2012-12-21

Planning the next IT year.

When I started my present employment (year 2000) I promised myself never again take on operational responsibility. Well, I kept my promise a week or two then I sat there again burning the midnight lamp fixing a corrupt database in an MRP system I had created 1980, that system is now scrapped, but now I’m  heavily involved in the operations of our BI system the Data Warehouse. I’m also involved in some other systems that needs some instant tinkering from time to time. Operations is the most important factor when I set up my calendar. Meetings is the second most important factor. To me it seems meeting is getting more and more important or frequent. I do not know if this is just a fact of my professional role is changing or if this is a more general trend.

The third most important factor for my calendar is projects. This is definitely a trend, more and more work are done as projects. When I started to work with IT most work was assigned to  individuals, only big ‘projects’ were actually organized in projects. Today no task is too small for a project organisation.

Vacations is something you have to take into consideration when planning the year. In western europe most of us take a month off in the summer. (In Sweden five weeks vacation is the minimum, I think I have six weeks. I remember when I was employed in the US I was given three weeks vacation since ‘you are from Europe, but please do not tell anyone’.)

Basically I use three cycles when I plan my next years calendar. First we have the year itself, then the month and last the week.

Week cycle.

Monday mornings is reserved to operations if anything gone wrong during the weekend. Monday afternoon project meetings, so project members can plan their week, the earlier in the week the better. Do operational changes on Mondays, so you can fix the problems on Tuesday. Wednesday is ‘meeting day’ experience have taught me operations problems are least likely to occur on Wednesday, so plan for important repeating meetings on Wednesday. Thursday small operational changes and ‘unplanned’ meetings, seminars etc.. Never change operations on Fridays, (not even a simple program bug fix if it can be postponed to next week) unless you want to work during the weekends. Fridays are for those boring sometimes unnecessary meetings you cannot avoid. Note the later a Friday meeting is held the shorter it will be. At 16.00 even a hopeless filibuster often keep quiet. Weekends lastly are for big operational tasks.

Month cycle.

First day of month is Business Intelligence day. The BI system must be up and cope with peak load. If the system is of any magnitude and have active users there are new/changed reports, it’s very likely there are problems to deal with. Do not plan for anything the first no matter what weekday it is, your BI system may need you. The second and third week in the month are the quiet weeks plan for repeating events and important meeting. Last we have month period closing that starts four days before month end and lasts to the third day of the next month. During this time the financial guys become hysterical if they do not get all attention from you (and everyone else for that matter).

Year cycle.

The year starts with what I call the ‘Iron day’, in my younger days I took a taxi from the new year party directly to the office and after a barrel of coffee I dealt with the year end’s problems. Nowadays I try to sleep a few hours before I log in from home and deal with year end’s problems. The ‘Iron day’ is the single most important IT operational day and it is an effort of will. Be prepared for anything. (Three years ago our VPN-system broke down so I could not log in at 06.00. I had to take a taxi to the office as in the old days. A software license had expired).

Be cautious with planning to much in the beginning of January, there might be difficult year end’s problems to deal with.  

February is software license renewal month. (Never ever have software licences expire in December, January or during the vacation period.)

For us the summer vacation period is July and August (in Sweden it is July and in Belgium it is August). Avoid plan anything during the vacation period. You should not start up anything new two weeks before the vacation period, and one week after the vacation period.

The most IT-critical period of the year is the year end. Do not start up any major IT-finance projects from mid november until mid January, the finance guys will be absorbed by year end. Declare ‘production freeze’ from second week in December to second week in January, only allow necessary maintenance in the IT landscape and infrastructure.

When these three cycles are firmly booked in the calendar you only have to mark up holidays like Xmas and easter and bank holidays and your calendar is ready for use and you are prepared for planning the next year.

2012-12-16

Office activity peaks and Business Intelligence users

Every Database Administrator knows there are work related activity peaks during the day in the office. You have a long peak of activity shortly after most workers arrive in the morning and another shorter one before lunch. After lunch there is an hour of intense activity and a short burst of activity at the end of the day. In between those two peaks not much is happening. How do I measure? In the ERP systems of course, when we work we tend to use the ERP systems, so to measure the work activity rate just calculate the ERP transaction rate. As you may have noticed I’m vague in timings of the peaks. If you have observed activity peaks in different countries you know activity  differs between countries.  I will not mention more about that other than Swedes tend to come in early in the morning, I myself is a bit extreme I often start between 05.30 and 06.00.
A good friend of mine and ex-colleague Ulf Davidsson co-creator of the Data Warehouse used the Business Intelligence system activity to categorise BI-workers into ‘ doers ’ and ‘thinkers ’. The doers start early in the morning and pick up the reports they need for their day tasks. The thinkers tend to come in later their activity peak coinciding with the after lunch peak. The classification into doers and thinkers are quite useful. Doers need precise detailed but rather limited amounts of information in Excel format, while the thinkers are more for quantity ‘give me all, I want all goods movements in all factories since the days of Eden’ and they prefer olap  presentation of the information, today we use Qlikview  for olap visualization. The doers request 100% quality of data, while thinkers demands performance. (The first thinker using the Data Warehouse Styrbj√∂rn Horn  forced me to upgrade the hardware, at the time we were operating on scrapped laptops, ‘I go bonkers while waiting for my reports’. Styrbj√∂rn later founded his own company Navetti .)
A common mistake creating BI is to create the BI for thinkers, since they seldom have detailed knowledge of data, they assume it is correct and when they finally find bad data quality they can be nasty to deal with. When you create a BI application you should find the doers that benefit from the system and start by create reports for them, if they find the reports useful they will help you iron out quality issues. (You should base your BI on solving problems rather than visions and grand ideas.) When the application is stable with correct data it is time to invite the thinkers, if they find your application useful they will help you with the performance issues. Thinkers often have a budget and they can be surprisingly generous if they like your BI system.
This post is based on generalized observations, there are swedish nighthawks and early birds from other countries. We do not only work in ERP and BI systems. BI doers can also be thinkers and vice versa.
I have no connections to those behind the olap video link, I stumbled across it and I like it, especially the brick wall, to create successful BI you must be in the business.
My only connections to Navetti are professional, we use their software and ‘my’ systems feed their software with information.