Business Discovery Blog Archive

10 Posts authored by: mmy

HR Analytics and Creating Value

Posted by mmy Apr 11, 2011

According to a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, companies should hunt for value in their "people data." The article contained several good examples, including a retailer that identified and tested key attributes that defined successful retail salespeople when hiring to increase sales and salesperson job satisfaction.

The cost to implement effective talent screening can vary dramatically depending on the size and demographics of the sales force, the products being sold, and the experience of the implementers. However, in some cases, reps hired through screening tests have been known to sell 2% more on average than those who have not gone through screening. So, for a company with $1 Billion sales (from its retail sales reps), this comes to an extra $20 million in revenues each year upon complete replacement with the new better performing reps. For reps selling high profit margin items, this leads to a sizeable increase in cash flow as well as happier sales reps which should lead to higher retention and happier customers.

With the right Business Discovery platform, companies can quickly analyze and identify reps with historically high turnover rates and high costs to acquire, who are responsible for high volume, high profit margin items over regions, stores and time. The benefits derived from screening these types of reps would best offset the total costs of a well executed screening process.

Aw Shucks

Posted by mmy Feb 11, 2011

Throughout my career I have heard that many "'ata boy's" can be wiped out by one "aw shucks". Consider the IT department that meticulously develops a solution to successfully organize and deliver large volumes of data to end-users for reports, analysis, and dashboards. IT professionals deservedly receive an "'ata boy" at each step of the development process that culminates after months or years in the roll out of an application that secures access to sensitive information, and provides a single version of the truth.

Then, "aw shucks", end-users have trouble adopting and using the BI solution. Sometimes this happens right away, or it happens over time as the organization morphs and the needs of the business users change. So finance, operations, marketing, HR etc. bypass using the company's BI tool, and routinely dump information from various data sources into Excel spreadsheets, and manipulate the data to create their reports and analysis. In essence they really use Excel as their BI tool. Then, they email their spreadsheets to others inside and possibly outside their organizations. Result: many versions of the truth depending on the age of the Excel file, spreadsheet user errors, and major breaches in security.

If end-users have ever-changing needs that are difficult to support with existing BI, then a next generation business discovery BI tool can be implemented to reduce unwanted Excel practices, accommodate user needs more easily and efficiently to boost BI user engagement, and maintain control and data integrity for IT. So don't let your "'ata boy's" get wiped out by an "aw shucks".

Consider the following 3 forces that will drive Mobile Business Intelligence:

First, more and more Generation X'ers are being promoted into executive roles. Gen X'ers continue to outpace Boomers regarding adoption of new technology according to Forrester Research, Inc., and "[they] use digital applications as a functional extension of their lives."

Second, mobile internet access will soon overtake-fixed internet access. Moreover, mobile data traffic is predicted to increase by more than 100% per year. See complete analysis from Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker.

Third, technology is becoming more trendy. I was surprised to hear from an IT professional at a Fortune 1000 company who informed me that their senior executives including their CEO (who had always been very "Old School") have been recently using I-Pads wherever they go. These same people had always preferred to have all information and reports on paper and they were definitely late adopters when it came to technology. But to them, the I-Pad was trendy, other executives looked cool with them, and they wanted one. And now they are requesting BI applications that they can view on their I-Pads and cell phones.

Unanticipated Queries

Posted by mmy Sep 10, 2010

I viewed the illustration in the following link: and thought it did a great job of communicating an example of how in-memory associative analysis differs from static reports that rely on pre-determined queries. If you ever prepared long and hard to present answers for a meeting only to have it turn into the nightmare depicted by the illustration in the link above, you probably gained a greater appreciation for more dynamic, flexible means of reporting.

There's no way anyone can pre-determine all the different possible dimensions, views, and perspectives that will satisfy a group of executives with different goals and vantage points. And there lies the advantage of in-memory associative analysis.

In-memory associative analysis works the way the human mind does, so a variety of unanticipated queries like the ones above can be calculated in random access memory and displayed in seconds to provide a more thorough understanding of what is really happening and what needs to be done. Answers to questions provoke new questions and so on and so forth. Traditional analysis and reporting tools that require hours and days of IT people hours to accommodate unanticipated queries are ineffective in providing answers that address the different perspectives executives and stakeholders reveal during the course of a typical business meeting.

Focusing On The Customer's Goal

Posted by mmy Jul 21, 2010

An article in Entrepreneur made me think about some executives I had had conversations with early on, about our business intelligence software. When prospective end-user executives asked questions about new trial versions of our BI software that they downloaded from our website, I was excited to tell them about how fast and easy it was to use and deploy. And I made sure to tell them about the patented in-memory associative technology; the mobile accessibility; the pivot tables; the data loading; and the near real time analysis. Highly technical people and early adopters were interested in such features but the vast majority of end-users were not. I was so impressed with our R&D and Product Development's ability to add and improve powerful features that I deviated from addressing what's most important to a customer.

The following is common sense and might seem obvious, but it is easy to get sidetracked and forget that...

Finance and operations executives that happen to be seeking out BI solutions are measured on, and awarded bonuses based on how well they achieve certain metrics like:

if a BI tool can help them achieve these types of goals by providing better visibility into their data, then executives tend to be more interested in learning more about the product and its features. Also, a testimonial, that includes quantifiable positive results from other executives in similar functional groups, goes a long way to help build social proof. And lastly it's important that the executive's goal is worthy of close attention and support from other stakeholders in his/her company. After all, no product feature is powerful enough to overcome distractions such as catastrophic emergencies or a major corporate reorganization initiative.

Diving into all the intricacies and attributes of a product without clearly defining goals, benefits, stakeholders and obstacles can be a waste of precious time for vendors and customers.

Dashboards Versus Scorecards

Posted by mmy Jun 6, 2010

You hear people talking about executive dashboards and executive scorecards. Sometimes it seems as if they are one and the same and other times it seems like they are different. Over the years I learned about the basic differences between the two by way of examples and definitions offered by people with varying degrees of experience and knowledge about this subject. So recently I did an internet search to see if I could find concrete definitions for scorecards and dashboards from a credible and authoritative source to clear up this matter.

Although I couldn't find one definitive source to give this issue absolute clarity, there were several good lengthy posts I read through, and the common denominator I found that differentiated dashboards and scorecards was:

Dashboards display information about a company at a given point in time that can be used to make better business decisions whereas scorecards tend to measure and compare actual performance results over a given time period versus desired results or benchmarks in that time period or results from a previous time period.

The following examples of metrics that would typically fall under a dashboard or a scorecard may help clear this up:


Dashboard MetricsScorecard Metrics

Location of a particular inventory item
Number of sales calls made
Current calls in queue
Names of SCBA trained employees
List price per product at a given time

Excess inventory in Q1
Sales closed versus quota
2009 Average call center queue time
Number trained for SCBA in 2009
Profits by product, year to year

Note that scorecard metrics can be used to determine executive bonuses while this is not as often the case with dashboards. Please reply with examples or definitions that you have run across that may help shed light on this subject.

Acing the Interview

Posted by mmy May 14, 2010

I spoke to an executive who downloaded our free desktop BI software the other day. He mentioned that he downloaded the software because he was interviewing for a job with a company that used our BI and he wanted to find out about:

  • the volume of data that could be analyzed
  • how easy it would be for him to develop his own dashboards, charts, graphs, and pivot tables
  • the drill down and ad-hoc capabilities
  • costs and time associated with training power users and other end-users

He also asked about cases where our BI was able to succeed at other companies in improving company performance or reducing costs to increase cash flow. Lastly, he asked questions about using our BI to make strong presentations to other executives.

I thought about how this candidate is going to create a more favorable impression for his interviewer than others who didn't know as much about the BI that they would be using.

I also thought that if I were an interviewer, it would be insightful to ask interviewees what BI they used, and the type of queries and information they were accustomed to conducting and accessing in order to increase or decrease key metrics.

Ultimately, perhaps the most important question is whether candidates could accurately state the total benefit received, the total cost of ownership and ultimately the ROI's associated with their BI projects and implementations. Answers to these questions could quickly reveal a glimpse of the performance capabilities of each prospect. Are they the type of executive who continuously seeks to improve their insight and use of technology, or have they reached a status quo?

BI And the Internet Of Things

Posted by mmy Apr 12, 2010

After reading "The Internet of Things" from The McKinsey Quarterly, I couldn't help but think of how real time business intelligence will play a strong role in making sense out of all of the new information that is becoming available so that organizations can drastically improve the way they do business.

One of the main points that the McKinsey article makes, is that "more objects [such as roadways, medical devices, energy meters etc.] are becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate." BI solutions will need to be capable of accessing and integrating this type of information with other available data in near real time in order to best improve decision-making. Much of the BI of today is still too slow, providing answers and reports in days and weeks, rather than the instantaneous feedback that is necessary to avoid losses incurred over those time periods.

Consider persons, receiving care for a health condition, who have been outfitted with sensors that transmit real time vital signs. Rather than relying on tests done at the time of a doctor's visit, continuous monitoring ensures that early warning signs are not missed. Alerts can be provided for the patient and the hospital at the earliest sign of warning. With real time BI, information about the effects and results different treatments have on various segments of patients, can be reported and analyzed immediately by all doctors within a given network.

"Some auto insurers are already offering to install location sensors in their clients cars so that their auto insurance rates can be based on driving behavior rather than age, gender and place of residence." Okay, but let's take this one step further. With effective BI, insurance companies could combine this information with other risk information to decide which clients it would like to cross sell life and disability insurance products to. Furthermore, with near real time analysis, alerts could be sent to immediately flag an identified high risk policy from being renewed.

Regarding manufacturing facilities, time of use pricing data is becoming more available allowing for more accurate costing than fixed rate energy consumption pricing. Executive dashboard BI tools that analyze and display for example, the actual energy consumption costs per production manager, location, and time could be used to evaluate performance and bonus consideration.

Sensors and videos at retail displays are starting to be used to optimize merchandizing. Consider the benefits of feedback from a promotional display for cereal to let you know that the display attracted the attention of 100 shoppers on a given day. Integrate that data with POS data that indicates that 10 such cereals were purchased that same day. Now consider a BI tool that associates this data with the number of total shoppers that entered the store that day and the demographics of shoppers that made and did not make cereal purchases. Compare similar and different displays at other stores with similar and different customer demographics to determine the best display for each store.

The effect of Moore's law is helping to reduce the size and cost of sensors and actuators. Likewise it is reducing the cost of BI solutions to produce real time analysis and reports of larger volumes of more complicated data associations. These two aspects make for a very exciting future, where the biggest limiting factor will be the creativity and imagination of the end-user.

The internet has empowered consumers to quickly access pricing information from a wide variety of retail competitors. Additionally, rapid advancements in technology and the sharing of such information have shortened product life cycles. These two factors have made it difficult for retailers to maintain their margins unless they discover and implement tactics to create and maintain a competitive advantage.

One way that Best Buy was able to create such an advantage was by using a best of breed business intelligence approach to provide instant visibility into sales and profits by product, region and store over a product's life cycle. This expedited Best Buy's ability to determine and discontinue those products that had reached the end of their life cycles. Moreover, executives and managers were also able to determine the ability of marketing campaigns to bolster sales for specific offerings at each store. This type of information is visible to executives each day and actions can be taken immediately to optimize marketing mixes and product margins rather than waiting for a less granular report at the end of the month.

Another competitive advantage of Best Buy's BI capabilities centers around loss prevention alerts and instant awareness regarding gross undercharges. For example if a $2,000 flat screen TV is mistakenly sold to a customer for only $200, how quickly can this anomaly be detected and corrected before it is repeated again and again? Furthermore, how quickly can the cause of this type of defect be determined (i.e. a promotional misunderstanding, human error, or criminal intent) so that similar such incidences do not occur.

I attended and spoke with a number of retail executives and managers who viewed the Stores knowledge Series Best Buy Webinar on 3/23/10. Many of the executives I spoke with were using traditional business intelligence and/or manipulating Excel spreadsheets, and they expressed frustration regarding the time it took to get reports and answers that they needed. The issue regarding alerts and instant visibility into gross undercharges is worthy of further scrutiny since such defects and their effects can remain inconspicuous in a vast sea of disparate data.

A SIB Can Help You Sleep Easy

Posted by mmy Mar 22, 2010

"SIB" at QlikTech stands for "Seeing Is Believing". Some people call this a "proof of concept." In the SIB process we build an application at a company's site in just a few days that can access their data, and analyze and display answers to solve specific business objectives. In other words, you get to see your BI solution in action--connecting to your data, not some canned program--so that you can see if it works as well as advertised. There's relatively no risk-on the other hand--to chance a decision without such a proof of concept, could cause hours of frustration and negative consequences down the road.

For example, a CFO at a regional bank was looking for a solution to provide instant ad-hoc reporting/analysis of P&L's and account information by branch, for himself and other end-users. After trying other solutions, the best they could do was to provide end-users with access to desired information at the end of each month, and this included tedious manual manipulations of data in spreadsheets. Although the CFO needed to solve this problem, he was leery of making a wrong decision. A "SIB" made sense to the CFO, because he was willing to risk a small amount of time and effort to evaluate and witness a potential solution running off of his own data, rather than committing to a larger investment in time and dollars into an unproven solution.

During the "SIB" which was observed by the CFO, his CEO, and others, there was immediate "buy-in" by all when they saw how easily their desired information could be visualized and what this would mean for the performance of the bank. Result: consensus and recognition for a job well done.

Conversely, many executives buy a complete implementation on faith when choosing reporting, analysis or dashboard applications, and hope that the implementation will work with limited evidence to support their decision. Each night they have to go to bed hoping and praying that their investment will succeed and pay-off.

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