BI Production Systems in Four Weeks or Less: Part Two of Interview with Neelesh Raheja of GNET

 
Part One is Available Here

Neelesh Raheja of GNET

ROB:  Traditionally, BI consulting firms “do BI” for their clients.  How do you incorporate something that is inherently “self-service” into your approach?  I think this is an unspoken worry in the BI industry:  what is the mission of BI consultants in a world where your clients are supposed to be “doing” the BI?

NEELESH:  We arm our clients with both the “tech” know-how AND the strategy know-how to manage their environment and continue to execute on their BI strategy after we are gone.  We can never replace the collective wisdom and expertise that the business possesses.  The point when everything changes, when this really takes off for our clients, is when the business information modeler, the Excel pro, gets sufficient Power Pivot training and environmental support.  They start providing answers with dramatically improved speed and quality, but even more importantly, the quality of everyone’s questions rapidly rises as well.

ROB:  Excel Pros.  Power Pivot.  Music to my ears.  You’re on a roll, don’t let me interrupt.

NEELESH:  We’ve always had business information modelers.  We’ve just never had sufficient tools for them.  Data capacity, auto-refresh, and the portability of logic that you talk about – while Excel is an incredibly flexible tool, it’s been missing those key ingredients until Power Pivot. 

And just as important, when we’re talking about Enterprise-level BI, is to have IT and the business utilizing the same modeling language.  With Power Pivot in the hands of the business and Tabular BISM in the hands of IT, there’s two-way communication even at the tech level.  Critically important models developed by the business can now be embraced and managed by IT without having to rewrite them.  Expert-level techniques (like formulas) developed by IT can be shared with the business.

I don’t think the IT report writers of today should be the Power Pivot modelers of tomorrow.  We want a subset of the biz people doing that instead.  The people who learned VLOOKUP or pivots in the past, we need them to be learning Power Pivot.  But that isn’t happening yet most places – I see IT using Power Pivot for sure, but there’s a training gap standing between the biz and adoption.

ROB:  Yeah it’s no accident that training is a huge focus for us at PowerPivotPro.  Glad to hear that you think we’re on the right track.  What other advice do you have for the people reading this? 

NEELESH:  First, I want to emphasize that Power Pivot IS Enterprise BI.  I mean, what’s the definition of Enterprise BI?  A single technology system that has “everything” in it? 

An enterprise need is to also support departmental BI solutions (PowerPivot + SharePoint) which can grow to become enterprise (SharePoint + Tabular + ODS/DW) and all-pervasive down the road.

More importantly, it absolutely critical to allow departments to model, analyze and share insights for innovation and bring about changes in processes for the enterprise. What is BI? It’s tool to mentor others and share perspectives that helps change behaviors!

imageROB:  Hold on, let me dig out that picture of Power Pivot Yoda…

NEELESH:  PowerPivot enables enable agility with Business Information. A holistic approach, strategy and system that addresses the needs of the Enterprise and harnesses all of the Enterprise’s wisdom and brain power.

Second, the biz needs to let IT handle certain things, and understand their importance.  The ODS.  The DW.  The most business critical models developed by the business.

Third, IT also needs to get themselves out of the modeling and reporting business as much as possible, with the biz handling most of that.  It’s a partnership between the biz and IT – a partnership that was impossible yesterday, because we lacked the right tools.  This partnership is built on a solid operation system of business modeling – PowerPivot to DW. PowerPivot does not replace DW it enables better and more mature DW Design.

ROB:  What about the folks who see the merit in all of this, but are struggling to convince the rest of their organizations?  I hear from them a lot.

NEELESH:  The people you are struggling to convince, you can send them to these two links – materials that explain the realities of agile BI:

  1. 10 Questions and Answers on Agile BI (blog post)
  2. Agile BI Strategy (video presentation aimed at IT and execs)

(There was a third link before, you can still get to it here, but it was really just an endorsement of my course so I removed it from the list – I’m glad for the recommendation but the intent here was to help you “sell” Power Pivot internally.  The other two above are very much helpful for convincing your organization so let’s focus on those).

If they’re still not listening to you, give me a call, I’ll come talk to them.  We are very confident in this direction, this methodology.  To illustrate, we offer a jumpstart program – for $25k, we will work with you to produce a production BI system that matters.  In four weeks or less.

ROB:  Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?  Four weeks and $25k – in the BI world, traditionally you’d need another zero on each of those numbers, and to soften the assurance that it will matter.  But I know firsthand just how much can be accomplished in a few days.  Four weeks?  No doubt you can have something amazing.  I don’t care what your business looks like.

Hey man this was fascinating as always.  Thanks for taking the time.

NEELESH:  My pleasure.  Let’s do it again soon.

You can find Neelesh Raheja on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and at various RC Airstrips in the Twin Cities Area.

8 Responses to BI Production Systems in Four Weeks or Less: Part Two of Interview with Neelesh Raheja of GNET

  1. Outstanding. Thank you.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Really interesting interview/article with terrific insights.

    However…

    Am I the only reader who sees this as Big Business-centric?

    IT should do this…the Biz should do that…

    Personally, I’m not an expert, or don’t regard myself as one. I’m the “IT guy” in an SME. I’m “embedded” in the business though, so I see my role as incorporating Business Analysis – in as much as I’m a bridge between IT and the rest of the Biz – I’m also the SQL DBA and MIS report writer. A bit of BI and fascinated by the PowerPivot “thing.”

    In other words, the roles described in the interview as being separate, with me are incorporated. Surely I’m NOT unique?

    What I’m most interested in is how all of this “works” for the small-to-medium sized enterprise that just doesn’t have the scale for the separation/demarcation of job functions?

    Or am I a dying breed and I need to specialize as a career choice?

    • powerpivotpro says:

      Hi Malcolm! You are absolutely correct – Neelesh primarily works with companies that are big enough to have names you would recognize. And as a result there is a pretty “bright’ distinction between IT and the biz. And he is typically hired by the IT side of the house.

      My personal experience is more mixed on org size. I’ve worked with many orgs that do not have the size for a clear biz/IT split, and most of the time it’s the biz hiring me. In fact one of the reasons I wanted to interview Neelesh for the blog is to show that “the big boys” see Power Pivot as a legit and revolutionary tool too.

      What’s funny is that in order to properly leverage Power Pivot, larger orgs need to operate more like smaller orgs. The walls between IT and the biz need to come down, even if the “line” remains.

      For me, the true magic happens when the “tool tech” and the “biz knowledge” come together in one brain, which happens when an Excel pro becomes a Power Pivot pro. And then you give them the database (ODS) support, and hopefully the SharePoint support.

      In short if big biz were more like you today, the transition would be much farther along. IMO you aren’t a dying breed, but the future.

  3. I am very glad you brought this point up.

    Its true that most of the business we work with today are mid to large, but we do work with some small businesses as well. Our Agile BI quick and Cloud BI Quick Start was created for small to mid- sized businesses. With PowerPivot we (BI Pros) can help small business get BIG BI at price point which is very affordable for small businesses.

    However, the reason why GNet don’t have as many small businesses as customers, is because of the exact point you raised. Our Sales and Marketing teams find it difficult to identify buyers for our services because there is no clear separation of roles and responsibilities. It’s a logistics challenge rather than one of feasibility.

    In fact Rob and I have discussed this topic on several occasions. Small business are most likely to lead the adoption of PowerPivot. I don’t have stats on this but my gutt tells me that there are more users of Excel in small business than mid to large businesses.

    How can small businesses get started with BIG BI
    1.Catch hold of an Excel Ninja (Controller/CFO/Sales Head) in your organization
    2.Build a PowerPivot model for them and let them have at it. It is quite amazing to see reactions of Excel users when they start using PowerPivot
    3.Get them to read Rob’s blogs/books. This is not a plug. His biggest motivation, ever since I have known him is to help Excel Users /small businesses adopt PowerPivot.

    BTW – GNet is a small business and our core analytics are done using a single PowerPivot workbook which is shared with several users. We have even built role based security in PowerPivot. Sales Reps and PM’s get to see their own Customers/projects only. This is BIG BI at a very small price! I am business manager and spend a lot of time working with numbers to run GNet’s operations.

    When I released this PowerPivot workbook, users continued to follow their old habit of asking me to provide numbers on utilization, revenue, forecast. Each time they asked me a question, I would force them to open the PowerPivot workbook and find answers on their own. Today, I don’t have to field questions any more. In fact, I walk up and ask questions just to make sure they are on top of their game! Go PowerPivot!

    My wife runs a very very small business and uses QuickBooks. She does all her reporting in PowerPivot (except P&L statement).

    You guys are the future! Secret is to get started; build a solution, share it, find ways to train and foster adoption of PowerPivot.

    • Oz du Soleil says:

      Neelesh, I don’t know if I disagree with your point or want to clarify something …

      Why do you suggest that the “Excel Ninja” would be the Controller/CFO/Sales Head?
      My experience is that those people lean on the real Excel Ninja.

      I think this is important to being up because the roles that you mention are likely to have influence regarding adoption whereas, the Excel Ninjas that I often hear from don’t have that influence and they’re embarrassed when they say the company has them still working in Office 2007.

      I agree 100%, after talking with Rob, and reading this interview, Excel professionals and PowerPivot are the future. The Excel Ninja who only sees herself as, for example, Staff Accountant or Jr. Business Analyst has to recognize that they’re providing far more value than they understand. That realization may provide the gumption to demand better tools and appropriate compensation.

  4. Malcolm says:

    Hi Guys,

    Many thanks for the feedback. :)

  5. Oz du Soleil says:

    Malcolm, thanks for bringing up the issue that was on my mind and I was reluctant to bring up … until I scrolled down and saw that you and I share the same concerns. You aren’t a dying breed.

    It’s clear to me that I do BI for my clients but when I’m asked if I know SSRS, COGNOS, etc, the answer is “no.” My clients tend to be 1 to 10-person operations. They don’t have the money or the manpower for anything other than Excel. And Neelesh points to a something that’s very accurate but wasn’t obvious to me until he mentioned it:

    In small operations there’s definitely a problem because the roles aren’t easily definable. So many people are wearing multiple hats, and even sharing hats. Moreover, NONE of my clients have had an IT department.

    A lot of the people I work with have been thrown into roles that were unexpectedly data-driven. So, there’s definitely a logistics challenge that Neelesh speaks of. It’s tough to penetrate. Some people have sent me data at the risk of being fired, and paid me out of their own pocket because they needed the help but lacked the resources, support and/or authority to get help.

    So, one answer to Malcolm’s question “how does this work for small to mid-sized companies?” is: go rogue! LOL!

  6. Roger says:

    Hi, I have some questions related to Actual vs Budget and YTD, QTD calculations. I am looking for someone to help me for money. Any guru out there willing to help, please email me at roger.adhikari@gmail.com

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