May 23 2014

BI2014 Report Part 1

Categories: Conferences Dave Rathbun @ 2:20 am

I spent yesterday at the BI2014 event and had a very productive day. I delivered a presentation that compared Universe Designer to Information Design Tool and discussed some of the pros and cons of switching or converting universes. It was a small crowd, but I did get to meet Miss Universe from BOB and also Raphael Branger who delivered an excellent talk on various ways to help select the right BI tool. I have also had several folks comment on my LSU backpack. ;) I use the same backpack for almost all of my conferences because it’s quite likely to be the only one there, making me easier to find for folks who I haven’t met yet.

I attended a session on Mobi yesterday that was encouraging. Some of our projects that have tried to use Mobi have observed some performance issues, and apparently that has been addressed for the next (6.0) release of Mobi. The folks that build that tool are in an interesting situation… they have to try to take content that wasn’t necessarily designed for mobile device and render it there. On complex documents (those with lots of different blocks and charts, or even just crosstabs) the rendering process became complex. From what was suggested during the talk the Mobi folks have figured out a different way to interact with the Web Intelligence API that should show noticeable improvement. I’m looking forward to seeing that in action.

I also attended a session that was supposed to be an introduction to analytics but turned instead into a review of the KXEN acquisition that was made last fall. The presenter suggested that KXEN rendered most of what he was going to share obsolete because a user doesn’t need to know anything about the underlying analytics anymore. At some point I would still like to get a better understanding of the concepts.

I haven’t done much of anything outside of the conference yet, simply because I only flew in Wednesday and the jet lag is still affecting me some. It always seems to be easier to go West – even really far West such as Melbourne – than to head East. Oh well, it will be easy to go home. 8-)


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.


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