10 August 2010 0 Comments

Business Intelligence, Tools, Dirty Caveman Sex, Open-Source – Part 1

Part 1 - Before we all start examining tools like seconds rate doctors - lets cover the Business Intelligence (Wikipedia for you skeptics) basics, shall we?

Business Intelligence. Business Intelligence Solution. Business Intelligence Data Analysis Tool. BI-this. BI-That. God Damn.

How often do we have to have that phrase shoved down our throats by faceless corporate product snake-oil salesmen, unscrupulous consultants, random shithead "experts" and brainless middle managers who just read about it in last months issue of Wired. I hate the term as an IT buzzword, but the underlying concept is essential these days in any industry and at every step on the big-money biz ladder. Hate it or not "Business Intelligence" isn't going anywhere - in fact, its been here in one way, shape, or form since the first caveman traded one of his stone axe blades for some otherwise unsanctioned cave-nookie.

Cave Babes = WIN.

Since those pioneering days of seeking more profitable cave transactions, the amount of data that has become available and stored about almost every aspect of a company's business is just freaking staggering. Now its more important than ever to try and figure your shit out - and FAST. No time to wait for some slacker to come in to slowly generate those quarterly TPS reports. I mean, gee, who DOESN'T want to be able to constantly make sense of their data, identify trends, optimize their approach, and just generally decode the data hieroglyphics of yesterday to kick more ass tomorrow?

"Good Enough" isn't going to cut it anymore.

Doesn't matter if we're talking about sales, crimes, advertising campaign conversions, seasonal product performance, spice potency, or @Ed's "re-tweetability". Whatever it is that you measure / Whatever is important to you - make sure you're always making the best possible decisions to get there based on the historical knowledge at hand. A good Business Intelligence solution (Ok, read that as "Business Intelligence IMPLEMENTATION" since, much to my dismay, nothing ever configures itself) can put you on the road to finally getting the big picture of your business data at any given moment and therefore being able to respond quicker, be more proactive, and generally avoid becoming putrid bizdev roadkill (or getting fired by some monopoly guy from the 10th floor).

"In 2010 - not having a solid Business Intelligence reporting framework in place is like driving blindfolded with a skunk on your lap and a trunk full of dead hookers.

You may be able to stall off disaster for a while by swinging the wheel wildly and honking the horn but you're bound to get totally douched in the end."

I could go on and on like a self-indulgent geek-asshole about the importance of meta-data in BI, post flow charts about "Business Intelligence Implementation Best Practices", the importance of proper data warehousing, star schema, and other bullshit that won't ever get you a date - but on a high-level all you REALLY need to know is this...

Business Intelligence will help you SEE WHATS GOING ON in your business, and THIS will enable you to make changes that SAVE money - or make MORE money.

Word. Actually, in THIS of economy we might as well say that a solid view of your data can mean the difference between being IN business and being OUT of business. Ouch. The truth hurts, don't it? Anyways, let's put that nasty thought behind us for now...

Moving on...

Most small to medium size companies (regardless of industry) have these 3 things in common:

  • Boat-loads of data (sales, stats, operational metrics, etc)
  • No boat-loads of cash (More like a McDonalds Dollar-Menu boat)
  • No cute blond telepath to siphon key metrics out of your staff daily (oh, behave!)

Assuming that you've been living under a rock and vacationing in a tree for a few years - just take a look at a quick Google search for business intelligence or business intelligence tools. The top paid and unpaid results are pretty much what you'd expect: IBM, Oracle, Microsoft (who is actually doing some REALLY cool stuff these days), SAP / BusinessObjects, Cognos, etc. You the idea. What do all these tools and "solutions" have in common? They all cost many thousands (if not millions) of dollars to license - and THEN you still have to figure out how to use and implement the damn things anyways.

I have to mention - you don't really need any fancy product (free or otherwise) to help you with your BI woes - in fact, I've done it several times before using some custom (and clever - if I do say so myself) PHP, Python, and a variety of databases - but that was after I already had an intimate familiarity with the data, business logic, and desired results. Meaning that I had already mapped out what I wanted (aka "the questions I wanted to ask the system") / what was there ("where to find my answers") and THEN built it to these specs. So if you've got some rouge IT genius / data hacker on your staff - throw him a months supply of RedBull and go for it - OR you could just hire me (besides I'm affordable, funny, and probably sexier than your IT staffers), but I digress. :) Barring that, a decent "BI Tool" can usually make the exploration / building / troubleshooting process much easier.

Stick around for Part 2 - when we will look at a couple BI Tool sets that won't break the bank (or even require one at all - can't argue with that!).

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