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Analytics

The term ‘Analytics’ is becoming more and more commonly used…

Analytics are also the end game of the BI System Builders’ Cornerstone Solutions®.  But what are Analytics? This article describes the term as used by the BI System Builders. While some consultants in other organisations may have a different definition this paper will serve to make the BI System Builders thinking clear.

Firstly, it’s important to note that the term Analytics is frequently used interchangeably with other names such as Analytical Applications, Business Analytics, and Performance Management Applications to name but a few.  BI System Builders only use one terminology, that of ‘Analytics’.

Now, all organisations capture data. This may be through sales invoices, captured in a call centre, via a website, delivery notes from suppliers, research questionnaires, financial transactions, point of sale transactions and so on and so forth. The data captured is in a raw format and will usually be disjointed across several of your data capture and transaction systems. At this stage data viewed in reports is often referred to as operational reporting.  The data in operational reports is not summary but low level, detailed and granular. That’s fine but have you ever tried to read through a million rows of data in a day? That granularity may have use for operational purposes and will be heavily filtered but data for BI purposes needs to be at a higher level, or consolidated, or summarised in some way to make it readable.

The transaction system data captured has been growing in high volume over the years. It may be structured or unstructured data and can also be highly volatile. Furthermore the exponential growth of the internet, mobile devices and social media has meant the potential for enormous amounts of detailed information to be captured everyday – your web clicks, your buying behaviour, your communications, your location, GPS co-ordinates, your posts, your reviews, etc, etc.

Historically, Business Intelligence tools have been used to extract, clean and format the raw data then join it up together turning it into valuable and useful business information.  That’s great, it’s relevant and highly valuable in a structured data warehouse. The data is often summarised and may also be pre-calculated in other ways as well. The information can then be used to discover insights into your business. The reports are sometimes shared across the organisational enterprise, hence the term, enterprise reporting.

Let’s take a look at the classic Analytic capability in the data warehouse and then consider Analytics in the new Big Data era. Analytics go a step further than simple reporting by adding extra business value into the reports. This is done in several ways.  Some of the classic ways are the use of dynamic parameters for on the fly analysis such as period on period,  ‘drill down drill up’ through hierarchy structures, a drill across capability linking buisness process areas across the business, and predictive engines or ‘What If’ scenarios.

Dynamic parameters allow the user to refresh the data in the Analytic and change the question being asked by selecting contextual values in a prompt. For period on period analysis you may start by viewing sales today compared with sales yesterday.  The business user can then easily change the Analytic to compare current month to date sales versus last month to date sales or last year’s month to date sales etc. The Analytic below includes several calculated fields and all the analysis periods can be changed. When they are changed the other fields automatically recalculate. The Analytic also has a drill down capability and dynamic sentences which automatically capture values such as the name of the city with the highest percentage change.

Business Analytics

Drill down and drill up is used to navigate through a hierarchy in your data. For example you may capture sales data by location. In an Analytic you may view sales for all locations and then with a click of the mouse ‘drill down’ to sales by region, and then sales by city and down to individual sales outlets. This can all be achieved within a single Analytic.

The drill across capability allows you to navigate through a series of linked Analytics. These are often based on a logical business process flow.  The linkage is achieved through code written behind the scenes and invisible to the business user. Analytics are clever enough to know the context of the information you are viewing such as location, time period and product and pass this context to the next Analytic.

Predictive and What If capabilities allow the user to play out different scenarios. For example you could measure the impact of inflation. To do this a percentage value would be input into a dynamic parameter prompt.  An algorithm in the Analytic would then read the value and recalculate itself to show you the impact.

There are many other things that you can achieve with Analytics such as cycle time analysis.  The picture below is a cycle time chart created by BI System Builders using  SAP BusinessObjects XI 4.0 Interactive Analysis (Web Intelligence). In this case the chart is analysing the customer order actual cycle time but the technique can be applied to any business process. The information has great value. If you can measure the duration of individual stages within a business process you can identify those that are least efficient. By then addressing any inefficiency within a stage you can make it more efficient, reducing its duration and consequently cost, thus improving the profitability of the process.

It is also common to measure things such as KPIs, customer churn, customer life time value, stock turn, and do time series analysis, and develop strategy maps, balanced scorecards, and six sigma based statistical process charts across all your business process areas, not just one process area in isolation. Analytics based on the BI system are enabled to combine HR data with Finance data, and Finance data with Supply Chain data and so on and so forth. The bottom line is that Analytics will help you find efficiency and effectiveness in your business according to your needs. This type of Analytic is currently used by many organisations although many still struggle to realise them. They are also demonstrated through Google Analytics, LinkedIn Analytics, and YouTube Analytics.

Business Analytic Cycle Time

However, we no longer live in the stable and slowly changing world of the data warehouse alone. The cost of technology is reducing, the 64 bit processor is here and large amounts of RAM can now be exploited. Furthermore, technological advancements have yielded in-memory applications such as SAP HANA and distributed architectures and file systems such as Apache Hadoop. The combination of these things means that enormous volumes of data can be ‘released’ from the systems in which they have been captured and processed fast – near real-time, and real-time fast. Things that were once beyond budget are now starting to come within budget.

Earlier I asked the question about have you ever tried to read through a million rows of data? I wasn’t joking, I’ve witnessed business users attempting to do this is in a report and then find the bits of information that they needed. Ofcourse, they give up quite quickly and don’t get repeat opportunities because of the system degradation such report processing can cause. Now I’ll ask another question, “Have you ever tried to read though a hundred billion rows of data in a report?” Preposterous? – yes, impossible to process? – no, some organisations now capture data at the terabyte plus scale daily.

Hence the rise and rise of Analytics. It is impossible to make meaning out of such high volume, highly volatile and disparate data as is now becoming available without Analytics. And with such rich data available it will be exploited and it will be exploited in a pre-emptive way. Consequently the term ‘Data Scientist’ has been popularised and is closely associated with Analytics. As sophisticated as the new Data Scientists may be with algorithms and complex modeling the concepts of using decision engines, learning models, predictive engines, data mining, BAM, pattern identification, trending, time series analysis, correlation, regression, tests of significance, pattern detection, disparate source mapping, and identifying homogenous groups is not new. However, now the technology and the data is available these things will be exploited in Analytics like never before. For a clear example of this consider ‘Big Data means Marketing Science’, but that topic deserves an article all of its own…

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Death Of The Cube – Long Live The Cube!

OLAP Cubes

OLAP Cubes

The acquisition of BusinessObjects by SAP paved the way for a very welcome tighter integration between the two softwares. One of the challenges coming out of that tighter integration was the performance of Web Intelligence against an OLAP universe generated on SAP cubes and BEx Queries. The reality of SAP project implementations was that SAP Netweaver experts designed large cubes and large queries. And why not; after all this was the OLAP world?! Large SAP cubes and large BEx Queries make sense for OLAP.

However, Web Intelligence is not an OLAP tool, it builds a cache of data referred to as a ‘microcube’. Note the word ‘microcube’. Attempting to pass large volumes of data from an OLAP query to the microcube could cause the Web Intelligence engine to perform poorly or crash. BISB have observed this on numerous occasions when undergoing performance testing at client site. Problems with the version of Explorer dependent up on the Web Intelligence engine have also been observed for the same reason.

But failing to process large volumes of data was not a weakness of Web Intelligence. On the contrary, Web Intelligence was designed for smaller, fast, ad hoc queries. Users experiencing problems with large volumes of data and Web Intelligence could consider the use of Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports uses a different cache infrastructure to Web Intelligence.

The above mentioned data volume issues have made the SAP BI 4.0 road map very welcome. Using the new Data Federator connectivity through the SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 universe means that the SAP MDX engine (OLAP) is bypassed. This removes one of the big issues of the SAP OLAP data volumes, namely MDX crossjoins. Other development means that the BI 4.0 universe now has connectivity to SAP HANA. If you have the budget available this makes SAP HANA highly desirable for Big Data and Analytics.

Finally, ardent OLAP users that cannot live without a cube have not been left out in the cold. BI 4.0 ushered in the end of the Voyager OLAP tool, replacing it with the new Advanced Analysis for OLAP tool.

The view expressed in this article is from BISB and not necessarily SAP. Russell Beech was Senior Analyst in the BusinessObjects Analytic Applications Division for almost six years. Check out Web Intelligence In Under Three Minutes here.

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Agile Data Warehouse Design: Collaborative Dimensional Modeling, from Whiteboard to Star Schema by Lawrence Corr and Jim Stagnitto

BEAM Business Event Analysis & Modeling

BACKGROUND

I first worked with Lawrence Corr back in 2002 whilst I was designing content in the Analytical Applications Division (AAD) of the BusinessObjects Product Group.  At thatBEAM Business Event Analysis & Modeling time Lawrence was engaged as an external consultant to BusinessObjects, critiquing and advising us (AAD), on our BusinessObjects data warehouse design. Back then Lawrence also gave me my first formal dimensional modeling training when I attended his Data Warehousing Design Techniques course. Lawrence already had a very impressive reputation and was closely associated with Ralph Kimball.

It was therefore of interest to me when Lawrence said that he was writing a new book entitled Agile Data Warehouse Design.  Here’s what I found…

 

AGILE

There are two initial points to make about the book. Firstly, about the title of the book Agile Data Warehouse Design. Despite what the title might initially suggest I did not find the book to be about delivering a data warehouse using existing Agile techniques such as Scrum and extreme Programming (XP). It is rather about a structured method of bringing together Business Intelligence requirements analysis and dimensional modeling techniques using an Agile mindset.  The goal being to deliver logical models that work, in a highly time efficient fashion.  As such the Agile Manifesto is listed at the rear of the book and it is easy to see how the methods described meet the aims laid out in the manifesto.

 

PRACTICAL METHOD

Secondly, Agile Data Warehouse Design is a pragmatic book. It is not just agile theory alone. It will provide you with practical techniques, artifacts, and tools that will enable you to model successfully. I say that because I have already implemented these techniques, known as BEAM, extensively at a leading insurance company, at a leading car manufacturer working across all their vehicle brands and for a well known high street retailer. I have found that business users became actively engaged when introduced to the BEAM technique of the 7Ws (more on the 7Ws later).  Furthermore the BEAM tools made it easy for end users to contribute in an intelligent and structured way. That said, the business users did not need to understand the BEAM techniques themselves; in fact I never mentioned that we were using BEAM at all and they didn’t need to know. They simply attended the interviews and enjoyed having their brains picked and taking joint ownership of the developing dimensional model.

 

BI BREAKPOINTS

I became all the more interested in reading Agile Data Warehouse Design when I began to realise that it tackles head on several key ‘BI Breakpoints’:  the term used by BI System Builders to describe weaknesses in an End to End BI solution that can become points of failure. While the term is not explicitly used in the book it quickly became clear to me that the BEAM method will help developers address the specific BI Breakpoints between Business Analysis and Data Warehouse design.  As such, I found Agile Data Warehouse Design to be highly complimentary to the Cornerstone Solution® BI method.  The Cornerstone Solution® End to End BI method is used by BI System Builders to address BI Breakpoints. You can read more about BI Breakpoints here.

 

WHICH BI BREAKPOINTS DOES BEAM ADDRESS?

BEAM addresses BI Breakpoints around business analysis and dimensional model design.  A key issue for effective dimensional modeling, that I’ve faced many times, is that it requires the combination of three different contributing skill sets: Business Domain Expertise, Business Analysis, and Dimensional Modeling. The domain expertise is provided by the business. However, it is the role of the business analyst (BA) to extract that expertise, understand the business process area and then document the business requirements. To do this successfully requires the ability to ask the right questions.  Once the BA’s document is available it is translated into a dimensional model by the Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse (BI/DW) team.

Generally speaking I observe that BAs will have a predominantly business background while  dimensional modelers (DMs) a technical one.  Frequently a BA is assigned to go to the business and gather user requirements, the result of which is a copious document. Once the document is complete it is handed over to the BI/DW team to work with. Although the document is useful, typically it will not explicitly describe critical dimensional modeling design elements such as fact granularity, and fact and dimension table types and relationships as required by the BI/DW team for development purposes. Consequently, this handover can become a BI Breakpoint.

The BI/DW team will attempt to interpret the business analysis document as best they can. However, issues can arise because the BI/DW team had no involvement during the analysis stage and could not ask pertinent questions whilst the business analysis was being undertaken.  After sign-off of the business analysis document the BA may move onto another project and not be available to provide further help. As contractors and consultants are often used as BA’s they may even have left the business all together. This can cause a chasm of understanding to open up between the BI/DW team and what the business users had been describing and requesting.  Needing clarification or finding information missing and not knowing or wanting to approach the business again the BI/DW team may fall back onto something that is more securely under their control as a means to drive their modeling effort – source system data analysis.

The risk of building out dimensional models based on source system analysis is that the final tables will be close in design to the source data but may not model the business process area or meet business user needs.  The tables may not meet business requirements and they may not be a true dimensional design at all. To my mind this is a failing, because ignoring for the moment the new SAP HANA, I have always found dimensional models to be the most effective performance design for use with SAP BusinessObjects tools against a relational database and the best way to think of business process measurement in general.

To help avoid the BI Breakpoint that can occur between the BA and the BI/DW developers we have the notion of cross-functional teams.  A cross-functional team is superior to the structure previously mentioned.  The team members work closely and simultaneously together often in the same project room. The DM from the BI/DW team sits in on the BA’s interviews with the business users and starts to construct the logical model design. The dimensional modeler can ask clarification questions directly to the BA and business user at any point in the process. Furthermore the evolving logical model design can be frequently replayed to the rest of the team to confirm it. In my experience the cross-functional team has been more successful than the polarised BA and BI/DW (chasm-forming) teams. BEAM takes the concept of the cross-functional team much further and provides an intelligent and effective framework for the BA and BI/DW teams to work together in.  Following the BEAM method is an effective antidote to creating BI Breakpoints.

 

WHAT IS THE BEAM METHOD?

BEAM stands for Business Event Analysis and Modeling.  As the name suggests it combines elements of requirements analysis and data modeling. Its key concept is to use 7 dimensional types (the 7Ws) to identify and then elaborate business events. BEAM concentrates on business events rather than known reporting requirements so as to model whole business process areas.  This provides a major advantage.  Modeling a business process area yields a design that can be readily scaled as requirements grow. Modeling for a set of reporting requirements alone can lead to a narrow solution. ‘Narrow’ because the design may not lend itself to be scaled when new requirements are on boarded. Therefore, the BEAM approach helps avoid the BI Breakpoint of non-scalability. BEAM’s 7W approach also lays a solid foundation for ad-hoc reporting and self-service BI by teaching business users – by stealth – to think dimensionally.

The 7Ws used by BEAM are: Who, What, When, Where, How, How Many, and Why.  A similar conceptual technique is used in investigative journalism to ensure full story reporting coverage. For a specified business process area the BEAM idea is to identify event stories by asking a ’who does what’ question and then expressing the answer as a simple story.  An example of this would be ‘traders buy commodities’.  A series of these ’who does what’ stories are captured and then the remainder of the 7Ws such as the ‘when’ and ‘where’ are asked to drive out their interesting details. All the results are documented in a BEAM table template.

The BEAM table template is one of several tools employed, you will also learn how to use the BEAM tools of hierarchy charts, timelines, event matrices, and enhanced star schemas. The BEAM method will then take you through modeling events, dimensions, processes and star schemas to provide working software and documentation as detailed in the Agile Manifesto.

From the information gathered in the Business Event Analysis stage it is then possible to easily identify dimension and fact table types. Dimension and fact table patterns are explained in the second half of the book  ‘Modeling’.  If you are new to dimensional modeling you will learn much from the vast design and implementation experience of Lawrence and his co-writer Jim Stagnitto. The BEAM method and notation walks you through a natural continuum from the interview stage right through to the end dimensional model.

When the BEAM method is properly understood and implemented it will effectively bridge the gap (BI Breakpoint) between the BA and the DM. Both the BA and the DM can work together using BEAM or for someone with hybrid skills the two roles can become one. In summary Agile Data Warehouse Design is a thoroughly well written book that addresses BI Breakpoints and brings with it four key benefits.  It will show you how to practically apply an effective combined analysis and modeling method (BEAM). It will help engage business communities so that full business process areas can be modelled making your solution scalable. It will lower costs to the business by reducing analysis and modelling time. It will reduce the risk of a project struggling by delivering working software and documentation on time.

You can buy Agile Data Warehouse Design from Amazon and find out more about BEAM and matching agile/dimensional modelling courses on Lawrence’s Decision One Consulting web site.

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BusinessObjects Web Intelligence in Under 3 Minutes

Web Intelligence in Under 3 Minutes

So what is Web Intelligence and what can it do? We’ve created a short video of a live Web Intelligence demo. The video covers creating a new query, a table, a pie chart, a cross-tabulation, a calculation within a variable and an alert, drilling on a chart and then down through a product hierarchy in a table, finishing by creating a section.

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BI System Builders at the Houses of Parliament

On the 4th of December 2017 BI System Builders founder, Russell Beech attended the South Warwickshire at Parliament event held in the Members’ Dining Room at the Houses of Parliament. The event was organised by Jonathan Smith and hosted by Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon.

The invitation to BI System Builders was made by Professor Simon Swain, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Warwick (pictured left).  The event brought together business and academic leaders and senior government officials. There were five short speeches made including one by Professor Swain and another by Andy Palmer, CEO at Aston Martin. Russell commented that he was looking forward to BI System Builders continuing to build relationships with the University of Warwick.

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The Cornerstone Solution® ‘101’

 

The Cornerstone Solution® ‘101’

At BI System Builders (BISB), our expertise is in helping businesses, small, medium and larger enterprises to get the greatest value from their data by identifying the right business intelligence tools and data warehousing solution for that organisation.  This document introduces the way we work with our clients to achieve this, and sets out the BISB methodology and approach – the Cornerstone Solution® – at a high level.

 

What is the question that most organisations want our help to answer?

Market environments are changing faster than ever – especially with BREXIT, and at BISB we understand that organisations need to manage data in a timely way that helps produce results.  Today’s senior business leaders need metrics, insights and performance indicators that really help to inform decision-making.  We find our customers often ask “how do we join up our different types of data so we can really know what’s happening in our organisation right now?”

 

How do we get to the answer?

To provide the best answer to this question, BISB has developed the Cornerstone Solution® – a rigorous process where we work hand in hand with customers to really explore their needs and to help them to an end position where they can actually get this intelligence.  Harnessed in the right way, business intelligence can be the key to unlocking how an organisation is performing. (You might see us refer to this approach in other documents as a vendor and technology agnostic framework.)

We find that using this tried and tested methodology is a really effective way of understanding current reality, and of cutting through to what is (and isn’t) needed now and in the future.  We can then build solid recommendations and deliver robust solutions (systems, tools and data warehousing) based on actual business priorities.

 

The Cornerstone Solution® explained

The Cornerstone Solution® is a way of lifting the lid on an organisation’s existing data management today and its future requirements, and then moving through the logical steps required to get to a working solution.  It’s a fully integrated and thorough end-to-end process and is ideal for ‘green field’ projects.  Its modular approach also makes it directly applicable to existing data warehouses and business intelligence solutions that require updating and improving.  We know that by laying a strong cornerstone in a structure, you can build out from it to get a solid, robust house – and we believe it’s exactly the same with business intelligence.

 

The Cornerstone Solution® has four key elements to the process and within these there are a number of sub-systems or modules.  These comprise:

  1. Strategic Requirements System – At this stage we take a look at the long term business intelligence vision for an organisation; so what do they need and across what timescales. We ask what must the solution look like? What’s the Corporate strategy it needs to support? Is there anything else that the solution will need to fit with?  We identify and understand who are the senior stakeholders (along with their wants and concerns), so that the context and requirements for the work are really understood.

 

  1. Solution Architecture System – Once the first element is complete, it’s possible to move onto looking at the architectural solution that’s needed (the recommendations for what is to be put in place). This is a comprehensive piece of work which includes seven key modules. (If you’re short on time, take a look at sections on Business Architecture, Data Architecture and Service Architecture.)

 

One of the most important things is to get under the skin of the business; what are its objectives, capability and the existing ways of working (the Business Architecture work).  Understanding what this means we can ensure the solution is really focused on moving the organisation forward.

 

We look at what data exists and what information is being managed today and how (Information Architecture).  What are the data flows, how is data captured and who owns it?  Is data managed internally or externally and how should this be approached? Where and show should this data be optimally stored? With this knowledge, it’s possible to look at what applications might be best to provide what’s needed in the future and how these will need to work together (the Application Architecture)It’s then a clear next step to look at what IT Infrastructure (Infrastructure Architecture) is needed to support these applications and how it will be made ‘fail safe’.

 

Through Data Architecture, we get to the heart of what’s really needed in terms of data warehousing, specifically what drives data requirements and how the data itself should be managed.  We use Business Event Analysis Modelling (BEAM) for this and it involves some detailed workshops.  This is a really useful opportunity to get stakeholders to engage in to the future by stating how things work and need to work.

 

All the modules of the Architecture must work effectively together such as the data models and the BI tools set (this work is Integration Architecture).

 

However ultimately, all this work needs to deliver a service to internal customers, and it’s essential that their needs are addressed – so what will they need? What service level agreements does the organisation require to make use of the data? (For example what time is the data wanted and how frequently?)  How will upgrades and back-ups be managed so that minimum disruption is caused?  How the essential platforms and systems are to be supported in the future.  (This work is Service Architecture and it’s fundamental that the final business intelligence solution delivers this.)

 

Some of the information needed here may already exist in an organisation. In other cases we’ll need to carry out interviews and workshops with key stakeholders.

 

  1. Control System – Delivering complex projects on time, to quality and to budget is essential for every organisation. To achieve this we use a rigorous project planning and governance framework.  It’s tailored to fit with the needs of each organisation so that interdependencies and risks are all handled in the right way.  Our customers can be confident about how the project is being managed, what it’s costing and on the progress being made.  An experienced project manager is in place to manage the project delivery.

 

  1. Delivery System – This is where the planning comes together and actual products are created; source data is mapped to target data (raw or legacy data to new style data targets), data models and databases are built, software is installed and the required analytics, reports and dashboards are created. The project is carefully brought to life and released into production through the live environments in a way that works for each organisation.

 

Programmes run in an ongoing review process to ensure that learnings are continually captured, documented and handed over to the customer with appropriate training and orientation.

 

As you might imagine carrying out this work is a sizeable task, but the methodical approach of the Cornerstone Solution® has been shown to work across larger enterprises with complex operations.  Backed up by the ‘know how’ of the BISB team, this really is a logical way to make sure the resulting business intelligence solution delivers what’s needed.

 

Focusing on the bottom line

By using an established methodology where we’ve already developed templates, tools and plans, we can swiftly customise to fit each project.  This saves our customers cost as we’re not ‘re-inventing the wheel’.  Overall, using the Cornerstone Solution® lowers the total cost of ownership for customers.  Once new systems are in place costly legacy systems can be decommissioned.

 

Why choose BISB and the Cornerstone Solution®?  

  • With the Cornerstone Solution®, we provide a complete end-to-end integrated business intelligence solution, meaning we have a holistic approach that ensures all the appropriate areas are covered.
  • Our ways of working are tried and tested and have been used to contribute heavily to successful business intelligence solutions for organisations such as Vision Express, NFU Mutual and the VW Group UK.
  • We’re not tied to one specific technology or application provider – one size does not fit all and we will identify the system that’s right for you.
  • As a niche business intelligence consultancy we’re able to draw on the right skills, expertise and knowledge without our customers needing to pay for large consultancy overheads.
  • We’re interested in building a long term relationship with our customers, where we help to build your capability in managing your own data and business i
  • We expect high standards of ourselves and we believe our customers can see this in the results they experience.

 

To find out more about the Cornerstone Solution®, please contact BI System Builders, on +44 (0)1926 623111 or take a look at our website at www.bisystembuilders.com.

 

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Cornerstone Solution® Q & A

BI System Builders

We are asked many questions relating to the BI System Builders Cornerstone Solutions® and here are the answers to some of them.

 

What is a Cornerstone Solution®?

A Cornerstone Solution® is an End to End best practice framework for Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing. It has been developed by BI System Builders Ltd. It has two key components. The first is comprehensive Solution Architecture and the second is a delivery model that incorporates detailed project planning. It is designed to facilitate a set of Business Intelligence services to be brought together in a BI methodology that results in measurable deliverables, mitigating risk, and maximising project success. It can be thought of as a strategic framework for BI Architecture and Delivery.

 

Is it just for SAP BW systems or can it be used on other platforms?

A Cornerstone Solution® is vendor agnostic. It is not reliant upon any specific technology and is fully configurable.  BI System Builders have expertise with SAP BusinessObjects and its connectivity into SAP BW and performance and historically, have partnered with the vendor SAP. However, SAP BusinessObjects is a technology, a BI Platform, BI tools and Data Integration capabilities. A Cornerstone Solution® is not tied to a specific platform such as Netweaver, a data integration tool, or any software vendor for that matter.

 

Is your method only relevant for SAP BusinessObjects technology, we want to use a different BI software vendor?

A Cornerstone Solution® is not software vendor specific. A Cornerstone Solution® is a generic end to end Business Intelligence framework rather than a SAP BusinessObjects method. It exists to deliver world class Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing solutions. We have referred to SAP BusinessObjects frequently because it’s a powerful BI platform and it’s also historically where a lot of our core technical expertise lies. However, if SAP BusinessObjects was not the technology of choice it would not matter, a Cornerstone Solution® could and has been applied to other technologies\vendors.

 

Is a Cornerstone Solution® applicable to Big Data?

Yes, a Cornerstone Solution® includes thinking about data governance, data quality and data integration as well as architecture, process and analytics. It would be no problem to incorporate capabilities such as learning models into the Cornerstone Solution® framework and massive amounts of data require more governance not less.

 

When Russell Beech was employed by BusinessObjects he co-authored a white paper entitled ‘The Rules of Engagement’, is a Cornerstone Solution® not just a re-hash of that?

No, a Cornerstone Solution® is much more than anything that the ‘Rules of Engagement’ could attain to. The ‘Rules of Engagement’ was written specifically to help Professional Services (BusinessObjects field consultants) implement the BusinessObjects Analytical Applications successfully on large scale deployments. It was based on experience of troubleshooting complex implementations in large organisations but a Cornerstone Solution® is much more. A Cornerstone Solution® is a complete End to End BI strategic framework that includes architecture, process and governance. The philosophy is essentially to architect and to plan so as to avoid problems rather than to let them grow to the point where troubleshooting is necessary.

 

Does a Cornerstone Solution® include ETL?

Yes it’s designed to deliver an End to End BI solution and data integration is a critical component. The Cornerstone Solution® considers everything from business analysis and requirements to source system data. Intrinsic to the solution is the ETL system itself.

 

Why do you say that Business Analytics are the end game of a Cornerstone Solution®?

A Cornerstone Solution® will help your BI project run smoothly. However, it can do far more than that. The full purpose of the Cornerstone Solution® is to use BI to help an organisation grow, increase profitability, gain competitive advantage, and increase efficiency and effectiveness. Business Analytics provide key information to business users helping them to achieve their purpose. A Cornerstone Solution® actually starts with corporate strategy and objectives. It is the cognizance of these that drives the BI Architectural decisions. Raw data has relatively low value unless it can be turned into usable information. The BIDW architecture must fully support this and the information is usually consumed through some form of analytic.

 

Where did the term ‘BI Breakpoints’ come from?

A career as a BusinessObjects consultant often leads to facing challenges. As consultants become more senior and experienced they are invited to troubleshoot the harder problems. We have seen many of these harder problems. The term was coined by us to describe the problems or failures in the BI system. These failures can include everything from physical components such as faulty software installs to activities such as ineffective requirements gathering leading to data models that are not fit for purpose. Understanding BI Breakpoints and pre-empting where they are likely to occur is core to implementing a Cornerstone Solution®.

 

If it’s a delivery methodology why do you say that BI strategy is also a component?

A Cornerstone Solution® has a defined framework. The application of some of the Business Intelligence services within the framework leads directly to tangible deliverables e.g. developing ETL code. The development of code is a tactical manoeuvre within the big picture.  However, the framework itself is part of a still bigger picture, that of BI strategy. Formulating the BI strategy is critical to getting the tactics right for successful delivery. So a Cornerstone Solution® is a strategic BI framework rather than just a delivery method alone.

 

How is the Cornerstone Solution® different to what other BI companies do?

Perhaps other companies do exactly what we do? It’s possible. But it seems evident that many BI projects get into trouble. If a Cornerstone Solution® framework was being applied we believe that there would be less project difficulties.

 

What do you mean by ‘Cornerstone’ and why do you say that it’s a solution?

A cornerstone is the stone that forms the base of a corner of a building that joins two walls. It is the first stone to be laid down and on which everything else is built. The cornerstone in a successful Business Intelligence system/solution is the Business Intelligence framework. In a Cornerstone Solution® everything is built out from this framework.  Solutions are ‘acts’ or ‘ways’ to answer problems. Cornerstone Solutions® are a framework facilitating a set of Business Intelligence services to be applied to help the organisation solve its business problems through best use of its Business Intelligence system.

 

How is a Cornerstone Solution® different to just program or project management?

A Cornerstone Solution® includes comprehensive project management and a good project manager is critical. However a Cornerstone Solution® includes BI strategy, a defined framework, and predefined matrixes, templates, and artefacts. The customer may often provide the program management with our support.

 

If you write about Cornerstone Solutions® other consultancies will just steal your ideas?

It’s often said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. We put many helpful things on our website at bisystembuilders.com and are fully aware of what we are doing. We like to give things away and will publish more and more. But reading about something and talking about something does not necessarily imply the knowhow of how to actually do it. The name Cornerstone Solution® is a registered trademark.

 

Can the Cornerstone Solution® work for a small company?

Yes, absolutely yes, and cost effectively too. A Cornerstone Solution® is scalable. It includes everything required for a big undertaking but some components are superfluous to small projects. The Cornerstone Solution® is designed in a modular fashion enabling us to strip out unnecessary components but leave the End to End BI view intact. Smaller companies only pay for what they need; they do not pay for unnecessary ‘nice to haves’.

 

Can BI System Builders help us with small parts of our BI project or do you only do full BI implementations using a Cornerstone Solution®?

BI System Builders can help you with small parts of your project.  A Cornerstone Solution® is modular and we select the best practice part that is applicable to what you want us to do for you.

 

I’m new to Business Intelligence and some of the things that you talk about with Cornerstone Solutions® seem complex. Where can I read more about BI

You can read more at bisystembuilders.com and we plan to add lots of other content too. For an informed read on Business Intelligence we also thoroughly recommend the book e-business Intelligence authored by Bernard Liautaud the founder of BusinessObjects. It was published back in 2001 but is still very useful.

 

This is not really about Cornerstone Solutions® but what does the BI System Builders logo represent?

Actually it does relate to Cornerstone Solutions®. The logo is in the shape of the end of a large key. A key in itself is a solution to unlock something. You’ll notice that there is also a flow through the key. This is symbolic of the flow of data into information through your business… through your BI system. BI System Builders have the key that unlocks the flow. The key is a Cornerstone Solution®.

 

Why do you say that a BI project doesn’t need to be like a walk through a jungle when you talk about a Cornerstone Solution®?

Walk through the jungle with no map and no guide – not a good idea, it’s a big place and easy to get lost and end up in trouble. You know you could get caught out by things that you failed to see or expect, you could become disorientated, lose energy, and lose spirit. So you could consider one of the following:

  1. a) Employ a guide but take no map – if you have a good guide then you don’t need a map. However, you are trusting the guide to be who he claimed to be, but what if he’s not authentic? On the journey how will you know if you’re getting lost? When you’re really lost and come to the conclusion that you’re following a charlatan!
  2. b) Take a map but no guide – it’s possible, but anyone embarking on that journey should also take a compass and be sure that they can use them both effectively together, as well as knowing the jungle dangers and having wilderness experience.
  3. c) Take a map and a recommended guide – you get the best of both worlds. The guide can keep you safe and at the same time show you exactly where you are on the map so that you can check progress.

If BI System Builders is like a recommended guide, then a Cornerstone Solution® is like a map. You can know where you have come from, where you are, where you are going and where you will end up, safely!