May 07 2014

It’s So Nice To Be In Nice

Categories: Conferences Dave Rathbun @ 8:09 am

I’m going to be at the SAP Insider BI 2014 event in a few weeks in Nice, France. It’s my third time travelling to the “old continent” to present at a BI conference, but my first in a long time. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and introduce yourself!

BI 2014 May 21-23 Nice, France

If you’re as old as I am, you might recognize the blog title was inspired by a song from the band Gallery


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”


May 01 2014

Big Data Is Hard To Define… and Vulnerable

Categories: Rants Dave Rathbun @ 12:57 pm

Stephen Few weighed in on what is the proper definition of big data yesterday, and it’s an interesting read. If you don’t want to click through, I will summarize in one sentence: “Big data is nothing special, it’s just data.” Obviously Stephen’s opinions have not stopped (and won’t stop) people from using the term.

Next up on my blog reading list this morning was a trip to FiveThirtyEight.com. The headline article this morning was titled, “The Story Behind the Worst Movie on IMDB.” I’m guessing that IMDB doesn’t really qualify as “big data” as they have “only” 2.8 million titles in their database. :) But the story wasn’t about big data, it was about the worst movie in the database as determined by public rankings. I would have expected the soundly panned “Battlefield Earth” (and it was one of the worst with an overall rating of 2.4), the unfortunate Halle Berry stinker “Catwoman” (3.3) or perhaps even the Paris Hilton vehicle “The Hottie and the Nottie” (which I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I even knew about and brings in a lowly rating of 1.8).

It turns out the worst rated movie was not any of these, but instead was a Bollywood production called “Gunday” which has a rating of 1.4. Over 91% of the posted ratings are one star! What happened? Was the movie really that terrible?

For the full story, click through to the story on fivethirtyeight. In summary: an entire country decided they didn’t like the movie and decided to do something about it.

…the movement has since become an online alliance of bloggers focused on protecting Bangladesh’s history and promoting the country’s image. That includes protesting “Gunday,” because of the film’s reference to the Bangladesh Liberation War as the Indo-Pak war. In its first 11 minutes, the movie claims that India alone defeated Pakistan, and implies that an independent Bangladesh was simply a result of the fight.

What happens when an entire country decides that a movie is bad? The movie becomes perceived as historically bad. More from the article:

For Paris Hilton’s “The Hottie & the Nottie” — currently rated second-worst of all time — to take over IMDb’s bottom spot, the next 41,000 voters would have to give it a 1.

Last year I wrote a blog post titled Is External Data Always Good?. This is one more example of how social media / crowd-sourced data can be skewed by a concentrated effort. Is “Gunday” really the worst movie of all time? Probably not. Most professional critics were not nearly as harsh, especially when compared to Paris Hilton’s effort. One user reviewed Paris’s acting by saying, “Paris Hilton’s acting made me lose braincells.” The reviews on IMDB were not spammers; they were unique individuals. They just happened to be part of a focused effort to trash a movie they perceived as historically inaccurate. (Please note: I am not making any assessment as to the accuracy of the film. I am far from an expert in that area so I’m neither endorsing nor rejecting the movie.)

Ultimately I think the article from FiveThirtyEight wraps it up the best.

Crowdsourcing can be a tremendously powerful way to get a consensus understanding of the world. Because the sample size is so large, there’s an assumption that whatever it yields is robust and true. But even with oversight, aggregated rankings are subject to unforeseen biases. Crowds are always big — but they’re not always wise. Sometimes it’s impossible to control which crowds are being sourced.

Big data is just data. But you still have to understand where it’s coming from in order to benefit from it.


Feb 26 2014

Big Universe + Security Profiles = Slow Query Generation

Categories: Rants, Report Techniques, Web Intelligence Dave Rathbun @ 6:01 pm

The actual origin of the concept of a “red herring” is unknown, but that doesn’t stop it from causing grief while trying to diagnose a performance issue. If you are not familiar with the concept, a red herring is something that initially appears to be relevant but ultimately is proved to have nothing to do with the actual issue. It’s a popular technique for mystery novels… and in tech support calls.

Case in point: Today I had to help someone who was wondering why their report took over thirty seconds to display a prompt window when there was only one prompt in the document. Clearly it was a prompt issue, right? Or something related to the list of values definition for that object? Continue reading “Big Universe + Security Profiles = Slow Query Generation”


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? :)


Sep 19 2013

Using OLAP Functions to Extend Calendar Capabilities

Categories: Dynamic Dates, Universe Design Dave Rathbun @ 10:08 am

I think it’s probably a safe bet to suggest that just about every data warehouse (or even transactional system) has some sort of calendar table. In many cases, the unique key for this table might be the natural key of the date itself, or perhaps it’s a system-generated surrogate key. That doesn’t really matter for this post. What I want to do is show one idea of how I used an OLAP aggregate function called row_number() to extend my calendar functionality, and make it really easy to schedule reports for the “last three months” given an input date. Continue reading “Using OLAP Functions to Extend Calendar Capabilities”


Sep 06 2013

Unmerging Dimensions in Web Intelligence

Categories: Web Intelligence Dave Rathbun @ 2:02 pm

One of the things that I really wish SAP had left alone during the rewrite of Web Intelligence between XI 3 and BI4 is the merging interface. The way you merged dimensions in XI 3.x was brilliant, and gave the report developer an excellent interface to use to manage their merged dimensions. In BI 4 for some reason it looks like they took their design ideas from Desktop Intelligence instead. I was reminded of this today when I tried to “unmerge” (demerge?) two dimension objects in BI4. Continue reading “Unmerging Dimensions in Web Intelligence”


Aug 29 2013

BI4 UNV Versus UNX … Which Do You Choose?

Categories: IDT, Universe Design Dave Rathbun @ 7:54 am

When SAP released BI4 several years ago it featured a major upgrade to one of the core technologies used by Business Objects since the beginning of the company: the universe. What does this mean for you and how does it impact your intentions to move forward with the latest and greatest offering from SAP? Many of you know that I currently work for a fairly large company, and large companies are often slower to move on to new technologies as they’re released. I have not talked a lot about BI4 in my blog yet primarily for that reason. However, we’ve had over a year to review the new Information Design Tool (IDT) and the BI4 .UNX format, and I’m finally ready to share some thoughts. Continue reading “BI4 UNV Versus UNX … Which Do You Choose?”


Aug 13 2013

Mastering Business Analytics with SAP

Categories: Conferences Dave Rathbun @ 12:27 pm

I have said this before: if you ever get invited to speak at a conference hosted by The Eventful Group, don’t wait, don’t think, just do it! They treat speakers fantastic, and their events are well put together. Thanks to Sophie, Debra, and crew for making my stay in Melbourne wonderful despite the fact that my luggage got there 36 hours after I did…

Josh Fletcher tweeted the following link to a collection of tweets and pictures on Storify that summarize the event:

I had two sessions. The first one on Monday was scheduled opposite Mico so I didn’t have that many people attend. ;) In my first session I talked about PepsiCo and our initial success (after a long and winding road) with Explorer. I will be repeating this talk (with some minor changes) at the SBOUC event coming up in California. On Tuesday I had a second session talking about the Information Design Tool and various items to consider when upgrading to BI4. I will be posting more about that topic here on my blog in the coming months.


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. ;)


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