In This Issue...

June 2013


In this issue we present some of our favorite In the News topics and direct you to some great webinar presentations that have been recently delivered by our team.


Every issue we will highlight some subject matter expertise we've contributed to the community in Ask the Expert section.  In addition, we will share some things we have learned in recent meetngs or projects in a section entitled Heard Around the Water Cooler.


We welcome your feedback for future issues.


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StatSlice Systems

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In the News

SQL Server 2014: A Closer Look.  Microsoft's recently released SQL Server 2014 builds on the momentum of SQL Server 2012.  To take a closer look at some of the new and exciting capabilities, click here.


New in Tableau 8: Deep Visual Analytics.  Everyone is talking about Tableau 8 dynamic new features!  To read more about these exciting features, click here.


Five Keys to Getting Big Data Under Control.  Paul McCloskey recently wrote an interesting article on managing Big Data.  Click here to read the full article.


Recent Presentations Delivered by Our Team
James Vogel, Senior Consultant
Webinar: Using the New Connector for Google Analytics in Tableau 8.  On May 21, 2013, James Vogel, Senior Consultant at StatSlice, delivered an interactive demo of the basic steps required to connect to and analyze your website traffic.  Click here to watch the video.
Jared Decker, Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Webinar: Budgeting and Planning with QlikView.  On April 18, Jared Decker, Co-Founder of StatSlice Systems, delivered a one-hour Smart Data Designs webinar covering best practices and some very insightful tips for building custom planning applications with QlikView.  To watch this webinar, click here.  
Bernard Wehbe, Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Presentation:  Overlooked Principles That Can Make You an Analytics Rock Star.  On June 14, Bernard Wehbe, Co-Founder of StatSlice Systems, delivered a presentation at the local TDWI Dallas chapter on the principles of the Analytics top performer. We expect to include a whitepaper on the topic in our next newsletter.
Ask the Experts
From LinkedIn's Business Analyst ForumWhat questions can be asked in order to find unknown or hidden requirements, understanding of a business, a system, or process?  

Response: Jared Decker, Managing Partner, StatSlice Systems


That is a very good question.  From what I have seen, the implications of "hidden requirements" can drive the success or failure of projects.  We have all seen our share of systems that take a long time to build, but then miss the mark because something was missed.  


In my work with business intelligence systems (i.e. data warehouse, dashboard, scorecard, reports, and data visualizations), and budgeting / planning systems, I have found that questions and answers are necessary but will only get you so far.  To reach beyond the questions and answers, there is no substitute for, (a) spending time with users and looking at their existing systems while you ask questions about what they're doing (This usually pretty obvious, but often taken for granted), and (b) implementing a working model as early in the project as possible.  This part is less obvious and often neglected because it appears to incur additional project costs.  


The working model can start out as a prettied-up mock-up or even something in Excel, but it needs to reflect the core functionality.  Prototypes should follow, increasing in sophistication.  These working models give users an oppportunity to realize they are missing something, and give the analysts a chance to find missing requirements and show them to the users all within the context of a working model where there can be immediate and ongoing feedback.  


As far as questions go, my favorite is to identify an existing system (e.g. 3rd party) that is similar and the interviewee has experience with.  Then I ask them, "What are some of the features/capabilities in product X that you really liked?"  I collect their responses and feed them back to other interviewees also in the form of a question, such as "have you thought about... ?"  There have been times I found that a stakeholder absolutely must have something that they hadn't previously identified.  

Heard Around the Water Cooler

A Few Good Metaphors

Last week, I had the opportunity to provide some business intelligence training to someone with very limited prior exposure to IT and database systems.   I was helping this person ramp-up for a new job as an analyst with whatever pointers I could provide, and in the process, I gained a renewed appreciation for the power of metaphors for bridging knowledge gaps.  As I will discuss later, metaphors can be very useful things to collect. 


In our conversation, the relevant topics were relational data models and querying, but instead of just introducing rows, columns, tables, keys, etc., my goal was to also show him how to "think in data sets."  This did not prove to be an easy task.  I started off by asking questions that would help identify prior knowledge and serve as building blocks for the discussion.  There was a solid Excel foundation, so we opened a blank spreadsheet and sketched up a few rows and columns to build a data set that would look familiar to him.  Turning the discussion to relational concepts, he seemed to have a grasp, but when it came to a question like "what query asks how many dollars were spent in age group X?," something critical seemed to be missing.  It didn't take long to find the missing ingredient - which had to do with the dimensional role that attributes play when creating aggregates out of other numerical fields.  After several attempts, I realized that the concept was foreign to him, and my explanations just weren't doing it. 


Metaphors are perfect for these kinds of situations; pretty soon, I found myself talking about a population of people (rows) within a closed city (table) which had a set of designated sensor (fields), including one sensor that kept track of everyone's gender, another that tracked everyone's age, and so on.  With this metaphor, it became much easier for him to think of the query as asking the age sensor to group the people that fell between two boundaries (where clause), then sum up the total dollars spent by the group by getting each of their spend amounts (aggregate function).  Over time, I've managed to collect a list of favorite metaphors, and I'm always on the lookout for new ones.  I've used them when teaching classes on BI software platforms, but they just as often come in handy when working with a project team. 


We tend to think of metaphors as lending creative and artistic meaning, taking for granted their practical utility.  Consider recent evidence in cognitive science suggesting that our brains actually acquire much of our knowledge via metaphors, often without us even realizing it.  Or consider that complicated problems in science and engineering domains have not only been explained using metaphors (just do a search on the Higgs Boson particle for plenty of recent examples), but also that metaphors have been used to develop new ideas and discoveries (both Einstein and Darwin cited the role of metaphors in developing their scientific ideas.)  Metaphors do this by turning a complex and unfamiliar process into one that can be approached more intuitively using existing knowledge, or what some would call a simplification.  Good teachers are metaphor masters, building up their own collection of perfected metaphors which they have many opportunities to refine with trial and error. 


To develop professionally is to learn how to work more effectively with those that don't share one's specialized knowledge.  This is true not only because, fundamentally, technical decisions impacting business processes or requiring investment should be discussed within cross-discipline groups, but also because the fields comprising business intelligence, analytics, data science, and many other related fields are quickly expanding.  This expansion is also creating communication challenges as the new people try to quickly catch up and gain fluency in data-speak.  It will help to be on the hunt for a few good metaphors so they'll be there for you when they're needed.  Then comes the challenging part: learning to use them just the right way - and only when needed - so that people don't feel that you're dumbing-down the conversation unnecessarily.  Happy hunting!  


Jared Decker, Managing Partner at StatSlice Systems

Upcoming Events
  StatSlice Partners and Consultants will be participating in these upcoming events.
June 25, 11:00 am CDT, a StatSlice Business Data Toolkit Webinar:  Microsoft's New GeoFlow for Excel.  Click here to register.

Jared Decker headshotJared Decker, Editor
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