The Fog Has Engulfed Us Captain! What Do We Do?

Sailing in fogThe current business environment reminds me of being socked in a fog bank in minutes, after being on a pleasant summer sail.  The entire episode puts the pucker factor meter in the red zone.  One minute clear sun and nice breeze, the next you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  Your other senses become more acute  — suddenly you hear the splash of the waves on the rocks you cannot see (funny I didn’t hear that a minute ago).  The engines of power boats are closer, seeming to come at your every quarter (PT109 how bad can it be?).

As you sit in the cockpit with your canned air fog horn and US Coast Guard approved paddle, you think that the portable marine radio you bought will not save your sorry carcass (at least you can get the Coast Guard to retrieve your drowned body as you go down).  You kick yourself for not buying that radar instead of the case of wine as a boating accessory (in fact, you think of downing some of that right now to ease your passing).  What you would not give for just a little visibility.

That’s what running a business feels like right now (makes you want to puke doesn’t it, what fun).  My Kingdom for some Visibility!  Sure, you can see what the others are doing; cut a few heads there, shut a facility there.  Is that the right thing to do?  Are you killing your future seed corn or bailing the water which will sink the company?  Ugh!  In this case, you really wish your company’s reporting could be that radar to tell where and where not to go (sure wish I got that CPM Package rather than that Sales meeting in Napa Valley).  With dashboards, planning and budgeting, consolidation, and operational BI, I would have a much better sense of what to feed and what to kill to take advantage of my competitors coming out of this economic fog (Aye Captain! in the Bay of the Blind the One Eyed Man is Admiral!).  Wishing and regrets won’t get you much, and capital investment at this point seems to be a dirty word (Yep, there it is on George Carlin’s list).

In the case of my sailing experience, the way I dug out of the fog and fear was to dig out the depth finder the former owner left behind and the charts I bought because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I then proceeded to steer the sailboat in circles matching the readings on the depth finder with the depth readings on the chart based on my dead reckoning of my location (you reckon wrong, you’re dead).  Needless to say it worked, the fog cleared, and I was within a quarter mile of where I should have been (Cool!).  Just straightening out existing corporate reports and cleaning existing data is the equivalent of using the depth finder and charts already on hand (Yes! I know the difference between capital and expense).  In fact, that effort usually saves money by eliminating old unused reports (Oh, I feel so green!).

In any case, take a solid first step by getting those state-of-the-art visibility tools of BI/CPM/EPM when the current problems clear or things become so dire as to require dry dock repairs.  That way, the pucker meter won’t be buried in the red the next time this happens, and it will.

Image courtesy of Herbert Knosowski, AP

Business Intelligence: Avoiding “Operation Mincemeat”

What? Operation what? That’s right, Mincemeat and I am not referring to scrumptious pies at Christmas…..no I am referring to the reality of misinformation. What was a successful operation and asset to the Allies has become a minefield for today’s enterprise and a thirst, or more likely a downright need, for the ability to utilize our valuable data in a meaningful manner.

Let me digress for a second……I do not think we all need to be reminded of what Business Intelligence can do for us today – the facts and the benefits are plain and clear – take your data and make it actionable. Remove the idea of reporting on data and realize the vision of using data….

So one wonders why we have not all embarked upon our voyage of discovery aboard the great ship “B.I. Enlightenment.” And when we start to walk up the boarding ramp, waving goodbye to the stale data of yesteryear and the meaningless seventy characters of green bar reports we never understood anyway, we spare a moment to think “are there any icebergs in this sea?”

Of course, when one makes that pause there is a realization — what are you really gaining intelligence into? For many enterprises, our data is split across several systems and platforms; some of which are real time in nature others of which may be a week behind the times.

From what I have seen, many people are requesting more information on the tools – Which is best of breed? What do I get out of the box? Can my analysts use it? Can my dog understand it as he brings me my Sunday morning paper? How quickly can you show me my data in action?  These questions can all be answered and the “wow factor” of BI can take precedent and the definition of KPIs ensues full steam ahead for some people.

What is missing? I appear to be on the first landing but I do not remember taking the first flight of stairs…….well let’s flip back to “Operation Mincemeat”: or now to be known as “Is my data ready for Intelligence?” A critical step that must be considered lies not in the value of BI but in the readiness of your data. Misinformation was wonderful in the 1940’s but it has no place in the business arena.

When your data becomes an actionable entity you must be able to rely on its accuracy and ease of access. Reporting on reports was the way of the past – “That looks great Bill but can you cross reference that with data store “x” as sometimes we can be a little stale”. The true key to embarking on Business Intelligence is understanding where you are today in your data maturity and most important, how do you get where you need to be – reliable, reusable, actionable information.

So what does it all mean?  It means, assess where you are before you set sail……the voyage is glorious and the sights not to be missed but make sure you have a ticket for the right ship.