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Business Intelligence: the answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42

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Cadran Consultancy is launching a series of articles about Oracle JD Edwards ERP related topics.
This first one, written by Rick Brobbel, is about Oracle Business Intelligence combined with Oracle JD Edwards.

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Business Intelligence: the answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42

  1. 1. Author Project Subject Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 1 of 6 Blog: BI - The answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is 42 Oracle BI – Reflections (1) – A series of articles published by Cadran concerning Oracle Business Intelligence in combination with Oracle JD Edwards. In these articlesattention is given to various reflections and considerations that can be helpful in making the right decisions during the implementation and utilisation of both systems. The first article considers definitions, and lays a basis for a common understanding of the terms used. In the comic science fiction novel “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, a supercomputer is constructed in order to answer the ultimate question: The question of life, the universe and everything. After years of calculation, the supercomputer arrives at the answer: 42. As it becomes clear that this answer is not of much use in itself, it is necessary to build a computer capable of asking the correct question. A need for information exists within every business. The systems chosen are in themselves “only” aids. Regardless of which systems these are, insight is required into the ins and outs of the business. This can be as simple as ascertaining that the bank balance is positive, indicating that more money is coming in than going out. Decision makers, the tax authorities and accountants will however generally require somewhat more information. It must be possible to account for what is occurring within the business. In addition, business information provides the tools necessary to steer the business at the operational, tactical and strategic level. As such, a need exists within all layers of the organisation for information of varying degrees of detail. Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.
  2. 2. Author Project Subject Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 2 of 6 From data to information On the one hand a system of business administration handles the recording of all relevant source data. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume for now that Oracle JD Edwards is the ERP system entrusted with the back office administration. At the same timecountless other sources will contain information about the organisation: HR systems for the personnel and salary departments, production systems for the manufacturing process, and laboratory systems for the testing and qualifying of raw materials and/or end products. Furthermore, every organisation will store an immeasurable quantity of knowledge in countless documents, notes, e-mails, rules and (not in the last place) the heads of its people. When added togetherall this forms an ocean of data waiting to be tapped. By throwing out the right lines at the right moment at the right place, it is possible to present the right information from this data to the right people at the right time. Data is, after all, only staticfacts. Data becomes information when value can be derived from it. The numbers tell the tale Statutes, business plans, business rules, work instructions, job descriptions and also legislation ensure that the organisation continues moving in the right direction, that everyone does what he or she must do, and that the processes within the organisation are carried out in an efficient and correct manner. Information is essential in order to gain insight into this and to be able to make management decisions – a lot of information. At each level of the organisation, an internal need for information exists. Theorganisationis also accountable to various external parties. These include government and Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.
  3. 3. Author Project Subject Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 3 of 6 sponsors such as banks, shareholders and investors, but of course also customers and suppliers. Legislation compounds matters by imposing obligations as regards annual reports and tax returns. Increasing obligations with regard to the environment and traceability have led to an explosive increase in the need to register even the most minor details. Finally, consumers are demanding more and more information about the smallest details of products and their origin. In order to distribute this information throughout the whole chain, data is needed – a lot of data. Scale is everything Compare the tricycle in the back yard of a four-year-old with a jumbo jet crewed by six people with more than 500 passengers on board. Both serve a need for transportation, but on a somewhat different scale and with somewhat different requirements. A farmer with three chickens and two apple trees is probably able to gain and maintain an overview of the performance of his business without keeping records. He will have a reasonable idea in his head of the number of eggs and apples produced annually, and what the selling price of both should be. If the size of the business increases, then things will quickly become more complicated – especially when more people become involved, each filling a different position and role. A business operating at a global level, dealing in thousands of products and employing thousands of people, requires the help of systems in order to maintain a good overview of the total picture. In each case, scale and scope lead to the passing of certain turning points that dictate the size, weight and scope of such systems. Definition, definition and once again definition Data becomes information when it provides real meaning and content, and when it fulfils a need for information. However, this cannot occur without context and meaning. No data can provide value without the preconditions and semantics of these two aspects. The number 42 says nothing in itself. 42 as a measure can become information by adding the following elements:      A unit (e.g. 42%) A fact (e.g. 42% margin) A dimension (e.g. of the most important product group in September of this year) A comparison (e.g. 10% more than September last year) A norm (e.g. 5% below target) With each sentence, the number 42 gains more value, more meaning, more information and more opportunities to provide direction. With each sentence, more and morequestionsarise– questions that must be answeredbefore we cantrust thismeasure blindly: Percentage?     In relation to what? What formula underlies this figure? Which components are present in this formula? How did these components come into being? Margin?   What is margin? Which turnover and which costs determine this margin? Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.
  4. 4. Author Project Subject Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 4 of 6 Product group? September?     What is the most important product group? Who decides this? What is September of this year? Is this the fiscal period or the calendar month? Which date underlies this? The invoice date or the shipping date? … And so the questions may go on and on – awkward, inconvenient, difficult and precise questions. Nevertheless, no one will be able to use, interpret and trust the number 42 without an implicit or explicit answer to all these questions. The fact must be provided with semantics and rules. CogNIAM Science has been occupied with such questions for some time, and has provided us with models and methods in order to capture facts in the form of rules, and to provide them with semantics. By employing CogNIAM, the structuring of knowledge and information can lead to a faster progression towards the application and use of that knowledge and the solving of problems. In addition, it is possible to apply knowledge more effectively with the help of CogNIAM. This allows us to improve accuracy and precision and to communicate better. The method employed is clear, and consists of skills and rules that can be learned and used by everyone. Through its universal approach, CogNIAM is applicable to all domains involving knowledge and information. CogNIAM is also referred to as an information analysis method, a knowledge structuring method, a learning accelerator and a communication improver. Knowledge-Based Working and CogNIAM are based on emerging standards for modelling data and processes, and make use of, among others, Unified Modeling Language (UML), Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) and SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules). The similarities between this method and the three-layered nature of Oracle BI's information model are striking. Oracle BI is distinguished by three layers: the Physical Layer, the Mapping Layer and the Presentation Layer. The CogNIAM pyramid describes a lower layer with facts, a middle layer with domain-specific rules and a semantic layer with generic rules. We will consider these layers in more detail in a subsequent article. Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.
  5. 5. Author Project Subject Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 5 of 6 Ralph Kimball When considering the science of business information, the name Ralph Kimball must be mentioned. His theories and scientific lectures on dimensional modelling date from long before the time of business intelligence software solutions. However, this philosophy has been very thoroughly and deeply integrated into Oracle Business Intelligence, and all aspects of his ideas can be recognised in the software and solutions. This certainly cannot be said of every business intelligence solution. Becoming acquainted with his work is highly recommended. Chapter 6 from his book Data Warehouse Lifecycle Toolkit is a good start, and describes the foundations of dimensional modelling. Dry stuff, but essential for a good understanding of the material. Dictionary In order to apply his theory in practice, a business dictionary may be employed. Business analysts are able to compile such a list of concepts, to listen to all relevant voices within the business and to find consensus. This is no simple task, but an essential starting point for unlocking the added value that Oracle Business Intelligence can offer. Stuffy, static and meaningless numbers and figures can be transformed into living, colourful and valuable insights and management tools. It additionally forms a basis for preventing a proliferation of disconnected reports and endless Excel sheets, but also greater risks. These may include:      High chance of misinterpretation and subsequent incorrect decisions on the basis of (incorrect) data. High chance of inefficiency of labour productivity within ICT and departments that produce reports. High chance that the solutions offered are not used. When people do not understand or cannot read the data, they will fall back on other means or will prepare new overviews themselves. High chance of disinvestment and/or software implementation programmes that are too lengthy and too costly. High chance of inefficiency in the organisation as a result of numerous and repetitive discussions and explanations regarding concepts employed, key figures and reports. Analysis In order to ensure that the description of a business concept is complete and comprehensive, the following checklist can be employed:         Business definition (what does the term “turnover” mean to the business). Data definition (what is the content of the formula for turnover, and which basic facts underlie it). Definition of facts (what are the basic facts and how are these to be defined). Functional definition (how can this fact be realised in Oracle Business Intelligence). Logical definition (how is this measurement aggregated and on the basis of which dimensions must it be retrieved). Time definition (if this measurement must be retrieved over a period of time, on which date must this occur). Selection criteria (which selection criteria and filters underlie it). Implementation criteria (where can this be found, functionally and logically, in the data source (JD Edwards)). Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.
  6. 6. Author Project Subject   Rick Brobbel (Cadran Consultancy b.v.) : BI blog : The answer to the question of life, the universe and : everything is 42 Date printed : Page : Date : 25-02-14 6 of 6 Technical definition (which fields in which tables can provide this information). Security (who is permitted to do what with this information). At a higher level, the subject areas and data groups must be defined and described. These are guided at first by the requirement for information that Oracle Business Intelligence must be able to service. The following questions can help in doing so:          What current reporting exists, and which information requirements does it serve? Which KPIs and measures are used and are critical for the monitoring and direction of business processes? What information is currently collected and processed in Excel? Which reporting areas can be distinguished? Which dimensions play a role? What are the requirements for zoom in and drill down? What are the requirements for the publication of reports? What are the requirements as regards frequency or accuracy of the underlying data? Which structure for users, roles and authorisation is applicable? In the articles that follow we will consider essential elements such as dimensional modelling and the facts, dimensions and star schemas involved in more detail. Read Rick's second blog: Towards the fifth dimension (in Dutch) The implementation of a BI solution is more than the implementation of a software solution. Cadran's vision is focused on determining the correct information to be made available at the right moment to the right people in your organisation. In addition, a thorough project plan is very important in order to avoid the pitfalls associated with such an implementation. BI is not about developing reports or creating good-looking dashboards. BI is about managing your organisation – and Cadran is your partner when it comes to Business Intelligence and JD Edwards. Want to know more? Please contact one of our experts! Reference: MM292-140225 Blog BI- The Answer to the question about life the universe and everything is 42 ENG  Cadran Consultancy b.v.

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