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Former Member

Last week I attended the annual Mastering Business Analytics conference in Melbourne, Australia. This conference is run by The Eventful Group, who run SAP (and Microsoft) conferences in Australia, South Africa and the United States.

I've been lucky enough to attend this conference for the past four years, and each year I have a great time, meet new people and old friends, and learn more about how others are solving business intelligence problems.

I wanted to highlight a few key presentations that I got a lot of value from in this post (and unfortunately between some other things that cropped up, I missed several presentations that I really wanted to see), and should be a good primer for SBOUC and BI2013 Singapore which are both only a month away. I also got a chance to interview a few people on their thoughts, which you can find at the end.

Kurt Bilafer - Opening Address

Kurt (Regional VP for Analytics) heads up the Analytics business in Asia Pacific and always impresses me with his passion for helping and growing the APJ customer base. He gave me a great interview (which you can find below) on what he thinks is important for Analytics customers now and in future.

His opening address was short and to the point, welcoming everyone to the event and setting the scene for the next two days.

One thing that really stood out in this opening address was Kurt referring to 'corporate duct tape' (i.e. Excel), and that 'people go to jail and companies go bankrupt because of mistakes people make with Excel reporting and analysis'. I'd never thought of it that way before, but it is a very good way to put it. I've been spending more time recently in my day job thinking about the data governance aspects of business intelligence, and this struck a chord.

I wonder if there are any case studies or documented examples of this occurring… It would certainly help getting buy-in in a DQ/DG business case about transitioning away from manual data extraction and reporting using Excel.

Jason Rose - Keynote: Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch: How to Create an Analytics Driven Culture

Jason's keynote positioned the technology from SAP in the broader context of forming a culture of information-based decision making. Some of the key points I took down were:

  • Skills - it's not enough to give people a tool and all of a sudden they become a business analyst, or even worse, a data scientist! :wink: The key point being - we need to teach people to BI. The soft skills, the analysis of information that isn't dependent on any one technology is what we need to impart and help grow within people.
  • Incentives - It's not enough that you just provide technology. If the incentive is there for you to use the product, user adoption will be much more likely to be positive. Jason gave the example of SAP themselves, and how Explorer and Sales information was rolled out to their global Sales team. All of a sudden, the direct reports of these global Sales leads found themselves getting very specific questions about their own sales opportunities. This provided an incentive from the leadership group for all within Sales to start owning the information and using the technology to do so.
  • Communication - Jason quipped that whilst he is in a Marketing department, all of the audience should consider themselves his peers. We technical BI developers or consultants or analysts may see ourselves (or report into) IT departments, but the marketing and communication about our BI capabilities and solutions should be a daily activity for each of us to our business users.

Peter O'Donnell - Keynote: The User Engagement Paradox

Peter opened up the second day with a keynote. Peter is a Lecturer from Monash University in Melbourne in the Decision Support Systems Laboratory, and his presentation was excellent. I've tried to capture the key points below, but I really hope Peter will give this presentation again (or even better it will be recorded), because it was fundamentally very useful research and suggestions for improving how we can engage with our users.

Peter presented the challenge for business intelligence is that typical BI systems are passive, yet our users have changed (Gen Y is now in the workforce) and want to multi-task, take action and not just know about a problem. The other additional challenge is that BI is discretionary. It isn't often that our BI solution is mission-critical to business processes and every user has no other choice. The other choice is Excel, or manually typing out data, or gut feel. So how can we engage better?

Peter proposed a three-prong strategy around 'Active BI':

  • Active Requirement Gathering - he presented a super interesting case study that he conducted with some students where they had two groups conduct BI analysis with 'end users' and then build a BI solution. The first group took a traditional workshop approach, but the second group where trained to do deep analysis and actively (sometimes aggressively) question and probe the requirements. The result = clearly better BI solutions with more complete coverage of information requirements. It wasn't a passive 'gather requirements' - it was probing, provoking, educating and diagnosing.
  • Active Interfaces -  Peter compared a typical BI interface (Explorer in fact) with Facebook. The differences were evident when you start to look at the verbs, or actions, available to the end user. Explorer has 'Add Calculation...', 'Bookmark', 'Explore more..', where Facebook is much more direct in telling you to 'Like', 'Comment' and 'Share'. BI interfaces should contain calls to action, rather than meekly suggesting things are possible. Other ideas are 'User x who viewed this report also viewed y report', ala Amazon, or push alerts on information or metrics like Twitter.
  • Active Branding - similar to Jason's keynote, we are all part-time marketers as BI professionals. How we conduct ourselves, the messaging we put out to the business, names or logos of our BI solutions or teams, are all important. Can we publish newsletters, and focus on 'hero stories' - not just the 'we saved the company millions of dollars', but the regular stories of users who do their job better using BI.

More Information

I also took some time to interview several attendees, in this short video below. I asked each attendee to introduce themselves, provide one key tip for mastering BI (or attending the conference), and what they were taking away. Thanks again to Greg Myers, Glenn Roberts, Paul Hawking, Craig Nicholls, Alex Andrenacci, Jack Steele, Matthew Tutin and Eric Vallo for participating and let me practice my video skills on them.

Claire Hastings from Eventful Group also posted a Storify (Twitter summary) of the event which you canread here: