Credit crunch – Does it affect BI?

The credit crunch appears to be affecting everyone. Many people are losing their jobs, firms are collapsing, and people are under the threat of foreclosure.

However, I’m finding that BI has a place in helping firms through these bad times.

All too often, IT budgets are the first to be slashed during economic downturns. However, BI is one of those niches which can help organisations make sense of what is going on both internally and externally.

Through the use of analytical reporting, KPIs and dashboards, organisations can immediately see where something is or is not working and take the relevant action. Ad hoc reporting provides staff with the ability to dive into the numbers, to drill down on a number which is causing concern. Powerful GUI based ETL tools provide developers with the ability to rapidly integrate disparate databases into one common warehouse. And above all, it provides companies with an edge over the competition. In these tough times, it is important to be on top of things and to make sure you are one step ahead of the rest of the pack.

Use IT to your advantage!

SQLBits III event

Following several weeks of miserable weather and washed out weekends, we finally had a glorious sunny Saturday. So what did I decide to do? Well, attend the SQLBits III conference of course!

Held at the excellent University of Hertfordshire campus, the event looked promising based on the agenda I had printed off a few days beforehand. As it was being held on a Saturday, I was half expecting a low turnout. I was pleasantly surprised to see a full car park, a very busy reception area, and several hundred like minded individuals.

I attended the BI session track. This covered a range of areas including Data Mining, Data Visualisation, the MS BI end-to-end stack, cube design issues and SSRS. The Data Mining session demonstrated how data mining techniques can be used within Excel spreadsheets without having to use cubes. Data visualisation covered many of the areas I have blogged about in the past, including Sparklines and bullet graphs. Delivered by a representative from XL Cubed, this was an interesting presenation.

This was followed by an excellent demonstration of MS technology delivering different types of reports into a Sharepoint front end. A lot of this was done of the fly and the speaker came across very well.

Users perception of reporting cubes were the topic of the next session. A number of cube issues were discussed in this session including time dimensions (YTD, QTD), scaling of data, etc. The presenter delivered a series of possible solutions to common cube design issues.

The final presentation was based on SSRS 2008 and covered some of the differences to SSRS 2005. Again, a handy session, although it did run out of it’s allocated time.

Regular refreshment breaks throughout the day, lunch at midday, and plenty of opportunities to speak to like minded people. I also managed to bump into a number of fellow bloggers including Chris Webb and Andrew Fryer. And the sponsor stands provided demos of their latest products.

The event was sponsored by Microsoft, Idera, Quest, XL and Hyperbac. I was particularlyl interested in the XL cubed product. XL cubed acquired Bonavista Systems and is now selling products which incorporate Sparkline and Bullet Graph technology into Excel. There was also a camera crew taking interviews with speakers and attendees throughout the day, so no doubt this will appear on a website at some stage.

An excellent event and very well attended. A big ‘Thank you’ must go out to the sponsors of the event, the organisers and the speakers (clearly idenitifed by their ‘Kermit’ polo shirts).

I’m looking forward to the next one!

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence 2008

Gartner have produced some interesting research on the Business Intelligence market for 2008.

This is particularly interesting as a number of the larger BI pure play vendors such as Business Objects and Cognos have been purchased by some larger software vendors – notably SAP and IBM. Some of the small BI pure plays have also been snapped up – Microsoft’s purchase of ProClarity and Tibco’s purchase of Spotfire.

There is also a useful section at the bottom which lists the strengths and weaknesses of a number of the vendors which makes for some interesting reading. Have a read of the research article.

What’s in your bag?

It’s a well known fact that ladies store everything in their handbags – just to make sure they are prepared for every eventuality.

Well, it’s funny, but as a consultant working on numerous client sites, I need to keep a similar kind of bag. No, it’s not quite a handbag, but it’s my laptop bag. You’d be surprised at what you end up carrying around. To be honest I’ve never kept a list of what’s in there, I just keep buying gadgets and filling the bag up. So what’s in the bag? Here is a list:

1. HP Pavilion Laptop. This is a company issue AMD 64bit laptop with a nice 17″ screen, handy 3GB RAM, a massive 250GB Hard-Drive and a DVD recorder. A nice bit of kit which can handle everything I throw at it. This is loaded with the usual software – Windows Server, VMWare, Office, Adobe, Project, Visio, and a few other bits and peices.

2. Western Digital External Hard Drive. Standard company issue 250Gb external hard drive. I use this to hold my virtual images, backup software, and various essential utilities. We use VMWare images quite a lot to showcase BusinessObjects, Microsoft and various other Business Intelligence solutions. As these can be virtual machines can be quite big, having them on an external drive is incredibly handy. The drive also acts as a backup to the laptop and I tend to pack this separate to the laptop when travelling. It’s near capacity now, so the order has gone in for a 500Gb unit, or perhaps one of those 1Tb beauties.

3. Three USB Memory Sticks. I appear to have two 4Gb and one 2Gb USB sticks. These are invaluable, and incredibly handy if you need to transfer data quickly and don’t have the correct cable to hand. I think one is a backup of the other, as I normally have one on my keyring.

4. Where would we be without our trusted ipod. I’ve got all of my favourite albums on here. An absolute necessity for those long flights, waits in airports, etc.

5. My HTC Tytn II. This is a smart device. A Windows Mobile Smartphone, email and internet on the move, GPS (I use TomTom UK & Europe maps) and the ability to synchronise back to Outlook when I am in the office. It’s got a slide out keyboard (one of the reasons I bought it), which helps no end when typing emails. Sometimes you really do need something quick and easy to send an email rather than take out your laptop and find a wifi access point.

There are also a load of cables, blank CD’s, hotel notepad (?) and a load of business cards in there. Just as well I cleared it all out.

I’m considering buying a USB Broadband dongle. This will give me broadband speed throughout the UK and will allow connections via the European networks. I’ll need to do some research on this and might even put up a post on my findings.

UN Data available online

Looking for a source of data for product demos and the like?

The UN website has put a number of it’s databases online for general use. While you can only download 50k rows at a time, it is a useful source of meaningful data.

According to it’s terms of use, the data is available free of charge and may be copied freely, duplicated and further distributed provided that they are not put up for sale or otherwise commercially exploited and that UNdata is cited as the reference.

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Your favorite ‘Dim Bulb’ quotes

From the BOBJ Forum site, a list of ‘Dim Bulb’ quotes.

I love this cartoon

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