Business Intelligence or Change Management? The Power of Being Broken

Poorly functioning Business Intelligence can be the symptom of a broken organisation. This manifests itself in different ways. It can show itself in hostility, as people stubbornly stick to the solutions and the ‘old ways’ that give them comfort – and sometimes, even power.  If an organisation is moving from a small organisation to a larger organisation, the adolescent growing pains can be simply too much for some people. In my role as a consultant who implements end-to-end Business Intelligence solutions under our company, Copper Blue, I often find resistance to change.This can take many forms. For example, team members can start to find excuses not to do things, or can alternatively stretch timelines and activities, or exaggerate the difficulties of new technology, in order to stay where they are.

It’s easy to blame the reports or broken data. However, it’s often the case that Business Intelligence is where the resistance to Change is most evident. Occasionally, the problems in a Business Intelligence function are the visible symptom of problems elsewhere in the organisation. It can be envisaged like a blocked route of water; the debris can be washed up, and appear visible in the Business Intelligence sphere.

Thus, what initially seems to be a Business Intelligence problem, is actually a Change Management problem. Working practices can require a change in order to keep up with an organisation that is moving fast, and requires high-performance Business Intelligence. The reality, however, can be quite different. This means, of course, that a Business Intelligence program might actually be premature for some organisations; instead, they might need a Change Management program, of which Business Intelligence is a part.

How is it possible to deal with this issue? The main thing is to recognise a Change Management problem when you see one, rather than perceive it as a Business Intelligence problem simply because it involves data or reports. It also depends if you can re-envisage ‘broken’.

We see ‘brokenness’ as a bad thing. However, when we consider the Hindu Goddess Akhilandeshvari, we can start to see that there is power in being broken. Akhilandeshvari keeps Herself constantly broken, constantly reflecting light, and constantly moving. She does not accept the limits of staying still.

Starting from a point of being broken presents us with an opportunity to shine like a prism, and to light up more than we ever did before. Being broken leads us to transformation, to moving forward. We find our limitations, and we don’t accept them. Being broken allows organisations to start to flow, to create and re-create, and to find new possibilities by throwing out light. The opposite of change is staying still, but for some people – like me – staying still will never be enough.

Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, change can mean that people simply running on the spot, rather than ‘running twice as fast’ in order to move forward with the organisation. Change isn’t always a bad thing, and it shouldn’t be assumed that a problem in a Business Intelligence sphere is BI problem – perhaps it is a Change Management issue. Perhaps it is time to think about it in a different way.

Yours always,

Data Visualisation Course in Dublin

In partnership with Technitrain, on 21st September, I’ll be holding a Data Visualisation in SQL Server 2012 course in Dublin, Ireland. If you’d like more details, please click here to register

Key benefits
This course will enable you to create data visualisations that will help you and your colleagues interpret you data more effectively in Excel and Power View.

The course is being held at BT Training Solutions, Castleriver House, 14/15 Parliament Street, Temple Bar,Dublin 2, Ireland on 21st September. A breakdown of the course can be found here:

9:45   What is data visualisation? Here, we will talk about data visualisation, what is it not, and why is it important? How is it supported in the Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence stack? How does it fit into the latest paradigm shift towards self-service Business Intelligence?

10:00    Finding patterns in the data. You will learn about the cognitive psychology process involved in finding patterns in the data, looking at some of the more well-known data visualisation examples in order to understand the rationale behind designing and creating a data visualisation. We will have an overview of Power View, and some new features in Excel 2010. We will look at the purpose of Power View – and what it isn’t designed to do. This section is intended to provoke discussion with topics such as (a) should a data visualisation be beautiful as well as informative? (b) to 3D, or not to 3D? (c) are pies just for dessert, or can we use them in charts too? (d) data journalism – can it mislead as well as inform? Although this section concentrates on the psychology and human perceptual processes of data visualisation, understanding the ‘why’ of data visualisation will ultimately mean that we become stronger ‘datavizzers’.

11:00     Break
11:15   Getting to Know your Data using Excel and Power View. An essential part of analysis is to know and understand the data. Both applications can be used to explore tabular models. In this session, we will look at how they can be used to explore your data, and when each application is best suited. We will also look at key features of understanding data, such as searching for dirty data, anomalies or inconsistencies.

12:30  Lunch
13:30  Data Visualisations. Using Power View, you will learn about query design and presentation layout in order to create visualisations in Power View. This includes various visualisations such as sparklines, motion charts (as in Hans Rosling’s BBC4 programme, ‘The Joy of Stats’), parallel co-ordinates.

14:45 Break
15:00 Power View in Depth. In this section, we will cover the complexities of displaying multivariate data, and how Power View can help. Here, we look at ways of displaying multivariate data such as parallel co-ordinates and crosstab arrangements of Tufte’s ‘small multiples’. We will also talk about Power View ‘under the hood’ by tracing its behaviour, and how it initially obtains its schema and metadata information from the source.

16:00 Break
16:15 Dashboards  Putting it all together. Dashboards are more than simply placing a few reports on a page. We will look at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of implementing Dashboards, KPIs and other visualisations in Excel and Power View.
17:30 Close

I hope to see you there!

SQLSaturday Cambridge Swag!

Here is a picture of the Copper Blue swag that we’re giving away to attendees of the Cambridge SQLSaturday 162 event that’s being held on 8th September.

There’s still time to register for my precon, but there are only a few places left so you’ll need to be quick! No, I’m not just saying that 🙂

It’s a foldable water bottle with a carabiner so you can attach it to your laptop, clothing, bike or whatever. We wanted to give away something useful and practical. It holds nearly half a litre!


Event: Now that’s what I call the worst Data Visualisation in the world… Ever!

At SQL Saturday Cambridge on 8th September, myself and Allan Mitchell will be hosting an event entitled ‘Now that’s what I call the worst Data Visualisation in the world… Ever!’

This will be our lunchtime sponsor slot as Copper Blue Consulting.  Now, we understand that lunchtime sponsor slots at sessions are normally some ‘downtime’ for you to have lunch and text your friends 🙂 We don’t intend to do anything that might bore people, so we thought we’d have some fun instead!

This is the intended format…..

– we will bring along some data visualisations that will make you cringe!
– we will have a debate about what’s wrong with them, and invite your participation…. even if it is just to say ‘Ew!’

How you can participate –

Bring along any bad data visualisations that you find on the Internet. Let’s have a quick review and have some fun!

Caveat: Let’s not bring any data visualisations that you, or a colleague, has done in the workplace. We won’t have anything that belongs to a specific company.

If you want some inspiration, here are some examples of 3D floating, gradient-enhanced pie charts done by no other than the clever people over at Apple.

As a final note, if you’ve registered for SQLSaturday Cambridge 162, and can’t attend, then please be a community sport and de-register to let someone have your place. It’s all karma, and you may well get it back one day!

I’m holding a Business Intelligence and Data Visualisation Precon!

I’m delighted to announce that I’m holding a pre-conference one-day training in Data Visualisation in SQL Server 2012 in Cambridge on 7th September, 2012. For more details, and to register for the precon, please click here and to register for SQL Saturday 162 event, please click here.
My thanks go to SQLPass and to Mark Broadbent in particular, who have worked extremely hard in order to put on this community event. Here is an outline for my precon and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any other queries!
If you want to conduct advanced, business-oriented Business Intelligence analysis in SQL Server 2012, then it is essential to understand data visualisation.

Using the new SQL Server 2012 Tabular Model and PowerPivot as data sources, this course will aim to teach about the new self-service Business Intelligence features in SQL Server 2012 whilst focusing on data visualisation. We will also look at SharePoint, and what it can offer.

This session is aimed at Excel and/or Business Intelligence developers who want to make informed data visualisation decisions about reporting, with supporting cognitive psychology theory where relevant. The takeaways will focus on:

  • Finding patterns in the data. 
  • Further Data Visualisations – learn about visualisations that are perhaps not so well-known including Stephen Few’s bullet charts and Tufte’s Sparklines in SSRS.
  • The complexities of displaying multivariate data. For example, we will look at Tufte’s “small multiples” in Power View and in Reporting Services.
  • Putting it all together: Considerations for Dashboards with PerformancePoint
9:00   Welcome and What is data visualisation? What it is not, and why is it important? What products make up the SQL Server 2012 Business Intelligence stack?
09:30  Tabular Model – what is it? When is it best used? What distinguishes it from multidimensional cubes?
10:30   PowerPivot – what is it? When is it best used? What distinguishes it from multidimensional cubes? What are the new features in SQL Server 2012?
11:15     Break
11:30   Finding patterns in the data. You will learn about the process involved in finding patterns in the data, looking at some of the more well-known data visualisation examples. 

 – We will learn about: Power View, using PowerPivot and the Tabular model as a basis. 
 – We will also look at tips and tricks in optimising Tabular Models so that they can render Power View effectively.

12:30     Lunch
13:30  Further Data Visualisations. In this section, you will learn about visualisations and how they are best used. This includes bullet charts, and other visualisations based on Tufte’s “small multiples” such as sparklines. We will learn:

 – We will look at PerformancePoint, and how we can use PowerPivot as a basis and ‘gotchas’ in using PowerPivot as a basis for PerformancePoint
 – We will look at Excel Services, and how we can provision self-service using the Tabular Model and PowerPivot as the basis for Excel and Excel Services
–   We will look at other helpful visualisations such as sparklines, bullet charts and marimekko charts.

15:00 Multivariate statistical data. In this section, we will cover the complexities of displaying multivariate data since is potentially more complex. Here, we look at ways of displaying multivariate data such as table lenses and crosstab arrangements of Tufte’s ‘small multiples’. We will use Reporting Services as a technology to surface multi-dimensional data.
15:15 Break
16:15 Dashboards – Putting it all together. We will look at different ways of implementing Dashboards, KPIs and other visualisations. This will involve a range of technologies, from KPIs in PowerPivot, to the new features in Power View.
17:30 Close

IT Recruitment Strategies: tailoring towards women?

Recently, I commented on my LinkedIn page that thirty plus recruitment agents had looked at my profile within a couple of days. This surprised me since it seemed to be a flurry of activity all at once, and I couldn’t understand why there was such a sudden interest in my profile. Then it became clear. A recruitment agency in the UK has started a dialogue with me about an emphasis on recruiting women into IT roles. I am purely guessing that I’ve come up on their radar for that reason. I haven’t named them, but here are my thoughts on the issue.
I disagree with the idea of tailoring IT recruitment services towards women. Recruitment should be about skills. If you read some of my previous posts, I’ve been in the situation where companies are keen to hire women into IT roles and I’ve been contacted initially on that basis. This strategy has switched me off since I don’t want to be hired over someone else simply because it might be ‘trendy’ or ‘marketable’ to have a technical woman on board. 
I don’t want someone to hire me because I’m a technical woman. I want to be taken on board for my experience, attitude and skill set and what I can contribute to their business. The ‘Women in IT’ thing doesn’t help because it sets me apart from the (usually male) people I work beside. I want to blend in, and contribute as part of a team. Either I can do the job, or I can’t. If someone else is better suited, then they should get the role. I guess that’s very simplistic but I focus on skills when I’m hiring someone, so I’m coming from that perspective.
In terms of recruitment strategies which emphasis hiring women for IT roles, the truth is that the numbers are simply not there. The proportion of technical women is small, so it is tailored towards a tiny proportion of the whole potential audience. I get concerned that it sends out a message that WIT need special help in some way. For me personally, I don’t. I will be interested to see what others think, and how the recruitment agencies shape their women-focused strategies.
For me it isn’t relevant because I am more interested in hiring than being hired these days! I jointly run a consultancy business with another SQL Server MVP. As a team, we both bring a mix of technical and business expertise to running Copper Blue, and delivering enterprise business intelligence solutions to our clients. By employing myself, the WIT issue is a non-issue and means I can focus on my customers and projects as part of a team whilst expanding my skills – which is where my focus should be.