Are Your Cognos Performance Issues Really Cognos Issues?

3/30/2016
Cognos Performance Issues & Roadblocks
Cognos is only one piece for success

One drink too many and I suddenly develop turrets and start shouting things like “Cognos can do that.”  Lodestar Solutions used to be a IBM Cognos only shop. However, for over 3 years now, Lodestar Solutions has moved to a software agnostic approach to business analytics coaching. We made this change after asking ourselves, “Why are some implementations a major success and others just never get off the ground?” or “Are your Cognos performance issues really Cognos issues?”

After pouring through the data and examining hundreds of projects and client relations, we realized it was simple. People and process account for over 80% of a successful analytics program. The tool is tertiary, but it is typically the main focus! As if buying a tool will fix process and people problems.

But I digress. Last week I was at a Tableau event and just happened to meet a woman who was their hot prospect. She is currently a Cognos OEM client and has over 900 customer dashboards developed and being used. An incredibly impressive business case.

She is considering moving her company off of Cognos to Tableau because of performance issues and functionally limitations placed on Cognos by the OEM.

As the evening and the open bar was coming to a close, we moved our data analytics conversation down to the beach with two of the Tableau sales reps.

Etiquette would say as a guest at the event and still in the company of 2 Tableau sales reps, I should not sway this women’s option and allow her to continue on her own path of discovery. However, we had now spent several hours together and the business analytics coach in me could no longer hold my tongue.

It turns out Cognos was sharing the same resources as the ERP system. As end users were querying through massive amounts of data, front end transactions were being recorded into production tables.

However, instead of eloquently stating that no reporting tool is going to fix your performance if you have a resource contention issue, I blurted out Cognos is not the problem.

Now this is not to say that Tableau would not be a good fit in her organization. In my less than eloquent state, I was trying to convey that most of the time it’s not the tool that’s the issue, but the processes around the data, how the tool operates and/or lack of end user knowledge. That’s the focus at Lodestar Solutions and we must reiterate…without the “people” and good “processes” you're only 20% invested in a successful analytics program no matter what software tool you use. And that's why we offer a software selection checklist to all clients or we can come in and assist you with this entire process. For more information to help solve your Cognos performance issues or to receive a checklist, contact us at Services@LodestarSolutions.com.

 

Choosing A Visualization For Your Dashboard

3/1/2016

A C-level executive recently handed a 42-page stack of tabular reports to me and said business dashboards would need to be a priority for him. This isn’t uncommon. In today’s analysis paralysis world, analytic individuals often mistake exploratory analysis for explanatory analysis. To move to a true bottom-line impacting analytic culture, you should move away from laborious reporting to quick glances at key metrics which impact strategy and tactical decisions. That is the main goal of business dashboards but choosing a visualization is just as important. You should be able to very quickly glance at the key metrics driving an operational area and know whether to stay the course or change actions for a more favorable outcome.

In a 30-minute business analytics coaching session with this CFO, we were able to boil down the 42 pages into 5 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and 5 trends he looks at regularly to adjust actions. However, one of his challenges was choosing a visualization. It’s our job to choose a visualization which allows the reader to quickly interpret data. We want to keep cognitive processing to a minimum. We don’t want them spending time thinking about, “How do I read this graph?” We want them to quickly determine what’s my next course of action.

I always recommend, “Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knafilic. She masterfully breaks the process into 6 simple steps. Even if your not a creative person, this book will help you quickly and easily implement function, form, and design best practices. Here are a couple of tips to get you started: Simple Text If you only need to convey one or a couple of numbers, use simple text. In the Gross Profit example, we might be tempted to put the data into a bar chart, but that’s added information the reader would have to weed through when all they are really looking for is a single number telling them how off target they are.

Choosing a visualization
Business dashboards – Simple Text

Tables In our analysis paralysis world, we are tempted to put lists or tables on business dashboards. Tables are great for mixed audiences because they will just locate the row and column that is pertinent to them. However, just because the dashboarding tool “Workspace Advance” from Cognos has scrolling functionality for large tables, you should still think carefully before using it on a dashboard. Use tables for summarized data and allow the end user to drill-thorough to a more detailed report if they need to get into the weeds of the data. In the Table example, they summarized the information as a % of total year. This allows for a quick comparison on how they are doing versus other regions. The table is also drillable so they can drill down to the country for comparison in a particular region.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Table

To take the ease of understanding one step further, in the heatmap table, I put conditional formatting on the data to draw the end users eyes to higher percentages.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Heatmap table

Bar and Column Charts Bar or column charts are very common as they are common for a reason. We all know how to read them. Bar charts are great for categorical data, however, as we add more data points, each categorical data becomes harder to read. I recommend that if you have more than 3 data points for a category, consider using a point graph. You can see in the bar graph example below that trying to compare multiple regions against multiple years is challenging yet in the point graph, the data is concise and easy to interpret.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Bar graph
Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboard – Point graph

Destination Dashboard If you are looking for a dashboarding workshop where you can learn about choosing a visualization, Lodestar’s 2-day “Destination Dashboard” workshop, which is offered periodically throughout the year, will cover visualization development in-depth. You will leave the workshop with a physical blueprint, a repeatable process you can teach your organization, and Cognos training on how to build in Cognos Workspace. To learn more about the next Destination Dashboard events, contact us at Coaching@LodestarSolutions.com.

Heather Cole on Business Analytics Coaching

2/22/2016

Since our Lodestar coaches are gearing up for more client-filled success stories in 2016, we wanted to take you back to an interview Heather Cole had with Marie Grace Berg who hosts a popular podcast for some of the most successful women in business called “Today’s Leading Women”. In this interview, Heather and Marie discuss business analytics coaching and how executives need to advance their thinking & execution. Heather also details her coaching programs which incorporate technology, psychology, leadership, and people skills to assist these executives.

business analytics coaching

To listen to Heather’s full interview visit www.TodaysLeadingWomen.com/heather-cole

To listen in iTunes, Soundcloud and Sticher please use these links and search for the date 7/15/15.

www.TodaysLeadingWomen.com/myitunes

www.TodaysLeadingWomen.com/stitcher

www.TodaysLeadingWomen.com/soundcloud

If you would like more information on the benefits of a Business Intelligence Strategy session or to talk about our Lodestar Business Analytics Coach

ing trained to facilitate dynamic sessions, please contact Lodestar Solutions at 813-254-2040 or Services@LodestarSolutions.com.

Business Analytics Coaching – Drowning in Data & Starving for Wisdom?

1/27/2016

Have you purchased expensive business intelligence tools and feel like you might have wasted your money? Are you drowning in data and struggling to focus on what matters?  Lodestar's business analytics coaching, is here to prevent you from information analysis paralysis. 

Lodestar Solutions’ focus for 2016 is FASTER CHEAPER ANALYTICS! A key to faster cheaper analytics is to focus on only what matters.  When I start coaching a client, I often find they have a lot of idea on how to use data.  The various departments have their initiative but they are all fighting for the same resources. The result is IT and BI resources get pulled in a 100 directions and feel like they never get anything done.  This results in frustrated team members and even more frustrated executives.

*Research shows that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time. http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx

Drowning in Data
Business Analytics Coaching

The solution to all this inefficiency & waste is actually quite simple. You must get all the team members on the same page.  The team must evaluate all the areas they can use the BI tools then, as a group, prioritize what are most important initiatives – which will provide actionable information – which will help the organization meet their strategic goals.

HOW: Getting a group of people with their own motives to agree can be like herding cats. Here’s a cliff note version of how Lodestar Business Analytics Coaching can facilitate the definition of what, when, and where to focus in our Lodestar Workshops.

1.  Schedule a workshop and invite team members that understand the strategic initiatives of the company as well as people that understand current processes and data. Please note that you will not discuss tools in this meeting so don’t worry about if someone knows Cognos, or Microstrategy or whatever software you use.

2.  Set the purpose and objective of the meeting up front so everyone knows the desired outcome.

3.  Start with a description of the strategic initiatives/goals of the organization. (Believe it or not people usually don’t know what they are.)

4.  Setting a timer, give them time to brainstorm so they can write their thought on sticky notes. They should document how they see BI being used to deliver actionable data to the business users. Ideally, they will do this in the form of user stories. The recommended format is:

“As a (users role) I want to (desired action) so that (value/benefit).”

5.  Next, have the participants present their ideas while the facilitator has the group establish the priority of the various ideas. This task should also involve the use of a timer.

6.  Once the sticky notes are arranged, review the prioritization and discuss how it relates to the strategic goals, accessibility of the data, and availability of resources. This discussion may result in the reorganization of the notes.

7.  The facilitator will then question the group on which of the items should go in the first phase or sprint. The goal of each phase is to deliver a working product like a dashboard.

Small focused sprints will allow you to gain wisdom from the data and not drown in it.

If you would like more information on the benefits of a Business Intelligence Strategy session or to talk about our Lodestar Business Analytics Coaching trained to facilitate dynamic sessions, please contact Lodestar Solutions at 813-254-2040 or Services@LodestarSolutions.com.

Save time with Agile Scrum for BI and Analytics

1/5/2016

Do you wish you had more time to work on your Business Analytics strategy? Looking for faster cheaper analytics? As a Business Analytics Coach at Lodestar Solutions, my goal for 2016 is to coach you to deliver analytics by working smarter not longer. Whether you have IBM Cognos, Oracle, Microsoft, Tableau, QlickTech or others, Lodestar’s goal is to help you get twice as much done in half the time by leveraging an Agile or SCRUM approach to Business Intelligence, CPM, and Analytics.  Welcome to Agile Scrum for BI!

WHAT IS AN AGILE SCRUM FOR BUSINESS ANALYTICS?

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software development methodology for managing product development. An Agile Scrum recognizes that during the implementation, customers can change their minds about what they want and need. (That never happens in a BI implementation does it?) An Agile Scrum is a flexible, holistic development strategy where the implementation team works as a unit to reach a common goal, but the method of delivering the goal is not set in stone. Scrum enables the BI or CPM teams to self-organize by encouraging physical co-location or close online collaboration of all team members. The communication challenges common to projects are removed with a brief daily meeting among all team members called a Scrum, in which team member share what they did yesterday, what they are working on today, and challenges they see.

An Agile approach for Business Analytics accepts that the problem cannot be fully understood or defined. They evolve as more information is discovered. It focuses instead on maximizing the team's ability to deliver quickly, to respond to emerging requirements, and to adapt to evolving technologies and changes in market conditions.

An Agile Scrum process benefits the organization by helping it to:

  • Increase the quality of the deliverables
  • Cope better with change (and expect the changes)
  • Provide better estimates while spending less time creating them
  • Be more in control of the project schedule and state
  • Increase job satisfaction of team members

If you want to learn more about Scrum, I strongly recommend Jeff Sutherlands books: Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Timeand “The Power of Scrum“.

WHY DON’T THE CONSULTANTS USE AN AGILE SCRUM METHODOLOGY?

You are probably asking, “If Scrum is so great, why don’t our consultants use it in our implementation?” Moving to Scrum is a major shift in approach. Consulting firms are reluctant to switch because Scrum does not focus on hours. Instead, it’s focus is on the speed that you achieve the goals, known as the sprint velocity. Firms would need to massively overhaul their implementation approach, all their implementation tools and the skills of their team. But most of all, the Scrum approach fosters the client to become self-sufficient and, if you think about it, that’s just not good for consulting firms that have a large number of resources and want to keep the billings up. But, there are some firms that believe in using an Agile Scrum implementation methodology to business analytics.

Agile Scrum for BI

At Lodestar Solutions, our certified Scrum Masters have developed our software agnostic agile implementation methodology specifically for Business Analytics deployments. These include Business Intelligence (BI), Corporate Performance Management (CPM), Budgeting, Dashboards, and Predictive Analytics which we call Lodestar’s BAAM – (Business Analytics Agile Methodology).   If you have questions on how an Agile Scrum approach to Business Analytics can deliver results faster and cheaper or would like to talk to a Lodestar Business Analytics Coach, contact us at Services@LodestarSolutions.com or call 813-254-2040.

Things Successful IBM Cognos Business Analytics Clients Will Never Say

Why are some projects more successful than others? Why do some Cognos Business Analytics clients feel accomplished while others feel they are beating their heads against a wall? The answer is – their WORDS!  Learn how to have Cognos Analytics SuccessCognos Analytics Success

Here are the things you will probably never hear successful IBM Cognos Business Analytics clients say:

We do not have IT support.

IBM Cognos deployment should be a collaboration of IT and the business. Many clients say they want to implement TM1 or Express without IT support.  You can but you shouldn’t!  IT is a critical component of a successful team.  If you don’t have IT support, go build it.  The first step is to communicate you goal, your plan, and how you can work together.  With a proper plan you can minimize IT involvement but they must be involved.

I know what I am doing. I don’t need your advice.

To truly succeed, the team has to be open to new experiences, new ideas, and new perspectives. Everyone has to always be open to feedback; on how they are executing, how they are communicating, and how they can improve. Those who are constantly open to feedback get the respect of their teams and colleagues.  Cognos Business Analytics involves many moving parts and a collaborative team that is open to all options including modifying data warehouses, designing things different and working with the resources you have even if it’s not “best practices” will increase the probability of success.

My company won’t invest in training or coaching

Cognos Business Analytics companies that are dedicated to training and coaching their team members in the tools and processes of business analytics solutions like Cognos become self-reliant.  Your business will change and your models will change. You don’t want to have to call consultants constantly to make the changes.

“If you are afraid you will train your people and they leave. What if you don’t and they stay?”

I don’t need to learn that, it’s not my responsibility. 

The team members that are highly successful in analytics love to learn.  The more they understand how the tools work, the more value they add to the organization in knowing how to leverage data and analytics.  Successful Cognos Business Analytic teams cross train their team members the tools, data warehousing, as well as presentation techniques.  This training empowers the team and allows for everyone to back each other up in challenging times.

We already completed requirements gathering.

The business is constantly changing and as a result, their needs will change.  Requirements gathering is a continuous process.  It involves active listening skills that are not natural to most analytically minded people, as they like to “solve” problems.  Successful teams continually check and recheck to make sure the needs have not changed.  Business aqnalytics requires an agile flexible approach to be successful.

Business Analytics Coaching – Does Your Executive Team Need It?

Business Analytics Coaching can be game changing for your organization.  Not only can it result in an increase in productivity and better decision making, but Predictive Analytics can lead your organization to money saving and making opportunities like never seen before.  Business Analytics is critical to your organization’s growth and ability to stay competitive. 

The challenge is that most top executives don’t fully understand how to realize the benefits of Business Analytics.  They have little knowledge or skills in leading the organization to leverage data across all disciplines.  Executives rarely have strong IT skills.  They don’t understand the foundation of data and the challenges you face daily.   As a result, they tend to not lead, but just let things happen.  For an executive to take a stance and truly lead their organization to a place where Big Data and Analytics can dramatically increase profits, they need Business Analytics coaching.

Business Analytics Coaching helps leaders:

  • Roadmap Business Analytics in their organization
  • Understand the data challenges
  • Align internal resources to maximize efficiency
  • Communicate the Business Analytics vision
  • Set realistic expectations of Business Analytics
  • Engage the entire organization

Your executives have coaches working on their golf swings, but maybe they need an Executive Business Analytics Coach to improve your organization’s adoption of Business Analytics. 

For more information on Lodestars Executive Business Analytics Coaching programs, contact us at

813-254-2040 or email us at Sales@LodestarSolutions.com.

Cognos Mobile as Part of Your Business-Driven Analytic Strategy

We all know that it’s important for infants to first learn how to crawl before they walk.  When an infant begins crawling, the repetitious movements stimulate and organize neurons, allowing her brain to control cognitive processes such as comprehension, concentration and memory.  When an infant crawls, she visually determines where she wants to go and physically moves in that direction, creating the child's first test of hand/eye coordination.  This skill set is used later in life for reading, writing and sports activities.  Establishing these important connections in the brain helps us as adults to understand how to get from Phase A to Phase C.  By skipping the crawling phase (or Phase B), babies lose this connection that can impact there future ability to analyze problems. Enter Cognos Mobile.

This same concept applies to growing your organization’s Business Analytics program.  At each step of the program’s development, end users need time to make cognitive connections of what is being offered, how it benefits it them, and finally, how to use it.

At each of Lodestar Solutions’ Virtual Business Analytics User Groups (“Techies with Panache”), we introduce or remind participants of different concepts to continually expand their Business Analytics programs.  Last month, we had a 30 minute segment on Cognos Mobile.  To view the presentation, click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCgnN38VlxU&feature=player_detailpage

The focus of the Cognos Mobile segment was to help users and potential users understand how a small implementation can create amazing business opportunities. It clearly demonstrated that business intelligent software isn’t about the features, but about the benefits of the solution. Pretty pictures are great, but mobilizing your workforce with actionable data is extremely powerful.

However, after I completed and published the segment I realized it had one fatal flaw.  I forgot to articulate that Business intelligence is an awesome power in the hands of those who are actually trained to use it; those who have the cognitive connections.

Most line of business users are not data or technology savvy. This isn’t to say that they can’t be.  Quite the contrary!  They are 100 times more equipped to understand the data than an IT professional, because the data is directly produced from their concentrated focus in their area of expertise.

As Business Intelligence professionals, it is our job to empower line of business users with the correct data, and in a format that speaks to them.  Anybody can learn to use BA software.  Saying it any way differently is like saying, “Well, my 12 month old gave it a go, but he’s never going to walk.

As your Business Intelligence/Analytics program grows, so must the personnel in your organization. That’s the Catch-22 of Business Intelligence. If you don’t train and empower your employees, I don’t care how many hundreds of thousands of dollars you spend (or how sophisticated your BI software solutions is), it will all add up to a big fat nothing.  However, many times, this is forgotten and a solution is implemented with the expectation that end users will just get up and start running.

Building a Winning BI Team

Did you spend your childhood playing team sports?  Are you secretly wishing you were young enough to still play competitively on a winning team, but have realized that those years have passed? 

“Business Analytics is a Team sport!” 

The skills you learned on the ball field are directly applicable to your goal of winning with Business Analytics.   Here are lessons I learned on the soccer field that I apply to every Business Analytics and Business Intelligence projects. 

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” – Vince Lombardi

  • Players must communicate openly.
  • The experience of being on the team for players is contingent not just on the other players, but also on support of the coaches and fans.
  • A good coach can make average players into winners by building the team and putting the right players in the right positions.
  • All team players but know their role on the team and respect the roles of others.
  • A single player can’t win the game.  It takes the entire team!
  • Attitude is more important than skill.
  • Energy is contagious.
  • Practice and discipline are key to success.
  • The better you know your team members, the better you will play together.
  • You need a game plan that addresses how to overcome the anticipated challenges.
  • Time outs are an opportunity to reassess the challenges and adjust your game plan.
  • Every team member is responsible for the win or the loss.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. – Thomas Jefferson

It’s time to build your team and play your best game.  With the right attitude, a clear goal and hard work, anything is possible.

How to Implement BI – Part 4

How to Implement BI – Part 4

Successful Software Implementation - Communication

In our final step for How to Implement BI, we discuss the importance of communication between all those on your team.

Communication

  1. Touch Points. Hold regular status meetings. Make sure all tasks are on schedule, issues are discussed, and solutions are proposed.
  2. Email Minutes of the Meeting. Designate someone to type up the meeting notes and send them to all team members.
  3. Join User Groups and Network with Other Users. Getting involved in local and virtual user groups will help you meet people that can be great resources when you have questions.
  4. Keep an IBM Cognos Notebook. Jot down ideas of how IBM Cognos could simplify your reporting and planning needs in a dedicated notebook. This will be valuable in design sessions.
  5. Communications Plan. Have a communications plan so that you are in touch with all stakeholders throughout the project. Create status reports and an issues log for team members to share.
  6. Documentation is Important. Document not just how it’s designed, but why, where and when. Remember your goal is to be promoted, so make the environment one that someone else can easily manage.

To read about the other 3 steps that Lodestar feels are necessary for successful software implementation, here are the links:

See Part 1 of our series HERE

See Part 2 of our series HERE

See Part 3 of our series HERE

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