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Interview with Gabe Orthous on What's Driving Mobile BI

by Ken Murphy, Editorial Director, Data & Analytics

December 5, 2013


SAP apprentice Gabe Orthous recently spoke to SAPinsider’s Ken Murphy about his current BI mobility projects,  taking self-services mobile, and WebI powered by SAP HANA. You may have seen Gabe  at Christian Rodatus' s Reporting & Analytics keynote  panel discussion, speaking about the future of mobility for McKesson and in the healthcare industry as a whole.

Listen in to our podcast with Gabe or read our edited transcript here:

Ken Murphy: Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I’m pleased to be joined by Gabe Orthous, who’s the Director of Business Analytics and Product Management for the Business Intelligence Group at McKesson Business Performance Services. He is also the co-author of SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, 2nd Edition,  an SAP PRESS bestseller.

Gabe, welcome to the podcast.

Gabe Orthous: Thank you Ken for having me.

Ken: Gabe, can you start us off by giving our listeners a brief recap of McKesson’s recent mobile BI project? The main drivers behind it perhaps, and some advantages that have arisen because of it?

Gabe: Sure. So, I just want to say from a McKesson standpoint, I work for McKesson but my opinions are my own, so just take it for what it’s worth.

On the mobile front, we’ve taken a very robust Business Intelligence, Web Intelligence self-service methodology for the past seven-plus years, into more of a mobile realm. So how do you mobilize all of these reports, all this data, so that people can consume it very quickly?

We found out when we started this process and found out about the technologies that were out there, we wanted to go with something different, something flashy, something that allowed us to get to the information fairly quickly. The consumers of the information are not necessarily the same as the web --  the web for us has been primarily analytical type people, business analysts that would potentially mesh data together doing ad hoc analytics, trending, that kind of stuff. But the mobile solution was for us more of a dashboarding solution. Something that gave you the 50,000-foot level view of the organization, quick answers to information, but did not answer absolutely every single one of your business questions. So that was kind of the methodology that we went after.

From a technology perspective, SAP presented us not only with their products, but we also went out and found some additional products that are meant to add to the solution, but still using the same idea of the one version of the truth.  So we’re still using the universes and reports on the back-end.  

Ken: Gabe, what advice do you have for an organization as far as building a business case and getting executive buy-in for a mobile BI project? What is something that might come as a surprise to an organization considering mobile BI?

Gabe: Yes, and sorry to be a cliché here, but don’t boil the ocean. Don’t present the whole strategy and the security methodologies and all the different components, the Windows 8 phones vs. the iPad vs. the Android. Don’t go too much into absolutely everything.

It starts with small wins, more of an agile methodology. Present something to your sponsors and build upon those successes, as opposed to doing a six-month implementation and then trying to deliver everything at once. So that would be my shortcut suggestion for people that are starting on mobile BI.

Ken: What’s one of the more common problems that you’re seeing in BI projects, and why do you think it trips up so many project teams?

Gabe: I think the number  1 thing is the waterfall approach. We take this idea of creating an ETL system and a data warehouse from scratch, and a disparate system coming into this one version of the truth methodology. Six to eight months later on a waterfall approach of implementation, and then at the end reporting is just kind of like an afterthought. That’s no longer the case with analytics. Analytics have to be thought about from the ground up from the beginning of those data warehousing projects. Assuming that you don’t have a data warehouse.

But if you do have a data warehouse, and let’s say that you want to augment your reporting structure, the number  1 failure there is the IT vs. the business. So the IT’s building reports based on requirements that the business gives them. And there’s a big firewall in between those two teams. In my opinion you have to take that firewall down and be able to collaborate between the business and IT and work together, and really give the power to the business so that they can create their own reports and their own content. Because when you create something, you actually believe in it, and you use it. And when you use it, you just won because adoption equals success.

Ken: I’d like to ask you about some recent SAP news. SAP announced a project it’s calling “Dr. Who” which is the SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence powered by SAP HANA. The announcement was made in parallel with SAP laying out what it calls its Agile Visualization strategy with SAP Lumira Cloud as the centerpiece. So what do you think about that announcement and the direction that SAP Analytics is heading?

Gabe: I’m very excited for it, and in my opinion Dr. Who is Mr. Steve Lucas. Now Mr. Steve Lucas actually came back from not owning HANA, but owning the entire analytics portfolio as a platform. And so I’m very excited from the leadership perspective. The emphasis that analytics is getting on the SAP landscape.

From a technology perspective, I think it’s tremendous. I mean, having an engine and a platform like HANA to be able to generate and host really web intelligence is a great, great thing. I would have to look at the details, I don’t know what it’s all about right now. All I have is just the name of it, but I think that a combination of Lumira and WebI and HANA is going to come up into this hybrid product in my opinion in the future, that is going to act like a true self-service analytics engine that allows you to do everything from predictive to the normal traditional trending and analysis that is being done today.

Ken:  I know you just returned from the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference. You’ve been tweeting about the Dev Wars. It looked like a pretty exciting event. What can you tell us about that?

Gabe: So Dev Wars was an idea to get teams to compete against each other to visualize data. It’s an idea that has been done before. Our twist has been the fact that a charity, a local or national charity, gives us that data. So those teams have 24 hours to compete against each other and visualize that data using SAP Lumira, Crystal Reports, or Dashboards.

This year it was very fun, it was the second year that we had it and we had a great charity called City Year. And City Year specializes in giving opportunities to young people to donate a year of their time to help the high school dropout rate improve. So it’s a great organization.

 SAP came to the table and essentially gave them free licenses to these tools that I just mentioned. It was a fun atmosphere. The Bollywood Spartans actually ended up winning the final prize, but at the end of the day talking to the teams and working with them very close together, I realized that there were no winners and losers, there was only one winner and that was City Year. So a very, very fun event that happened to be our second year in a row at SBOUC.

Ken: Sounds as if City Year benefited from a lot of great ideas and a fun, worthwhile event. Again, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider Online, and I’ve been speaking with Gabe Orthous, the Director of Business Analytics and Product Management at McKesson.

Gabe, thank you for joining us today.

Gabe: Thank you.

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