Saturday, August 24, 2013

Data Capture for Business Intelligence

How do you get started developing a business intelligence capability?

Well, like many questions, the answer is "It Depends."  It depends on whether your business is a B2B or B2C business.  It depends on which metrics are important to your business.  It depends on whether you have enough monitoring in place to capture what is important to gain the insights your data can reveal.

The role of business intelligence is not to just collect metrics on everything, but to give you feedback on things that you can control to improve the flow of products or services to your end customer. As Eric Reis said in his book, "The Lean Startup", "If you want to see what happens, you will always succeed at seeing what happens."

By determining what metrics are important to drive your business, a dashboard or balanced scorecard approach you can execute designed experiments with certain measurable results, giving you the knowledge that whatever you are doing is succeeding or failing at meeting your designed experiment requirements.  It can also give you immediate feedback to one or more failures to which you can give immediate attention, allowing you to manage by exception, instead of manage by rule.

For the Business to Consumer (B2C) business, the first opportunity to capture data for your intelligence needs can be at the cash register.  Of course, a simple cash register is not a data collection tool, but it could be.  Electronic cash registers or Point of Sale (POS) systems can give you immediate access to intelligence you could only dream about with a mechanical cash register.

For starters, most POS systems can provide inventory management capabilities, transaction management, employee management, and enable multiple payment methods.  With all Point of Sale systems, payment gateway integration with a merchant services account will have built in reporting and business intelligence tools to help you better manage your business.

In one example, published by ShopKeep POS, one shop owner discovered that one product category that took up 25% of her floor space was responsible for 75% of all sales in her men's clothing section.  This kind of information can help you decide if you need to expand or shrink your in store floor or shelf space for a given product or product category.  This would not have been visible without a business intelligence capability built into the transaction.

In another example, a shop owner can leverage their payment management system to track purchasing habits of all customers who participate in a loyalty program.  Loyalty programs are great for building a loyal following and encouraging repeat business, but also in the types of intelligence you gain from the range of customers throughout your transaction.   A business can expand its loyalty program by offering gift cards that can also be tracked to customer loyalty data and growth as gift cards are promoted to new customers by existing ones.  The data gained from loyalty analysis can help your business determine marketing strategies and again is a low cost

Merchant Service data can be a wealth of business intelligence data at no more cost to collect than having the right merchant services partner, like Mercury Payment Systems or Payment Revolution.

Upgrading an existing business with little to no data capture doesn't have to be intimidating and with the right local partner, can be implemented quickly and reliably to provide the maximum benefit in a short period of time.

For the Business to Business (B2B) organization, such as those involved in either the manufacture, transport and/or sales of goods, business intelligence data may be plentiful, but disconnected.  Your business may have the resources to perform its own intelligence collection processes, or hire from a local firm to collect disconnected data sources, or implement new data collection sources to a centralized reporting database.

Data capture from automation controls in your factory floor or checkpoints in a workflow can be easy sources of immediate feedback or summary intelligence.  Your business may have multiple business intelligence needs, so your intelligence reporting system should be flexible enough to account for multiple data sources including, QuickBooks, Dynamics, and automation equipment.

Collecting data has become easier for businesses at all levels to do and at price points that every business can afford.

Robert is the owner of Lean Start-up Services,, providing business intelligence, process improvement, and office management systems to local SMBs in the greater Palm Bay/Melbourne Florida area.  For more information about any of the products or services mentioned in this article, email Robert at

Saturday, April 4, 2009

First SQLServerCentral Article

Whoo Hooo! I got my first article published by last week on writing KML files using the FOR XML clause.

You can check out the article here

This article stimulated some interesting feedback from readers and of course a few corrections, but it is really exciting to have an article published by such a notable publisher in this field.

One of the more interesting comments that I need to talk about is the one regarding letting the application do the work. My original approach was to let the application do the work and found the following. XML manipulation in C# is slow. Looping through RecordSets to build a StringBuilder object is faster, but error prone. Letting the database do this work turned out to be much faster and more reliable than I ever imagined.

However, there is a problem with performing a lot of math in the stored procedures to produce polygons and circles. The same algorithm used to create circles in C# does not work so well in TSQL, so in this case, the application should be responsible for polygon creation, but the base XML/KML should be created at the database first.

I want to thank the publishers and contributors at for their advice and encouragement.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Understanding KML

Understanding KML, which is the XML compliant format for sharing data with Google Earth requires reading and adhering to the KML Reference documentation at

KML is essentially an XML compliant format for designating all of the relevant information that you wish to show in the your favorite display application. All data dependent applications require some form of contract, and with Google Earth, this contract is called KML. Within a document, you will find the element, which contains style sheet information as well as the point, circle or polygon shape objects, their icons, names, descriptions, latitude, longitude and elevation attributes.

According to Google, You can create KML files with the Google Earth user interface, or you can use an XML or simple text editor to enter "raw" KML from scratch. KML files and their related images (if any) can be compressed using the ZIP format into KMZ archives. To share your KML and KMZ files, you can e-mail them, host them locally for sharing within a private internet, or host them publicly on a web server. Just as web browsers display HTML files, Earth browsers such as Google Earth display KML files. Once you've properly configured your server and shared the URL (address) of your KML files, anyone who's installed Google Earth can view the KML files hosted on your public web server.

Many applications display KML, including Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Maps for mobile, NASA WorldWind, ESRI ArcGIS Explorer, Adobe PhotoShop, AutoCAD, and Yahoo! Pipes. This makes it a suitable standard for creating interactive business intelligence products.

A basic KML document might look like the following:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<kml xmlns="">
<name>My office</name>
<description>This is the location of my office.</description>

What this is describing is a simple placemark control having the minimum properties to be displayed within Google Earth. We see we have a single Placemark element, and within that placemark, we have a name [required], a description [required], and a [Point], also required. A point in Google Earth contains either both the latitude and latitude of a point, assuming the elevation sticks to the surface of the earth, or you can choose to include a third parameter within the coordinates tag to specify altitude.

Essentially, all kml documents we create will be relevant to your data and can be augmented with additional attributes to further enhance the experience.

I will dissect more complicated examples next time.

Google Earth Integration

Google Earth has revolutionized interactive business intelligence. The Google Earth and KML tool sets, along withe the widely accepted use of Google Earth, provides a vast community of data sources that when viewed in concert with your geospacial data, will provide more insight into your business than ever imagined.

I have made a career of building software applications that demonstrate data in a visual context, to decrease the duration of the OODA loop that business managers and battlefield commanders use to make better informed and faster decisions in order to gain and maintain the initiative.

The Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop is a well defined workflow that when compressed into a faster cycle than your competition, has proven to increase your competitive advantage and improves your win/loss ratio.

Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the ocean. You can explore rich geographical content, save your toured places, and share with others.

It turns out that Google Earth is one of the best platforms for no to low cost geospacial business intelligence.

The good folks at Google, have made it possible for you to incorporate your business data into one of the best geospacial rendering applications with relative ease.

I will be more than happy to work with any business in constructing relevant and interactive business intelligence applications using Google Earth, various third party and government data sources, and of course your data, giving you a world view of your business situation that you could not otherwise have appreciated before.