Olympic Analysis Using Pentaho

July 30, 2012

In honor of the Olympics…here is an Analytical Dashboard I created to compare and contrast the medaling countries from 1976 to 2008. Enjoy.

Wayne Johnson
Senior Sales Engineer

This blog was originally posted Wayne’s blog, Business Intelligence in Real Life


“We haven’t really thought about that”

October 7, 2011

If you have been dealing with business analytics related sales activities or are searching for that “right” business intelligence tool, you will find that most organizations:

  • Use manual tasks, that include desktop query and reporting tools, to answer their business questions.
  • Have “something” in place that they are not happy with or is costing them too much money.
  • Have data in multiple silos that they need to access, consolidate and optimize.

Hence, they are usually looking for a low cost business analytics alternative that can provide them with the answers to their business questions, as well as ease of use and functionality they are looking for within their budget. Don’t believe me? Join the many business intelligence groups available in LinkedIn and Quora as well as other social networking type sites and you will see the barrage of questions from those looking for recommendations on BI and analytics tools.

I was on a call the other daya with a well known organization where the “prospect” stated: “We need basic reporting with the ability to access all of our data without moving it or massaging it.”

“Okay? That is absolutely possible,” I replied. “However do you understand the pros and cons that are associated with doing that?”  [...]  Silence…not only could you hear crickets on their phone, but you could hear them in the next conference room over. I took the proverbial saying “Silence is Golden” to another level. It became so uncomfortable that the Account Rep felt he should interject. I interrupted promptly to allow them to answer the question. After about a minute of what seemed like hours of silence, they responded:

“We haven’t really thought about that.” – BINGO! Case closed! Next!

Hmm… “We haven’t really thought about that.”

That’s the problem! No one is taking the time to be proactive and think about what it is they need and are rather just reacting saying, “Let’s see a demo,” “I just need reporting,” or “We need dashboards.” If that is the case, I would recommend you watch a video demonstration which may intrigue you and prompt you to start thinking about what you really need. Then…come talk to me when you have more criteria that will support your business intelligence and analytics initiative. :-)

I digress…in turn, I took this as an opportunity to educate them by asking pointed questions that would help them see what it is they actually need vs. what they thought they needed.

Eight questions I always ask customers to determine what they actually need

  1. Is the data you need to access all in one location? – No
  2. Does the data you have support a majority of questions that will be asked of it? – Don’t know
  3. Would you like answers to questions that occur on a regular basis? – Yes
  4. Would you like your users to answer their own questions on a random basis? – Yes
  5. Would you like your users to explore and discover answers to questions they did not think to ask? – Yes
  6. Do you have a predefined set of KPIs to manage and track business performance? – Yes
  7. Would you like your executives to see an at a glance view of those KPIs? – Yes
  8. Would you like to be aware of “something” when a defined threshold is met? – Yes

Alright, now we are getting somewhere. Each of those questions and responses clearly identifies that their needs are more than just simple reporting as originally desired. They require a solution that encompasses both data integration and content delivery (ETL, reporting, analysis and dashboards).

I further probed as to why they wanted to access all of their data “without moving it or massaging it.”

They replied: “Because building a data warehouse takes too much time and costs too much money.”

Wow! Clearly a response most likely seeded by a competitor, whom believes they can access all of the data directly where it sits, without building a data warehouse (which may be true for some of the competition out there). However, they usually leave out the fact that they MAY still need to ‘move or massage’ the data – they just don’t call it ETL or refer to their process as data integration or even use the words “Data Warehousing.”

I further explained that data integration (ETL) does not have to be about building an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). It can be about building operational data stores, that are refreshed periodically, to support questions that the business users want to ask. It can involve federated queries where the data is accessed from the source without having to stage the data. It can also be about normalizing data in to a small easy to maintain data mart that supports speed of thought analytics for the power users.

Upon those points I provided a demonstration of Pentaho’s Agile BI capabilities which involves a rapid, collaborative and iterative approach to building business analytic applications. At completion of the presentation, the prospect was amazed and pleased stating, “This is exactly what we need.”  Ahh..music to my ears.

People…and I say this with great care…you cannot throw a business analytics tool in your organization and expect it to stick without asking some important questions. It is those answers that will help guide you to the right solution. And most importantly, you cannot put a business analytics tool on top of those “as-is” data sources without knowing what questions are going to be asked of it. I know, it is impossible to know every question that may be asked, but at least have those that are important to tracking your business performance and achieving your goals.

On the majority of calls that I participate in, it seems that organizations just don’t have the time to properly plan and discuss the criteria needed to implement a decision support system. Why? Because everyone is doing more with less these days and researching a BI and analytics tool is…usually…an ancillary responsibility for them. If that is the case, allow us to help you with your research and we will ask those questions you haven’t really thought about.

Regards,

Michael Tarallo
Director of Enterprise Solutions
Pentaho


Business Intelligence – In the heads of people – not the software

January 14, 2011

Business Intelligence is part of a bigger picture and not a particular software package. BI in general involves many different factors in order to be successful no matter what software or skill set is being used. It requires the knowledge and expertise of the individuals who know it best. This includes the customer knowing what problems they have or want to prevent, as well as the software vendor and/or consultants who know how to provide solutions for those problems.

Analogy 1: Imagine you want to hang a picture. You have some screws but do not have any tools. You go to the hardware store and say, “I need a hammer”, because you think that this is the proper tool to get the job done. The proper response would be for the salesperson to ask you, “What do you need the hammer for?” or “What project will the hammer help you with?” When he finds out that you want to hang a picture and all you have are screws, the salesperson may suggest a screwdriver instead of the hammer or perhaps give you nails and a hammer. Even better yet, he may offer something that is even easier to use or costs less like those new gravity hooks. The salesperson needs to ask the proper questions to help the customer with the proper solutions. He may even offer a better solution to which the customer had no idea about. The salesperson was the expert who provided the knowledge for the proper solution or alternative.

BI not only involves helping the customer with existing problems but also involves helping them to see problems that they many not know exist.

Analogy 2: Imagine having a piece of food on your lip and not knowing it. Your friend says, “Hey, you got something on your lip!”, and points it out to you. You then take the appropriate action to resolve that problem by wiping it away with a napkin. The napkin was the tool,  the wiping was the action taken from the knowledge and direction provided by your friend. Your friend helped you discover a problem you didn’t know was there.

It is clear and easy to see that these two analogies provide support that Business Intelligence is about collaboration, communication, discovery, knowledge, insight, direction and action to just name a few. These factors along with the proper software and services can provide an organization with a successful BI implementation. The software can be part of a specific BI Platform or simply an application development environment used to create business applications that provide knowledge on data. Business Intelligence is not just about collecting data and reporting, it is a methodology in which experts can provide assistance. If you would like your organization to succeed with BI, it is extremely important to understand its factors and learn how to analyze and use the data created by this methodology.

BI is part of a bigger picture, is in the heads of people and not just in the software.

Michael Tarallo
Director of Sales Engineering
Pentaho Corporation


“Drilling” in to the detail with Pentaho

November 30, 2010

“Drilling”…..(with respect to Business Intelligence applications and Information Technology). Where did that word come from? What does it mean? What can it mean? I am sure you have heard the phrase “Drill down to detail” before, but you may have also heard “Drill Up”, “Drill Out”, “Drill Across”, “Drill In” and “Drill Through” and don’t forget “Drill Anywhere”.

In general, it means to simply move from summary level information to underlying detail data, either within its current data set or even outside to another data set. Its main purpose is to allow one to easily view summarized information in the form of a chart, table or some graphical visualization with the added ability to “click” on a value, series or region and “drill in” to the next level of detail or out to some other dimension. “Drilling” allows business users to make informed decisions quickly without having to page through sheets of raw data.

For example, summarized sales revenue for the year 2010 is $200K, but upon drilling down we see that $175K was brought in by 3 out of 4 regions, leaving 1 region with very low numbers. This now exposes a single region as being an outlier or a entity that needs focused attention. The power of Business Intelligence applications at work, turning raw data into actionable information.

The Pentaho BI Suite can provide “Drilling” in a number of ways depending on which module you deploy. We will explore each of these in this article……….read more about it here at the Pentaho Evaluation Sandbox.

http://sandbox.pentaho.com/2010/11/drilling-in-to-the-details-with-pentaho/

Regards,

Michael Tarallo
Director of Sales Engineering
Pentaho


The Pentaho Pre-Sales Sandbox

October 7, 2010

Quick Bit About Pentaho

Pentaho has been all about building and delivering a scalable, complete end-to-end BI Suite from day one. From making the software “possible” during those humble beginnings to making it “available” and now “easy”. You will find that Pentaho has an extensive offering that is both flexible and intuitive. Pentaho software has been targeted as the Commercial Open Source BI alternative by System Integrators, Consultancies, Enterprises, OEMs and SMBs. It has been deployed worldwide in a variety of industries; supporting mission critical applications which encompass both data integration and information delivery, all provided by “one” vendor, Pentaho.

The Pentaho Pre-Sales Sandbox

The Pre-Sales Sandbox is a resource that will streamline the effectiveness of the Evaluation/Selection process. With this resource at hand, you will be able to make an informed decision as quickly and efficiently as possible. Examples, tutorials, consolidated information are staged here to view and download to assist you in your evaluation process. Please be aware that the collateral available on this site can be posted on a moments notice and is intended to serve the masses as quickly as possible. Therefore the content downloaded may be a work in progress, a draft, incomplete, or limited in detail. Please see our website at http://www.pentaho.com for more information about our products and value added services.

Who should use this resource

This resource is primarily for those who are actively evaluating the Pentaho BI suite. It is not a replacement for our FREE evaluation support offering or the Pentaho Knowledge Base. It has been designed for those who are intending on exploring the power, flexibility and extensibility of the software. They have a basic understanding of Business Intelligence applications including information delivery and data integration. They are familiar with concepts of accessing data sources, creating and publishing reports as well as understand the fundamentals of ETL (Extract Transform Load). They understand terminology such as metric, measure, dimension and have a general understanding of data modeling. Professional documentation for the Pentaho BI suite, including Administration and Security guides are located in the Knowledge Base.

If you are evaluating Pentaho, or are simply a bit curious come check out the Pentaho Pre-Sales Sandbox here: http://sandbox.pentaho.com/

I hope to speak with you in person.

Michael Tarallo
Pre-Sales Director
Pentaho

(Originally posted on Michael Tarallo’s Blog: http://michaeltarallo.blogspot.com/2010/10/pentaho-pre-sales-sandbox.html)


Part 4: Using the Report Design Wizard

September 17, 2010

Ahhhh the Wizard. As defined by Wikipedia (you know, if it is on Wikipedia, it must be true) … “A magician, sorcerer, witch, or person known under one of many terms who practices magic derived from supernatural sources.” Well then, why software developers name the “easy to use” part of the product a “Wizard” I just have no idea. Just call it the “Assistant” or the “Guide me thingamajig” – just don’t call it a Wizard unless it is going to read my mind and magically create my report for me!

I digress….in Part 4 of this series we will cover the use of the Pentaho Report Designer and the integrated Report Design…ahem..[coughs] Wizard. The 10 min video below will show you how easy it is to get started creating and publishing Operational and Enterprise type reports. This video only scratches the surface of what is possible with the Pentaho Report Designer, for a more in-depth look visit the Pentaho Pre-Sales Tools page where there is a Comprehensive Report Designer Tutorial that will demonstrate the other features and functions available in this design tool. Stay tuned to this blog for Part 5 where I magically chase down a Leprechaun and force him to conjure me up some Dashboards. Until then.

Click here to view all the tutorials in this series.

Michael Tarallo
Pre-Sales Director
Pentaho


Top 3 questions asked to Pentaho Pre-Sales

August 16, 2010

Can you…? How does…? Where do…? What is…?

Sound familiar?

Pre-Sales Engineers are the stage performers of the IT world; immensely capable, adaptable, confident, excellent communicators who are  equally cool in front of large crowds and intimate groups.   If you are in a Pre-Sales role, you have the absolute pleasure of showcasing what your product / service / solution can offer to help prospects make an informed decision.  Pentaho Pre-Sales Engineers, have numerous discussions everyday with qualified prospects that want to evaluate Pentaho and prove that the software can satisfy their goals.  Most prospects are looking for a solution that will help them reduce costs, increase profits and make their businesses function efficiently. Part of my job is to identify a “fit” for these objectives and recommend an approach to take when evaluating. During these discussions I am asked many questions that have definitive answers and some questions that have more than one answer. I thought it would be helpful to share the 3 most common questions asked to my team and I and our responses.

Question 1: What is the most common reason an evaluation or implementation will not be successful?

That answer is quite simple. So simple in fact I wrote a blog entry about it in March 2009. You can view it here. However I will summarize it for you in one word.

Answer: People

People involved in the evaluation process of anything, are the lead cause for its success or failure. There are those who are self sufficient, “read” the provided materials, have the knowledge and expertise to get the job done with little assistance….then there are those that expect everything to be done for them. I elaborate more about this in the fore mentioned blog entry. However, for those who need a lot of hand holding, please be prepared to present clearly identified evaluation criteria to those you will be working with.

Question 2: What skill sets are required to use the Pentaho software?

Answer: I will first state that having Java Engineering skills are not necessary. You do not have to be a Java developer to use Pentaho. This stigma can attach itself to not just Pentaho, but to other “Java” developed platforms. Someone sees the word “Java” somewhere in the Wiki or on the Web and they automatically assume they need to know Java. This is not true. Pentaho is built on modern open standards that are written in Java. All this should mean to you, is that Pentaho provides a cost effective alternative that can run almost anywhere that supports Java.

Primarily, Pentaho training is the #1 skill set needed to really exploit all of the power that the software provides from the GUI design suite. Just like learning anything new, you should attempt to pick up the manual. I certainly wouldn’t start driving a car without learning how to operate it first. Other skills that can help are a general understanding of BI technologies and terminology. Relating to terms such as KPI (Key Performance Indicator), RDBMS (Relational Database Management System) metrics, dimensions, operational reporting, analyitcs, dashboards, and even a little acronym known as ETL (Extract Transform and Load). Furthermore, if you want to dive deeper and start embedding, integrating and enhancing the applications…having a Java background or even a simple web development skill set is always a plus.

Question 3: How scalable / performant is your solution?

Answer: I love this one. What answer do you think I am going to give? – Simply stated, your mileage is going to vary and greatly depends on what products you are using. Are you using the software for data integration or content delivery or perhaps both? I don’t care if you have the beefiest machine on the block or are paying for the largest cloud, your scalability and performance are going to be dependent on numerous factors. Prospects are usually looking for exact sizing statistics. They want to have some predetermined knowledge of application performance as well as what hardware and software infrastructure they may need to provision. Fortunately, Pentaho has produced the Pentaho Linear Scalability White Paper for the BI platform, and an independent consultancy has created the PDI Scaleout White Paper for Pentaho Data Integration. These documents can give additional insight in setting those expectations. Pentaho Services can also conduct capacity planning sessions with prospects to give an estimate of what can be expected. In addition to the white papers please note that there are a number of real-world scalability customer success stories you can read about on our website.

Thanks for your time, I look forward to answering your questions in person.

Michael Tarallo
Pre-Sales Director
Pentaho


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