Motorcycling and Business Intelligence

May 10, 2011
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On my morning commute today I was thinking about motorcycling fundamentals as this was my first commute of the season thanks to an unreasonably raining spring in Cleveland. I checked my bike thoroughly, put on my protective gear, and made my way through the traffic to my office downtown. In thinking about the fundamentals of riding, I started to make correlations to the practice of Business Intelligence and you can draw some distinct lines between the two topics.

Training and Continuing Education

On my morning commute today I was thinking about motorcycling fundamentals as this was my first commute of the season thanks to an unreasonably raining spring in Cleveland. I checked my bike thoroughly, put on my protective gear, and made my way through the traffic to my office downtown. In thinking about the fundamentals of riding, I started to make correlations to the practice of Business Intelligence and you can draw some distinct lines between the two topics.

Training and Continuing Education

Before I ever threw my leg over  a motorcycle I enrolled in a basic rider skills course so I could understand what I was getting myself into with my new hobby. Much the same, specific training is needed to “do” BI properly. You need to understand the basic methodology of data warehousing as a foundation and from there you can branch out in to a specific area whether it be data modeling, ETL programming, cube development, or reporting and visualization. Bear in mind that each of these “specialty areas” is going to involve more training whether it is on a specific tool, best practices, or learning about effective visualization and data presentation. To walk out to the garage and get on a motorcycle and expect to ride it with no background or training is just as naive as to think you could walk in to an IT department completely “green” and expect to build a business intelligence solution. Some people get lucky and can pull it off, but generally you are going to fail.

Once you know what you are doing, you need to keep your skills sharp. Every year I take a rider safety course of some description to build my skills, keep up on the latest techniques, and make sure I’m not developing any bad habits. I constantly read motorcycle magazines to see the latest gear and read columns by more experienced bikers about safety and the things they have learned on the road. The same holds true in data warehousing and business intelligence, to stay sharp you need to continually seek out training and educational opportunities to stay up on the latest developments in the field. Read industry news, white papers and blogs about data warehousing. Also, get involved with local special interest or user groups as well as national or international groups like TDWI, ASUG and other product user communities.

The Right Tools

Having the right tools in motorcycling is very important, and by tools I am talking about actual tools like wrenches and screw drivers for those times you need them on the side of the road, as well as protective gear and the right motorcycle. When I ride I wear a helmet, gloves, boots, armored jacket and protective pants and I have a motorcycle that is appropriate for my skill level.  In Business Intelligence you need to ensure that you have your tools as well and these include the appropriate software based on the requirements set by the business, a well rounded team that works well together, business users and sponsors that are fully engaged and invested in the BI solution, and the cooperation of the other IT departments so that when you need assistance you can get it in a timely manner.

If you don’t have the right tools in motorcycling you run the risk of being stranded on the side of the road because of a mechanical problem, or without gear you run a greater risk of being injured or killed in the event of an accident.  Without the right tools in the BI world you run the risk of low user acceptance which leads to irrelevance, in-fighting among team members, and a bottle-neck for resources if all of IT isn’t supporting each other’s efforts.

Vision

One of the most important things that you learn in the motorcycle training courses it to SEE (Search Evaluate and Execute) when it comes to the road, traffic and other obstacles that may have to be dealt during your time operating a motorcycle. As a biker you are constantly scanning the road for traffic, pedestrians, dogs, potholes, etc to make sure that you keep the rubber side down. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation breaks your vision in to three areas, a 2 second following distance, a 4 second immediate path and a 12 second anticipated path.  To put this in terms of business intelligence, the 2 second area is the projects and task you are working on right now. With those projects and tasked you should know all the ins and outs of what is going on and what you need to do to deliver. The 4 second immediate path can be compared to the final deliverable of the current phase of the project. Maybe this phase’s deliverable is a data mart of Human Resource data that item is your 4 second immediate area. The 12 second anticipated path is really you overall goals as a team and what the next phase and the next phase after that might entail. If you are currently building a data mart for HR, what pieces are going to be reused? Is there any system I am touching now that I’m going to have to revisit to get additional data and does it make sense to get that data during this phase? By anticipating the future requirements you can possibly reduce the work to be done in the future and without good vision and leadership this area can be lacking in your organization.

Putting It All Together

When everything comes together, there is no better experience and no better way to see the countryside that on a motorcycle. Feeling the warmth of the sun after ascending a hill after riding in a cold shadow, making a perfect turn through a winding road that cuts through a forest, and smelling the fresh air of the country, fields of flowers, or even the smells of restaurants as you pass is something you cannot experience in a car. There is nothing as rewarding or soul refreshing than spending a day in the saddle.

Obviously, I can’t say that work is soul refreshing, but there is a high level of satisfaction that can be gained when you deliver something to the business users that helps them do their jobs more efficiently, make more informed decisions, or help the company achieve their goals through exposing data to the users who can use it effectively. When it all comes together, it truly is a beautiful thing… maybe it is a little soul refreshing after all.