Educating the Next Generation of Business Intelligence Professionals

This article, co-written with Christina Rouse, PhD,  discusses educational shortcomings that are occurring as graduates are entering the business intelligence workforce, and we spend time analyzing what changes should occur in the curriculum to address those short comings.
 
Education Article
 
Please visit  the B-Eye Network for the full text.

More on Motorcycling and Business Intelligence

On my ride in to work this morning it was really foggy, and I realized that I missed one very important point that transcends the line between motorcycling and business intelligence. In a way, I am glad that I forgot it, because it is quite possibly one of the most important points that can be made on the similarities between motorcycling and business intelligence.

If you ride a motorcycle I am sure you have heard things like ”Ride like you are invisible” or ”Loud pipes save lives.” Now I personally don’t prescribe to that last piece of rider wisdom, and I follow the “loud colors saves lives” motto since light travels faster than sound. When I ride, especially in heavy traffic areas, I wear a bright white helmet and what is described as a “hi-viz” jacket. I’m sure you’ve seen them as they are either bright green or orange, similar to what DOT construction workers wear or what police officers wear when directing traffic.  When you ride, it’s important to stay visible because when no one notices you that’s when you can get hurt. Things like choice of clothing, lane positioning, following distance and even the headlight on your motorcycle all play a part is your ability to remain visible. I’ve never understood the logic of wearing black protective gear because all you do is blending with the road you are riding on, and no one can see you from a distance.

Staying visible in a business intelligence sense can be tricky, because sometimes the value that you are adding to the business in only realized by the people seeing that direct benefit. As a team, it is important to be evangelists for the work you do! I’ve seen some team put out a monthly news letter with articles written by the business users they have helped, including cost savings and the potential return on investment.

Have you ever hear a C-level executive say something like “This quarter’s performance is solely based on the decisions I was able to make thanks to the data that our business intelligence solution enabled me to analyze”?

Me neither.

So we have to be vigilant in presenting not only quality solutions to the business, but we also have to be our own PR machine so that the business knows how great we are for the business! Here are a few more ideas to help publicize yourself to the organization.

Schedule “Lunch and Learn” events and invite different areas of the business to learn about what you have done, be sure and provide lunch.

Conduct training on tools or the solution itself to key business members so they know how to best use what they have been given.

Create a team website, post regularly about what the team is doing, and what is on the BI horizon.

Write something in the corporate newsletter, direct them to your team’s website for more information.

If you’ve done some truly amazing things, you can do these things as well, because if you can be nationally recognized for the work you’ve done, the business will take notice as well.

Publish a white paper talking about your solution, or unique ways you used tools or technology to bring value to the business.

Submit your work to TDWI for the TDWI Best Practice Award.

Work with your tool vendor and become a case study.

Of you are extremely creative, you can go the SAP route and produce an awesome video to send out internally to promote BI4ALL!

 

 

In motorcycling being visible can mean the difference between making it to your destination, or ending up in the hospital (or worse) and in business intelligence it is just as important. If the business doesn’t know you are there, they won’t know who to ask when they need a business intelligence solution, and worse yet, when times get tough it may be the BI team on the chopping block.

The Great Debate in Mobile BI

It seems that everywhere you turn everything in life is going mobile. Music, movies, news, and sports are all now available through a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, the world is at your fingertips for the touching. Just last weekend I had to take my daughter to the emergency room for some tests, and while we waited I was able to entertain her by pulling up Netflix and streaming Dora the Explorer on my iPad thanks to the hospital’s free Wi-Fi. A few years ago I’d have been desperate to try and keep my two year old entertained while we waited in a small hospital room, but it was a pleasant experience because I could focus on spending time with her, albeit in a hospital, rather than trying to entertain her and getting all stressed out because she’s screaming that she wants to go home.

It was only a matter of time before this move towards mobility reached the enterprise. I can walk in to any given meeting at work and the majority of the attendees from the business side of the company are sitting at the table with their iPads. My company has adopted mobile, realizing that it isn’t going away, and even more interesting is that they have chosen to be agnostic in regards to platform, which can make security and common application availability a challenge.

 The Key Question: Device Specific or Universal Mobile Apps?

Business Intelligence vendors are beginning to invest heavily in their mobile footprint and it seems that many are heading in the direction of having dedicated applications for each operating system. Today, the majority of tablet users are iPad, but as Android, WebOS, Blackberry enter and expand their presence in the market I question if this trend will continue, especially given tremendous growth that Android devices have shown lately. There are two issues that I see with the “dedicated application” approach to mobile BI. The first is the high cost associated with developing and maintaining what could potentially be five operating systems, not to mention the different versions and capabilities of each. My second, and much greater concern, is the user experience in general as they consume the information being provided. While the operating systems on the surface are similar in the user interface, the underlying systems could potentially be vastly different to the point where features that work beautifully in one OS could may not work in another, or may work, but not as cleanly as they do in other operating systems.

 The Universal Mobile Approach

I recently had a discussion with someone from Microsoft and I asked them when they would be bringing something mobile to market, hoping that something would be coming out with the Denali release of SQL Server. He said that there was currently a passionate discussion happening internally as to how they wanted to approach mobile BI, with the option being the “dedicated application” approach or developing an agnostic delivery approach using HTML 5. To me, it only makes sense that the agnostic approach would be the way to go from a cost savings perspective, but it hinges on the continued standardization and acceptance of HTML 5 as a common standard, and each OS, or 3rd party vendors, would have to develop a browser that met those standards. With that said, you can deliver a better overall user experience with a device specific application, but if they develop for a device that becomes obsolete, they will have wasted a lot of resources. Building device specific apps on the wrong platform may turn out to be like buying a library of Betamax videos back in the 80s – not too useful as the world standardizes on VHS.

Companies like LogiXML have moved quickly and chosen to go with the universal browser based approach, and other BI software companies like Microstrategy have built robust device-specific mobile applications to deliver BI content. As the evolution of mobile BI continues it will be interesting to watch which path each company will go down for delivery.

The question is “Who is right?” and right now the answer is: it depends on your BI needs and goals. In BI, there is rarely a one-size fits all recommendation, but the pros and cons of each side are fairly clear. If you are comfortable standardizing on only one device, or maintaining apps across multiple operating systems, a highly customizable device-specific approach may work for you. On the other hand, the browser-based approach appeals to be people who need to move quickly, change directions fast, and who want to create mobile apps out of the BI apps that they have already deployed throughout their company.

Regardless of which appeals to you, if you’re like most BI professionals, you’re going to need to pick an approach and move forward quickly.

Shortly after I started my current job, the CEO during a town hall meeting said that he looks forward to the day he can get all his reports on his iPad, and I hope that that day is soon. Do I believe that the desktop is dead and that mobile devices will be the only window into business data? No, not yet, but I do believe that we will continue to see a growing trend towards mobile BI and general data consumption as we live our lives “on the go.”

 An edited version of this article appears as a guest blog for LogiXML.
Thanks to LogiXML for inviting me to write on their blog.

Motorcycling and Business Intelligence

On my morning commute today I was thinking about motorcycling fundamentals as this was my first commute of the season thanks to an unreasonably raining spring in Cleveland. I checked my bike thoroughly, put on my protective gear, and made my way through the traffic to my office downtown. In thinking about the fundamentals of riding, I started to make correlations to the practice of Business Intelligence and you can draw some distinct lines between the two topics.

 Training and Continuing Education

Before I ever threw my leg over  a motorcycle I enrolled in a basic rider skills course so I could understand what I was getting myself into with my new hobby. Much the same, specific training is needed to “do” BI properly. You need to understand the basic methodology of data warehousing as a foundation and from there you can branch out in to a specific area whether it be data modeling, ETL programming, cube development, or reporting and visualization. Bear in mind that each of these “specialty areas” is going to involve more training whether it is on a specific tool, best practices, or learning about effective visualization and data presentation. To walk out to the garage and get on a motorcycle and expect to ride it with no background or training is just as naive as to think you could walk in to an IT department completely “green” and expect to build a business intelligence solution. Some people get lucky and can pull it off, but generally you are going to fail.

Once you know what you are doing, you need to keep your skills sharp. Every year I take a rider safety course of some description to build my skills, keep up on the latest techniques, and make sure I’m not developing any bad habits. I constantly read motorcycle magazines to see the latest gear and read columns by more experienced bikers about safety and the things they have learned on the road. The same holds true in data warehousing and business intelligence, to stay sharp you need to continually seek out training and educational opportunities to stay up on the latest developments in the field. Read industry news, white papers and blogs about data warehousing. Also, get involved with local special interest or user groups as well as national or international groups like TDWI, ASUG and other product user communities.

 The Right Tools

Having the right tools in motorcycling is very important, and by tools I am talking about actual tools like wrenches and screw drivers for those times you need them on the side of the road, as well as protective gear and the right motorcycle. When I ride I wear a helmet, gloves, boots, armored jacket and protective pants and I have a motorcycle that is appropriate for my skill level.  In Business Intelligence you need to ensure that you have your tools as well and these include the appropriate software based on the requirements set by the business, a well rounded team that works well together, business users and sponsors that are fully engaged and invested in the BI solution, and the cooperation of the other IT departments so that when you need assistance you can get it in a timely manner.

If you don’t have the right tools in motorcycling you run the risk of being stranded on the side of the road because of a mechanical problem, or without gear you run a greater risk of being injured or killed in the event of an accident.  Without the right tools in the BI world you run the risk of low user acceptance which leads to irrelevance, in-fighting among team members, and a bottle-neck for resources if all of IT isn’t supporting each other’s efforts.

Vision

One of the most important things that you learn in the motorcycle training courses it to SEE (Search Evaluate and Execute) when it comes to the road, traffic and other obstacles that may have to be dealt during your time operating a motorcycle. As a biker you are constantly scanning the road for traffic, pedestrians, dogs, potholes, etc to make sure that you keep the rubber side down. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation breaks your vision in to three areas, a 2 second following distance, a 4 second immediate path and a 12 second anticipated path.  To put this in terms of business intelligence, the 2 second area is the projects and task you are working on right now. With those projects and tasked you should know all the ins and outs of what is going on and what you need to do to deliver. The 4 second immediate path can be compared to the final deliverable of the current phase of the project. Maybe this phase’s deliverable is a data mart of Human Resource data that item is your 4 second immediate area. The 12 second anticipated path is really you overall goals as a team and what the next phase and the next phase after that might entail. If you are currently building a data mart for HR, what pieces are going to be reused? Is there any system I am touching now that I’m going to have to revisit to get additional data and does it make sense to get that data during this phase? By anticipating the future requirements you can possibly reduce the work to be done in the future and without good vision and leadership this area can be lacking in your organization.

 Putting It All Together

When everything comes together, there is no better experience and no better way to see the countryside that on a motorcycle. Feeling the warmth of the sun after ascending a hill after riding in a cold shadow, making a perfect turn through a winding road that cuts through a forest, and smelling the fresh air of the country, fields of flowers, or even the smells of restaurants as you pass is something you cannot experience in a car. There is nothing as rewarding or soul refreshing than spending a day in the saddle.

Obviously, I can’t say that work is soul refreshing, but there is a high level of satisfaction that can be gained when you deliver something to the business users that helps them do their jobs more efficiently, make more informed decisions, or help the company achieve their goals through exposing data to the users who can use it effectively. When it all comes together, it truly is a beautiful thing… maybe it is a little soul refreshing after all.

 *published May 10th, 2011 on Smart Data Collective

A Layman’s Guide to CBIP

The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI) started their CBIP certification offering in 2004 in conjunction with the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP). There are 4 specialty areas that you can focus on with your certification:

Business Analytics
Leadership &Management
Data Analysis & Design
Data Integration

The certification required a series of three tests (minimum) with the first two being the same for all the “tracks” of certifications. The first of the common tests is the IS Core, which tests a broad base of knowledge for general IT/IS laborers. These questions range from needs of a financial reporting system to decoding binary. If you haven’t been in IT organizations for very long you may have a tough time with this test. The second of the common tests is the Data Warehousing Core, which tests general knowledge about data warehousing. Here you will find questions on Kimball and Inmon, full life cycle awareness and general terms and topics as they relate to the practice. The last test is your specialization test, of which you can choose 1 of the 4 listed above, or take all four and get multiple certifications… the choice is yours. I took the Business Analytics test, so that’s the only one I can speak in confidence about. That test focused on OLAP, visualization techniques and data presentation.

I passed my certification tests at the Data Warehouse Institute’s World Conference in Las Vegas in February of 2011. I sat for all three tests during the week, which on top of sitting in the sessions all day, and the fact the conference was in Vegas, made it a challenge in and of itself. Each test lasts a maximum of 90 minutes during which you must answer 110 questions. You also have the option to have the tests administered remotely for an additional fee if you cannot attend the conferences. To actually pass the certification exams you must score a 50% on all three exams (not an average of 50%). If you score 70% or more on all three exams (again, not an average) you will obtain a mastery certification. I scored 61% on my IS Core, 74% on the Data Warehousing Core and 71% on the Business Analytics. I have the option to retake the IS Core to get my mastery, but I don’t think I would fare any better on that test if I were to retake it.

The big question that I get asked is “How did you prepare for the tests?”

Well, I started by ordering the CBIP Preparation Guide from TDWI, but I will tell you that the only thing that it really prepares you for is the testing format because it includes practice exam software. The guide does give you an idea of the types of questions that will be on the test, but as far as strict guidance on what will be on the test; don’t expect that from the guide.

Each sample test in the guide has a section of references, both internet and books. For example, the IS Core exam there is 3 and a half pages of reference materials. I don’t think you would be able to successfully absorb all the information for three tests and even still, the questions being asked will not match anything that appeared in those resources. Truth be told, I never looked at the reference materials and went solely based on my background for a three tests. For the record, I’ve worked in 6 different industries and been doing data warehouse development since 1997.

The other options for preparation are the sessions that are available at the TDWI conferences, I did attend the session on the IS Core and Data Warehousing Core tests, just as a refresher before I took the exams. These sessions are a good indicator of if you should take the tests or not… if you feel comfortable with what is being talked about, you have a better than average change of passing, if you feel like they are talking over your head, just walk away. These tests are designed to test your knowledge that you have gained during the course of your career, and it is not something you can “cram” for and expect to pass.

If you have specific question please email me as I would be happy to answer them as a person who has firsthand experience with the exam process.

Business Intelligence, Data Warehousing and Analytics