One of the daily pleasures I maintain, is to take time to read my Wall Street Journal. Yes, I still like the feeling of holding a physical newspaper in front of me, just like I did when I was a kid. Back then it was sports first, then comics; now it is front page then information on tech companies, then editorials (I have to get the comics elsewhere now).
Like all of us, I get inundated with updates, news, newsletters, upcoming seminars, webinars in my e-mail inbox. I personally take favor to the ones that list a few items at the top, so that I can decide whether I want to read further or not.
I often find that the title can be misleading, but that was the sender’s ploy anyway: click on it, so some advertising pops up (which somebody gets paid for), then go to a page which has more ads and information about who last logged in, than space for the actual article itself. Just for ONCE I would love to read an article in a clean white space!
Of course now that we sell products as a ‘vendor’, we are supposed to do stuff like this. Ha! I think to myself ‘oh geez, one more piece of information that goes in somebody’s e-mail box, that gets lost in never, never land.’
My point is, there is so much information, that I wonder what the threshold of the human capacity to comprehend and remember is. The brain seems to store everything, but we tend to remember selectively – and it can triggered by a sight, sound, smell. Our brain takes the current path based upon what it has experienced. Does this sound remarkably similar to business analytics?
I don’t know if any of you remember a CBS 60 minutes piece, which show cased a few people – who remembered EVERYTHING in their life. Leslie Stahl would sit there and ask them questions about what happened on a particular day 35 years ago, and these people were never wrong. I figure some scientist will create some theory about how this all works, but in the meantime – many of us do NOT remember everything.
One of the great things I have enjoyed about what I do in our business is that I have literally talked to thousands of business owners over the years. The single thing that has stood out the most is that a majority of owners have a really good idea of what it is that they want to see – they just don’t know how to get to it. The second thing however is the conundrum: business owners detest all of the details (and drama), but they want access to it – IF they see a problem at the summary level.
This conundrum is what fascinates me the most – next to string theory and black holes of course. We don’t want to see the details – because they are overwhelming – but we want to know that they are there, and we want to know how they make up what we see. I have another way of putting this: the bookkeeper painstakingly will search and wrangle for details; the CPA creates a journal entry and moves on.
You probably think that Uncle Chuck has lost his marbles comparing data and analytics to string theory, but there is a point.
To many of us, data is stored in these ‘dark holes’ – tables, related tables, mappings; at least they seem like ‘dark holes’. We don’t really understand what is in them, until somebody makes it clear or tells us so. Every once in a while we get mad scientists (otherwise known of ‘geeks’) who understand these black holes – and help us illuminate the underlying strings to see what is there.
This is the current state of analytics: there are many vendors and entrepreneurs who are creating their own vision of what these black holes look like. I recently read where Oracle is now pre-packaging data analytics by industry – plug and play, as it were. But they are reluctantly doing so – and doing it more to stay with the competition. They have openly opined that ‘everybody looks at things a little differently’.
But, Business Analytics is a strong buzzword now and is a firmly entrenched business model for players we know well. I saw where IBM forecasted well over double the revenue for business analytics as it did for even selling cloud applications.
This is a good thing. SaaS BI vendors like Cloud9, Oco, PivotLink, Bi OnDemand(SAP) are creating industry specific applications. Even at the small business level we see more vendors coming into this space – although they tend to be application specific, as opposed to industry specific.
I have previously opined that accounting applications are starting to provide analytics but it is more in the context of workflow and transactional ‘black hole’ data. Data is still not organized for efficient reading – and it is certainly not optimized the way the brain thinks.
Most all of these applications are prolific with bells and whistles – yet we are a long way from analytics ‘on demand’. The data has to be clean, it has to be re-organized, and it requires hands on care for presentation – and the data transformation is not immediate. Wouldn’t it be nice if analytics worked like our brain – we think of one thing, and all of the details of that one aspect would magically appear.
Companies like SAP have spent tremendous amounts of monies to transform data ‘in computer memory’, which has lightning like reflexes to spit out the data. But guess what – it still has to conform to your particular point of view. And thank goodness we are not all robots.
If I had a dime for every time I heard “I can’t believe QuickBooks doesn’t have this”, I would be in the Bahamas – and not writing this article (as much as I enjoy doing so). I don’t say this to promote the idea that analytics aren’t scalable, just that our current industry implementations of scalable still don’t meet the individual viewpoint.
The good news however, is that we now have a multi-billion industry where analytics can be provided as a service – which is what I have been encouraging practitioners in our community to do. Trade publications like Information Week and VAR Magazine have taken notice – and I see more of those pesty e-mails with Business Analysis in the tagline.
Many of us have worked with clients on getting the data in, via integration, elimination of double entry, etc. but the mobile market will change much of that. There will be a day, where all of the data from transactions will just magically make it into your business information buckets. Now is the time to prepare your business models to interpret that data, and help your clients make better business decisions (or you can explain string theory and black holes – your choice).