimate success of a student in achieving their educational goal. This is particularly true for community colleges where it is common for a student to come for a couple semesters or years and transfer to a four year university. Or, they may have regular stop outs and take courses at other nearby institutions as convenience and demands of life dictate.
By combining enrollment data with National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) enrollment and degree verification data, an institution can get a more comprehensive picture of the long term outcomes for their students after they leave. The results of this project will provide a whole new level of measurement of long term persistence and graduation rates while giving institutional leaders a broad range of student dimensional categories to help analyze their own student success and intervention initiatives.
December 18, 2011 | Leave a Comment
I travel a lot on United Airlines and since their merger with Continental, the new CEO, Jeff Smisek proudly states at the opening of the safety video that he and thousands of his colleagues are “creating the world’s leading airline.” Now, more recently, Etihad Airways has been advertising that they are building the worlds leading airline. What? Two leading airlines?? Now we have a fight on our hands!
But what does “leading” really mean? The first time I heard the phrase my immediate reaction was: Huh? That sounds terrible. Are they not going to strive to be the best airline? Aren’t they trying to be #1 like most would assume is the goal of a merger? But by what measure? Size? Revenue? Fleet age? Service and satisfaction? Destinations served? Complaints? Lost bags? Cost management?
For an industry with dozens of closely watched measures of performance, creating a public marketing message to be “leading” is vague and pointless to me. It’s also a bit risky. After all, vague or non-existent goals will always make you successful, but maybe not in the way you intended. It is a safe way to go, though, if you are not sure what you’re doing or how things might go. Maybe the new United will be able to say by the end of next year, “We’re leading with the worst ontime performance of any airline!”. That’s nice.
We’ve all heard the phrase “for good measure.” Hey, throw in some extra salt for good measure! Maybe you do it just in case what you’re cooking tastes terrible. It seems rather arbitrary. Why not taste it first? So, a more thoughtful approach to planning and success may be in order. I have worked with plenty of clients who do not understand how to make a good measure. Their five year plans are a wealth of vague, uncertain and impossible to measure goals, usually in an attempt to placate many differing views.
Think about this as you are setting goals for the new year for yourself or your organization. Are the measures meaningful? Can they really be measured? Is the necessary data collected? How will you know you have achieved the goal? Is it actually a good measure people will recognize as success?
After all, if you are ”leading” the airline industry that still has a terrible overall reputation for service, you haven’t really set a good measure or accomplished much.
December 9, 2011 | Leave a Comment
It’s become particularly evident to me in all kinds of recent experiences, whether at work or with family, that when something bad or unpleasant happens, there is a good side. Now, you might think my analytical mind has gone completely awry, but let me give a few examples.
- I prepared a project proposal that was not accepted by the prospective client. Unexpectedly, another nearly identical request came along resulting in very little work to respond quickly. The first round was not wasted effort!
- I’ve beenworking with a client to resolve performance issues with their BI platform. The visibility of the project has imposed a lot of pressure on the team to make signficant improvements. Progress has been frustratingly slow. Yet, I am learning an incredible amount about the more detailed workings of this platform and how similar configuration improvements can be made elsewhere to benefit other clients.
- A coworker and I have had tense disagreement about the strategy for a proposed solution. We usually get on quite well. But the frustration, arguments, and counter arguments helped lead to a breakthrough “aha” moment as to how to proceed.
What are some examples you’ve experienced? Whenever something bad happens, look a little deeper… wait a little bit… look at another angle. There will very likely be something good to come of it.
September 3, 2010 | Leave a Comment
In my previous post Leading for Success with your Business Intelligence Initiative: Part 3, I discussed the value of increasing your understanding of the BI ecosystem and how it can enable the use of self-organizing teams. The next key to improving your BI success is maintaining the commitment of key constituents, improving your institutional communication around the BI initiative and setting the stage for your BI development teams’ success.
The C’s in Success
In my experience, there’s usually a poor communication strategy behind any really good idea that doesn’t quite get off the ground. Too often BI leaders tend to focus too long on the larger business case (ROI, institutional benefits, etc) and fizzle out on building the personal commitment, the “hearts and minds” part. What is required is continuous and focused communication with key constituents before, during and after the launch. In my experience, the success of an institutional wide BI initiative is as dependent on your political success as it is on your technical success.
To keep the institutional BI visibility high and retain the commitment of the key constituents take a cue from the masters: politicians. Political campaign platforms are based on the three C principles: (1) Crisp and Clear; (2) Context Centric; and (3) Consistent and Consistently. Every stump speech, every sound bite, every public conversation and every written message needs to be rigorously “on message,” All the BI sponsors and members of the BI development team need to follow the three C’s principles.
1. Crisp and Clear
How do you describe the BI initiative and what value will the BI initiative have for the person you are talking to? Let’s go back to that tried-and-true technique–the elevator pitch. Can you clearly describe the goal/value of the BI initiative in 30 seconds or less? When you talk to someone about the BI initiative does your description hold that person’s attention? Or do their eyes glaze over or wander across the room?
Being crisp is about informing people about the value, what you plan to accomplish for them, in as few words as possible, and using that same crisp message in written materials.
Take this Test
Find a friend who is the least likely to understand your BI initiative, and test your “message crispness” on them. Tell them what you are doing with BI in two or three sentences. Avoid industry jargon and technical terms that only people in the BI field will understand. Then ask them to repeat what they think you are doing back to you. If they don’t come back with the right answer, the message isn’t crisp and clear.
2. Context Centric for each Stakeholder type
You need to communicate the role they play and the value proposition to each Stakeholder type (executives, BI developers, end-users, etc). You need to inform stakeholders about what you are doing, why you are doing it, their role in the BI initiative and the value it has for them. People need convincing as to why they should spend their time and limited resources with you. Your story should focus on how they benefit from the BI initiative (communicated from a “what’s in it for them?” perspective).
3. Consistent and Consistently
Once you’ve nailed down your crisp message, and you’re telling your story from your stakeholder’s perspective, make sure you tell it consistently in your conversations, e-mails, in print materials, via etc.
Nothing is more disconcerting to stakeholders than hearing one story from one communications channel or individual and then hearing or reading a different version of the story from someone else or someplace else. They don’t know which version to believe. Reestablish who you are and what you are doing with every stakeholder interaction. Reinforce your story as often as possible.
In the next post we’ll explore some additional C’s to you BI development teams’ success.
August 27, 2010 | 1 Comment
In my previous post Leading for Success with your Business Intelligence Initiative: Part 2, I discussed the value of Structuring-creating a shared vision and building an atmosphere of engagement and energy for the BI initiative. The most important aspect of Structuring is that it incorporates and defines the entire BI ecosystem (culture, goals, people, process, technology, information) that people want to be a part of and contribute to. The next key to improving your success is improving your Understanding of the ecosystem.
The U in Success
Another good investment is taking the time to build relationships with and among the BI development team and stakeholders. Actively involving others, with a working knowledge of the BI ecosystem, in planning and design issues is critical to building institutional commitment and designing the right solution. Research shows that the bigger the issue, the more likely we are to suck it up to ourselves. While this may seem like the wise course, think about the message it sends. Either that your people aren’t capable of handling these issues or that you don’t trust them. Another implication is that they don’t gain the experience and skills they would need to eventually handle tough issues. So, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most importantly it prevents you and the BI initiative from utilizing self organizing teams-one of the other keys to BI success.
It’ll be easier for people to get behind you and support the BI initiative if they feel some direct connection to who you are and what you’re about. This doesn’t need to be personal information. What you need to concentrate on is sharing information about (a) how you see the team living up to the vision; (b) improving the depth of understanding of the BI ecosystem; (c) sharing some of the obstacles the team faces; and (d) building trust and soliciting their input. Where feasible, let them in on new developments and provide context that will help them understand the necessity for the change. In short, create the narrative of what’s happening in the larger institution and create an atmosphere of trust and open communication. If you can do this then you have an opportunity to utilize “Self-Organizing” teams. Self-Organizing teams (a) assign tasks to each other; (b) they coordinate and review each other’s work artifacts; (c) they collaborate on project activities; (d) they make project-related decisions (together); and (e) they take on another team member’s tasks when needed. Additionally, working in this way is (a) much faster; (b) communicating and coordinating activities among all the team members is more efficient and less error-prone; and (c) greatly improves synergy and knowledge transfer among team members. These are all critical factors for improving you BI success.
Even if you aren’t ready to unleash a self-organizing team, I would recommend creating a recurring forum where a workable number of employees, say six to ten, can interact personally. In addition to hearing your thoughts, they could ask questions about the institution and provide feedback about any impediments in their part of the BI solution to achieving the vision.
August 13, 2010 | 1 Comment
This is part 2 on my thoughts on Leading for Success with your Business Intelligence Initiative. In my previous post, I stated that BI success will be improved if you can tap the creativity and commitment of your entire institution and fully engage the BI team. The remainder of this series will explore some thoughts on strategies that may help you do just that.
The ” S” in Success
Structuring and Setting the Stage
A powerful way to get and keep your stakeholders and BI team aligned is to define, and garner complete buy-in to the Nature of the BI initiative. The Nature of the BI initiative is an enrolling vision for the initiative; one that goes beyond defining what currently exists to creating a picture of what it can become and how it will improve the success of the institution. Additionally, you need different granular levels of the vision. You need to have an enterprise-wide vision to get and maintain the executive sponsorship, but you also need to paint a more detailed picture for your BI team and individual projects. Involving as many of your key stakeholders and BI development team members as possible in the visioning will create engagement and energy around the deliverables. Just remember, that everyone involved must have some skin in the game. The three key constituencies for business intelligence that you must address include the executive sponsors of your BI initiative, the principal users of the BI tools, and consumers who will benefit from it.
Defining the Nature of the BI initiative and visions is simply a picture of a desired future state. I recommend staring a discussion using the following questions:
- What will the institution look like if our BI program and projects are accomplished?
- What will be happening within our institution?
- What will we have to do to establish the “Culture of Evidence”
- What will our institutional colleagues be saying about us?
- What will be our call to arms and message be?
- How will we feel?
The most important thing is that it defines the entire ecosystem (culture, goals, people, process, technology, information) that people want to be a part of and contribute to.
August 6, 2010 | 2 Comments
In my previous post, Business Intelligence Initiatives Get an “A” for Effort and a “C” for Results, the respondents indicated that the major reasons for the lack of business intelligence (BI) success were institutional and not technical. If you’re a manager, director, vice president or even the president of your institution, I have a simple question for you. Who is responsible for the success of your institution? I pretty sure that your answer is the same as mine, we all are – after all, I can’t do it myself!” Good answer. Unfortunately, research shows that people in a managerial or leadership role regularly take on too much responsibility for the success of their areas, and this predictable behavior has its consequences. Specifically, leaders often feel burdened, exhausted and overwhelmed. Additionally, the leadership for BI initiatives normally falls to an existing successful executive or manger that has BI success added to their existing plate of responsibilities. But, what most institutions fail to understand is that the previous successful behavior of these individuals may be limiting the success of their new BI team and initiative.
Barry Oshry, a leading theorist in human systems theory identifies the behavior of “sucking up responsibility” as the predictable response to the complexity and responsibility inherent in the “Top” space and that this behavior isn’t an explicit choice but a reflexive response. However, this response may be detrimental to the success of your pervasive BI initiative.
Thoughts on improving your BI SUCCESS
No matter how skilled and experienced the leader, an institutions’ BI success will be improved if you can tap the creativity and commitment of your entire institution and BI team. In the next blog posts I will explore some strategies that may help you do just that, but first a note of caution. I’m sure we’ve all heard the familiar refrain, “Don’t ask me; I just work here.” This comment identifies an individual that is uninformed and belies an attitude of non-accountability. Ultimately, you can’t empower others; each individual must make the choice between being truly engaged and challenged in their work lives and being passive and lackadaisical. But that doesn’t let you, as a leader, off the hook. It is in your best interest and the interest of the institution to create the conditions that enable others to take responsibility and to succeed with your BI initiative.
- Oshry, Barry Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Institutional Life, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2007.
July 16, 2010 | Leave a Comment
There is almost universal agreement that the lack of appropriate, accurate and timely information is part of the reason why organizations and even entire nations got themselves into the recent economic mess. Many analysts also agree that business intelligence (BI), the process that transforms data into intelligence, now has the opportunity to help accelerate the economic recovery and aid these organizations and nations in dealing with the new global business complexities. According to a recent Ness BI Market Pulse Survey, BI initiatives continue to be front and center on most organizational business and IT agendas. The problem they found is that BI achievements are falling short of expected outcomes. For instance, according to the report, BI solutions have done a pretty good job of providing a view into the past (hindsight) such as access to planning and financial data. But they have been less successful in providing current performance information (insight) to improve decision-making or information on future conditions (foresight) such as future customer demand.
So what are organizations really doing with business intelligence and are they being successful?
According to the “The Ness Technologies Market Pulse Study on Business Intelligence” (BI), conducted in the fourth quarter of 2009 and published May 2010, BI initiatives just aren’t delivering the results that executives were expecting. The study indicates that results are lagging expected outcomes in 14 of 16 categories as depicted below.
©2010 Ness Global Industries
The largest and most frightening gap is in business agility and planning. Respondents indicate the reason for this discrepancy is that they have run into a number of key challenges. Not surprising, is that the most significant challenges are not technical ones. The top 5 challenges, in order of importance are: (1) lack of alignment with organizational strategy (over 50%); (2) lack of working partnership between business and IT (40%); (3) resistance to change (38%) ; (4) lack of executive sponsorship; and (5) lack of communication by the BI leadership team. This is supported by the fact that less than one-half of the survey respondents believe that those responsible for BI initiatives are in regular contact and coordinate plans (49%).
The two top technical issues include problems with the integration of data and persistence of data silos. Specifically, many organizations do not have a plan and have not resolved issues to integrate their isolated vertical data structures that are the cornerstone for establishing a centralized repository for the “Single Version of the Truth”. Respondents also listed the lack of a strong data governance initiative as contributing to this last issue.
But despite these results, it looks like organizations are committed to the potential payoff of BI. Major North American organizations report an increase in there BI fiscal year 2010 budgets and they anticipate that this allocation will increase in fiscal year 2011 as well.
The planned actions that organizations plan to take or investigate include the following:
- Ensure that BI is aligned with the organization’s strategy
- Appoint an executive to “own” the BI program, communicate regularly with stakeholders, and assemble a seasoned team, from both Business and IT groups, with the skills to get the job done.
- Set clear objectives and develop an overall BI roadmap that concisely defines what data is needed and how it should be delivered.
- Implement the program in short, phased initiatives that quickly deliver ROI to stakeholders
- Data Silos and integration
- Data Governance
Next-Generation BI Toolset
- Predictive analytics
- In-memory processing
- Software as a service (SaaS)
The technical and next-Generation Initiatives are also consistent with the findings published in Information Week (August 29, 2009) and CIO Magazine (February 2010).
BI Pulse Survey
Would you like to learn how members of the academy are doing with their BI initiative?
Next week, ASR will be sending out a survey to take the BI pulse of the higher education community. By completing the survey (5 minutes) you will be providing your colleagues with the latest information on how members of the academy are cultivating their BI initiatives. We look forward to your cooperation.
July 13, 2010 | Leave a Comment
The volume of structured data, contained in transaction systems generated by organizations, is at an all time high and will continue to increase. This structured data, however, now needs to be combined with the unstructured data that represents the majority of corporate data and the new social network data. More importantly, knowledge workers and decision makers want this data accessible and made available for analysis. Additionally, much of the unstructured data is already is in the hands of the departmental knowledge workers, but they lack the tools to use it.
Business Intelligence Platform selection has traditionally required the approval of two groups at once, Information Technology (IT) and the departmental knowledge workers, which has always made purchasing and implementing a business intelligence (BI) platform a tricky thing to do. Anyone reading this can probably relate to the tension you’ve observed between your IT department and departmental end-users. Trying to get consensus and agreement on a new platform, typically dead in the middle, takes time and normally leads to some sort of compromise. But the new economic conditions are forcing IT and knowledge workers to look at different approaches for BI.
The new economic realities are driving CIO’s to look at lower cost solutions that provide the additional analytical capabilities demanded by knowledge workers. See my last post for additional information. But the knowledge workers can no longer wait and their increasing frustration appears to be fueling a growing bifurcation with central IT over the nature and future of BI. Specifically, IT led/managed BI versus departmental led/managed BI. Pressured by the new economic realities, the need to cut costs, the need for more information and analytics, and the need to quickly demonstrate business value is pushing the knowledge workers to look past central IT to address their unmet needs. The perceived benefits of improved analysis and decision making are so compelling that the knowledge workers are making the choice towards SaaS/Cloud, despite the risk of creating new fragmented silos of applications and tools.
What makes SaaS/Cloud so compelling?
SaaS/Cloud BI’s key selling points, the ones that are getting the knowledge workers to open their wallets include: (a) the ability to get a BI solution with an almost total lack of IT involvement; (b) little or no upfront cap-ex expenditures for the solution; and (c) op-ex based subscription model that allows you to pay-as-you-go (subscription fee per month instead of a large annual license fee).
Is the future of BI in the Cloud? I‘d like to hear your comments.
I would like to remind our readers that this blog is not just about ASR, nor is it about any specific vendor , infrastructure or solution– it’s a forum for “us” to express thoughts and ideas about the nature and state of business intelligence (BI). I say “us” because a blog is only a one-sided conversation unless there is input from you. Keep the comments coming and make this a repository for industry awareness and better practices. Also, feel free to ask questions or let me know if there are special topics that are interest to the ASR community, and we will try to find the answers for you.