November 12, 2012

Masquerade

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:11 pm by Beth McNally

Masquerade

Masquerade by bethanybayne featuring platform shoes

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Masquerade

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:05 pm by Beth McNally

Masquerade

Masquerade by bethanybayne featuring platform shoes

July 17, 2011

Badly targeted ads are worse than untargeted ones

Posted in Business Intelligence is for business! tagged , , , at 6:24 pm by Beth McNally

The recent launch of Google plus has got me musing on targeted advertising again. I quit Facebook a while back, as the whole experience had just become too annoying. Part of that was the ghastly spambot games like farmville, but part was the dreadful advertising that was becoming more and more intrusive. Social networking sites appeal to advertisers because you can precisely target your market, and hopefully get a better click through rate; but I struggle to imagine adverts less likely to interest me than the ones that Facebook showed me. Diet pills? Tooth whiteners? Plastic surgery? A “free sparkly pink princess iPhone” for 26 year old women who click this button? I think not. Patronising me is not generally a good way to get me to part with my hard earned pounds – or make me return to the site where the adverts are. In my case, the advertisers wasted their money, and Facebook lost a user through inflicting inappropriate advertising on them. I’m now encouraging all of my friends to move to Google plus, which harms both Facebook and the companies who advertise there. If they had shown me ads for, say, a subscription to the Harvard Business Review it could have been a very different story!

I guess the moral of the tale is that an immature targeting model can be actively harmful. Companies need to target advertising very, very carefully (predictive analytics tempered with common sense is usually the best way to do this) and check what kind of adverts their intended market are already seeing – and clicking on. If it’s a sparkly pink princess anything… Well, you won’t find me there! Lets hope that when Google plus introduces advertising they find a way to help advertisers do a better job.

May 18, 2011

May AIM meeting – SAP Data Services

Posted in The adventures of a techie tagged , , at 11:36 pm by Beth McNally

I’m off to the monthly meeting of the Avon IM group tomorrow – this month Richard Munn will be giving a presentation on SAP Data Services – The future of large-scale Enterprise ETL? And we’ll be ensconced in the Lonsdale room at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute admiring the dinosaur bones from about 7. Hope to see you there!

May 15, 2011

Ten Ways Enterprise 2.0 Technology Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Posted in Business Intelligence is for business! tagged , , at 3:30 pm by Beth McNally

So web 2.0 is here to stay, despite the recent embarrassing antics of Facebook. There are lots of ways it can be used to interact with your customers, but what about the most valuable asset of most knowledge driven companies – your employees? I don’t mean scouring facebook for their drunken photos and giving them a ticking off on Monday morning – everyone’s entitled to let their hair down, and I can’t think of a faster way to make your top talent leave. What I have in mind is an internal, private social network where – like linkedin users or conventional bloggers – your employees actually want to share their knowledge. This kind of system is usually called Enterprise 2.0.

Most of the new generation of enterprise grade collaboration software comes with built in support for things like internal blogs and wikis; and let your employees create their own profile pages with lists of skills and interests, follow the blogs of other staff members, and build a network of colleagues across the enterprise. However, tools like Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010 and IBM’s Lotus suite don’t come cheap, so let’s have a look at some of the possible benefits…

My first five benefits use the kind of functionality you’ll find built into these tools.

More innovation – the R&D department don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. It may take a culture shift, but get them blogging about the problems they are trying to solve, and a flood of interesting solutions are likely to come back from the rest of the business. Research has shown that getting people from different silos passing information to each other produces innovation and encourages the spread of best practice. Make it easy for staff to find people through friends and skills registers, and stay in touch with the latest ideas on each others blogs.

Improved productivity – if staff can find the knowledge and people they need faster, they will be more productive. Letting employees create profile pages detailing their skills provides a fantastic resource for project managers, but also for other staff who need advice on a specialist subject. Staff will have a much better chance of stumbling upon information they didn’t know they needed, perhaps on a colleague’s blog or a link in a tweet.

Lower staff turnover – everyone wants happier, more engaged employees. Research on happiness has shown that social connections are far more important than salary, and one of the main reasons that employees give for sticking with a company long term is their colleagues. Allowing your employees to build a stronger social network, and see their contributions valued by others should be a great morale booster, even if it’s just through comments on their blog, or people calling out of the blue saying “I saw your profile, and I could really use some help with….”

Motivated employees who share the corporate vision. Research shows that telling a compelling story is a key part of inspirational leadership. Senior people in large organisations can’t speak to all of their employees in person with any kind of regularity, but an internal blog gives them somewhere to tell their story of how the business is moving forward. If they can make it entertaining, people might even read it…. 😉 Microblogging tools like Yammer also allow senior staff to connect in an informal way to large numbers of employees, and explain what is important to the business and why.

Identifying skills gaps – tools like SharePoint let employees list their skills, and search for other people with the skills they need. Managers can see which skills are most in demand, and which staff people choose to go to with questions. If there are skills in high demand which very few people have, it might be worth recruiting or training some more people in those areas. Conversely, if certain highly skilled staff members are never being consulted, perhaps it is worth investigating why. The skills needed by most businesses are in a perpetual state of flux, so being able to track your skills needs over time may reveal some useful patterns.

To realise my next four benefits you’ll need some friendly maths and technical types to help you analyse the social network your employees have created.

Better forecasting – good predictions are a vital part of corporate strategy. Research has shown that sufficiently large groups of employees working as a network can make better predictions than individual managers, but only if there is a reward for getting it right (rather than a reward for agreeing with their boss). This is usually implemented through an internal market where employees can buy and sell a fixed number of predictions for each event, and are rewarded if the prediction they are holding comes true. The price of the predictions at any given moment is used to to produce a forecast. Google have implemented this in a big way – there’s a good study on it here. One of the most interesting parts of this study shows that a mixture of serious and “just for fun” predictions got the largest number of staff participating in the serious predictions.

Finding future leaders and innovators – applying graph theory to social networks lets you identify leaders, followers, influencers and outliers. Apply this to your employees to find out who introduces new ideas, and who inspires others to adopt them, and promote employees into roles that make best use of these skills. The outliers are important too – you want to encourage discussion, not groupthink. People should be able to challenge entrenched ideas and ways of working. The recent financial crisis is an excellent example of groupthink run amok, so if all of your outliers are leaving you may wish to take a long, hard look at how the company handles dissent. This would also be invaluable information in a highly unionised environment.

Identifying communication breakdown – before it cripples your business. Suppose your sales and R&D teams don’t talk to each other. Perhaps there’s a personality clash, or perhaps they’re just located in different time zones. Normally, you’d probably only find there was a problem if you went looking for it – perhaps a new product has flopped, or the financial results just haven’t been up to scratch lately. Network visualisation let’s you actually see which groups are exchanging ideas, and gives you a chance to spot communication breakdowns as they emerge, and nip them in the bud. Knowing where your networks are strong, where they are effective, and where they are vulnerable is the first step towards improving them.

Identify and retain key individuals – network analysis can provide a systematic way to identify key individuals, who represent a risk to the business if they leave. Even just the informal network behind the organisation chart can be revealing….

Comparing the org chart to the informal network

My last benefit is really more of a warning. If you don’t introduce an enterprise wide social networking tool you run the risk of individual functions each purchasing their own, perhaps on a SaaS basis. Although this will help each function individually, it will actually inhibit the kind of cross-functional information flows that drive innovation, and migrating everyone from their separate networks onto an enterprise wide one later is going to be an expensive headache. If you catch wind of a department striking out on their own, it might be worth turning the project into a pilot, and if it works well roll the system out across the business.

April 21, 2011

Unsupported Activity

Posted in The adventures of a techie tagged , at 10:05 am by Beth McNally

So I mentioned last time that I was going to try running an SSRS report from data processed by an SSIS package…. It turns out that this is unsupported by Microsoft for a very good reason. I made the configuration changes, created my SSIS package, added it to my report….. And BIDs crashed as soon as I tried to view it. It crashed when I tried to run any of my old (unchanged) reports too. I undid the configuration changes, and about half of my reports still crashed. It took a full re-install of SQL Server to sort it out. *sigh* There’s a moral in there somewhere…..

April 10, 2011

SQLBits – the aftermath

Posted in The adventures of a techie tagged , , , at 11:49 am by Beth McNally

Just got back from SQLBits – it really was a brilliant conference, so thanks to everyone who organised it, and all the speakers who generously shared their knowledge. I learned something from almost all of the talks, but there were some particular highlights…. Marco Russo made an incredibly compelling case for the BI Semantic Model (BISM) which is going to form a major part of the next release of analysis services, and I think I’m going to need to start learning DAX in earnest! His talk on SSAS best practice was also really useful. Jess Meat’s talk on Microsoft BI was good fun too, and I didn’t realise that Visio 2010 can connect up to data and be used to build simple dashboards! I’m going to have to have a play with that when I’m back in the office. Allan Mitchell also gave a super talk on StreamInsight – it’s a technology with such potential, I’m sure it’s going to be re-writing the rulebook on real-time dashboarding very shortly. The schedule was pretty packed, so I couldn’t go to all of the talks I wanted to see….. But thankfully the kind organisers will be putting videos of all of the talks up on their website for free!

I met up with my favourite DBA Richard Munn (perhaps better known as SQLMunkee!) while I was there too, and he has inadvertently given me an idea to make a particularly troublesome report run faster – I’m going to try pulling the data into the report by way of an SSIS package! That’s the great thing about these community events – everyone there has interesting tricks and valuable experience to share, and even going to the bar is an educational experience! I’ll let you know what happens to my report….

April 7, 2011

SQLBits – oh I do like to be beside the seaside….

Posted in The adventures of a techie tagged , at 12:59 pm by Beth McNally

Especially if it’s a conference room beside the seaside…

I’m off to SQLBits again this year – should be good fun. I’m particularly looking forward to Jamie Thompson and Chris Webb’s sessions, and I’ll definitely be going to see Jess Meat’s session on “Microsoft BI – More than just SQL”… It sounds very like the talk that James Adman and I gave last month at the AIM group! It’ll be interesting to hear a fresh perspective on that, and hopefully I’ll come back with lots of new and exciting ideas 🙂

November 4, 2010

When quality is a dirty word

Posted in The adventures of a techie tagged , , at 8:54 pm by Beth McNally

I’ve just had a lightbulb moment on – of all riveting subjects – software quality. I’ve always hated lengthy quality plans that no-one reads (least of all the customer) and testing that focuses on producing spreadsheets “showing” how well the software has been checked, rather than actually making sure the users can use the system. However, until now I’ve accepted the premise that – however tedious it might be – this was the way to get high quality software. I’m reading a book by Alan Weiss, and he makes the excellent point that quality isn’t the absence of defects, it’s the presence of value! It is totally irrelevant what the software designers and developers think is quality, what matters is what the client thinks – and all they care about is the value added, software that does what they need it to, not code coverage or specs that rival war and peace. Most software quality initiatives are completely backwards. They focus inwards instead of outwards – mandating twenty levels of integration testing and 98% code coverage instead of demos, delivering early versions for feedback and measuring customer satisfaction. How stupid of me not to realise this before! Obviously buggy software is never going to impress a client, but I feel like I’ve been missing a really big part of the picture.

Now I’m going to go and try to find out what criteria our customers judge our software by. And then i’m going to have an argument with our quality department….

October 2, 2010

Complexity – that which does not kill you…

Posted in Business Intelligence is for business! tagged , , at 8:23 am by Beth McNally

The many headed hydra of complexity is usually seen as a thing to minimize or – ideally – avoid completely in business generally and in business intelligence systems in particular. This aversion to hard problems means that there is money to be made by the companies who can face up to the challenge….

Historically businesses have tried to deal with complexity by reducing it – offering a suite of standard products instead of a bespoke system, locking in customers, merging with competitors…. However, in our increasingly connected world this is becoming less and less possible. Barriers to entry are dropping for just about every kind of business all over the planet, customers are searching more widely for organizations that offer exactly the services they want at the best possible price, and the companies that can’t keep up with these demands are dropping by the wayside. To quote John Naughton, the old strategies “are unlikely to work in our emerging environment, where intelligence, agility, responsiveness and a willingness to experiment (and fail) provide better strategies for dealing with what the networked environment will throw at you.”

In terms of BI, to keep the business competitive some business users need to ask very complicated questions, to have the freedom to follow where the data leads, and those questions may change on a daily or weekly basis. And if the IT department can’t supply what they need, the business users will try to build their own systems in spreadsheets…. It’s quick and flexible and you can have as many copies of the spreadsheet as you like all doing slightly different things and it can link to other spreadsheets and no-one can remember how it works and the data is different in different copies and there’s no way to know which one of them is right any more… and down that road lies madness.

These kind of requirements really don’t suit traditional IT development with it’s careful upfront requirements spec; flat, static reports and long development time. Agile development – with it’s small, regular, fast deliveries – of a data warehouse and self service BI through a semantic layer like Business Objects suits them much better. This kind of project needs good integration between the IT team and the business users though, which may be a challenge in itself. Still, new, interesting, and potentially profitable ideas are likely to appear if the two sides can be persuaded to work together.

The complicated questions are likely to involve some pretty in depth analysis, and really, the business users don’t want to be chasing after the IT department every time they want to experiment with a new calculation. Cubes delivered through something like SQL Server Analysis Services or power pivot give control back to the users through the familiar interface of excel – without the danger of a spreadsheet daisy chain or many corrupted copies of the data. They could even be published on to share point for the rest of the team to share, and although they’re unlikely to be the sort of polished report you’d want to show the CEO, he’ll be more impressed by their impact on the bottom line.

So sometimes complexity can be a business benefit – for anyone who’s brave enough to grasp the nettle.

Some references that I found useful when writing this:
James Adman on Drowning in Spreadsheets: http://www.b-eye-network.co.uk/view/11482
John Naughton on how the Internet is changing the world around us: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jun/20/internet-everything-need-to-know

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