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Former Member

I am sitting in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, where the Mastering SAP BI conference(organised by The Eventful Group) was held. Everyone is saying their goodbyes as we all head home. I'm hoping that the delegates will not forget the closing words of the Chairlady, Elsa Kriel from EOH where she urged us to keep the enthusiasm and continue with the culture of learning and sharing and make full use of the information we had consumed over the past three days.

As I observe everyone leaving, I am reminded of what an eventful (excuse the pun) three days it has been....I think of where it started..On the Sunday I arrived at the Hotel and immediately took a picture of the view from my room using my zooty new phone(Apple iPhone).
I arrived to find all three of my colleagues from the City of Cape Town having checked in already. I could feel a sense of excitement and a vibe in the air as I visited their room;mind you the bubbly was already opened to kickstart the event! 
Next stop was the Speakers Briefing, as soon as I walked in I  was greeted by a sea of familiar faces it really felt like a reunion! ingo.hilgefort,clint.vosloo,eric.vallo(all SAP Mentors) wearing their SAP Mentor t-shirts of course  - all of whom I had seen in Australia for the masteringBOBJ confence held in Australia at the beginning of August. I had been wondering what the numbers at the back of their T-shirts represent. I eventually asked Clint and he explained that an SAP Mentor receives a list of available numbers and you just kind of have to pick one that has some kind of meaning "unfortunately most of the time you just pick one that's available there is no profound explanation except in Joshua Fletchers case where he chose 404(internet page error)" .
All the speakers had to introduce themselves by stating their names,what session they were presenting,an interesting fact about themselves and a favorite song. The Eventful Group has a ritual of playing the speakers' favorite song just before they go on stage(to help them relax- it really works).  I chose Beyonce's "who run the world - girls"!
One of the most interesting facts I picked up from all the intros was that Scott Hubbard from Innogence(Australia) is a SAP BI fundi by day and a volunteer firefighter by night! How inspiring!
The Eventful Group is super organised and they think of absolutely every single detail. As speakers, we were even given a grand tour of the venue so that we wouldn't get lost(I do think this was geared for sense of direction is terrible) so the tour really helped. Here's a pic of all of us looking like tourists.
It was then time for the Jumpstart session presented by Peter O'Donnell from Monash University - what a befitting presentation to kick off the event with(which is essentially the start of any BI Project - Gathering requirements). Peter's title for his session was Walking the Thin Line: Making Your Requirements Gathering "Active".
I found Peter to be absolutely hilarious - if he wasn't a lecturer he would be a great stand up comedian! He uses this humour to captivate the audience and ensure that we are thoroughly entertained - really wish he was my lecturer at Varsity I probably would have paid more attention. What I got from his session was that as IT we need to start playing  a more active role in requirements gathering. It's not enough to just give users what they want - we need to be active participants through provoking and making an effort to influence and guide their decision making. It should be noted that there is a fine-line here(as depicted below!!).So BE CAUTIOUS!!
Some techniques that can be used to be more active include influence diagrams, cognitive bias,etc. He also mentioned that every interaction with the business should be viewed as an opportunity to leave an impression of you and the system(your brand)! He quoted a branding tips from Timo Elliot (i.e.make use of whatever resources, scout, find gifted amateurs and don't underestimate the power of dashboards). 
It was only fair that such a well-executed jumpstart be followed by networking drinks to get everyone relaxed (and let the information sink in!) It was so lovely seeing everyone mingling, chatting and having a great time. As difficult as it was I had to cut my networking short in order to prepare for my presentation and get some beauty sleep while at it!
The official first day of the conference began with a bang - a video from The Eventful Group talking about what to expect from the conference and how these conferences are literally allowing communities to thrive all over the world! The first keynote was presented by Peter O'Donnell on "Business Intelligence Usability: The What,Why and How of BI Interface Design". Ofcourse our expectations were quite high from the previous day but Peter definately didn't disappoint! His performance was as eloquent and as humourous as the day before. Important points from the session is that we must realise that users can decide not to use the BI system thus we need to take usability seriously! We should be doing usability tests - observing how they interact with the system.He made mention of how easy it is to understand games(no manuals needed) - this is what we should be striving for and ensuring that we are "responsible" with the type of visualisation we provide (he made an example of a stupid chart that really depicts nothing - let's pay more attention to what we're trying to measure!). He stressed that we can look to the vendors for guidance, but we should be doing our own researchwhen it comes to "design best practices" (he provided some resources on these).

The next keynote was presented by eric.vallo  from EV Technologies. I was keen to see his session as I missed his session at Mastering BI (Melbourne) - so this was a chance for me to see what everyone was raving about! He had my attention from the start with his "rockstar" title page. The jist of his presentation was that organisations need to get on board with mobility QUICKLY! Users have their smart phones and tablets available and they're expecting Mobile BI. Some execs might have seen how cool it is from their buddies and are now feeling left behind! He offered various options of approaching the topic - from looking at Antivia XWIS(which offers support for Android, iPad and Blackberry),SAP Mobile, Centigon GMaps Mobile and ROAMBI. He mentioned that your decision on Mobile will be largely driven by budget and mobile platforms that your organisation can support. He stressed that BYOD approaches can sometimes cost the enterprise more and mobile device management needs to be carefully thought out(bearing in mind OS updates, controlling what users are doing,what to do if the device gets stolen, etc.). I thoroughly enjoyed this session and got a lot out of it especially with mobility being such a hot topic right now!

After eric.vallo session I was thrown a bit of a curveball as there was a clash during the next session between ingo.hilgefort presenting "Best Practices for Using SAP BusinessObjects BI4.x with SAP BW and SAP ERP" and clint.vosloo presenting "Putting the Big Data Puzzle Together". I opted for clint.vosloo as I had already seen ingo.hilgefort presentation. clint.vosloo is such a natural and the passion for his subject matter and attention to detail was evident in his tweets before the conference where even the day before he was still trying to get the latest roadmap from the relevant people at SAP,i.e. steve.lucas so that he could present the most accurate and up to date information! This just serves to show how wide the network is and also the level of information that one exposes themselves to by attending such a conference! I really enjoyed his use of simple graphics to articulate his message - like the pic with two ice hockey players battling it out. He equated this with the acquisition of Sybase, it seems like there are two camps forming within SAP BI space and there should be synergy! There have been so many debates about whether HANA will replace BW and he explicitly stated that HANA WILL NOT be replacing BW!! So the BW folks can relax!
I chatted to clint.vosloo (after his talk) and he mentioned that he was surprised that a lot of people at his session had not heard of NLS (Near-Line-Storage) for BW, Hadoop or seen the picture of the Real-time-data-platform which just proves that we need to keep talking!So...the learning continues!!

Everyone who has attended an Eventful Group conference knows that there is always a guest keynote presentation. This time it was presented by Many Wiener who is an Eyewitness News journalist. During her talk, she spoke of how she extensively covered both the corruption trial of former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi and the Brett Kebble murder trial. She emphasised Twitter has made journalists so much more influential but it also requires them to be more responsible.

Someone from the audience asked her "Were you ever scared that your life and your family would be threatened?" Mandy's response," No, I think as journalists we are more concerned about the information bill than threats from the under world". To hear how passionately and strongly she speaks about the justice system in our country makes one want to stop being a by-stander and take action! In closing she urged us as civil society, to be aware and educate ourselves and do someone about the crime in our country!

When I was tweetcasting Mandy's talk tammy.powlas3 happened to mention that she's been looking for a copy of her book for so clint.vosloo and I decided to make things happen, we got her a signed copy and it will be delivered to her by eric.vallo! Talk about the benefits of social media and intelligence!!

Day2 was equally packed with presentations of great interest to me! The first session I attended was the SAP Strategy Management(SSM) Demo presented by Mark Rolle and Koos from Gijima as part of the Innovation Demo Track(which was a new addition this year). The track was included to provide the delegates with presentations and demos of the hottest new innovations from the Business Analytics space from various SAP Partners. I attended the SSM Demo because this was the first time I had attended any conference where SSM had two sessions! GIJIMA showcased the latest version of SSM taking us through how to create a model with Cube Builder to creating the KPIs and Contexts using the Administrator Interface and finally viewing the results with the User Interface. I was excited to see SSM getting some visibility as I believe that it is one of SAP's tool that is extremely under marketed yet can add a tremendous amount of value to an organisation looking to communicate its strategy to the rest of the organisation! Let me not get started otherwise this blog post will end up being about SSM!

Presentations that I attended included:-

Keynote "SAP BO BI RoadMap"

Ingo Hilgefort, SAP

Five Easy Steps to Improved Work Mgmt

Chris Steyn, Engen Petroleum

In-Memory Technology

Carlos Lopez, Accenture

Cementing SAP’s value within PPC 

Herman Coetzee, PPC

The Nike BI Journey

Scott Travers

ingo.hilgefort started off the session by mentioning that SAP's Strategic Focus on BI based on 5 pillars core, creative, mobile, extreme, social. Some functionality to look forward to in BI4.0:-

  • Style sheets to Web Intelligence can now add corporate colors!
  • Alerts in Dashboards...pretty cool!

Visual Intelligence allows business user to receive,analyse,enrich info goes beyond reporting.

The future includes:-

  • interactive viewing of crystal reports on mobile;
  • improved prompting on Web Intelligence...can't wait!!

He mentioned BW Workspaces on BW7.3 which allows a business user to upload data into BW. I will made a note to look into this as we have upgraded to BW7.3 but have not exploited the new functionality!!

This session left me feeling like there are so many tools that we are now exposed to but it is really up to us as the BI Team to decide which tools will best suit our users

and our organisation and stick to those. We can not blame SAP for launching new tools as they are a profit making entity but

we as the customers need to take stock and decide what is best for us! Decisions...Decisions!

chris.steyn spoke about how the Engen BI Team has used the five steps below to improve their Work Management Process

  • Identify need at strategic level
  • Prioritise work as organization
  • Do it the same way every time (Standardise)
  • Manage quality, not time
  • Measure:-
  • [PEOPLE]Each resource is only allocated 3work items at a time, planned time is measured against actual time allocation
  • [PROCESS]The BI Team has a scorecard that measures Number of Incidents, Avg BW Response Times

He mentioned that process formalisation requires executive buy-in to work. It's also critical to know up-front what one is trying to achieve! The one that made me laugh which is so true is the fact that people will be resistant

Carlos mentioned that  Accenture assisted PUIG with SAP BW on HANA implementation benefits increased level of reporting and response times

The benefits included  a 100x improvement in execution!!!reduced reports with more detail for users to analyse.

He left us with one Key Point to take home -


Herman’s presentation was extremely entertaining! I

remember him

telling us a joke:-

Good: Your wife’s not talking to you
Bad: She wants a divorce
Ugly: She’s a lawyer

He equated this to their previous ERP

Good: They had an ERP in place BUT it was extensively customized

Bad: They had hundreds of custom developed (users specific) reports in ERP – not really usable

Ugly: Excel became the standard for reporting; NO ONE VERSION OF THE TRUTH

They thus embarked on a SAP Implementation Project which they branded as "Phambili" as a business project(NOT IT). They ensured that they had a Change Management Partner and a Technical Implementation Partner(Britehouse). He mentioned that one critical lesson that they learnt is that they needed to keep interactions with the business on their level[don't OVERCOMPLICATE but make sure that the business has insight into the roadmap!

Scott started off by giving us a glimpse of Nike's history!

He then described how and when Nike's love affair with SAP began! Their implementation was definately not simple(included 6 Regions globally)

For BW Reporting - they used Regional Data Cubes and

Multiproviders to begin with but users started asking for Global Reports! So the landscape had to be modified.

He stressed the fact that understanding business needs is peramount to IT successes!

They have used BWA and have seen great results - they will however be investigating HANA and upgrading to BI4.0(kind of where we are at the City of Cape Town - I made a note to touch base with him in a few months to see how far they are with their upgrade/investigation).

He ended off by reminding us that it is afterall a journey.

Another presentation that everyone was raving about was the "Reduce Cost and Effort of SAP BO Migration Projects and Daily Admin" by Alexandre Biegala, 360suite(France) - since I did not attend this session I am still not clear whether the audience was impressed about the content or the presenter or both! Those who gave me feedback on this session will know exactly what I meanThere were so many other presentations that I wanted to attend but couldn't so if anyone wants to provide a write-up on those please feel free to add a comment. We did get a CD with all the sessions so I have my work cut out for the next couple of days.

I have however come to realise that I can no longer classify the Mastering BI Johannesburg BI as a conference - it has become more of a sanctuary! I think of people that I had the opportunity to connect with, my colleagues with whom I had loads of fun with and who supported me during my session. Mark Marais(the Kingpin of SAP BI in SA) who was instrumental in sparking my love for BI. dorothy.cadle who has forever been so supportive! Delegates who attended some of the BW courses that I conducted at SAP it was great seeing! Reconnecting with those I met last year, i.e. Bheki Malinga from PETROSA, Lorato Ludo Kenosi from Debswana Diamond Mining Company. One of the biggest benefits of attending this year(which I can not put a price on) is meeting the twins from Ixia Consulting(jokes - they're not really twins!) Mike Kraus and Dave Welensky! I have to explain why meeting them was a blessing! SAP acquired Pilot Software in 2007, although the frontend of the application changed, the backbone of SAP Strategy Management is still PAS(Pilot Application Server) - it uses specific scripting and syntax that we've been trying to understand. Unfortunately there are too few clients in South Africa for us to form any kind of community (hence spending a lot of time on the SCN forum) - but what we found out is that Mike and Dave are extremely well-versed in PAS and they have a few clients, i.e. Unilever who still utilise PAS (even though they are using a different front-end). To cut a long story short - I am extremely excited about the fact that we have found people with whom we can exchange ideas which in turn will hellp us in delivering an improved product to our users!

If your manager ever questions why you should attend Mastering BI or if he/she wants to send only one representative from your organisation forward her the link to this blog post! (She can cut the budget for the Christmas party) There is absolutely no way you can begin to explain the amount of inspiration, enthusiasm and renewed interest in BI that you feel after the conference. You can only experience it first hand!

To Steve Morris, Toni Crawley and the Eventful Group Family...your work certainly does not go unnoticed! You have revitalised the BI Community in South Africa yet again...personifying your tag line! "Where Communities Thrive"