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I’m tired. It’s Friday and I’m ready for the weekend. I click on a link from an email that contains an article I might be interested in. I read the first paragraph and walk around the office for a couple of minutes thinking I’m obviously not in a good place at the moment to appreciate the nuances of the article. I read it again.

The first paragraph appears as new as it was the first time I read it. Nothing went in then and nothing is going in now.

I receive so many emails, so many tweets, so many LinkedIn announcements and inmails with references to articles written by would be Industry experts and soon to be “the new Bill Gates” I am growing tired of reading the same old views spun in a slightly different way and sponsored by me.com

These days we are all would be bloggers and industry gurus… beware of the spin, the hyperbole, self-interest propaganda and cleverly woven rhetoric.

Ultimately, seeing is believing, whereas reading can be misleading… (if not from a truly independent source).

In the Business Intelligence bubble that I live and breathe in, there are so many claims and counter claims of why “x” is better than “y” and you can’t live without “z” that it’s hard to really know what’s going on.

If the message is coming from a market leader then it must be true? Possibly and then, possibly not.

The weight of a huge marketing budget allows you to bombard people with your biased view of things which ultimately chips away at your resistance until you become a believer.

Don’t get sucked in by the spin and discard what might be the best product for you because they’re not on a particular list or advertising on mainstream TV.

When buying BI, check out the case studies and speak to the people involved. Make your own judgement on whether it’s going to be a good for your business. Do a proof of concept and get your hands dirty.

Buy based on facts, not rhetoric and you’ll find yourself in a much better place.

Now let me tell you about our amazing, world class, search based BI product…

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So “Big Data”, what’s it all about?

Is it a PR thing to try to sell services around Hadoop?

Is it to try to get people switched on to social media and make you paranoid about what people may be tweeting or face booking about you, your company or brand.

Is it a way of selling cloud services so that you no longer need to worry about running out of disk space or blowing your fuse box by plugging in one too many servers?

I don’t have the answer but I do have an opinion.

It is undeniable that the amount of data floating around the ether is growing at an exponential rate.

The channels for distributing that data are expanding rapidly. Twitter is the new Google. Everyone knows about it even if they don’t use it.

If you want to express an opinion about something and get the world to see it what do you do? Tweet about it and add a creative or provocative #hashtag.

Away from Twitter, regulatory bodies insist that you keep your data for “n” years. Away from this people are paranoid about losing stuff so we would prefer to stuff it away somewhere rather than throw it away.

I don’t like throwing stuff away. It makes my office untidy but because I know in my head where things are it makes me “organised”.

So is big data a result of messiness or a result of growth?

Should we embrace big data or should we look at doing a spring clean and consolidate, de-duplicate and ration what we have to the things that we really need on a daily basis?

We write software that copes with what I would call “big data”. That is millions and billions of transactions which to me is a requirement for large enterprises with loads of customers or service providers that deal with a load of transactions… Many Terabytes of data, however big data can make Terabytes look like Childs play…

A quick (2-second trawl of Google later…)

So the question I have is “how big is big data and is there a limit at which size really does matter?”

My view is that big data is a fact. There is lots of data. Is it of use? Currently, it’s only of use to huge corporates with millions if not billions of consumers…the Coca-Colas of this world.

Should we all be jumping on the big data band waggon? Not yet. It’s still too difficult, too expensive and the benefits versus cost unproven.

I watch this space with interest and look forward to seeing what value an SME gets out of trawling through Geopbytes of data!

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As the creators of CXAIR, a really simple to use business intelligence tool that is built on search technology, we often get asked how we compare to other similar products on the market.

The thing is that all of the concepts and designs are geared around usability, simplicity and speed, not by trying to copy or mimic all of the legacy BI tools that do the “same old thing” in the “same old way” as everything else.

For this reason a blow for blow feature comparison is going to be pretty meaningless.

None the less, here is an attempt to compare CXAIR to other BI tools:

Feature Traditional BI CXAIR by Connexica Notes
Ease of Use Hadron Collider Rock Hammer Simplicity often outshines complexity. CXAIR is easy to understand and obvious how to use.
Innovation, Performance and Reliability US School Bus Tesla Roadster Built from the ground up, CXAIR is designed to be speedy, efficient and reliable. Traditional BI is mature and functional but based on proven techniques and technologies that were relevant over 30 years ago. New technologies such as search engines make SQL based BI, legacy.
Flexibility Concrete Step Barrier Traffic Cone It’s easier to move a traffic cone! CXAIR has a lighter hardware footprint than traditional BI and can be applied across structured and unstructured data.
Speed and Agility Aircraft Carrier Speed Boat SQL was designed for storing transactional data. Search engine technology was designed for lightning fast data retrieval over huge data volumes. CXAIR can index over 30 million records an hour using regular hardware and query across millions of rows with sub-second response times.
Value for Money Andriy Shevchenko (to Chelsea) 9 goals for £30M Thierry Henry (to Arsenal) 174 goals for £11.5M Traditional BI is expensive to license and expensive to implement. CXAIR can be installed in 10 minutes and configured to query and search across your data in a matter of hours.
Relevance to today’s requirements David Blain Dynamo CXAIR was built using today’s technology which itself has been built to satisfy today’s problems. With the huge year on year growth in data volumes, the need for business users to have direct access to larger and larger data sets has never been so great. CXAIR has never been so relevant to today’s business requirements.

So there you have it… “A chalk and cheese or apples and pears comparison guide”.

Not exactly scientific but hopefully sheds a little light on why CXAIR is different to traditional BI tools…

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When I was a humble developer moving my way through the ranks into management, directorship and then ownership of a business my views of building and buying software have changed considerably.

When I started in IT, home PC’s were a relatively new thing.

Windows (the software kind) had not been written yet, Lotus was the only spreadsheet in Town, business applications were ran on huge, expensive mainframes.

Software was for the big boys. For the smaller companies, pen, paper, folders and filing cabinets were the most practical way of recording and finding stuff.

As I got into IT, if there was a problem that could be solved by code, I’d write some software to do the job and use it internally.

In the “olden days”, there wasn’t a plethora of pre-canned tools to choose from and even if there was one, it would be too expensive to justify buying.

Today things are so different.

There are so many off the shelf applications you can use. For starters there is Microsoft Office. Love it or hate it, it’s affordable and provides you with some of the essential tools for running your home office or small business.

With EXCEL you have the world’s most popular reporting and business intelligence tool. Over 600 million people use Excel so it can’t be that bad!

Sure it has its limitations and eventually a business that uses EXCEL for its management reporting will end up in chaos.

Trying to sift through thousands of non-standard spread sheets to get to some form of unified view of the business is not practical once you get over a certain size.

As I got into business, I understood the merits of spending a bit of cash on EXCEL for your finances, WORD for your contracts and Power point for your investor presentations etc… but I was then faced with other business challenges which cried out for new software based solutions.

As we were developing and selling software we needed a support desk, as we were signing up more and more customers and needed to keep track of sales pipeline and deliverables, as we were employing more and more people we needed a HR department, as we need to track business performance better we needed analysis tools (which was not a problem as this is what we do – build BI technology…) , as we were buying and selling more and more things we needed a Finance and Accounts department etc… etc…

So throughout this cycle of growth at what point do you decide that EXCEL and WORD is not enough?

In my youth, I used to think CRM was for Sissies. HR systems were for Wimps and ERP systems were for companies with too much money to spend and a business that must be able to run itself due to the huge distraction and effort involved in implementing a SAP or a Dynamics.

The reality is somewhat different…

As your business grows, and even to help it grow in the first place, there is a balancing act between getting by what you have and investing in technology to help stream line and improve your business processes.

Having been very much a build it myself guy, I have a greater appreciation of the benefits well written software can bring to your business as well as the financial risks in investing and not investing in software.

Whilst we’ll never need to invest in BI software, CRM is not for Sissies, it’s for people who need to keep a good handle on their customers, their pipeline and their relationships. ERP… now that’s a bit too big to chew at the moment but give it 5 years…

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Throughout my career, I can remember the many times I have shrugged my shoulders or shook my head in astonishment as a more “experienced” member of the team struggles to come to terms with finding the next and previous buttons on PowerpPoint, double clicks frantically when something is slow or seems incapable of getting the projector to show their screen… or (and I could go on for hours here) can’t work out how to transfer a file in skype… drag and drop perhaps?

As a former hardcore developer turned manager, turned company founder, I now see in myself some of the things that have annoyed me so much in the past about others…

I look back fondly at Windows 3.1.

I remember with affection the joy of File Manager and the ease of navigating from folder to folder.

I have good memories of Windows XP. Much better than NT as my PC games had a better chance of working — which was a major plus! Bad memories of Vista (a disaster) and a growing like of Windows 7 Professional.

My first proper phone was a Blackberry. Great for email, great keyboard, not bad at all! Then there was my first iPhone — a revelation. How easy is that! One button, touch screen, synchronises with my laptop. Great…

Then something happened… either I’d turned overnight into a technophobe, old age had caught up with me, or as I would like to think, I had become a grumpy perfectionist who wanted the best of the best, not the latest.

I can trace it back to my dalliance with Mac.

I went for the sexy looking, lightweight MacBook Air. Being familiar with Unix, the idea of having access to a Unix shell was appealing. Also, I had heard how good the software was on a Mac and you never get viruses. What could be better than not having to de-install MacAfee Antivirus when I boot up my new laptop for the first time?

Unfortunately, it all went sour the first time I tried to get some software to run as a service. Sure, I knew how to do this using “cron” but I wanted to do it the easy way. What do I click on? Alas, I have to create a workflow script. Not impossible but annoyingly tedious and less than obvious.

On a day to day basis, I open and close files and navigate around my desktop. Who on earth came up with “Finder”. I hate it with a passion! Bring back File Manager, bring back Windows 3.1

I then thought I’d try a Samsung Galaxy and test out Android. I like Google for its sheer simplicity so what do I get with my new Android phone? 3 buttons, not one. I plug it into my laptop and I need to “mount” the phones file system? OK, I can handle this but what the? Things stop working so I’m forced to upgrade my OS to “crispy biscuit” or “ice cream sundae” or something. Afterwards, I end up with a load of trial apps on my machine I never wanted. I feel conned and ripped off even though it cost me nothing.

Things have changed. Us consumers want the best and expect it. If we don’t get it we move on. It’s no longer about loyalty it’s about freedom of choice, best practice and value for money.

As an owner of a software company, I am increasingly aware of the demands of the consumer and focus they put on usability and ease of use. We have just ported our Business Intelligence software onto the iPhone (and Android I hasten to add) and iPad and have tried hard to make things easy enough for an 80-year-old to use.

We have to make things easy because I’m getting to that age when anything that is remotely irritating to use can go in the bin.

I’ll leave all the new wave stuff to the kids! Bring back File Manager that’s all I can say!

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Since the turn of the year, it’s been head down planning and hitting the roads to get the New Year off to a flying start. During that time, I have not had the inclination or perhaps more surprisingly the inspiration to write my first blog of 2012 until now.

I have seen something with my own eyes that has made me question some of the decisions I have made recently with regard to purchasing hardware upgrades and deploying new kit.

So what is it that’s made me sit down and put this discovery into words?

It’s not all that new and may not too many appear all that amazing…

It’s the “Amazon Cloud”.

We have a couple of techies from our Dutch distributor staying with us in the UK for a few days and have been discussing hosting and cloud-based deployment.

One of their most recent initiatives is to set up an Amazon account and configure an instance of CXAIR that can be used as a playpen for BI consultants in the Netherlands. Invite people to familiarise themselves with the product and potentially join their growing band of resellers in the Netherlands.

Having been shown how things have been set up, the thing that got me excited was how everything has been commoditised.

Configuring a server is like ordering the toppings on pizza, order your basic size and style and the choose a few optional toppings…

All of this can be done by clicking on a few check boxes and navigating around a simple to use website.

Why do we bother buying our own hardware anymore? Why worry about having to return memory SIMMs because they don’t fit or work properly, having to slap in new disk controllers and disks? Why go for an upfront capital expense when the alternative is to pay as you go?

Buying and maintaining our servers is just not necessary anymore.

It’s time to concentrate on what we do best. Software.

The Cloud is here, I strongly recommend you give it a try and Amazon is a good place to start!

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