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CRM Advice from Booz Allen Hamilton, or, Someone's Pumping a Dry Well Here

I read this article on the idea of low-budget CRM because of the outrageous costs of CRM projects and I liked the premise:
We think it is possible to reap some, even many, of the rewards of CRM without buying a specialized software package. We call our method "Cheap CRM." It involves leveraging the customer data the company already possesses - and most companies already possess a lot more customer information than they think.
A few paragraphs later their grip on reality slips. Eventually they sound as clueful as winners of Darwin awards.
Most multinational companies have invested massively in mainframe enterprise resource planning systems. These have brought rigor to their sales administration, summarizing each month's invoices at a customer or business unit level, but they don't necessarily provide transparency in sales reporting, thus leaving the organization blind to the richness of transaction-level analysis. By downloading invoice data into a simple database tool such as Microsoft Access, however, company analysts can construct a revealing picture of the shape of the business. ... By subjecting this data to regression analysis, one can get very close to the heart of CRM: understanding the customer's propensity to buy.
Mainframes for ERP? We haven't discovered Unix yet? Download a multinational's invoice data in Microsoft Access? Regression analysis in Access? Is this 1990? The article continues with some talk about benefits of analyzing data and the difficulty of extracting data; really basic statements you can pick up at any BI vendor's web site. Maybe web sites are too avante garde for Booz Allen.

What's really sad is not that the authors are completely ignorant of business intelligence over the past decade. It's that one's bio reads "...vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in Paris. An expert in leading strategy-based transformations..." and the other reads "...a principal in Booz Allen Hamilton's London office ... specializes in operational improvement along the supply chain, including sourcing, performance measurement, and demand management."

Exsqueeze me? This is from a VP in strategy and a principal specializing in performance management? Companies paying hundreds per hour should expect more knowledge than I expect out of my IT interns. I don't know which is worse: that they work at a premiere strategy firm, or that Strategy+Business published this.

So, yes to the idea of inexpensive CRM, no to a publication this laughable. I'm glad my subscription to Strategy+Business lapsed years ago. I'd hate to think I paid to read this. Link

Open CRS Makes Publicly Funded Research Available to the Public

If our taxes pay for research into things congrescritters are making laws on, shouldn't we be able to read that research easily? Not if you follow the government's reasoning. Open CRS is trying to change that by publishing congressional research reports online. From their web site:
American taxpayers spend nearly $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a "think tank" that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. Yet, these reports are not made available to the public in a way that they can be easily obtained. A project of the Center for Democracy & Technology through the cooperation of several organizations and collectors of CRS Reports, Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports.
It's amazing how many reports there are on different topics. Worth a bookmark for your researching needs. Link

Time Management for Anarchists

I liked this short flash presentation by novelist Jim Munroe on time management. From his post:
I've just finished a Flash adaptation of my Time Management for Anarchists seminar. I started doing the talk a year and a half ago at Canzine and have done it a half-dozen times since, mostly at infoshops and political bookstores (Austin, Montreal, Berkeley, Vancouver) and also at a couple of events ... It's based on the paradoxical notion that anarchists have to be more organized than average if they don't want to depend on power structures, and presents some ideas on how to kick the boss habit.
I'm a big fan of all things geared to make me more productive, like time management, personal organization and the like - the sort of things one finds at 43 folders and related sites. Jim's video was a nice humorous interpretation, yet it still carried the kernel of all the time management advice I've read and not applied.

The Data Warehouse Institute Conference is in San Diego Next Week

[hot rod]Maybe not as technical as E-Tech, or as funky as South by Southwest or as thought-provoking as Pop!Tech, but I call it home. The summer TDWI conference starts Sunday in San Diego. I'll be giving a short case study for Firstlogic on Monday evening, followed by an open bar and 4-player projection screen xbox racing with real controls, where I will install a hangover. [Winners of races get into a drawing to take the rigs home!] I'll be teaching my class on what to look for and how to evaluate ETL tools on Tuesday, and doing an interview / podcast with Claudia Imhoff and Frank Dravis on Tuesday evening. Then I will install another hangover, this time at Microsoft's expense, while experiencing what I hope will be a retro-gaming paradise similar to my childhood (games, hangovers, other people's expenses - it should be exactly the same, only with better computers).

By the way, those three conferences are killer. Get to one next year if you can. You'll thank yourself later.

Evaluating ETL Products is Hard

Comparing ETL and integration products is tough.
They all look alike.
The sales presentations are all the same.
The canned demos are indistinguishable.
Information from IT analyst firms is so high level it's worthless, even from the ones who cover the BI/DW space pretty well.
The standards, sources, targets and other checkbox-style comparisons don't provide the information you need to select the right tools.

Only a series of questions about implementation details exposes the things you need to know in order to make a decision. For example, one recent comparison I was doing went something like this:
Does the product bring data back to the engine or push transformations into SQL?
"It depends. It could do either.:

If the engine does some work then what happens when I bring over a mammoth amount of data?
"It buffers the data."

OK, so if I have a 4 GB SQLserver table and an 8 GB Oracle table to join, how is this accomplished?
"It accesses the data from the database using SQL."

OK, but it's different databases, so how does the tool do the join?
Vendor A: "One table is brought back and used as a lookup to the other remote table."
Vendor B: "Both tables are retrieved locally."

If it's that large, isn't caching locally a problem? Does it cursor through the data to keep from sucking up all the physical memory?

Vendor A: "You have to manage the input buffering, or it spills into a file/hash structure." (In other words, performance is poor enough that you won't see results)

Vendor B: "If you exceed 2 GB of buffering then the job will fail, so you have to work out a way to limit the data coming back." (In other words, more data than memory = crashed job)

In a simple example like that, you can follow the trail to a problem you might face. There are examples you'd never think to ask about unless you were already familiar with the products, in which case you wouldn't need to ask.

This is why I always do a hands-on demo or proof-of-concept on real data, using logic simpler than "map column A to column B". Sure, 70% of the integration work is simple mapping, but the other 30% is multiple tables, outer joins, calculations, lookups, and dealing with bad data. I wish vendors would demo the hard stuff instead of the easy stuff.

That's why I'm extending the ETL evaluation course at the Data Warehouse Institute to a full day. The first half is all about what to evaluate and how to evaluate it. The second half will be live, with vendors showing how to accomplish a given task. I'll start easy, and follow the usual path into the weeds of poor data quality and bad development planning. Maybe I'll finally see some problems fixed in some of my favorite tools, since they won't want to be embarrassed during a live demo with competitors. It should be fun! Look for the first run of the revised class at TDWI in Las Vegas next February.

Meanwhile, if there are vendors you'd like to see outside of Informatica and Ascential, er, IBM, I'm open to suggestions. You can leave a comment on this post.


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