Getting it right

We recently came across the interesting experience where a person got in touch with us after a gap of over a year. We had a number of discussions during our last engagement, and although the client was happy with the proposal and prototype we had presented, he felt that the pricing was unreasonable, especially considering the low rates easily available in the market.

What made the re engagement so interesting was that the client had completely forgotten about the earlier attempt and had gotten in touch with us as if it was the first time he was discussing with us. He however started off by giving us a description his his journey thus far. Unfortunately, subsequent to our discussion, he had tried to work with two software teams, and ended up burning his fingers both times. In addition, he ended up losing a substantial amount of money and time in the process.

The sad thing is that such experiences are not rare, in the world of software development. Even today more than 50% of all projects fail.  While some projects may be doomed due to factors outside everyone’s control,  surely the percentage of failures is too high for comfort. As a potential customer, how do I go about finding a partner who can increase the odds of my project completing successfully?

Our experience of over 10 years of successful project completions have taught us a few lessons:-

  1. Always choose a software partner who seeks to understand the context of the project, not just the requirements.Good project management involves making prioritization decisions. A good understanding of the context gives the Project Manager the information he needs to make the right prioritization.
  2. Choose a partner who seeks to connect to the core problem you want solved:Software vendors often assume wrongly that the customer is the best person to define the solution. What they don’t understand is that if the customer knew how to solve the problem he would need a software partner in the first place. Software vendors, with their depth and breadth of experience bring a strong technical perspective to the problem, and this can prove vital to defining the solution. In addition, good software partners define and put in place metrics that help you understand exactly how close you are to the solution at any given point of time.
  3. Choose a partner who is willing to walk alongside till you solve the problem:Very rarely will a custom developed solution meet all expectations the first time out. Multiple iterations and corrections are an integral part of any software development life cycle. make sure your software partner is willing to stay with you over the long haul.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. How exactly does one go about validating that software companies you talk to meet these three essential criteria? Well, you could go about defining an extensive questionnaire, followed by in-depth interviews, research customer references and do an on-site survey yourself. Or you can just write to us at enquiry@stylusinc.com.

The future of reporting

Most web applications built on Java or .Net have built in reports that allow the key stakeholders to see how the application behaves with respect to their goals and KPIs. Traditionally these reports are defined with the software requirements and are manually coded in.

But all this is about to change in ways that can cause wide impact. Over the last few years, Microsoft has been deliberately building up their Business Intelligence services into their MS SQL server software. I believe that these services will make Microsoft SQL server the database of choice for small and midsize companies. Why? Because of two main reasons:

a) With these services, Microsoft, which has traditionally been a strong contender in the SME segment, has effectively combined a transactional database and data warehouse into one server. This has significant implications with respect to both, cost of licenses, and the IT infrastructure that is required (both in terms of hardware and people). Now customers don’t have to spend on expensive BI tool licenses such as Cognos, Web focus, etc. when they come to Stylus as Stylus uses MS SQL database server for all customer’s applications and SSIS, SSAS, SSRS all come as free add on services with MS SQL enterprise edition.

b) Secondly and more importantly it allows for the creation of what we call the “intelligent business applications”. These are applications that not only have clear linkages to one or more business level KPIs, but they also allow the business users to do their own analysis and create their own reports. If customers already have existing applications built with MS SQL and require further customization, Stylus is well equipped to handle it, as it understands the advantages of MS SQL over the other BI tools available. To illustrate our expertise, please click here, to learn how healthcare BI services developed by Stylus can help improve a hospital’s operations, productivity and profitability.

But has this been a core feature of any BI solutions in the past? Yes, but the important thing to note here is that this will become (IMHO) an integral part of every software application that comes out in the near future (at the very least, that will be the case for every software we make at Stylus). BI will no longer be a separate technology with it’s own army of high priests (read Data warehousing experts) and prophets (read BI analysts) but an essential component of every software application that the business will use, be it ERP, CRM, MIS etc. In addition with minimal extra work, users will be able to quickly connect these individual KPIs (from separate applications) into Performance Management Dashboards that give a quick view of not just their performance but the Performance of the area of the business they are responsible for.

Now if that isn’t change you can believe in, I don’t know what is.

How can BI technology create breakthrough for SMBs?

Comparison of cars based on Engine power

Comparison of cars based on Engine power

Which one of us does not carefully research about cars before purchasing one? If I were to purchase one I would be concerned about factors such as the cost, engine power, top speed, ground clearance and many others. These are the factors which will help me make the right decision on choosing a car best suited for my needs. Having identified the factors, I would need information about the various cars available in the market, especially with respect to these points. Now, if the data about these cars are available on their respective websites, then I need to labor to collect the data (from the websites, or brochures, say), put them next to each other and then make a comparison among them and then take an informed decision. This is quite a bit of work. However, if a car dealer who sells all these cars were to give me this information in the form of following charts, it makes a much easier reading and enables quick decision making.
Comparison of car based on Speed

Comparison of car based on Speed

Business Intelligence is like this and offers much more. The need for Business Intelligence is ubiquitous in today’s industry. This should not be surprising since BI in its rudimentary form is used by all of us in our everyday lives. As can be inferred from the previous example, Business Intelligence is indispensable for any organization regardless of its current size and or volume of revenues. In other words BI is needed as much for the SMBs as it is needed for the Blue Chip companies.

Why is BI so crucial for SMBs? Why would they need it? SMBs worldwide are faced with a situation to improve efficiency while managing costs. The following finding in Gartner research reveals something very telling: 50 per cent of all SMBs (small and medium businesses) will go out of business within three years if they can’t retrieve their data in 24 hours. An IBM research titled “Inside the Midmarket: A 2009 Perspective” goes even further – SMBs have started using BI not just to survive but to thrive.
One of the first things BI accomplishes for an SMB is to provide a single source of data for research and analysis from disparate sources of information. BI technologies help integrate data from databases, Access files, Excel spreadsheets, flat files and even emails into one reporting store. Data validation before collation is also a feature many tools afford. This way SMBs can save themselves the headache of collating tons of data, accumulated over a period of time, manually, and still lack confidence in its accuracy. At first an investment will be required to hire an IT partner to implement ETL (Extraction Transformation and Loading, as this process is known) but in the longer-run the benefits far outweigh the costs.

SMBs also need to understand their data to monitor and predict the health of their organization. Answers to questions such as
• What are my best-selling products? What is the profile of the customers who buy them? (say for a products company) or
• What is the number of website enquiries received in the last month? Which technology is most sought after for – SOA, BI etc? (for a company like mine!)

can be found using BI classification technology (also known as facts and dimensions). BI can enable the user to view the data from multiple angles – Product sales can be viewed in terms of quarters, sales representatives, customers, geographical locations– all at one time and without the need of actively involving the IT staff. Access to such information can pave way to those crucial business decisions that bring in much success.

In addition to this BI empowers the business user by providing reporting interfaces such as dashboards, slice and dice reports (where various factors can be dragged in or out), KPIs. Many of these reports are “very loose” in nature and can be customized by the business user to exactly build the report he desires. These reports can further be exported in well-known formats such as excel and flat files. SMBs can leverage these features to constantly get a bird’s eye view of their organization – an essential habit to follow even if they become an industry giant!

BI also provides tools to predict future trends for the organization by flushing out the existing data for not-so-visible patterns. This can help many SMBs have a competitive edge in the market and also predict its own future challenges.

Finally, setting up a BI Systems for SMBs may at first sight seem daunting. However, they can take comfort from the fact that many BI players are now concentrating more and more on providing them tools which can be set up in quick time and with limited investments. For example, Oracle recently announced its BI packages that are tailor-made for SMBs. Business Object’s BusinessObjects Edge 3.0 and Crystal Reports Server 2008 are specifically aimed at SMBs. Microsoft has always claimed that its tools are a cost-effective solution for SMBs when it comes to BI.

With all these advantages in view, every intelligently-run business will not shy away from embracing Business Intelligence.  If you’d like us to help you get a sense of your business through BI, contact us and we can work something out together.

Read more

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