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FYI Solutions Blog

Jan 27, 2015

Lessons learned from the Subarctic Survival Situation

Author: Dan Scovill

(By Human Synergistics International -http://www.subarcticsurvival.com)

Recently the FYI Solutions internal team undertook a very interesting learning experience in the form of the Subarctic Survival Simulation.  This was a simulation that highlighted the dynamics of team work and building a group consensus.  The general scenario is as follows: you and your group are crash landed in a swamp filled subarctic location in Canada, the pilot is dead, and you have 15 survival items.  What are you and your group going to do to survive?  I won’t go into many of the details, as I believe this is a scenario you and your team should try and I wouldn’t want to ruin it.

The challenge requires you to work as a team and come up with the best ranking of the survival items from most to least important.  But this requires a plan of action and the group must come to a consensus.  Your survival item team rankings are then compared to your individual rankings and the rankings of the experts.  This brought to light some very interesting observations:

  • On average teams scores were better than individual scores – this shows the value of working together and taking others opinions into account.
  • Teams came to a consensus, but sometimes it was a consensus that proved “fatal” for the survival party – this shows that consensus does not always mean success, if the group consensus is in the wrong direction.
  • Thinking outside the box and challenging group consensus could have proved useful and helped the teams be more creative – if you have an idea, speak up. You never know if it could be helpful.  It may also spark new ideas for other team members.
  • Some groups got caught up in the details, without taking the time to form an overall effective strategy – the details don’t matter if the overall strategy has not been effectively formulated.
  • Some team members did not have knowledge of survival. This made it critical for those team members to figure out the strengths of the other team members to ensure their survival – If you don’t know something, find out who does.  If you do know, make sure to communicate that with the team.

I would recommend this experiment highly.  It does a great job of showing how to improve team work and communication.  It is also a great way to get to know your team better!

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Jan 20, 2015

Navigating Your Analytics Journey

By: Joan Frick

Are you overwhelmed and frustrated with all the various Business Analytics software being used by the different business groups in your organization and/or on the market?  Is the data reported on differently depending on the business groups (untrusted data)?  Confused about how Big Data fits into your Analytics journey?  Here are a few tips to help you overcome these issues:

  • Identify a Project Sponsor
  • Set/Understand the vision of your organization (1-year, 3-year, 5-year & 10-year plans).  It is important that this is in place as it will help with the build out of the Business Analytics roadmap for your organization.  Continue to tweak your vision based on changes in the organization and current economic conditions.
  • Determine the ‘Current State’ of your organization’s People and Processes (including Systems)
  • Identify what the ‘Future State’ would look like in achieving your organization’s vision
  • Document the gaps between ‘Current State’ and ‘Future State’
  • Build the roadmap in achieving ‘Future State’
  • Develop a plan to implement the roadmap by gaining quick wins with incremental deliverables
  • Evaluate Technology based on capabilities and the future roadmap that will allow your organization to scale and grow based on the vision

If you would like assistance with building your organization’s Analytics roadmap, contact us at FYI Solutions and let us help you with your Analytics journey.

FYI Solutions specializes in Business Analytics.  We have over 30 years of experience helping companies like yours make better decisions through data governance and business analytics.  For more information about FYI Solutions, contact us.

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Jan 13, 2015

Setting New Year’s Career Resolutions

Author: Janine Kramer

With the beginning of a New Year, we often try to make resolutions for ourselves; give up a bad habit, vow to try something new, be a better person, etc.  Why not make some New Year’s resolutions to help in your career growth?

In a recent research study by the University of Scranton (http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics), they found that although 45 percent of people make resolutions, just 8 percent of us are successful in achieving our resolutions. Twenty-five percent of New Year’s resolutions don’t last a week, and 36 percent of them are blown within one month.  Don’t give up though on setting your New Year’s resolutions!  The study found that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals than those who don’t make any resolutions at all.

In a recent article I read on Recruiter.com, How to Set New Year’s Career Resolutions That You’ll Actually Keep, by Kazim Ladimeji, he highlights some great tips that can help you set those New Year’s career resolutions and achieve them.  Here they are below…check them out!

1. Set SMART Goals

The best way to set goals is by using the SMART method, which means making sure that your goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bounded. “Getting out of a dead-end job” is too vague a goal and can easily be brushed under the carpet. Instead, say something like “Be in a new, fulfilling, job/career within six months.” Research from Quirkology into New Year’s resolutions supports this approach, as it shows people (men in particular) were more likely to succeed in achieving their goals if they set SMART goals.

2. If Necessary, Break Your Resolution Down into Sub-Goals

Of course, a resolution like “getting out of a dead-end job” may require the achievement of several sub-goals , such as identifying suitable careers, identifying skill gaps, addressing skill gaps, and applying to new jobs. So, I’d recommend breaking down broader New Year’s resolutions into 2-4 easily memorized SMART goals to help give you momentum.

3. Tell Others about Your Resolution

The Quirkology study found that women in particular were more successful in achieving New Year’s resolutions when they told their friends and family and received ongoing encouragement. So, female job seekers especially might want to tell others about their New Year’s career resolutions to increase their chances of achieving them.

4. Reward Yourself for Achieving Goals

The Quirkology study also found that men in particular had more success in achieving goals when they focused on the potential rewards of reaching their goals. A carrot works better than a stick, and so I’d recommend that male job seekers in particular take time to identify the specific benefits that will come from achieving their resolutions — and any sub-goals, as mentioned in tip No. 2 — for motivational effect. I would go as far to add rewards for yourself to the plan, too, such as a big steak or a night out. Use whatever you consider a treat to incentivize you to hit those goals and sub-goals.

And finally, try not to make too many New Year’s resolutions, as you can become overwhelmed and lose focus and motivation, increasingly the likelihood of failing to meet your objective. Also, because a third of people break their resolutions in the first month, set an immovable goal in the first and second month of the year, such as signing up for a relevant training course, attending a specific career seminar, or applying for a job.

So if your New Year’s Career resolution is to change the position you are in or company you are with, contact us at FYI Solutions and let us help you achieve that Goal!

 

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Dec 23, 2014

Twas the night before disclosure

Author: FYI Solutions Team

Twas the night before disclosure
and all through the firm
the departments were scurrying
to update their terms
the Auditors stood by, ready to validate with care
in hopes that the narratives are truthful to bear
with management’s expectations for totals to round
had just settled our goals for accuracy abound

Yet from FYI Solutions there had been such a clatter
a solution was there for this dire business matter
away with Excel sheets that we threw in the trash
we deployed this solution that would save us cash
no more cut, copy, paste that we did in our haste
our efforts now streamlined, no more time would we waste

The mood in the office had suddenly changed
with confidence in trusted narratives arranged
When what to our wondering eyes did appear,
a timely disclosure like music to our ears
in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and 1040K
the accuracy of narratives drew widespread hooray!
And we heard throughout the office as we all left that site
Happy Holidays to all and to all a Good Night!

Christmas blog star

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Dec 16, 2014

A Narrative Reporting Solution:  IBM Cognos Disclosure Management Less Time Checking, More Time Analyzing.

Author: Barbara Schiffman

For many mid-size companies, creating annual, quarterly, or monthly narrative reports is a time consuming, resource intensive and error-prone process. Organizations combine text, tables, charts, and financial data that are cut and pasted into the final narrative report.

In a recent CFO Research study, 90% of companies reported that they spend too much time with the manual assembly of reports, including cutting, copying, and pasting data. This manually intensive process yields the following:

  • A high risk of errors and re-work whenever data changes
  • A lack of governance the moment this manual process begins – there is no security or controls in place
  • A time-consuming exercise – high value employees to spend too much time collecting and compiling

World-class finance organizations focus relentlessly on driving process simplification and standardization in the face of increasing business and regulatory complexity.

IBM’s Cognos Disclosure Management (CDM) is a secure, enterprise-scalable, reporting, and process automation solution that gives users the ability to collect enterprise data and merge with focused narrative analysis in a controlled and auditable environment.

By connecting directly to the data source (such as Excel or TM1 databases), financial numbers are automatically updated, ensuring a single version of the truth and confidence in the narrative report. This automation solution enables users to merge enterprise data with focused narrative analysis in a controlled, auditable environment.

Key Features of CDM:

  • Enterprise disclosure management—Combine financial data from a variety of sources with in-depth narrative analysis for internal and external reporting across any department.
  • Financial management process automation—Replace time-consuming manual processes with intelligent process design and automation.
  • Security, control, and governance—Manage documents in a collaborative yet secure environment with visibility into the report generation process.
  • Multi-jurisdictional XBRL support—Enable multi-national organizations to use a single reporting/tagging solution.

less time checking more time analyzing

FYI Solutions and IBM are jointly hosting a webinar that will showcase the practical functionality of CDM from a turnkey perspective, showing how a narrative is created and updated when changes occur at the source. We believe this will be a very compelling demonstration that will resonate with organizations, showing first-hand the time savings and risk reduction benefits of this solution that translates to justifiable ROI. Webinar Details:

Date: January 14, 2015

Time: 12:00pm EST

Duration: 30 minutes

http://www.fyisolutions.com/?p=event_registration

Please join us for this very informative event!

FYI Solutions is an IBM Premier Partner in Business Analytics.  We have over 30 years of experience helping companies like yours make better decisions through data governance and business analytics.  For more information about CDM or FYI Solutions, contact us.

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Dec 09, 2014

Culture in the Work Place

Author: Sam Sodano

Culture is central to the way we view, experience, and engage with all aspects of our lives and the world around us. Thus, even our definitions of culture are shaped by the historical, political, social, and cultural contexts in which we live.  (Wikipedia)

As society changes around us and technology becomes an even larger part of our lives, the struggle to keep our values and priorities in order has become more apparent. This is true not only in our personal lives but also in our work environments.

The culture of an organization emerges from the core values usually handed down from the top levels of management.  People generally hire people who possess similar values and objectives.

As I interviewed at FYI, it was continually emphasized that although the search for talent and job knowledge was important, there was nothing more important than “fitting into the culture”.  As the process continued, the common theme was the mission statement that tied into the culture. The words integrity, honesty, attitude, commitment, and teamwork were spoken throughout the company.

When you are looking for a company to work for, I believe that the culture has to be forefront in your selection process.  A person needs to find solace in the fact that their beliefs and ethics coincide with the culture of the company they choose as their “home”.

Technology will change, products will enhance, direction will vary, profits will increase, or decrease depending on the marketplace but the culture will stay the same as before.

That is a comforting thought.

FYI Solutions has been a leader in IT consulting for over 30 years.  For more information about FYI Solutions, please contact us.

 

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Nov 19, 2014

Make the Most of the New IBM Cognos Information Distribution License

Authors: Jeff Busch and Joe Rodriguez

As part of their Cognos licensing evolution, IBM has created a new license entitlement called Information Distribution. Information Distribution users inherit the capabilities of the former Remote Recipient users, but also gain some additional capabilities that add significant benefits for Cognos customers. In this blog we will explore some of these benefits as well as briefly describe the best method for implementing this new role.

One of the major challenges Cognos managers face is how to get the greatest benefit from their licensing and development investment. Maintaining license compliance, while providing the features that users need, requires constant monitoring of usage and coordination with the business. The old entitlements often required managers to purchase higher level licenses or add-ons to provide the access needed. Consumers could run pre-built reports but not Active Reports; this required an upgrade to an Enhanced Consumer license. Many users just need to run simple reports.  Remote Recipient licenses were cheaper and could receive scheduled report output and burst reports, but couldn’t access Cognos directly to run these reports for themselves when they needed them nor could they interact with an Active Report. Alternatively, a Recipient license could be used, although that entitlement did not include rights to receive or view Active Reports. In addition, keeping track of which Consumer, Recipient and Remote Recipient users actually made use of the access granted them, and thus being able to maintain only the number of licenses needed, is difficult at best albeit necessary to be in compliance with license entitlements. Also, some companies may have security restrictions preventing pre-run reports from being sent to users requiring Recipient or Consumer licenses when Remote Recipients could otherwise be used.

For all of these reasons and more, the new Information Distribution license is ideal. Information Distribution users can receive pre-run reports through email, including Active Reports and burst reports;  they can also access Cognos directly to view the saved content for themselves. Now you have extended delivery options. Further, you can setup an area in Cognos where light-duty users can go to download pre-run reports and Active Reports and you can send links to users instead of the actual report. Access to the reports using the links would utilize Cognos security measures already in place.

Another key feature of the Information Distribution user licenses is that they are PVU only. This means that they are not purchased on a user by user basis (i.e. named user), but are applied to a specific Cognos server based on the number of processor cores in the server. For those who are new to the concept of PVUs, a Processor Value Unit (PVU) is a unit of measure by which the Program can be licensed. The number of PVU entitlements required is based on the processor technology (defined within the PVU Table by Processor Vendor, Brand, Type and Model Number (click here to go to the IBM PVU calculator page). This is a benefit to the customer because they no longer need to keep track of individual users when those users simply consume pre-run content. The PVU-based licensing will require customers to take a second look at their environment infrastructure. If, for example, your environment has two redundant dispatchers with 12 CPU cores each you would need to purchase enough Information Distribution licenses for 24 cores. This is because both servers will by default be handling requests from all users. This may not appear to be cost effective for your organization. Fortunately, this is actually an easy challenge to solve.

Cognos has features built in that will allow you to add a new light-duty server to the environment and dedicate that server to Information Distribution user activity. Continuing our example above, you might choose to add a new dispatcher server with 2 cores. The server can be configured with a fewer number of cores because delivering saved content is much less processing intensive than actually running the reports. As long as the Information Distribution users’ activity is restricted to the new server, you will need to maintain only a two-core license (this equates to approximately 200 PVUs by IBM guidelines). This will also have the additional benefit of transferring some of the activity load off of the primary server. You could even designate the new server for all batch processing or other similar tasks taking even more of the processing load off of the primary server(s). If you are designing an entire environment from scratch, or are designing an upgrade to your existing environment, you may be able to decrease the hardware requirements of your primary servers and thus decrease the cost of those servers.

The ability to provide direct, secure access to a company’s report content without having to purchase more advanced licenses is a clear advantage of the new Information Distribution license. As an added benefit, administrators will not need to spend time keeping track of these new users’ usage to maintain compliance because the licenses are PVU based and the users will have a server dedicated to their needs. Explaining the details of implementing this strategy of dedicating a server to Information Distribution users is outside of the scope of this blog.

As an IBM Premier Business Partner for Business Analytics, FYI Solutions has expertise in implementing these solutions and is available to help you with your implementation.  Please contact us for more information.

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Nov 13, 2014

IBM Unleashes Watson Analytics Tool to Help Businesses Make Sense of Big Data

Author: Barbara Schiffman

As Jeopardy is broadcasting its annual Tournament of Champions this week and next, it brings back the memories of IBM’s Watson taking on former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language.   For Jeopardy, Watson had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage including the full text of Wikipedia.

Watson Analytics has moved on to take on more pressing business priorities. IBM wants to unlock big data secrets for businesses with a new free Watson Analytics tool that allows clients to leverage the “Jeopardy”-winning supercomputer to explore and unearth valuable data from structured data sets.

Tom Spring, Senior Editor of CRN Magazine, offered the following summary of the new capabilities in his recent blog, found at http://www.crn.com/news/data-center/300074049/ibm-unleashes-watson-analytics-tool-to-help-businesses-make-sense-of-big-data.htm?cid=nl_alert#

The technology now allows businesses to upload data to IBM’s Watson Analytics cloud service and then query and explore results to spot trends, patterns, and conduct predictive analysis. The Watson Analytics tool is free; however, IBM executives said the goal is to demonstrate the power of the technology so users will become paying customers with access to advanced features such as slicing and dicing larger data sets, correlation with live data feeds, and advanced analysis.

“We are helping companies make better fact-based decisions through visual analysis,” said Eric Sall, IBM vice president, business analytics. “It’s still way too hard for most companies to make sense of the wealth of data they are sitting on.”

Watson Analytics is aimed at enterprises but also at ISVs and mid-tier companies that lack a big data budget, according to IBM, Armonk, N.Y. Watson Analytics also will later be available through its Bluemix developer’s cloud services offering. This link will take you to the beta offering.

Watson Analytics parses data, cleans it up, preps it for analysis, identifies important trends, and makes it easily searchable via natural language queries, according to Sall. The tool, for example, could help companies better understand customer behavior or connect the dots between sales, weather, time of day and customer demographic data, he said.

“For mid-tier companies that can’t afford a dedicated business analyst, Watson Analytics delivers a powerful self-service tool for understanding complex pools of data,” Sall said.

IBM partner Avnet said it will use the Watson Analytics tool in conjunction with its business analytics service, VenueEdge. John Lucas, director of solutions delivery for Avnet, said tools such as Watson Analytics are helping the Tempe, Ariz.-based distributor win business.

Avnet said it is already leveraging Watson Analytics as an IBM launch partner. “We are using it to help Major League baseball teams stitch together connections between ticket sales, concessions, CRM data, and merchandise sales so our customers can get a 365-degree view of their business with deep insight into who their customers are and what services they buy and when,” Lucas said. “We can help a baseball franchise figure out how much more merchandise they can expect to sell if one of their players hits eight more home runs.”

FYI Solutions is a leader in Business Analytics.  To find out more about Watson for your business, contact us.

 

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Nov 07, 2014

Cognos Report Studio: Performance in Multidimensional Reporting

Author: Jason Apwah

Reports based on cubes can perform really well or really, really poorly. If the performance is somewhere in between, then chances are it has failed because it has neither fully met performance goals nor fully met reporting requirements. It is important to understand that although the report is the end product of a lot of previous labor and good management of the entire project in its early stages is invaluable, the report developer has the last opportunity to influence the outcome.

Ask Them Why

When it comes to reporting requirements, many clients that are new to real business analytics do not know what they want, so they understandably ask for more than they need. However, the purpose of business analytics is to provide reliable, clear, and timely information that allow users to make data-driven decisions. This is why ‘extract’ type reports are usually only useful as a source for some other application to be further processed. Ask them repeatedly ‘why?’ they want what they say they want, while pushing for best practices. By virtue of condensing information and making it possible to gain insight, in a lot of cases you have limited the data set. The smaller the number of elements on each crosstab edge, the better performance will be. Allow for the user to dynamically select the context of the report at run time. This way, the data available remains constant, but the number of elements on each crosstab edge at any given time is limited.

Stay MDX Friendly

A lot depends on the functions you use in the report. For example, although detail filters may work, they will hurt performance. Detail filters are applied to the lowest level element intersections, therefore even result sets that are not necessarily in the report still need to be created. Filter functions and slicers should be used instead. Filters and slicers in most cases only affect the rows or columns of a crosstab, where detail filters affect both.

Keep from Automatic Zero-Suppression

Zero suppression is always done locally. The built-in zero suppression is performed on the MDX result set. Unless the cube is very small, performance will suffer. Instead, create a calculated measure and then use the measure in a filter function to suppress zeros. For example, let’s say we want to suppress all products where the units and revenue are both zero for 2014. We create [Calc], a calculated measure as the calculation: if(tuple([Units], [2014]) = 0 and tuple([Revenue], [2014]) = 0) then (0) else (1). In the calculated [Filtered Products] set, we put the calculation: filter([Product].[Product].[Product], [Calc] <>0). If [Units] and [Revenue] are on the crosstab columns, and [Filtered Products] are on the crosstab rows, Products where the Units and Revenue are zero for 2014 will be suppressed while sparing local processing for zero suppression.

Minimize Nested Dimensions

Nested dimensions require Cognos to use the cross join function, which can significantly reduce performance especially in a sparse cube. Cross joins combine two sets of dimension members into one set. Essentially, the members of each set are combined by matching every member from the first set with every member of the second set. In a sparse cube (which most cubes are), a large number of combinations would yield a zero or null tuple which is inefficient. When possible, use tuples instead of nesting to reduce the sparsity of the measures in scope.

FYI Solutions received the prestigious North America Best Industry Solution Award from Cognos. This honor recognizes Cognos partners who excel at providing outstanding solutions tailored for the specific business challenges of their clients.  For more information on Cognos, feel free to contact us.

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Oct 28, 2014

Five Tips to Start Your New Job Off Right

Author: Dan Scovill

We all want to make sure that when we find a good job that we keep it, especially in today’s job market.  We have all heard it before, but we know “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Here are a few straight-forward tips to keep in mind at your new job.

Learn as much as you can about your new employer – This process should have already started before your first interview, as you want to understand the business of your new potential employer, but it should not stop there.  Most businesses nowadays are looking for employees with an entrepreneurial spirit who can bring new ideas, new potential revenue streams, ways to increase efficiency, process improvement, etc.  Just because it may not be in your job description, employers are always looking for ideas to improve business.  The better you understand the ins and outs of your employer, the more easily these ideas may come to you.

Minimize surprises upfront – If you have a vacation planned, please let your potential employer know during the interview process.  If you are right for the job then it shouldn’t affect their hiring decision, but taking a week off or taking a long weekend in your first month or so could very well leave management with a bad taste in their mouths.  Your manager may also have an on-boarding/training schedule for you and time off could interfere.  They may not even let you take the vacation as you likely haven’t accrued enough vacation time that soon.

Dress to impress (or at least appropriately) – Though it may seem unnecessary or superficial, your attire is something you must take into account in the work place.  If you are working with a recruiter or someone in Human Resources who has been helping you through the interview process, ask them about the proper attire.  If you don’t have that information available, dress in a business suit for your first day and then you can judge how to go from there, once you get a feel for the work environment.  It may sound silly, but make sure clothes are well-ironed and/or dry cleaned.  Though a wrinkled outfit seems harmless, it projects an “I don’t care” attitude.  Please also make sure to have the right dress socks — nothing stands out more (in a bad way) than white socks with a business suit.

Be (and project the attitude of) a committed team member – Employers more and more are allowing employees flexible work hours and time working from home.  This is a good thing but it is not something you want to press for in the first few months (unless it was explicitly discussed during the interview process).  Take the time to establish yourself (at least 6 months to a year) before thinking about asking for time working from home or flexible hours.  Management wants to see a solid track record of success in order to build trust with you as an employee.  Remember it also depends on your job; not all jobs allow for offsite work.

Use your past experience to bring fresh ideas to your new place of work – A fresh perspective can be helpful to a stagnant environment.  However, be careful not to make everything about “well, this is how we used to do it.” That can get old quickly and you should still respect the procedures in place. However, a well-placed solution from your past experience can be very helpful.

FYI Solutions has been a leader in specialized staffing and solutions for 30 years. Please check our website at www.fyisolutions.com to see some great opportunities available through us!  

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