Aug 01 2013

Is External Data Always Good?

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 6:43 pm

Note to readers: I started this post back in 2011. After taking a break from blogging I am going back and looking through some of my old drafts and seeing what might still be current, and what has expired. I thought that this one merited some additional attention and publication, even though some of the notes are from two years ago. — Dave

SAP had some fun on the BI 4.0 launch in New York a while back. For years SAP (and other vendors) have been talking about their ability to bring in external data from various social medial sources. Two SAP presenters at the launch event took a vote via Twitter as to which tie would meet the “Scissors of Destiny” at the end of the session. (Steve Lucas made an impassioned plea to save his tie, which he said was a gift from his wife, versus Dave’s tie which he “… just bought last night.” Steve won, and his blue tie survived.) It was a fun display of technology, but is it really that important? How impressive would it have been if the “fail whale” had picked that moment to make an appearance?

I don’t usually spend a lot of time here on my blog talking about philosophical aspects of BI as I am personally more interested in technical issues and solving problems. But the apparent consensus as to the importance of social media bugs me.

The Internet is a wild place where rules are not always followed. If there is money to be made, then someone will figure out a way to abuse the system. It’s not just the “little guys” either, as evidenced by the way retailer JC Penney apparently took specific steps to trick Google during the holiday shopping season. Again, this was back in 2011.

What do you do with the information?

Does it do any good to listen to what is being said on social media without having an action plan to respond?

Do you really trust an external entity (such as Facebook) to host critical data?

Did you know that you can reportedly buy Twitter followers now? (Seriously, google for “buy twitter followers” and see what you find.)

There are rumors that Sarah Palin got caught setting up a secondary Facebook account, just so she could “like” herself and skew the results shown on her main page. This type of abuse – if performed manually – should have minimal impact. However it is apparently far too easy to set up bots that can be tasked to perform the same sort of task. In fact there are companies that you can legitimately hire (as opposed to going underground) to do this for you. One term I came across while researching background for this article was quite amusing: hactivist. :)

Is there a point to all of this rambling? Not really, I guess. Or if there is, it’s that despite SAP and everyone else appearing to really want to make social media relevant, I find myself asking why is it so important?

Human behavior – online or not – often boils down to risks and rewards. The problem is that rewards can inspire the wrong behavior. I talked about this in a guest blog at The Decision Factor: Lessons in Business Intelligence: Be Careful What You Wish For. The cost of setting up a web site today are extremely minimal. The ability to generate advertising revenue, however, is also very minimal. Suppose that it costs $10 a year to host a site and it makes $0.50 per month in revenue. It’s hardly worth doing, right? But what if you scale that up. Now it costs $1,000,000 to set up the sites, but you’re generating $50,000 per month in income. I can’t find a link at the moment, but there was some guy that was making millions of dollars buying expired domains and putting junk content on them.

By one estimate, the Internet will soon have more garbage than valuable content! Some might say that this has already happened.

That being said, there are certainly valid reasons to consider using social media. The recent (yes, this really is recent) phenomena of Sharknado proved that. ;)

May 21 2012

Unfortunately True More Often Than Not…

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 1:57 pm

One of my favorite Dilbert strips to pass the time until I can get started blogging again:

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”

Dec 21 2011

Why Can’t I Validate Prompts?

Categories: Prompts, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 9:23 am

One of the possible enhancements we have been requesting for years is the ability to validate prompts. (We’ve also been looking for the ever-so-popular ability to use a formula such as “Today()” as a default for a prompt but this is different.) If we had true cascading prompts in Web Intelligence that would eliminate one use case for validated prompts but not all. I had someone comment on my blog recently asking about how to validate one prompt selection against another and that started me thinking… what would something like this look like if we did get it? Continue reading “Why Can’t I Validate Prompts?”

Dec 13 2011

The Beginning Of The End For Facebook?

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 9:59 am

Most of my friends know that I’m their friend in real life, not on Facebook. :) I’ve never joined that service, initially through lack of interest and later on through genuine concerns over their privacy issues and how much data people are seemingly willing to give up for a web site with, frankly, fairly minimal appeal, at least to me. I have also wondered in the past why corporations are so quick to give up control over their own content (replacing with MicroStrategy offers a social media plugin that can pull in Facebook data, and of course SAP offers various methods to acquire and process unstructured data via their text analytics options in their Data Services products.

But this morning I read an article from suggesting that we might be looking at the beginning of the end for Facebook. I am not going to summarize the article here, but I would like to run an informal poll.

If you are a member of Facebook, are you using it:

  • More now than you did last year?
  • Less now than you did last year?
  • About the same as what you did last year?

Please use the comment form below to enter your response.

Nov 14 2011

SAP + Business Objects Skills – Do They Exist?

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 11:00 pm

A few months ago I had the pleasure to talk to Courtney Bjorlin of about a Twitter exchange taking place between several folks. They were discussing the need for (and likelihood of) finding Business Objects experts (whether employees or consultants) that already have SAP skills. The main points of the discussion revolved around the concept of whether there was a current market for SAP + Business Objects skills, and secondarily whether there was even a supply of folks with the required expertise if so. I’m not in the consulting arena anymore, but I’ve seen how things have progressed over the past decade and definitely had some thoughts that I shared with Courtney. She wrote a post for ASUG News (included in the related links at the end of this post) and we also revisited the talk at the conference last month in Orlando (YouTube link also below).

I thought I would go into more depth here since I’m not bound by editorial constraints as far as post length. ;)

My personal experience is certainly weighted on the legacy Business Objects side. I’ve been working with the products since 1995 and have seen quite a progression during the last sixteen years. Keep that in mind as you read this post as I am sure it gives me a certain bias. The question of the day: Is there is an adequate supply of Business Objects experts with SAP expertise? Does that question even make sense? Continue reading “SAP + Business Objects Skills – Do They Exist?”

Sep 23 2011

Social Media – I Don’t Get It, But Spammers Do

Categories: General, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 9:27 am

SAP had some fun on the BI 4.0 launch in New York last February. For years SAP along with other vendors have been touting their ability to import and analyze external data from various social media sources. Two SAP presenters at the launch event took a vote via Twitter as to which tie would meet the “Scissors of Destiny” at the end of the session. (Steve Lucas made an impassioned plea to save his tie, which he said was a gift from his wife, versus Dave’s tie which he “… just bought last night.” Steve won, and his blue tie survived.) It was a fun display of technology, but is it really that important? How impressive would it have been if the “fail whale” had picked that moment to make an appearance?

I don’t usually spend a lot of time here on my blog talking about philosophical aspects of BI as I am personally more interested in technical issues and solving problems. But the apparent consensus as to the importance of social media bugs me. Continue reading “Social Media – I Don’t Get It, But Spammers Do”

Sep 15 2011

SAP TechEd 2011 – Gamification Keynote

Categories: 2011 SAP TechEd, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 11:58 am

We had a great start to the conference! Dr. Jane McGonigal took the stage to tell us how we can do so much more if only everything were like a game. That’s perhaps an over-simplification, but I’m going to run with it for a moment. The concept of gamification is basically this: if you put an obstacle in front of someone and tell them they have to do it, they’re likely to whine and complain. Trust me on this one, I have two boys (ages 8 and 10) and I can vouch for the whining and complaining part. ;) On the other hand, if you give them the same obstacle but frame it as a game, they’ll willingly go along with actions that they would not normally do… and have fun doing it. As one example she mentioned the “dance pad” games. Many people do not like to dance, and would rather do almost anything else when out in public. But turn it into a game that starts out simple and builds in complexity and they’ll willingly give it a try.

Golf was another example she used. Golf really is quite an unusual way to spend time. Suppose that golf didn’t exist today, and someone came up with the idea of putting a little ball into a small hole. Weird idea, right? The most obvious solution is to pick up the ball, walk over, and drop it in the hole. Of course that’s not how golf works. They make it far harder by starting from a long way away, and using various different sticks to hit the ball towards the hole. Pretty ridiculous, right? I can only imagine what the first conversation was like as folks were inventing golf… it probably did not go as Robin Williams imagines. (Warning: includes strong language, definitely not safe for work without headphones.)

Here’s a quote from one of her slides:

Games are unnecessary obstacles we volunteer to tackle

Golf certainly fits that description. With apologies to golf fans everywhere, it’s certainly not a necessary obstacle. The same could be said for many sports. Yet today golf is a multi-billion dollar industry. Folks spend hundreds or thousands of dollars buying equipment, spend hours out of their day, just trying to get better at putting a little ball into a little hole. What are they getting out of it? Continue reading “SAP TechEd 2011 – Gamification Keynote”

Sep 13 2011

Does This Application Need To Be Mobile?

Categories: 2011 SAP TechEd, Rants Dave Rathbun @ 6:30 pm

As mentioned earlier, one of the key themes mentioned in the morning keynote was (once again) mobile applications. Later on I saw a brief marketing video from SAP that showed off some of their mobile apps, and I started to wonder: were some of those apps mobile because they needed to be? Or because they were simply re-positioned from a desktop? And if so, where is the value? For example, one of the sample apps shown appeared to be an HR app used to approve expense reports. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a request from our HR department saying they needed to do that via a mobile device. The same could be said for many of the other applications shown (however briefly) in the video.

Years ago I had a friend who started a company that was going to be based on the Internet. His idea would have been a very early front-runner in the social media space, although we didn’t know that at the time. Like many, his company disappeared during the “dot bomb” collapse. What really intrigued me about his idea, though, was that it was not a company that could be built on the Internet, it was a company that required the Internet in order to function. (The same could be said about most social media companies today which is why I said he was a front-runner in the space.) During the same time he was launching his idea, many other companies were trying to simply re-platform their brick-and-mortar offerings on the web, with various degrees of success. They didn’t require the Internet to function, they were just using it as a delivery device.

Today I’m starting to feel like I am seeing the same thing with mobile. Everybody seems to want to show off their mobile apps, but what they’re showing (at least a large percentage of the time) is a desktop app or common function that has been repositioned as a mobile app. It’s something that could be done equally well on either type of hardware. I don’t think anyone with a smart phone is going to be interested in giving up mobile access to their email, and that’s clearly a desktop app that has been re-platformed very successfully. Blackberry probably would not exist as a company today if not for the success of their mobile email devices. When I go out shopping, I frequently use Amazon or eBay as a price guide to see if a locally available item is priced competitively. That’s not a mobile app, though, that’s simply mobile access to data. I could do my comparison shopping at home, but it’s certainly convenient to have it on a mobile device.

I can get sports scores on my phone. I can get the same thing at home. Again, it’s convenient to have mobile access but it’s not mandatory.

Today I can deliver Web Intelligence documents over the Internet with the mobile platform in BI 4.0. That’s not really a mobile application, it’s an alternate delivery path for desktop content. The same thing could be said for the mobile version of Explorer.

In fact, I personally can’t think of a single thing that I currently do with my Blackberry that requires mobility. I just have a bunch of desktop applications in my pocket. There is value in that, but it’s not a very compelling (at least to me) mobility story.

How about you? Do you have any true mobile apps? Something that would not be possible any other way? Or are they simply desktop apps on a different device? Spreadsheets were the “killer app” for desktop computers. Email may have been an early force behind the growth of smart phones, but what’s the true mobile killer app that we can’t live without?

Aug 12 2011

Quick Tip For Universe Designer ABENDS…

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 12:01 pm

Not too long ago I had a very frustrating run where certain events (and I was never quite sure what the connection was) would cause my designer session to crash. For a while it was just exporting a universe. The universe would get exported successfully and then Designer would immediately crash. Then I started having problems with Desktop Intelligence where I could not edit documents related to a specific universe. The universe itself was fine, as I verified by going into the Infoview portal and creating documents. And others were able to use the universe just fine.

Ultimately I found a post on BOB that pointed me in the right direction. The seemingly “random” events all had to do with accessing the security areas of the repository, and that pointed to a corrupted .lsi file. These files have been around for many versions of the Business Objects software. Although I don’t remember ever getting a confirmation one way or another I have always called them the “local security information” files. This file is what lets Desktop Intelligence users work in offline mode as it contains a list of universes and documents and so on that the user has rights to. It makes sense that exporting a universe works because that’s not related to security. It’s only after the export was complete that the local security information file was updated, and since my file was corrupted in some fashion that update failed.

Removing the .lsi file for that particular environment solved the problem. There’s no harm in removing this file as Business Objects will automatically regenerate it the next time it’s needed when the program realizes that it is missing.

Where are the .lsi files? The location may be different based on how the software is installed, but they should be within the application folder that is contained within the Documents and Settings parent folder. Here’s the path for me under XI 3.1:

D:\Documents and Settings\username-here\Application Data\Business Objects\Business Objects 12.0\lsi

Once I deleted the .lsi file for the offending environment – I could have removed them all because they’re automatically regenerated if they’re missing – everything worked again. That being said, there are two files in that folder that should not be deleted, and those are pdac.lsi and sdac.lsi. Those files are used to store information related to personal (pdac) and shared (sdac) connections that have been defined on the client computer.

If you’re wondering what ABEND means, it’s short for “abnormal ending” and dates back to mainframe days. :)

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