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Dan Linstedt

Bill Inmon has given me this wonderful opportunity to blog on his behalf. I like to cover everything from DW2.0 to integration to data modeling, including ETL/ELT, SOA, Master Data Management, Unstructured Data, DW and BI. Currently I am working on ways to create dynamic data warehouses, push-button architectures, and automated generation of common data models. You can find me at Denver University where I participate on an academic advisory board for Masters Students in I.T. I can't wait to hear from you in the comments of my blog entries. Thank-you, and all the best; Dan Linstedt http://www.COBICC.com, danL@danLinstedt.com

About the author >

Cofounder of Genesee Academy, RapidACE, and BetterDataModel.com, Daniel Linstedt is an internationally known expert in data warehousing, business intelligence, analytics, very large data warehousing (VLDW), OLTP and performance and tuning. He has been the lead technical architect on enterprise-wide data warehouse projects and refinements for many Fortune 500 companies. Linstedt is an instructor of The Data Warehousing Institute and a featured speaker at industry events. He is a Certified DW2.0 Architect. He has worked with companies including: IBM, Informatica, Ipedo, X-Aware, Netezza, Microsoft, Oracle, Silver Creek Systems, and Teradata.  He is trained in SEI / CMMi Level 5, and is the inventor of The Matrix Methodology, and the Data Vault Data modeling architecture. He has built expert training courses, and trained hundreds of industry professionals, and is the voice of Bill Inmons' Blog on http://www.b-eye-network.com/blogs/linstedt/.

March 2008 Archives

Do you still think that knowing flash and actionscript is not a newly required skill? Have you seen the latest version of Crystal Reports from BO? It now contains a front-end product that used to be called Excelsius, which is a flash-based front-end BI dashboard library. You can drag and drop buttons, charts, pre-built reports, and other things on to the different scenes in the dashboard. No more flipping pages, and writing PHP code or Java code to exercise BI on the client side. It's a highly protected environment.

I'm on site this week at one of our Data Vault customers, and what do I find? A technical business lead working with Excelsius, a flash based reporting product (now owned by Business Objects), producing live dashboards for executives COMPLETE WITH METADATA. I know there are a few products out there in the space, and I'm going to research a little more.

It's here. The concept of Interactive Business Intelligence. The idea that you can interact with the BI in front of you, along with the metadata, the master data, the help, and even the database backend all through flash. When an Interactive BI platform is built it includes the following abilities:

* Help / Knowledge / Metadata for anything, any metric, any chart, any button on the dashboard
* Dynamic query forms according to login security
* Re-arrangable dashboards, zoomable components
* Master Data, reporting, and maintenance
* Import/export of Excel for users with privileges to do so.
* Live Learning/Training videos available WITHIN the dashboard
* The ability to CHANGE the metrics and automatically produce new dashboard graphs through an executive drag and drop.
* Data Capture Forms, yes - in Interactive BI, it sits on TOP of an Operational Data Warehouse, therefore - when the privileges are available, the form actually will allow Operational Data to be entered live in the Interactive BI front-end. Now lets REALLY start talking about "What-if" games in BI, this is where the true power comes. Keep in mind that operational Data Warehouses may allow what "LOOKS" like an update in the front-end, but follow strict EDW rules, and always always always INSERT the data on the back-end.

The dream of complete Interactive BI is not yet here, but the journey has begun. With tools like Excelsius on the way, there are bound to be more.

Interactive BI is NOT just reporting and viewing help, or drilling down and back up. Interactive BI includes a graphical experience, and the ability to really INTERACT and even CHANGE the data one is looking at, live, real-time. It includes the ability to re-arrange the dashboards (which can be done today in traditional technology), and to watch help videos, participate in training sessions, collaborate ON THE FLY with co-workers while working with the dashboard. Most of all, interactivity with the data set itself.

Interactive BI sits on top of an operational data warehouse (as I've previously described). Now, is everyone going to need this today? Certainly not. Only certain applications (today) lend themselves to this type of delivery mechanism, and only certain types of data warehouses really require operational data warehousing as a way of life. But I will say, that this is where the future is headed.

To the point, it's not just about delivering the right data at the right time to the right user; it's also about enriching and enhancing the user experience - making the data TRULY flexible and applicable to the business. It's about allowing the business to make the changes WHEN REQUIRED, see what the impacts are, and then either make a different decision (immediately), or return to the previous state.

We continue (as an industry) to discuss how business rules and business logic are moving towards the hands of the business user, Interactive BI puts this squarely in their laps. Interactive BI is another step in the development process, and requires I.T. to learn new skills for delivery. Interactive BI mixes and enriches the delivery of the right information with the delivery of on-time metadata, master data, video help, live audio and even management and alteration of Operational Data. Most of all, it's DYNAMIC, all of it is dynamic; while the data sets can be real-time or strategic in nature - the interface remains dynamic.

Interactive BI is the next big thing and sits on top of a DW2.0 compliant Operational Data Warehouse. It's early yet in the life-cycle and needs to grow up, but the base-level technology is available today for those that want to move to the next level of competitive edge.

Dan L

Posted March 18, 2008 5:06 AM
Permalink | 2 Comments |

As this series progresses, I've received some wonderful comments, thank-you to all who are replying. In this entry we'll talk about some of the additional skills that are helpful in managing and developing successful projects. We've touched on a few already, but I'm not convinced we gave enough credit to these items. Many people argue with standards, claiming they are over-burdening their development - claiming they can't get their job done with them, claiming they are too verbose or have too many pieces to work effectively. They revert to RAD, JAD, and extreme methodologies...

Why don't I mention Agile?
Because Agile can be blended appropriately with standards to make a huge difference. My friend Kent Graziano teaches how Agile methods combined with the appropriate data modeling and other practices can really make a positive impact on a team and their performance.

I personally like Agile, but obviously with a few twists.

Skill sets that I recommend people to have on projects (both big and small) are as follows:
* Agile Methodology
* SEI/CMMI Level 3 from Carnegie Mellon U. (at a minimum, level 5 if you can get it)
* PMP Certification from the PMI
* CoBIT from ISACA
* Knowledge of ITIL -
* Six Sigma
* Lean Initiatives (from MIT)
* Function Points - Link 1, and Link 2

You might say, GEE WHIZ How am I ever going to know all that?
Well, if you know what these things are, and can find people who are experts in specific areas, then your project will be better off. I don't claim to know all of each one of these, I only just have scratched the surface on each one enough to understand how to use certain tools within each of them to achieve my project goals.

I use a blended approach, the final touch is applying the Agile principles to all the knowledge to scope the project down and get it done. Remember, I'm not JUST talking about big projects here, I'm also talking about small projects. Small projects and small organizations typically are the worst offenders, often setting a precedent that quickly breaks when the corporation gets in to rapid growth mode.

Each of these base level knowledge areas (if you can call them that) have valuable information to take away. The methodology that you build should be put in to a cell - like grid. Take for instance the Zachman Framework, pick one or two cells within to implement, then expand it out and build a Linstedt Grid (just kidding), build a simple grid underneath the single Zachman cell, and figure out where each of these types of concepts apply.

I for one believe that at least one piece of each of these concepts can be applied effectively to create the optimal EDW/BI project methodology. Something light-weight enough to be used effectively (and not sit in a corner and gather dust), yet something practical.

The key is:
* ensure that all components chosen are practical
* ensure that the components are TEMPLATE driven, so that the PM AND the team only have to grab ONE template (don't give them more than one), and fill it in - and voila, they are compliant
* ensure that the templates don't require tomes of documentation to understand. In other words, fill the templates in with pre-cursory language that explains WHAT is in each section and WHY it is there.
* ensure that there is a SINGLE risk document in the binder that explains the RISK of using only one component, and not another.. In other words - when the customer demands that processes be short-cutted, and standards be broken, then be able to explain the risk of doing so - then have them sign an SLA that states they've been made aware of the risk.
* force yourself to learn, and follow the standards/cell based methodology you just built. If you don't follow it, no-one-will!

It's not SEI/CMMI Level 5 by itself that could help you be successful, nor is it knowing and understanding what documents are available in the ITIL, it's being able to leverage the right document and process at the right time where it makes sense within the project that really drives the point home. Believe me, I've been through this more than once - I've shot myself in the foot by breaking my own recommendations, but we've been able to recover from the errors by reverting to the standards.

Also keep in mind the following idea: If you were a ship captain, and you needed to go from NY port to Egypt to pick up spices, you probably would first: pick an acceptable route according to international trade law, then you would map the route out so you knew what all the coordinates are, as the trip neared, you probably would look at the reported weather patterns and check for re-routing instructions.

This would be a constant (agile) process of adjustment DURING sailing, as weather is unpredictable. If your ship got off-course, you'd want to put it back on-course or risk: loosing your captains license, loosing your ship to rocks on some coast, or hitting a sand-bar, running aground, loosing your cargo (if it's food, it might expire). Now in these days of GPS it's quite a bit easier, especially since it's integrated with the NAV systems, but that doesn't justify the Captain breaking international shipping regulations....

Ok, you get the point. A process, which has standards and rules to follow - can be accomplished successfully with a high degree of accuracy - has a little bit of real-time leeway to accommodate shifting weather patterns, and includes some uncertainty (like monster waves which take out entire ships). Also keep in mind that to turn these huge ships can take a tug boat (or several) within the harbor, or can take a day or two out at sea.

Just like a project, when it's off course or the standards have been broken, can take a "smoke-jumping team of experts" or can take several weeks to put back on track. It can be done, it just takes time.

Now, put it in perspective. Am I saying that even projects that are spec'd to take 3 weeks can use these principles? Yes, I am. Am I saying that they require ALL the documentation that a 6 month project requires? No I am not, this is where re-using the "templatized" project methodology components comes in to play. This is where Agile takes over the plans and implementation status.

Finally never forget scope. Always apply scope to the project to make it work properly. As far as the 30,000 page tomes that SEI/CMMI offer - strip them down, apply the components to your project templates that are necessary (I've mentioned a few in this series already like versioning, and SLA's etc...) What you will find is this: building an EDW/BI solution is more like building software than you think.... there are hundreds of thousands of parallels between the two worlds.

Next time, we'll dive in to some of the components from each of these that I'd suggest you start with. Anyone care to comment on pieces they've used successfully or pieces that have been applied and resulted in a negative impact on the project?

Daniel Linstedt

Posted March 16, 2008 6:31 AM
Permalink | No Comments |

So you've all seen Flash production movies? You've all heard of Pod-casts? How about web-interactivity without "changing pages"? I'm sure you've seen Flash produced web-sites, or played an animated game lately. This post is about the new skill sets needed by BI vendors, and Business Intelligence Analysts to survive the new upcoming wave. Those of you producing PowerPoints, or sitting in the background coding "BI Reports..." you've got a few things to learn.

Alrighty then, I'm a little brazen in this entry, but I'm also excited. I think there's a new wave (ok, so it's not new) but it's hot, of where the industry is heading. I think AJAX is really cool, the web technology is awesome, but there are new delivery technologies on the rise that are starting to force us to re-think the way we interact with the business community.

If you've not learned Flash yet, you're already behind the 8-ball. Flash combined with ActionScript has been around for a long time, but AS3 and Flash CS3 creator have evolved. They are some of the hotest products out there. Give up on your old "BI 2-D non-interactive tabular reporting". You've got new skills to learn!

These days it's about interaction with the user, animation, graphical displays, and delivering learning content. Flash gives you all that, Unfortunately there aren't any "really good ActionScript libraries" developed strictly for Business Intelligence (yet). But I'm seeing and feeling like the existing BI vendors would do well here - to animate their reports, combine the static reports with interaction against the database, along with instructional video and quizzes (like do you know what this metadata means?)...

These are important skills for BI delivery folks to pick up. I am going to start delivering a Flash recorded video blog as an experiment (I know, these already exist - but mostly these are today geared towards the graphic artists).

I've got news for you, new skills are needed on the horizon. Flash and ActionScript can deliver a power-packed presentation, which can be tailored (live) according to the audience level of participation.

ActionScript lets me hook to the database, communicate with a server in XML & sockets, and control delivery of streaming content. Why wouldn't I want my BI solution to involve interaction? It seems like (to me now) that 2D static reporting is a thing of the past, although printing these components on hard-copy still is a good idea.

Flash makes drill-down, drill-across easy, as does presentation in 3D with animtaion steps.

Ok, so why am I excited? I've been teaching for over 10 years, dry powerpoint presentations, with PPT animation... Ok - a still a good way to deliver content, but take the PowerPoints, run it through Captivate, put it in Flash, then add my own dynamic actions to it? Quizzes, and the like... way cool. Now as an instructor I can tailor the instruction to the student WHILE they are experiencing the course. Talk about interactive "business intelligence" - I finally have the opportunity to use "LIVE BI" to interact at run-time with the student or business executive to deliver the NEXT STEP of the class according to what they need.

Really cool stuff. What would happen if someone like Cognos, Microstrategy, or Hyperion would put there output into a Flash movie? So you could "run through reports, add explanation, and decision pathing, and metadata + voice" then deliver the content to the business? I think interest and interaction would increase, especially if the recorded movie automatically interacted with the database to bring back live data... Talk about visualization capabilities... WAY COOL.

Ok - Dan, you're off your rocker...
Am I? Really? Haven't you always wanted to make BI interesting, and interactive? Wouldn't it be more fun? I've discussed convergence in the past, I've discussed data visualization, and interactive graphics - SO WHY NOT? Why should I code in SQL alone? Why shouldn't I code in ActionScript + SQL + XML and use the power of PowerPoints, Pathing, Quizzes, and Flash to make presentations that really pop?

My experimental blog will replace the Wiki on BetterDataModel.com - we'll see where this goes... Love to have your comments and thoughts.

A couple of products you really have to have (no I'm not a re-seller)
$40 - ZLASH, ActionScript editor IN PLACE in SWF files (movie files)
Adobe Flash CS3 Pro, $399?? Something like this
Adobe Captivate
Microsoft PowerPoint

Dan Linstedt

Posted March 2, 2008 3:55 PM
Permalink | 5 Comments |