Aug 22 2014

Yes, Virginia, You Can Refresh One Data Provider At A Time

Categories: General, Report Techniques, Web Intelligence Dave Rathbun @ 11:45 am

For a while now I have been whining about the fact that there were features dropped from XI 3.1 during the upgrade to BI4, including how the dimension merging process works. Another gap? In XI 3.1 we had the ability from the query panel to run only a selected data provider, leaving the others alone. When working on complex multi-query documents this could be a big help, especially if some of the data providers had longer refresh times.

A few days ago I was grumbling about this yet again and discovered a way to refresh a single data provider! It’s not perfect (nor was it the most obvious workflow for me) but it does work. I had one data provider that was scanning a huge multi-billion row fact table. To supplement this data I needed to run an additional query against an Excel data provider. I had to make several changes to the Excel file in order to help my data match up correctly, and each time I updated the XLS I had to refresh the entire document in order to see the changes… which was annoying and time consuming. Now I have a solution.

Note: Since I’m talking about joining with Excel, clearly I was using the rich client application. However the same technique outlined below works online with multiple universe data providers as well. Continue reading “Yes, Virginia, You Can Refresh One Data Provider At A Time”


Jul 08 2014

Airlines Could Save Millions in Fuel Costs By Providing Everyone An iPad

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 11:30 am

There’s an interesting article over at fivethirtyeight.com that discusses various ways that airlines could save money. Like many airline profitability studies this one focuses on things that Southwest Airlines does to remain in the black while other airlines seem to go through bankruptcy every five or ten years. For example, Southwest does not have any in-flight entertainment systems. That saves money in a whole variety of obvious ways (they don’t have to pay for the systems up front, and they don’t have the on-going costs of keeping the systems running) but also in less obvious ways.

Southwest runs about 1.6 million flights every year. At the most basic level, they are in the business of moving cargo (human or otherwise) from point A to point B, therefore one of their primary costs is fuel. The more cargo they carry, the more fuel is required. When I carry my cell phone I hardly know it’s there. Southwest jets have an average of around 140 seats. If I assume 100 of those are filled with passengers with cell phones, the weight becomes a bit more noticeable. Imagine loading up a box of 100 cell phones. :) and then repeat that for 1.6 million flights and the extra cargo weight adds up! In the article they crunched the numbers and determined that Southwest probably pays $1.2 million dollars in extra fuel costs just to carry all those phones. If passengers carry laptops that would add almost $21M in fuel costs. Entertainment systems – if they were present on Southwest – would add almost $40M a year in additional fuel costs. I found it interesting that entertainment systems apparently weighed more than laptops, but then I realized one factor was that planes are not always full. A laptop won’t fly by itself, but an entertainment system might.

Which brings me to what I thought was one of the more interesting propositions made in the article. Airlines that currently offer in-flight entertainment systems could save a ton (pun intended) by eliminating those systems and giving everyone an iPad instead! They could save even more by allowing passengers that bring their own iPad free access to the in-flight media server. Content could be uploaded to each plane while they’re loading passengers. The airline wouldn’t need to provide high-capacity iPads since everything would be viewed from the server, so the 16GB model would be plenty. The cost of a 16GB iPad currently hovers around $400, so they’re not cheap, but given the weight savings (and the fact that iPads could be loaded on an as-needed basis rather than always being on board) the fuel savings would likely more than make up for the added cost.

Using Southwest’s network as a proxy for similar-sized airlines carrying embedded in-flight entertainment systems, we found that fuel costs to carry these systems are approximately $39.7 million per year. When compared with installing embedded systems in the seats, simply handing everyone an iPad when they stepped onboard could save about $32.7 million per year in fuel costs.

Plus I have to imagine if Southwest Airlines called up Apple and ordered 100,000 iPads they would get a better price than $400. ;)

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Jun 07 2014

Business Intelligence Lessons from Star Trek – Part Two

Categories: General, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 12:57 pm

Author Note: This blog post was originally a guest entry at The Decision Factor, a site that appears to have ceased publication. I have reproduced it here. It was fun to write, and I hate to see good content go missing. The original post was published in 2012 but I believe the content is still relevant today.

In my first Star Trek post, I explored two lessons learned from Captain Kirk’s leadership skills and how we could apply them to business intelligence. Today, I’ll cover three more lessons.

Be Part of the Away Team

Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation rarely joined the away team, leaving that role to his Number One, Commander Riker. Kirk operated with far more freedom. Whenever there was an opportunity to beam down to a new planet, he was there. His leadership style demanded that he lead from the front.

I think the corollary with business intelligence work here is obvious: the success or failure of our systems depends far more on establishing correct requirements than on the actual implementation. By being part of the away team, we can be directly involved. Lack of user involvement and poor requirements gathering are generally two of the top reasons projects of any kind fail, and business intelligence is not immune to this problem.

Play Poker, not Chess

In Star Trek, there were numerous times when Captain Kirk and his crew were in a bad spot. In one episode, The Corbomite Maneuver, the Enterprise and her crew were experiencing first contact with a new alien race and it wasn’t going well. At one point, Spock had to tell Kirk that they were out of options and the alien had backed them into a corner from which there was no escape. In chess terms, checkmate. Spock, as a character, was the very embodiment of chess: cold, logical, and process driven. It was natural that he would see things this way. But Kirk was different.

Capt. Kirk: There must be SOMETHING to do. Something I’ve overlooked.
Mr. Spock: Chess: When one is outmatched the game is over. Checkmate.
Capt. Kirk: Is that your BEST recommendation?
Mr. Spock: I’m s… I regret that I can find no other logical alternative.
Capt. Kirk: Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker!

Kirk took inspiration from the game of poker and bluffed his way out of the situation. How can this possibly apply to business intelligence? We don’t want to lie to our business partners, do we?

Perhaps we do – but in a good way.

I often come into contact with people or business processes that have been rigidly followed for many years. To the mind of the many, there’s no other way to do that particular process. In order to convince them otherwise, sometimes we have to bluff. I like to call this a demo. ;-) In order to make a difference, we have to get past that initial resistance; and sometimes a well-placed bluff demonstration helps us along that road.

Blow Up the Enterprise

Sometimes there’s no way around it. A system that’s well known, trusted, and loved just isn’t cutting it any more. The original Enterprise made it through several years of TV shows and a couple of movies before ultimately meeting her end. As much it pained Kirk to let her go, he realized that in order to move forward, the Enterprise had to be sacrificed. (I may have shed a tear or two myself.)

Legacy systems can often inspire the same attachment, but at some point we have to blow them up so we can move on. “It’s always been done that way” is a poor reason to keep a system around when there are so many new and exciting technologies that have come to market recently. Don’t be afraid to blow up the Enterprise to move forward.

But I think the overwhelming lesson to be learned from Star Trek is don’t wear a red shirt to work.


May 26 2014

Business Intelligence Lessons From Star Trek

Categories: General, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 12:55 pm

Author Note: This blog post was originally a guest entry at The Decision Factor, a site that appears to have ceased publication. I have reproduced it here. It was fun to write, and I hate to see good content go missing. The original post was published in 2012 but I believe the content is still relevant today.

While the touch-panel displays on Star Trek: The Next Generation certainly foreshadowed the iPad, the focus of my discussion today is around another blog: “Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk,” published by Forbes Magazine.

While Captain Kirk had his flaws—making his character all the more interesting—he certainly was the unquestioned leader of the Enterprise. I enjoyed reading the article and think the specific lessons outlined also apply to business intelligence.

I’ll share the first two with you today and save the others for a future post.

Never Stop Learning

When Kirk ran the Enterprise, the Federation was much younger. Their mission was to seek out and explore, encounter new civilizations, and learn from them. The opening monologue said it all:

Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Sounds like good advice for business intelligence professionals too, right?

In order to deliver effective results, we have to first understand the business. Whether we work for a large company or a small start-up, knowing the business (and the data) is the first step towards providing business value. It doesn’t help to design solutions in a vacuum that the business won’t understand, won’t use, and doesn’t need.

As a business intelligence professional, I look forward to those times when I get sent to the far reaches of our enterprise (see what I did there? ;-) ), so that I can directly observe business processes in action. The lessons learned might not provide an immediate benefit. It might be months or even years, before I can put something I have learned to good use. What’s important is that I do interact with the business and learn from that experience.

Have Advisors with Different Worldviews

Captain Kirk was blessed with a diverse crew, not only on the bridge of the Enterprise but throughout the ship. This was no accident. James Roddenberry, the visionary behind what ultimately became one of the biggest TV and movie franchises of all time, intended this to show how a diverse crew of different ethnicities, genders, and planetary origins could act together in towards a common goal. Spock and Dr. McCoy could hardly have been more different, yet each was able to provide valuable input to Captain Kirk’s decisions. They each supported his role as their captain and leader in their own way, often in direct opposition with each other.

In the business intelligence role, it’s just as important for us to seek out and explore diversity. Before designing a system, I need to talk to everyone who might use the system and gather their input. Getting only one side of the story could lead to incomplete requirements, which in turn leads to wasted time and money. In this day and age (much less the 23rd century), we can’t afford to do much of either.

Stay tuned for more business intelligence lessons from Star Trek

In a few weeks I’ll return with the final three leadership lessons from Star Trek that have implications for business intelligence professionals. In the meantime, I wish you success in exploring the world of business intelligence.


May 06 2014

Lessons in Business Intelligence: Be Careful What You Wish For

Categories: General, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 12:35 pm

Author Note: This post was originally a guest post published on “The Decision Factor” blog. Since that site seems to have disappeared I am re-posting it here. The original publication date was November 1, 2012, but I believe the content is still relevant.

What’s the purpose of a business intelligence (BI) dashboard? It’s not just to look sexy. The primary purpose of a dashboard is to convey information. A secondary purpose is to inspire a behavioral change based on the information that’s being conveyed. Nobody wants to be “red” on a dashboard reviewed by executives, so they’ll change their behavior in order to get into the “green” area.

But humans are a creative species. What happens if their behavior changes in an unanticipated way?
Continue reading “Lessons in Business Intelligence: Be Careful What You Wish For”


Dec 11 2013

Diversified Semantic Layer Guest Appearance

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 1:21 pm

Since this was actually recorded and published several weeks ago, I guess I’m late to the party. You may have already seen this if you follow the Diversified Semantic Layer, but in case you haven’t, I was a guest on their video podcast a few weeks ago. Eric and Josh hosted Derick and me in an hour-long discussion for all things semantic layer.

Universe Design Hacks

It was a ton of fun, even if it looks like I can barely keep my eyes open. Trust me, it was Josh (based in Australia) that should have been the sleepy one! We talked about subjects ranging from the very specific (why put aggregate functions on every measure) to more broad (do you let your business users build universes) while Eric tried to keep us on track. There were quite a few topics that we agreed we should come back to and cover in more detail.

And then I showed yet another trick during my DFW ASUG chapter session, which caused Eric to tweet this:

What can I say, we only had an hour? :)


Jul 23 2013

Really Cool Stock Market Visualization

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 3:08 pm

I was looking over some financial sites the other day and ran across this visualization that is based on the stock market. The overall presentation is divided into blocks of companies grouped by sector. The size of the company within their sector is based on their market capitalization, and the color indicates the current stock price trend. Clicking on a sector allows the viewer to “drill” down into the sector data. At the bottom of the frame is a drop-down that allows you to specify the time range used to identify the up or downward trend, with options for since last close, 26 weeks, 52 weeks, or year to date. While the color (green or red) shows the direction of the stock price move, the intensity of the color shows the percentage of the move. A company like Barrick Gold which has dropped substantially during 2013 (down ~48%) is fairly bright red, while PepsiCo (up ~25% YTD) is a muted green.

I think this is one of the best uses of this visualization style that I have seen, and decided to share it.


Mar 16 2013

Funny For The Day

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 9:30 am

Click through for more from the same artist.


Feb 18 2013

Back After A Nice Break…

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 5:26 pm

Hello folks, I’m back after a nice break with a quick comment from our favorite curly tie engineer:

I needed a break from various things, but I should be back and blogging soon. Conference season is starting up. BI2013 was going to be first on my list, then SAPPHIRE. I had to back out of BI2013, and the jury is still out as to whether I’ll make it to SAPPHIRE/ASUG Annual Conference just yet.

I have finally started to do some serious work using the Information Design Tool, and my first blog post related to work flow differences between IDT and Universe Designer should be ready to come out shortly.

Finally, I have added a new permanent page to my side menu titled, “Donating To Dagira.” Please check it out and see if it’s something you would be willing to support, thanks!

I am way behind on approving comments. :oops: I will be working through those this week.


Nov 27 2012

Guest Blog Post: Be Careful What You Wish For

Categories: General Dave Rathbun @ 9:40 am

It has been a busy couple of weeks (months!) and my production here has suffered. My most recent post is not here but a guest blog at The Decision Factor: Be Careful What You Wish For. I was inspired by a post at the Freakonomics Blog that discussed human nature and the unanticipated result of incentive programs as I remembered one particular client experience with a dashboard. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try.

I’ll be back here soon.

Author Note: The original link to The Decision Factor no longer works so I have recreated the post here. The link above will take you to that post instead.


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