Sunday, November 22, 2009

Of Airplanes and Office Floors: Why BI is a Means to an End

There continues to be a great deal of discussion surrounding BI technology – which tools are better – the merits of search, predictive analytics, advanced visualization, etc. However, I think many have lost sight of why we use BI tools and technologies. They are not the end but the means to developing deeper insight and understanding.

Additionally, the analysis of data, however valuable, serves as a “rear-view mirror”. It tells us what has happened and is limited in its ability to predict the future. I am reminded of the book, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it he talks about the “highly improbable” - the unpredictability of improbable events - and how historical data simply cannot help us fully anticipate them.

In my first book, The Performance Management Revolution, I used an aviation analogy to describe BI and EPM. I talked about all of the instrumentation that pilots use to measure a flight’s progress. However, with all of the great instrumentation at the disposal of pilots, it’s always a good idea to occasionally look at the window. And, even when flying in the clouds and in IFR (instrument flying rules) conditions, the point of the instrumentation and associated flight planning is to get you to where you once again have visual references in order to land.

BI is no different. We ought to use BI to learn as much as we can, and develop models and assumptions about the real world. However, we should not consider that the end. It is merely a beginning – a means to expand our discovery – a foundation for learning and the development of even greater perspective. Like the aviation analogy, our analysis of data provides the instrumentation to find needed “land” references, and a context for further exploration, learning and a more complete understanding.

By way of example, when I was researching my new book, Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change, I spent a significant amount of time on the phone, with case study candidates, trying to assess whether they’d be worthy subjects for the book. However, even with all of this pre-work, once I arrived onsite and began to develop relationships and interview people face-to-face, it became clear that things “on the ground” were different than my assumptions. Had I relied solely on data collection (surveys) and telephone interviews, I believe my perspective and that of the book would have been much less well informed – rendering the book far less useful.

So, how much do we really know? How good is our perspective? To help answer this, let me share a couple of stories from my own experience:

A CEO at a company that I once worked for used to regale everyone with the same tired old story of a customer CEO that explained how valuable we were to his organization. In truth, our CEO didn’t spend enough time with customers. And when he did, he avoided asking difficult questions and shunned criticism. And, although he wanted to be perceived as customer-oriented, he relied on “experience” and “gut instinct” to run the company. Hence, he used this recurring customer anecdote because he simply didn’t have any others. He was sorely lacking in real perspective.

In stark contrast, many years ago, at another company, I recall meeting with a long-time customer that recounted the early days when our founders (whom I held in high regard) used to sleep on his office floor during the round-the-clock development of their software solution. At the time I was embarrassed for them. How could this customer demean my leadership with such a story? But, in retrospect, I now realize that, as a result, they had an intimate working knowledge of their customer’s business and were able to develop a great solution. I now view this as quite an accomplishment, and the key to their success back then.

Sadly, most organizations will find that they have more in common with the first story than the second.

So, BI is valuable – but as a starting point, not as an end in itself. Use it to develop a model and document your assumptions. But then go and test that model in the real world – prove or disprove your assumptions. Through that process you’ll develop real and defensible perspective.

Finally, instrumentation (BI) is great, but it’s critical to take a look out the “window” for those important “land references”. And, once you're "on the ground" – in order to get real perspective - you might want to consider sleeping on your customer’s floor.

As always, I would love to hear your comments - and your own stories!



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September Update

Greetings everyone! It’s fall in the Northern Hemisphere and we’re back hard at work at Dresner Advisory Services!

Compared to Q2 and Q3 things have picked up rather nicely and enterprises seem to be investing again. Although I only have anecdotal evidence that this is the case, other colleagues have confirmed that an improvement in economic conditions seems to be unfolding. In addition, recently the OECD announced that “forecasts show a third-quarter return to expansion of economic output, as measured by gross domestic product, in the United States and the 16-country euro zone”. This has also been echoed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said today that the U.S. economy appeared to be “picking up steam”. Of course, as we progress through Q4, it should become readily apparent whether things are truly improving. However, I’m feeling more optimistic than I have since 2007.

Speaking of Q4, there are some exciting developments that I want to share with you.

The New Book:

As most of you already know, my second book, Profiles in Performance – Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change will be released next month by John Wiley & Sons. The process has gone quite smoothly and it’s actually arriving a month earlier than originally planned and can be ordered online from John Wiley & Sons, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

As you may recall, the book focuses upon what I call “performance-directed culture”, a prerequisite for any successful BI or EPM program. The timing is ideal as organizations begin to plan for 2010 and develop new strategies to help leverage the next era of growth. In the process of writing the book, I developed a new maturity model, called the Performance Culture Maturity Model TM. This model (which is patent pending), and associated methods, will help organizations assess their current readiness for BI or EPM and identify steps that can be taken to better ensure success.

One of the findings from my upcoming book is that many organizations remain "departmentally optimized", without much cooperation or collaboration between functions. In fact, oftentimes a spirit of internal competition exists with departments blaming each other for the enterprise's failure to perform. How you would rank your organization? Feel free to drop me a line and let me know.

And, I am currently in discussions with several organizations to “certify” them to deliver cultural assessment services using my model. More on that topic in the coming months…

Media Exposure:

In the past week, I have participated in some interviews, podcasts and webinars. These interviews center upon my upcoming book and related topics of interest. I encourage you to take a look:

September 21, 2009Interview with Doug Henschen at Intelligent Enterprise regarding my upcoming book.

September 21, 2009Interview by Dana Gardner ( on the subject of web data services and business intelligence (podcast and transcript).

September 17, 2009 Podcast interview on covering my new book and performance-directed culture.

Upcoming Activities and Events:

Over the next several months, I will be supporting a number of industry events, where I will be unveiling several new presentations, based upon the new book. Although there are a number of new activities that are in the works, here are several that I can announce today:

CIO Magazine’s The Year Ahead Conference – November 8-10, 2009 – Indian Wells, CA:

At this important event targeting CIOs, I will be joined by my colleague Tom Wadsworth of Cleveland Clinic, one of the premier case study subjects from my new book. Together we’ll deliver a keynote presentation entitled: Culture as Culprit: The Real Story Behind Business Intelligence Project Failures.

The Palladium Group’s Americas Summit – November 11-12, 2009 – San Francisco, CA:

At this strategic event for business leaders, led by luminaries Drs. Kaplan and Norton, I will present a keynote entitled: Culture - The Missing Link in Performance Management.

Those using the discount code "DRESNER" will receive a $600 discount on standard Summit registration rates.

Other events:

DM Radio – September 24, 2009 – Topic: Making the Most of Performance Management

I will be a guest panelist on this live web-based event, and will discuss some of the key points and lessons learned from my upcoming book.

Webinar on SaaS BI: Targeted Business Analytics: How Large Companies Leverage SaaS BI (Sponsored by OCO) – recorded on September 9, 2009.

In this recorded webinar, I discussed the future of business, the importance of business intelligence and the role of SaaS BI.

As always, I hope you’ll reach out and share your views on the industry, your company, the new book or anything else that’s happening.

Please let me know if you’ll be attending one of the events above. It would be great to see you there!

All the best,


P.S. Please check out my website for the latest news and updates for Dresner Advisory Services.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A comment or two on acquisitions

Given the latest news about acquisitions in the BI space, I feel I need to make a few comments. No doubt this will be viewed as provocative. That's not my intent. This is just my honest opinion about the subject.

Acquisitions don't typically add value or benefit customers. The real beneficiaries are shareholders and executive management. Wall Street likes acquisitions. Investors and investment banking-types make tons of money.

Me, I like money too. However, I would prefer that people/companies make money by adding value. By adding value I mean inventing something new, building great companies that make great products and support their customers - and not looking for a quick and lucrative "exit". I mean adding competition to the market - not reducing or eliminating it.

Sadly, when acquisitions occur, value is often lost. Products are discontinued (or simply "supported"), key employees are RIFed, and customers lose their voice and the influence that they once had. New product features? Get in line (a long one). Your own user group conference? Not any more. You can have a breakout session in our mega conference.

There are still a few independent vendors out there. But for how long? When a larger vendor offers 5 - 6 times trailing revenues in cash, it's hard to say no. Perhaps the remaining independent vendors could make a pledge to stay independent? Okay, that's probably a bit naïve on my part.

The larger question in my mind is: how do organizations re-take control of their own destiny? While not necessarily an advocate for things like open source, I do wonder if it wouldn't provide some protection against the ongoing M&A frenzy in the market.

I would like to know what you think. Post a response!



My new book: Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change is now available for pre-order

Please check out my website for the latest news and updates for Dresner Advisory Services.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's all about culture - a glimpse into my new book

Greetings everyone! It's nearly summer here in the northern hemisphere and time to start thinking about the beach, hiking, picnics and barbecues. And, now that I've finished writing my second book, I'm hoping to kick back and relax a little and enjoy the warm weather!

My new book will be entitled: Profiles in Performance: Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change and will be released by John Wiley & Sons in October. It's available now for pre-order.

I started thinking about writing a second book awhile ago. Originally, I had conceived it as a best-practices guide for Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) - a sort of sequel to my first book, The Performance Management Revolution. However, as I began my research, I came to realize that “culture”, and not technology, was the deciding factor for success or failure. By culture I mean people and groups of people - their beliefs, motives, attitudes, organization, customs, processes, etc.

As a result, I changed the focus to what I call "performance-directed culture" (e.g., transparency and accountability) and a small number of organizations that seemed successful in creating and sustaining one. To this end, I developed a new maturity model, which I call the Performance Culture Maturity Model. This model employs six dimensions and four levels - which help determine the state of an organization’s achievement towards a performance-directed culture. I used this model as a filter to select candidate organizations and as a lens to study them.

Once the model was created, I began the process of speaking with innumerable organizations of varying size and industry. Out of all of this process came four extraordinary subjects: one each in health care, hospitality, manufacturing and public broadcasting. The names of these organizations and the personnel that participated are openly shared in the book.

The four finalists all agreed to an on-site study, for several days, with access to all key personnel. This entailed a “360 degree review” with in-depth interviews of C-level executives, other management, and individual contributors – across all functions. This approach gave me an opportunity to develop a relationship with the people and a deeper understanding of their businesses and cultures than would have been possible had I employed a more traditional method.

The result is a rich account of each organization’s journey towards the goal of becoming a performance-directed culture. Each case study and analysis is unique, detailing the challenges, achievements and – most importantly - lessons learned.

My goal for the reader is enable them to find themselves in one of these case studies, map their own progress on the maturity model and initiate (or reinvigorate) a program for performance-directed culture.

Between now and the end of the year, you'll be hearing a lot more about the book - including related interviews, presentations and book signings. Check my website for updates at


All the best,


Friday, April 3, 2009

Hey, I thought this blog was about BI and EPM!

Okay. I know that I haven't written about BI and EPM very much. Sorry about that. But I have some good reasons.

Most notably, I've been busy since the beginning of the year writing my second book - on enterprise performance. It'll be published by John Wiley & Sons at the end of 2009. The book focuses on a number of very in-depth case studies with some extremely interesting and innovative organizations. For me, it's been a great journey and an education. I've learned quite a bit about some key industries: health care, hospitality, manufacturing and TV and radio. I've also been exposed to some of very well run organizations, with superior leadership, focus and execution. So, even in these dark times, there are organizations that continue to thrive. My hope is that, when the book is published, other organizations - large and small - will be able to apply many of its principles - and improve their own performance.

More to come...



Check out my website for details on where I'll be speaking, presentation abstracts, articles, my book and more!

Green energy in action!

Hello again and Happy Spring (to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere)!

It's been awhile since I've provided an update on our renewable/green energy systems.

Everything has been operational for several months now and working quite nicely. It took quite a bit of effort, though, to get the local utility to straighten out billing. However, that's now behind us and we should see some pretty amazing savings. On an especially windy day it's fun to go outside and observe the electric meter as it spins backwards - during those times when we produce more electricity than we consume.

Now that it's spring and the angle of the sun is more direct, the solar PVs have been doing their part. Yesterday, I noted that they were generating about 1,150 watts in the late afternoon. I can't wait until the summer! Of course, it's likely going to be less windy then. So, things tend to balance out.

Here's a video that I shot yesterday of the windmill doing its "thing". You might be able to detect a gentle "whirring" sound as it speeds up.



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Windmill gets raised!

Well, the moment we've been waiting for finally arrived. This past weekend we raised our wind turbine (video below) and, along with the solar array, started generating electricity! 

There were some tense moments as the wind started to pick up, but everything went smoothly. Combined, the tower and turbine weigh about 1,000 lbs. (450 Kg.) So, you can imagine how unwieldy it might have become if hit with a gust of wind.  

We'll find out in the next week or so, how well its performing. The turbine has a wireless (zigbee) interface which should provide us with regular performance statistics. And, of course, we'll start to see the impact on our monthly electric bill, as there is state mandated "net metering" - which literally runs the electric meter backwards when we're generating more power than we consume. 

Special thanks to Gary and Jared Bergeron from PlanIT Green Renewable Energy. (to my left in the photo). They were great to work with and I highly recommend them for any renewable energy projects!

I'll keep you posted on our progress.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year and a Look Back at 2008

With the holidays and 2008 behind us, I thought I’d take a moment a review my predictions from 2008 to see how accurate I was. Of course, nobody is perfect and I certainly missed a few. However, I managed to get a couple right. Below are my 2008 predictions along with my 2009 commentary:

January 2, 2008: The Economy: In my opinion, the “Big Kahuna” of predictions has to do with the economy. I may not be an economist, but I’ve been around long enough to know the signs of recession when I see them. A quick look in the local (US) newspaper tells part of the story: numerous housing foreclosures and auctions. I haven’t seen that since 1992. In addition, rumors a of a weak holiday retail season abound. Coupled with the current and unfolding lending crisis, a dismal Q4 earnings report could seal it. If I’m right, this means that 2008 budgets will be flat to down – especially for IT. The rest of my predictions are either caused by or accelerated by this prediction.

January 12, 2009: When I made this prediction, I had no idea how right I was going to be. From where I sit right now, I would suggest that we’re on the brink of an economic “depression” (aka “severe recession”). Having recently read Paul Krugman’s “The Return of Depression Economics”, I’m hopeful that, with appropriate intervention, things will stabilize by the second half of the year, even though it’ll likely be at a much lower level of economic activity. Earnings announcements due out soon will tell us how bad 2008 really was and will set the tone for the first half of 2009.

January 2, 2008: Market consolidation: As everyone is already aware, 2007 was a year of massive consolidation for BI and EPM software vendors. Although Hyperion, Business Objects and Cognos are gone, the fun’s not over yet. As the big guys feel even more pressure to boost revenues and profits, I believe they’ll gobble up any remaining, above-average software vendors of size (> $100M USD).

January 12, 2009: I was less accurate on this one. Acquisitions were far fewer than expected in 2008. This was likely due to a general lack of available credit, which made acquisitions harder to fund. The only BI/EPM acquisitions worth noting for 2008 were FAST and DATAllegro – both by Microsoft and few assorted smaller ones by Oracle (e.g., ATV). Not much else has happened on this front – even though there are some pretty good bargains out there. Perhaps as credit starts to flow again, the hunt for acquisitions will resume in 2009. Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily a good thing but, instead, a market reality.

January 2, 2008: Leveraging Existing Investments: With a combination of lower budgets and real urgency to improve business performance, I expect many organizations to try and get more value from software and systems they already own. This would be especially good news for systems integrators – especially those with deep expertise in key vertical and functional areas. So, I would anticipate consultancies become even busier than in 2007 and for a whole new crop to emerge in 2008. Caveat Emptor!

January 12, 2009: Certainly, doing more with less was a central theme in 2008 and will continue to be throughout 2009. However, I’m not sure that consultants have been the main beneficiaries. Budgets are flat to down and less will be spent during 2009 than in 2008. I saw a recent study from an analyst organization suggesting a 50% decrease in IT spending in 2009. I find that difficult to fathom. I believe a decrease of 10 – 20% is more likely. In spite of this, BI and EPM are still top priorities and organizations will concentrate efforts upon these and other critical business challenges - while working to save money whenever possible.

January 2, 2008: Rise of the Business Buyer: I don’t want to give Nick Carr (Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage - Harvard Business School Press) too much credit, but many IT Departments have become alienated from the business and less relevant than they could or should have been. An exclusive focus upon the largest software solution providers doesn’t help. In defense of IT, much of this may not be their fault and they may find themselves in an impossible situation. Nevertheless, emerging software vendors and consultants have caught on to the trend and are focusing selling efforts on business management – with the promise of implementing business solutions faster than IT can. Of course, these vendors may eventually have to deal with IT, but will avoid it (if at all possible) until business management is “on board”.

January 12, 2009: While some on the business side continue to seek BI and EPM solutions independent of IT, I have seen greater pragmatism on the part of some organizations and a more conciliatory approach between IT and business users. Having said that, BI and EPM initiatives will continue to be driven by both business and IT departments (often independently) with economic buyers and influencers varying by organization. Irrespective of who drives the initiative, I expect that there will be greater urgency and immediacy associated with it.

January 2, 2008: New Approaches Map to the Emerging Market: On-demand, open source and software appliances have been around for a few years and have experienced varying rates of adoption and success. However, with the above forces changing the shape of the market in 2008 – these options - offering lower cost and fast deployment - become vastly more appealing – especially to business users! Expect to see lots more of each at the expense of traditional software offerings.

January 12, 2009: Given the current recession, I’ve observed a growing interest in open source and Software-as-a-Service as alternatives to traditional enterprise software. Interestingly, some of the enterprise software providers have taken steps to address this by offering to match the open source total cost of ownership (TCO). However, given the different economics surrounding the two business models, I remain skeptical that they can succeed. In general, I believe that 2009 will be a good year for solution-providers offering rapid time-to-value, and a lower cost structure. Right now Software-as-a-Service is my top pick.

Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous 2009!