Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't Fear the Vision

Earlier in my career, I hated vision statements. H-A-T-E-D. It always seemed to me that such exercises were empty, pointless, painful. Hours spent wordsmithing a paragraph or two, without any guarantee that anybody other than those seated around the conference room table would ever read those words. Only in the last two years have I have come around to understand the importance of strong and memorable vision statements.

Last July I blogged about a video I saw on YouTube about the simple "Message Map" technique for selling goods or services. That technique, first put to use in Harvard's OBIEE in-progress implementation, has really stuck with me and as I began my new role leading Harvard's student information system project, the vision statement was among my top priorities.

In molding the vision statement, I felt there were a few critical considerations:
  • Must be equally comprehensible to technical and non-technical audiences
  • Jargon should be kept to an absolute minimum
  • Must be exactly one sentence
  • Tone should be aspirational, even a little scary

After a couple hours and a round of feedback with the project sponsors, this is what we came up with:
Adopt a modern, secure, flexible, and intuitive technology platform that provides an excellent user experience, supports unique requirements of the Schools, and facilitates access to integrated student and course data.

When I deliver this to my constituents, there is generally a lot of nodding but also a glimmer of doubt in their eyes -- "why not throw peace in the middle east in the mix while you're at it!"

"Excellent user experience" is particularly bold and could get me in a lot of trouble; but it has to be our aim. We will define measures of success (unanimous, unequivocal adoration of the UX will not be the yardstick...) and strive for excellence. And the vision will be on the wall of our office suite, there for reference at any time, embellished with proofs of our success and failure in plain view of the team and our guests. (I will post photos once we have this wall of fame/shame in place!)

So don't fear the vision -- embrace it!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SmartView and OBIEE Integration At Last

With OBIEE we finally see the long-awaited integration of Hyperion Smart View with the Oracle Business Intelligence RPD and Web Catalog. For many users at my institution, SmartView has become an essential tool for ad hoc analysis of budget data in Excel. I have personally always thought there was tremendous (underutilized) promise in the other forms of Office integration -- embedding charts/reports in PowerPoint and refreshing executive presentations at the push of a button... It sells well in demonstrations, at least!

The advantages of SmartView go beyond Office integration in and of itself; from the standpoint of an internal service provider, I am thrilled about the opportunity to put a single ad hoc query tool in the hands of my end users. Standardizing on SmartView -- distant as that may be -- could be a game-changer for the more casual data analysts in my organization.

This long-awaited first release is not without its foibles (I've identified a dozen bugs or unexpected features in just an hour or two of experimentation). Still, there is a lot to be excited about. I want to highlight a couple of features, most notably publishing an ad hoc view created in Excel back into the OBIEE Web Catalog.

Embedding Existing Content
As you can see below, after connecting to an OBIEE instance you browse the Web Catalog as a tree. The lowest level for a single BI Analysis report shows the specific views within that Analysis -- the compound view plus each component.
You are presented with different options based on the node you select in the tree:
  • Compound View > Insert All views
  • Title > Insert
  • Chart > Insert or Insert as Image
  • Table > Insert or Insert as Excel Table
  • Pivot Table > Insert or Insert as Excel Pivot
The last two are very interesting; the "plain" insert basically dumps the raw data into Excel while the Excel Table/Pivot options give you a much richer experience within Excel. As shown below, the Excel table is formatted with auto-filters, saving the user a couple of steps.
I have been having some trouble importing charts and have to experiment more with the options around Prompt / POV manipulation, so look for another blog on that in the next few weeks.

Creating (and Publishing) Ad Hoc Analyes
The really important feature in this release is the View Designer. This interface allows the user to browse the RPD (Subject Areas) build a brand-new report. Various report formats are available (although I'm having trouble with most chart types; need to open SRs!)
Below see my ad hoc analysis rendered as an Excel table; note the default formatting and auto-filters.
If I like this view, I can publish the analysis back to the catalog by pressing the "Publish View" button in the ribbon; the system will ask me to designate a destination folder and file name.
The new report now displays in the tree on the right as a Compound View, Title, and Table.
And if I look at this report directly in OBIEE, you'd never know that it was created in Excel.
More analysis is required to fully understand what Excel changes "stick" when publishing, and I'm sure the functionality will evolve rapidly as Oracle keeps pouring R&D into OBIEE. But this release is certainly a step in the right direction!