Bill Cole – Competitive Sales Specialist,Information Management, IBM
Leave only footprints; take only pictures. Have you seen that slogan in a national park? My wife (she’s now an ex) didn’t believe the signs that told us to leave everything exactly where it was. She didn’t want to just enjoy the beauty. She wanted to take some home with us. The flashing light of the Park Ranger car told me we were in trouble for picking up a few rocks along the side of the road. The nice man in the Smokey hat told me to put the rocks back. The scenery is for consumption with your eyes, your camera, not for taking home. I did as instructed, happy to be leaving with my wallet in one piece.
I’ve always produced data and then turned it into information by adding other bits of data together and adding some context. My users guided me for a while and then I both guided and pushed them. This seemed to be the natural order of things, sort of like factories and the folks who buy the goods from those factories.
The IT/BI/DA teams accumulate and store the data and then massage to build what are essentially standard reports. Standard reports are good for standard thinking, of course. If you know the answer you’re looking for, a standard report probably has it in there somewhere, like those old balance sheets and ledgers that I ran so long ago. But there was nothing in those reports that would help think outside of the data on those reports. In fact, there was so little insight in them that one of the plant managers actually asked me what good these reports were. There’s really not a good response to that one.
Insights are gained when the lines of business can chase an idea through all sorts of non-standard iterations. Almost like chasing one of those happy mistakes from science, like penicillin, or those ubiquitous not-very-sticky note sheets that we all stick all over everything so we can easily keep track of passwords, etc. LOL, like you haven’t done that.
So how do we get to this idea-chasing sort of thing? This place where the data analysts or, better still, the line of business user can see something interesting and start chasing it? This is custom-developed solution, a virtual pair of bespoke shoes that were for your situation and only for your situation. The person in the next cubicle needn’t look over your shoulder. It would do them no good after all. There’s a scene in the Maureen O’Hara/John Wayne move “The Quiet Man” in which John asks directions and the local says “Do you see that road over there? Don’t take it, it’ll do you no good.” Insights are like that. You need to know not to walk down a road that will do you no good.
The trick, it seems to me, is having the right tools. Let’s start with the database (you know I’m a practicing DBA and that means all discussions start with the database). DB2 BLU is exactly the right repository for your decision-making data. After all, it offers both row- and column-oriented models in a single database! This means you’re getting performance no matter which way your data chooses to be represented. Moreover, there are different kinds of compression to ensure you save space and improve performance. What could be better? And all for the price of an upgrade! Easy. No-brainer.
There’s a neat coda to this, too. You’re not confined to the old solution of finding a server, building it and installing the software, then building the database. Let’s talk choices, folks. Lots of choices. Maybe every choice. On premise, just like we’ve always done, works. Maybe your own cloud would be better. Build your BI/DA system in a PureFlex or PureApp or PureData cloud hosted in your own data center. There’s a simple solution with lots of benefits including workload management. Set it and forget it and go on about your business. Maybe DBaaS works better. Virtualize the workload and database in an existing private cloud to make use of those “excess” mips. (Parkinson’s Law says that any organization grows to fill all the space available. I think the demand for mips grows to fill the available servers, thus negating the concept of “Excess mips.”) There’s SoftLayer for either a public or private cloud. Remember, they’ll go all the way to bare metal if that’s what you need. Finally, maybe best, is DB2 BLU available in the cloud. I championed this a while back and it’s now reality. A pre-configured database that IBM manages and maintains, including backups and upgrades. Talk about easy! Go ahead, get some sleep. We’ve got this one.
One last thought about the tools. InfoSphere Analytics Server will do the analysis for you and present your users with suggested insights right out of the box. And it will help the folks find their own insights by helping them look, filter and massage the data in any way that suits them. It’s a cool tool for those times when you need the freedom to find your own way through the forest of data.
Finally, I’ve always kept two Robert Frost poems on my wall. Perhaps, “Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood” is the one for this post. We in IT need to give the folks in the lines of business the right tools to chase down the new roads, new insights. We’ll give the GPS for the roads less traveled by. Good luck on your journeys of exploration!
The other poem is “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,” of course. We all have miles to go before we sleep, before our work is complete, and using the right tools makes those miles ever so much more productive. Bundle up on those snowy evenings and enjoy the ride.
Follow Bill Cole on Twitter : @billcole_ibm
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