Feb 29 2012

BI2012 Day 1 Wrap Up

Categories: 2012 BI 2012, Conferences Dave Rathbun @ 10:41 am

Yesterday was a busy day! I flew in to Vegas on Monday night, and arrived too late to visit the registration booth. I met Michael Welter and he watched me eat while we talked about plans for the conference. Later I got a chance to visit with Steve Krandel as well.

I got my registration taken care of the next morning with minimal fuss, had a quick breakfast, and then made my way over to the keynote speech which was going to be given by Steve Lucas and Timo Elliott. It was the first time I remembered hearing of them speaking together, and they confirmed that during the keynote itself. Unfortunately I was going to have to leave the keynote early, as Michael and I had to go review the configuration of the laptops in the room for our training class at 9AM.

The topic on the keynote was big data, which is probably not a surprise. SAP has been using the big data concept to push HANA (to his credit, Steve waited until about 10 minutes into the talk before mentioning that product name ;) ). He also took a more unique approach to demonstrate the growth of big data. In many sessions like this the presenter has focused on a graph that shows the amount of data being generated every week / day / hour / minute of our lives. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean that I have to process all of that data. Who is really going to analyze all of the bytes of every photo ever uploaded to Flikr for example? Instead of doing that, Steve showed a graph based on research from LinkedIn and other sources showing the documented growth of big data jobs. These would be jobs with titles like Data Scientist and so on, and there was a clear growth in this area over the past few years along with a major spike in 2010. Interesting approach.

Steve then introduced the typical “Three V’s” of big data, those being Velocity, Volume, and Variety. At this point Timo stepped in and suggested that a fourth “V was equally important, that being Validity. It doesn’t really matter how fast your data comes in, how much data comes in, or how different the data is if it’s not valid. That’s a fair point, and also serves as a selling point for the data services from SAP which come with various data validation tools. I don’t think that point was lost on the audience. ;)

Steve then went on to show a list of a variety of open source tools used to ingest, process, store, and then analyze big data. There were quite a few tools that I had heard of before (Hadoop, Voldemort, others) but also some tools that I had not yet heard of. Many of those tools are in use in large enterprises today.

However, these open source tools – as great as some of them are – were not designed to integrate with each other. Now we’re starting to see where this talk is going as Steve shows a slide that shows how SAP provides tools for the same four steps (ingest, process, store, and analyze) for handling big data sources. This is about when HANA made her first appearance, I think.

Now that HANA was on the table, Steve was able to start talking about real-time processing of big data. He used an analogy that seemed appropriate at the time but later as I started thinking about it, maybe not so much. He showed a picture of a person looking at traffic on a very busy street. That person wanted to cross the street, and was taking in all of the data points including traffic flow patterns, weather, sounds, smells… basically a huge amount of data was being collected as the person was standing on the side of the road.

Steve then said, would you make your decision to cross the road if your data was five minutes old? What about 60 seconds old? Even five seconds?

The point, obviously, was you needed up to the second, or actual real-time data in order to make that decision. That’s a fair point in a life or death situation like crossing a very busy street, but I’m not sure it works when talking about big data quite as much. For example, what about the volume of the data flow (one of the three V’s mentioned earlier)? If I have been looking at historical data (say for the past 24 hours) then I have some idea of what the traffic flow patterns are going to be. There is not nearly as much traffic at 3AM as there is at 9AM, and thats useful information too. But I am going to maintain that there are times when real-time is important (my speedometer in my car) and times when it’s not as important (fuel gauge). As long as I know my fuel gauge is updated every fifteen minutes that’s accurate enough for me to determine when I need to stop for gas. But I don’t want to have to explain to a traffic policeman that I didn’t really know how fast I was going through that school zone since I had just exited the highway… :lol:

The point is, real-time data has a place, but I don’t think that all data has to be real-time data in order to be valuable. (Is that the fifth V?)

At this point I had to leave the keynote, but I know they were webcasting it so perhaps it’s available online for me to go back to later.

Michael and I found that our virtual machine image was working fine, so I think we’re prepared for our training session (which will come later today.) I delivered my first talk of the week about Web Intelligence variables (my first time ever on that subject! :lol: ) which seemed to go well. Later I attended a session given by Timo during which he shared a lot of statistics and case studies about analytics, including one about new paint on big boats that was designed to be too slippery for marine life to attach to but had the pleasant side effect of making the boats more fuel efficient as well. It was also good to catch up with Timo again; he says he has now been with Business Objects for twenty years. :shock:

At the end of the day I participated in an Ask the Experts session. I shared a table with Tammy Powlas, and we had conference attendees drop by with their questions. The session ran for an hour and a half, and our table always had people there, so I assume we were popular. In fact the last group of folks I talked to went beyond the scheduled closing time and they started to turn out the lights! :lol: Eric Vallo did a drive-by but didn’t stop to chat as the table was full.

So what are my thoughts on the event so far?

Everything has been running smoothly and the folks here seem to appreciate the content. WIS made a specific effort to include a lot more “classic” Business Objects content this year so I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces. (Haven’t mentioned Jamie yet, but he’s here, and I expect to see Chris later today. Also had dinner with Alan Mayer (founder of Integra Solutions and now Solid Ground Technologies) last night.) My schedule has kept me fairly busy, but I hope to attend more sessions in the coming days, specifically around mobility. I’ll be back with details.

First post from a new laptop. Browser doesn’t have spell check, so hope everything came out okay…

Feb 17 2012

Pave Where They Walk

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 11:06 am

I attended (and graduated from) Louisiana State University some years ago. During my time there they did something interesting to the quad outside of the main library. They took up all of the landscaping and planted only grass. There were no sidewalks. My initial reaction was one of disbelief, as I knew that students would be walking back and forth across the grass, wearing out paths wherever they walked. Sure enough, after only one year there were clearly defined paths in the grass. What happened next?

LSU paved those areas.


They waited until they were able to observe established usage patterns and then they built sidewalks. In other words, rather than wasting time and money trying to anticipate how the quad would be used, and what the traffic patterns would be, they simply opened up the entire area and watched. Only after they had collected this information did they move ahead with the final stages of their project.

More often than not, I have seen companies end up taking the opposite approach to business intelligence solutions, and that hurts everybody. Continue reading “Pave Where They Walk”

Feb 01 2012

MicroStrategy World Day 2, 3

Categories: Conferences, MicroStrategy Dave Rathbun @ 12:26 pm

I missed the keynote on the first day, but I made sure I made it on day two. The four pillars of the conference were cloud, big data, mobility, and social. I get the first three; they’re very similar to the Business Objects themes of cloud, mobility, and in-memory for the past few years. The social aspect bothers me a bit, and not just because I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. They showed off a number of Facebook apps (Usher, Wisdom, and Emma are three names that I remember as I’m finishing up this post). The apps themselves are okay, but I really don’t think they should be the focus of the company. Michael Saylor is apparently very big into the social scene, and he’s betting big that the company efforts in this area are going to pay off. I keep thinking back to what the core competencies are, and how does social fit? Not so well, in my opinion, but as the next few years play out I guess we’ll see how that strategy works out. I recently read another article on CNN that was musing about the future of Facebook, titled, “Will Facebook Be The Next Yahoo?” that sums it up nicely, I think.

Mobility was another subject that was emphasized during the keynote. Various studies were quoted that suggested that within a few years almost every customer will have at least one mobile app, and by 2015 mobile development projects will outweigh desktop projects by a ratio of four to one. I get that, but so does SAP. I believe it was Steve Lucas (or perhaps Vishal Sikka) who said at a recent event that “Mobile is the new desktop.” I found that most folks at this event believe that MicroStrategy is currently ahead of SAP’s mobility offerings. (That’s probably not a surprise, given the venue.) The primary advantage that they have over SAP is the fact that everything has grown organically, so integration is already there. SAP is still trying to work to get Web Intelligence and Xcelsius and other content delivered to the iPad in a seamless fashion. They’re making progress, but it’s not like MicroStrategy is waiting for them to catch up either.

Both vendors (SAP and MicroStrategy) are making a lot of noise about the cloud. I can see where this would be very attractive, especially for a smaller or mid-sized company. The ability to spin up a project with minimal (or no) investment in hardware would save money but more importantly allow faster time to delivery for the project. They did a good job of spinning that advantage during the keynote, but I don’t think it needs that much “spin” to show the advantages. There wasn’t anything super exciting about this that I haven’t also seen from SAP.

After the keynote we had another nice lunch (again, the food and service at this event reminded me of the way things used to work at Business Objects events) and then it was time for some track sessions. Overall I found this event did not have very many deep-dive technical sessions, and I really missed the labs that are available at Business Objects events.

I attended one session on data “mashups” that reminded me a lot of the features provided on the bi.ondemand.com cloud site. I did pick up a few new sites that are interesting sources for public data. For example, we looked at garbage collection statistics from NYCOpenData. :lol: MicroStrategy offers direct interfaces to any URL-enabled data source but also Twitter, FourSquare, and of course Facebook. Another site that provides open data is InfoChimps.

I went to a few other sessions on day 2 and more on the morning of day 3, but nothing that I really want to cover in detail. As I’ve mentioned (more than once) I felt that at least for me this event did not offer enough deep-dive technical content. Even when a talk was interesting (see the notes about the LinkedIn talk from day 1) they often didn’t offer much about MicroStrategy.

But I did get a t-shirt. :P

I have had a couple of people ask me (offline) if I’m leaving Business Objects and working with MicroStrategy now. Rest assured the answer is no, I am not. But I’m excited about the opportunity to get my hands on another tool, especially when both tools have strengths. Ultimately it’s about getting data to end users in a format that they can use to improve the business, so why not have more than one choice? In fact it has been over a year since I renamed my blog from “Adventures in Business Objects” to “Adventures in Business Intelligence” in order to be able to talk about different ideas like this. I’m nowhere near as fluent in MSTR as I am in BOBJ, but I hope to fix that over the coming years. We’ll see how that goes. 8-)