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July 11, 2008

Gimme a Break

Is there anyone that is happy with their cell phone provider?

While I must admit I love the convenience of surfing the web and checking my email with my cell phone, the phone function, it primary reason for being, is woefully inadequate. It drops calls, it has too many features, overall it is pretty frustrating to use. But what is even more frustrating are the cell phone providers.

My husband has been a long and loyal subscriber. He pays his bills on-time and has been with the same cell phone company for over 5 years. Since we all know it costs more to attract new customers, you would think he would be a customer worthy of special attention.

The problem is that cell phone providers are so busy trying to attract new customers and steal subscribers from other carriers, with more lucrative contracts and the latest and greatest phones, that they leave existing customers behind. All of the offers and incentives are targeted only to new customers and contracts. Even reduced upgrades fail to compare to the deep discounts that are offered to new subscribers. Those of us that are already customers are treated as second class citizens.

They seem to feel once we have signed a 2 year agreement that we are no longer worth their time and effort. For example, my husband, broke his cell phone recently. He took it to the local retailer and was told, if only it was 2 months later they could offer him a great deal. Instead he paid $90 for a refurbished older model. I, of course, would have sat on the phone for the hours with customer service to try and negotiate a more cost effective alterantive.

Either way the customer looses. Either we have to pay more than new customers for lesser equipment or be willing to waste valuable time being frustrated and aggravated by the scripted customer service escalation process as we tell our story countless times and wait to be connected to someone that can do something about it. Was that your experience when you signed up for service? I think not.

My point? I do have one. Why reward customers you don't know instead of the ones you do. You know the old saying "a bird in hand...". Would you be willing to switch service providers, and possibly pay a higher entry fee if you saw that existing customers were provided better perks?

Innovation does not need to be something completely new. In this case it could be a different business model for an existing service and technology. Just like Netflix changed the way most of us rent movies. What is different in their model that makes it so appealing? No late fees. And for that luxury we are willing to forgo the physical experience of browsing and making a selection

BI tools help us identify, explore and validate ideas. The data can help quantify price points, enhance customer relationship management, and find new ways to solve problems.

I hope there is a Netflix out there in the cell phone market. I am ready for a change. My guess is that the next leader in the cell phone market will differentiate on customer experience.

I believe customer experience will soon become the differentiator in most industries. It is simple logic. Treat your customers well and they will continue to be your customers and grow your base.

Just another example of doing the right thing and reaping the benefits!!

Next up: airlines. Stay tuned.

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 8, 2008

Customer Experience

Customer Experience is all the rage!

To me, it is kind of a duh-huh concept. We all know that it is much more profitable to keep the customers you have and developing strategies to increase satisfaction and brand loyalty only makes sense. So why is it so hard for companies to put into practice?

Well, as we all know, common sense is not common practice. BI can provide data to support customer experience initiatives. Collaboration is critical. Understanding unstructured data provides a more holistic view and can help identify patterns and opportunities to serve customers better.

The market is evolving, and even in an economic downturn, companies are being rewarded for their attention to customer experience. You want to increase your margins, grow your customer base, increase retention and brand loyalty? The answer is simple. Be empathetic and start thinking outside in. BI can help you make the business argument, provide insight and measure your effectiveness.

Bottom Line: Do the right thing. You will be amazed by the results!!

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 10:45 PM | Comments (3)

June 30, 2008

Build, Buy or Both?

The great debate: Build or Buy?

For as long as long as I can remember most BI buyers have been torn between the idea of a quick "out of the box" pre-packaged BI application or the lure of a completely customized solution designed specifically to meet their needs and domain expertise.

After working for both, a software vendor and a custom software development firm, I firmly believe the answer is both. There is no doubt that pre-packaged BI applications provide value, and most can do so pretty quickly.

Of course, if you don't have the data ready or know what people need, even the best software won't answer your prayers. A lot of the background work, the research, the requirements gathering, you do to implement a pre-packaged solution can be re-used to extend the value of your investment with customized applications.

Customized applications have suffered a bad rap. Many take too long, are over-budget, and don't meet the expectation of the audience that has been waiting for this killer app. Why? Because after a long requirements gathering process a large document is produced that is too big, too complicated, and too boring to be effectively reviewed by anyone. This information is then sent to an internal development team or outside vendor for estimation. Things invariably change, questions arise, hidden requirements start to surface, and more time and money are spent to address a virtual moving target. The software is delivered late, and when it is delivered, people start noticing that some features are not implemented how they had envisioned and some critical features are not there at all.

Agile Development to the rescue!! With Web 2.0 and the right development team and methodology, you can create a custom application that delivers on the promise of competitive advantage. Agile teams have proven to produce software that does a better job of meeting business needs because it can adapt to changing requirements and produces working software every few weeks. Agile makes it easier to predict the time and effort necessary to implement particular features, providing greater transparency into the software development process. At any time the application can be evaluated to determine if it meeting expectations.

I am a new convert to Agile development but I must say the results I have seen so far have been stellar. Customized applications combined with pre-packaged BI tools offer the best of both worlds and the one-two punch for creating business breakthroughes and game changing results.

Share your build or buy stories. Which worked and why?

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 2:45 PM | Comments (4)

June 13, 2008

BI Eye Candy - Visualization

I am absolutely convinced that information visualization will be BI's biggest future trend. Why? Because we are all too inundated with too much information, data and distraction that it is getting more and more difficult to separate the opportunities from the noise.

We all know that visually we can interpret information, understand relationships and identify patterns much faster, yet we still have yet to maximize the potential.

I think the biggest stumbling block is how information visualization is presented and designed. Few are trained to understand what is the representation to use based on the data presented. And many of us to get too tied up dressing up graphs instead of letting the data speak for itself.

I am a big fan and follower of Stephen Few. He has a great little quiz that I recommend you give a try:
http://www.perceptualedge.com/files/GraphDesignIQ.html
It provides a great illustration of some of our current problems.

We need to start listening to what the data is saying and pick the visualization that fits best. Not the other way around!!

Form follows function!!

I welcome your thoughts...
Eleanor

Eleanor Taylor is Marketing Director at Pathfinder . She can be reached at etaylor@pathf.com or by visiting www.pathf.com

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2008

BI's Root of All Evil

BI tools and applications are always evolving. They are always adding new features, more functionality, better performance, etc. the list goes on and on.

But where is the user?

Many of them are screaming for less and continue to resort to their handy dandy Excel spreadsheet. They yearn for the familiar and come up with multiple creative ways to undermine some of the most sophisticated BI systems.

Users tend to be the root of all evil when it comes to software development. We say we want everything, we even reward feature rich products, but the truth is many of them just get in our way.

The problem with features is they sound good. It is kind of like a kid watching cartoons when the commercials come on, they want everything. Even things you know that they would never use or play with. BI audiences aren't that different. Everything sounds good, everything is a priority, everything is a must have for initial launch. If history is any teacher, then I think it is safe to say that it is just not true.

The most powerful engineering feats are the one’s we do not notice. The real power of engineers, designers, and developers is in turning something incredibly complex into something amazingly simple. The challenge is not to add new features but to add value and power to products without adding any complexity.

While I think most would agree with "less is more", it is a risky proposition. The BI market rewards feature rich products, until that changes it will be hard to buck the trend. But one can hope!!

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 3:45 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2008

BI on the Web: Ajax and Rich Internet Applications

For a long time in BI there was always a trade-off between desktop and web applications. Now, with new Web 2.0 technologies and Rich Internet Applications (RIA), we no longer have to compromise. Just because we don't have to doesn't mean we don't. There is still an unbelievable amount of things that can be improved.

Too often these technologies are used to create some gee whiz wow factor to help sell the product and not enough time enhancing the interaction and making it easier to get things done. While BI makes leaps and bounds in terms of technology achievements, I still think it has a long way to go to serve its audience. Some products are better than others but if the market demanded and the vendors spent as much time focusing on how people use the products as it does on features, I think it would go along way to making BI ubiquitous. No longer would it be intuition or gut feel vs. the data because BI would be a much more natural extension for decision making.

Ajax is just one of many technologies that provides a more rich and engaging web experience. It can be used to transforms slow, static websites into dynamic, responsive applications that feel more like traditional desktop software. When designed and implemented correctly, Ajax sites can effectively improve usability and user acceptance.

A colleague, Brian Dillard, recently wrote a white paper on the subject entitle: Ajax Roadmap: How to transform your website without starting from scratch. His paper outlines techniques for leveraging Ajax, and demonstrates, through case studies and examples, when and where Ajax and interactivity enhancements can help. So many of his examples hit home with me and my frustration with on-line applications. I thought it was a great read and I hope you find it useful too.

I think the key is making sure that the technology enhances the user experience. I know I am biased but I think that is often where BI misses the point.

Eleanor Taylor is Marketing Director at Pathfinder Development. She can be reached at etaylor@pathf.com or visit www.pathf.com

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 2:45 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2008

BI and Social Networking

As I witness the surge of Facebook, the increase of LinkedIn connections I make or the people following me on Twitter I can't help but wonder if these social networking applications would be a good metaphor for BI.

Think about the profile pages on each of these applications. I am presented with relevant information about all my connections and any changes that have taken place. I hate to admit how many birthdays I might have missed without Facebook!!

What if BI behaved more like its social networking cousin? After all, BI is all about relationships in the data. What if I could see all of the relevant changes that took place in the data I was interested in or following. What if I could see what people like me were doing with the data, what reports or parameters they were following? What it I could easily annotate and send email from the same application? Wouldn't that make things more seamless and easier? I think it would be an interesting experiment.

Lot's of companies are using mechanisms like Facebook as internal portals. Why? Because it's fast, it's easy, and the generation entering the workforce is very adept at using such applications.

Why not do the same for BI? Maybe it is already taking place? Know of any BI applications that leverage the power of social network? I would love to hear your thoughts and find out more if it works or not.

Eleanor Taylor is Marketing Director at Pathfinder Development. She can be reached at etaylor@pathf.com or visit www.pathf.com

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)

April 11, 2008

BI and Agile Principals

From the Agile Manifesto

We follow these principles:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Welcome changing requirements, even late in
development. Agile processes harness change for
the customer's competitive advantage.

Deliver working software frequently, from a
couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
preference to the shorter timescale.

Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project.

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

The most efficient and effective method of
conveying information to and within a development
team is face-to-face conversation.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Agile processes promote sustainable development.
The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Continuous attention to technical excellence
and good design enhances agility.

Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount
of work not done--is essential.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.

These principles would be useful for any project, especially BI. Many may read these and think, "of course, everyone does that, it's common sense" but we all know that common sense is not common practice. While these are just words, I find that it is powerful to have a set of declared and shared tenets for any project that is created by the team responsible. Agile provides a great starting and lots of food for thought.

Remember, if BI was easy, everyone would be making better decisions, but clearly that is not the case. I believe Agile best practices can help streamline BI efforts and help deliver better applications that are easier to use.

Your thoughts?

Eleanor Taylor is Marketing Director at Pathfinder Development. She can be reached at etaylor@pathf.com or visit www.pathf.com

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 3:45 PM | Comments (2)

April 9, 2008

BI and The Agile Manifesto

Are you familiar with the Agile Manifesto?

I guess I must be a bit behind the times because I was just introduced to Agile in until late 2007 and it was created in 2001.

In my defense, I was familiar with some of the related methodologies like Extreme Programming and Pragmatic Programing but Agile, as a whole and as a way of developing software, was new to me.

As a BI veteran, I wish I had been familiar with Agile long ago. It would have made my life easier and produced much better BI tools and applications. Why? Because it follows these four basic tenets:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Sounds like a great way to look at BI. BI, at its very core, is about getting the right information, to the right people at the right time. It sounds simple but clearly it is not.

The number one BI requirement is understanding of your target audience, their needs and goals. How they interact with your BI application or tool is key to your success. Having working prototypes, versus a boat load of documentation, no matter how good or well written, garners much better feedback and helps mitigate risks and unforeseen issues. Collaboration is vital in BI projects and is crucial for keeping projects on course and ensuring that the requirements are correctly interpreted and reflected in the applications. Lastly, I can think of no other technology that needs the ability to respond to change more than BI. BI is all about change. For BI to deliver on its promise of competitive advantage, it needs to provide the best tools and information needed to make better decisions.

As someone trained in waterfall development practices transitioning to Agile was very different. For those of you that may be looking for a different way to develop software, I recommend taking a look at Agile. Like anything else, there is no one size fits all or cookie cutter approach, but I am certain there are aspects of Agile that will help improve your current user centered design and development practices.

In the short six months I have been exposed to Agile, I have been impressed with the results. I wish I was introduced to Agile sooner!!

Visit www.agilemanifesto.org for more information.

Eleanor Taylor is Marketing Director at Pathfinder Development. She can be reached at etaylor@pathf.com or visit www.pathf.com

Posted by Eleanor Taylor at 2:45 PM | Comments (2)