Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Real Time Analytics and the Dashboard Metaphor

Today, at the Power Pub on the Future of Analytics, the dashboard metaphor was taken out for several drives. With the excellent leadership of Richard Probst of SAP, we compared and contrasted Business Intelligence, the Balanced Scorecard and Analytics, and we also discussed the Real Time Enterprise. My contribution is that by making a small change to the metaphor, we can explore and understand the real time information requirements of the enterprise.

The notion of the dashboard is that as the executive or manager drives their enterprise, they need a set of indicators to show that they are on the right track, and these indicators are called a scorecard or dashboard. There were many riffs on the dashboard theme at the meeting. Someone even brought up the navigation system where the invariably female voice tells you, without the slightest trace of emotion, "Wrong way!" and then, without a hint of resignation, says "Planning a new route".

The problem with the dashboard metaphor is that driving a car is a singular effort, while driving an enterprise is a team effort, involving many different people who each have their own role to play. A better metaphor than steering an auto with the aid of a dashboard is navigating a ship. The captain, taking into consideration many factors including weather, channels, tides etc. plots the course and gives it to the helmsman. To keep the course, the helmsman watches the compass and continually makes minor changes to the helm to keep the ship on course.

In an enterprise, the executives plot a course like the captain of a ship. Executive decisions take time and consideration, they are planned for weeks and may take months to execute. Executives do not need real time information to make their decisions. On the other hand, like the helmsman, the people who are running the business day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute, need to make constant small changes in course to keep the enterprise on track. These are the people who need up to date information to make the best decision. Thus real time or is it is often called right time information is the province of operational decision makers.

Real time information has many implications about how we construct our analytic information systems that will have to be discussed anon.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Comedy of the Commons

Today, Laurence Lessig opened the current SDForum Distinguished Speaker series with a talk called "The Comedy of the Commons". The title refers to a typically gloomy Malthusian essay called "The Tragedy of the Commons", written by Garrett Hardin in the late 60's.

The Tragedy of the Commons argues that when you try to share a common property amongst a group, each member of the group will try to exploit it to the full to get their fair share and in the end overexploit the property. The commons is a reference to medieval English village which had common land where all the villagers could graze their animals. A more modern example is going in a group for dinner with the understanding that you will all share the expense equally. You know that there is no point in ordering a cheap meal as the others will order something more expensive and you will end up subsidizing their meal, so everyone orders an expensive meal and you all end up paying more than necessary or intended.

Lessig argues that while this may be true for physical property, the opposite is true for intellectual property. An idea shared is more valuable than an idea that is kept secret, and in some sense, the more an idea is shared, the more valuable it becomes. This applies to any Intellectual Property, which I suppose leads to comedy, like a record company that on one hand pays radio stations to BROADCAST its hit song, while at the same time complaining that it is losing money because people are sharing the song on their computers.

The current interest in the commons comes from the fact that the US has been tightening up Intellectual Property law, for example by extending copyright, at the behest of a few large corporations that own a lot of intellectual property. At the same time there is a rising interest in shared common IP such as Free and Open Source Software, which is the focus of this years Distinguished Speakers series. Finally digital technology now means that there is effectively no cost to sharing intellectual property.

Professor Lessig is concerned with the IP extremists who want to prevent free sharing of Intellectual Property. As information becomes more valuable when it is shared, preventing the free sharing of information devalues the information. High barriers to sharing Intellectual Property could make the US an intellectual backwater and thus a loser in the information economy of the new millennia.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Spam is totally out of hand. Through the summer I was amazed at the number of mortgages that I had apparently applied for. Filtering makes the spammers job harder, so now the spam is mostly incomprehensible. For example I recently got an email offering:
Xe.ni_cal, Vi,ox`x, vi_cod'_in, Ce_leb~rex, Ul', Me'~rid-ia,
R`educ^'til, V^al,_ium, Ci.al_is, Le`vitr,a, Via-gra
To enter into a commercial relationship, you need trust on both sides, especially on something as untrustworthy as the Internet. How could I possibly trust a vendor who is unwilling to spell out what they are offering? This email and other like it is a completely pointless waste of time. Spam could quite easily kill email in the same way as it killed the Usenet. Fight Spam.

Friday, September 17, 2004

BI is Back!

I glad to say that once again it is OK to use the term Business Intelligence (BI). For the last year or so, there has been a big push to talk about Business Performance Management as the next big thing, and along with that comes the suggestion that BI is no longer au courant. The problem is that Business Performance Management shares an acronym with Business Process management, another important emerging category in the Business Software market. So when the thought leaders say "BI is dead, long live BPM!" they leave us scratching our heads with puzzlement. By BMP, do they mean BPM or BPM?

My view is quite simple. BI has not gone away and Performance Management is just a new aspect of BI. As every one can see, BI is a TLA (Two Letter Acronym) whereas BPM is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym), and we all know that a TLA trumps a TLA any day.

Monday, September 06, 2004

"no such thing as"?

One response to free software is to "just shut up and pay the man"! I may have even said this myself, although with humorous intent. The interesting thing is that when I looked for "no such thing as free software", I found several sites advocating that free software costs more money than software that you have to pay for, so you were better off paying the man.

Are these really free opinions or just examples of "speak up and be paid by the man?"

Friday, September 03, 2004

There is no Such Thing as Free Software

Yesterday at lunch the conversation came around to free software and I had to say it: "There is no such thing as free software". Provided that we are talking about free software and not "Free Software", I stand by my statement. Well, even if we are talking about "Free Software", I stand by my statement.

The problem with "Free Software" is that it is written by geeks for themselves. Most Free Software is not a program for doing something, it is a toolkit for building a program for doing something, because that is how the true geek likes to do it. After you have downloaded the software, you have to devote time to understanding the toolkit and to building the tool that you need. As you do not have unlimited time, it is not free.

It is as if you went to the hardware store and instead of buying a saw they gave you a kit for making a saw with a sheet of cut metal, a gidget for setting the teeth, a file for sharpens the teeth and a multi-page book of instructions. Sure you can set the saw teeth to be a rip saw or a cross-cut saw, but it is going to take hours of careful setup before you can cut any wood.

Worse, when you upgrade your system, as you have to every few years, you find that you have to download a new version of the free software because that is the version that is compatible with your new system. The new version of the software does not work with your old configuration, so you have to spend time understanding and configuring your setup again.

The people who create Free Software do it to please themselves. It is much more important for them to have the software "do the right thing" than to make the software compatible with the previous version. Thus every version seems to have a number of arbitrary incompatible changes from the previous version.

Note that I am not saying that software that you pay for is necessarily better than Free Software. Very often with paid software you find that the new version is arbitrarily different from the previous versions in annoying ways and yet you have to suffer the indignity of paying for it as well.

At least with Free Software you know what you are getting into and why. Free software (no caps.) poses a whole set of extra problems and issues that we will discuss at another time.