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Dan Power

Greetings to all of my friends who work in the area of computerized decision support. This blog is a way for me to share stories from my encounters related to decision support, to comment on industry events, and to comment on other blogger's comments, especially those of my friends on the Business Intelligence Network. I'll try to state my opinions clearly and provide an old professor's perspective on how computers and information technology are changing the world. Decision making has always been my focus, and it will be in this blog as well. Your comments, feedback and questions are welcomed.

About the author >

Daniel J. "Dan" Power is a Professor of Information Systems and Management at the College of Business Administration at the University of Northern Iowa and the editor of DSSResources.com, the Web-based knowledge repository about computerized systems that support decision making; the editor of PlanningSkills.com; and the editor of DSS News, a bi-weekly e-newsletter. Dr. Power's research interests include the design and development of decision support systems and how these systems impact individual and organizational decision behavior.

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Dan's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

October 2008 Archives

Election night coverage has been the leading edge of computerized decision support since November 4, 1952. That election a computer application was used to assist in predicting the U.S. Presidential voting results. The fifth UNIVAC computer built was programmed by Remington-Rand (UNIVAC division) staff to analyze the partial results in order to anticipate the outcome (cf., Power, 2006).

Next Tuesday, November 4, 2008, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer will conduct holographic interviews with people at remote sites. The person being interviewed will be projected as a three-dimensional hologram. Supposedly it will appear to TV viewers that the person is in the studio with Wolf. How it will appear to Wolf and the person being interviewed is uncertain.

The USA Today story (10/30/2008) notes "CNN will have 44 cameras and 20 computers in each remote location to capture 360-degree imaging data of the person being interviewed. Images are processed and projected by computers and cameras in New York. There'll also be plasma TVs in Chicago and Phoenix that will let the people being interviewed see Blitzer and other CNN correspondents. Bohrman says the network can project two different views from each city so Blitzer can appear to be in the studio with two holograms."

I will be watching.

Baig, E. and J. Swartz, "Election-night news to co-star latest technology," USAToday, October 30, 2008,
URL http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/2008-10-29-election-presidential-technology-cnn_N.htm .

Power, D., What was the first computerized decision support system (DSS)? DSS News, Vol. 7, No. 27, December 31, 2006, URL http://dssresources.com/faq/index.php?action=artikel&id=133.

Technorati Tags: hologram display, Business Intelligence, Decision Support .

Posted October 30, 2008 10:11 AM
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Why can't most managers write their own ad hoc queries to assist in information gathering and decision making? I don't think it is because Structured Query Language (SQL) is hard to learn and understand. Rather I think it is because the decision support data store is poorly designed, overly complex in terms of table structures and because IT staff are concerned managers will execute queries that are incorrect and will waste resources.

Rather than training managers to use SQL or simplifying and making more meaningful data structures including relations and metadata, we have tried to simplify the issuing of queries using pull-down menus and "natural" language interfaces. This is an improvement over having managers contact IT staff for development of ad hoc queries, but more can and should be done to increase the independence of managers and analysts.

What should we do? Try to keep the tables simple and understandable. When possible keep tables in 3rd normal form to keep queries simple. If we anticipate that complex nested subqueries will be needed, we need to rethink the design of the tables. Overall, I question the need to write complex and convoluted SQL for decision support queries. If the data store is understandable and well-designed, non IT folks can be more independent and autonomous.

Let's look at some queries from http://philip.greenspun.com/sql/complex-queries.html:

What users have contributed extensively to our discussion forum?

SELECT user_id, count(*) AS how_many
FROM bboard
GROUP BY user_id
ORDER BY how_many desc;

The result was 7348 rows selected. So we can modify the query to select more recent queries.

SELECT user_id, count(*) AS how_many
FROM bboard
WHERE posting_time + 60 > sysdate
GROUP BY user_id
ORDER BY how_many desc;

Adding the criterion in the WHERE clause reduces the result set to 1120 rows. We still have problems because the initial question was vague. Let's write a more specific and narrowed question.

What users have posted at least 30 messages in the past 60 days, ranked in descending order of volume?

SELECT user_id, count(*) AS how_many
FROM bboard
WHERE posting_time + 60 > sysdate
GROUP BY user_id
HAVING count(*) >= 30
ORDER BY how_many desc;

---------- ----------
34375 80
34004 79
37903 49
41074 46
42485 46
35387 30
42453 30

7 rows selected.

Can some managers and analysts get this complex query figured out? YES, I am sure that some can. Is it worth the investment to train them to reduce the load on IT staff? YES, I think so.

We can teach managers and business analysts to ask clear questions and translate them into SQL!

These examples are part of SQL for Web Nerds by Philip Greenspun.

Technorati Tags: Decision Support Queries, Business Intelligence, Decision Support .

Posted October 27, 2008 10:38 AM
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Late Thursday night, 10/16, I returned to Cedar Falls from Teradata Partners conference in Las Vegas. Since then I have read blog posts by colleagues on the BEYENetwork.com like Jill Dyche, Richard Hackathorn and William McKnight. So what have I concluded?

I have attended 6 Teradata Partners conferences in the past 7 years and I continue to learn and meet interesting people. The conference was not as glitzy as in earlier years, but the case study testimony suggests the technology possibilities are expanding. In 2002, a multi-terabyte data warehouse was still exciting. Today a multi-petabyte data warehouse is almost "we knew it would happen".

Attendance seemed lower and the Exhibit Hall was smaller and not very crowded when I happened to be there. Why? Consolidation of vendors? A weak economy?

The SAS/Teradata alliance seems to be flourishing. I spoke with a number of SAS people who were "checking out" Teradata Partners for the first time. SAS sponsored many events.

I missed the hands-on training and demonstration sessions for products like Teradata Miner. It was always fun to kick the tires on the products.

I had difficulty choosing sessions to attend, there were always great competing sessions.

I chatted briefly with some professors I know who are involved with Teradata University Network (TUN), but the focus seemed "reassess the strategy", "what's working?", "where to now?" I have visited the TUN website a number of times and somethings have improved. Some content is excellent and extremely valuable, but overall TUN is a mixed bag that needs more editorial oversight.

What was my favorite session? That is a hard choice, but I really enjoyed the session "Integrating SAS and Teradata for optimal business value". The presenters were: Thomas Tileston, VP of business decision support at Warner Home Entertainment; Corey Bergstrom, Cabela's Director Market Research and Analysis; and Jeffery Peckham, Wells Fargo VP of Technical Architecture.

Tileston uses SAS and a Teradata Warehouse to forecast for Warner Brothers DVDs. Corey and Jeff also use SAS with Teradata.

Well as always the hospitality was great. I attended the Goo Goo Dolls concert, but left after 3 songs. I know I'm getting old.

Technorati Tags: Teradata Partners Conference, Business Intelligence, Decision Support .

Posted October 19, 2008 10:15 AM
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Dan Ariely, an economics professor from Duke, spoke to a large crowd at the opening general session of Teradata PARTNERS 2008. Predictably he spoke too long and had too many very general examples of the irrationality we observe in human behavior. I wish he had really discussed management and business examples. My guess is that we in business tend to "bury" the irrationality and ignore figuring out what went wrong.

So can computerized decision support reduce the irrationality in business and organizational decision making? I think so. Can I prove that assertion? No. Notice I said "reduce" not "eliminate" and I am an evangelist for decision support.

Well PARTNERS on opening day was a bit low key this year. The comedian was a disaster, a "double speak" expert. Ariely talked too much and was pessimistic in my opinion.

After lunch I attended a presentation by Mark Cooper, Technical Fellow at FedEx Services. Mark spoke about the need for change in the FedEx IT group involved with data warehousing and decision support. FedEx needed an extreme makeover. The EDW team had "to transform its focus from data acquisition to data delivery." After 12 years, managers wanted more decision support. Smart idea and a necessary change. Good wishes Mark! Making sense of data and delivering decision support is much harder than acquiring data and hoping someone will figure out how to make use of it.

In mid-afternoon, I roamed the vendor expo floor and spoke briefly with about 20 vendor representatives. There is never enough time to really go in depth with people under such circumstances. The floor wasn't crowded, but attendees were trying to get their Bingo cards stamped in a promotion for gift certificates so there was primarily a focus on getting around to all of the vendors. I hope to find time to get back and chat with staff from TIBCO about operational BI.

My last session was a talk by Claudia Imhoff on BICC, Business Intelligence Competency Centers. Certainly we need staff experts and staff specialists for getting data into the warehouse and for getting information out. These are twin, mutually important needs that IT must figure out. We are information providers not data collectors in the view of many executives. We organize data to support decision makers. We must get the right information to decision makers in many roles in a modern organization.

Ariely, D., Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, HarperCollins, 2008.

Technorati Tags: Ariely, Business Intelligence, Decision Support .

Posted October 14, 2008 9:10 AM
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It is 8am here in Las Vegas on a cool Sunday morning. I flew from Cedar Falls to Las Vegas yesterday for the Teradata PARTNERS User Group Conference & Expo. If my memory is correct, this is my 6th Teradata PARTNERS. Why do I keep coming? This conference is the leading edge for data-driven decision support. Teradata PARTNERS focuses on the proven technologies and the latest technologies. The Teradata people are open, willing to answer questions and provide great hospitality. Las Vegas is not a motivator for me.

So what is on the agenda for me today? My focus is on data base technology issues this year. So my first session from 8:30am-11:30am is Stephen Brobst's workshop titled "Stars, Flakes, Vaults, and the Sins of Denormalization." This is one of 9 Sunday morning workshops. I know a number of the presenters and I'm sure attendees will benefit no matter what workshop is chosen.

This afternoon I'll attend Todd Walter's "Teradata Database Architecture" session.

Stephen and Todd are Technology gurus at Teradata.

Posted October 12, 2008 8:34 AM
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