Anti-Cloud Based Tools for Personal Intelligence

Creating a personal intelligence platform for self tracking has never been easier.  While technology continues to push us toward the “cloud” and SaaS as a strategy of revenue generation, we cannot overlook the tried and true platforms available to keep data on your computer and away from prying eyes of Analysts.

As a data visualization and KPI development guru, I love finding those interesting trends in my own life that drive smarter, better habits.  If you are like me, you don’t feel comfortable sharing your dirty underwear with Mark Zuckerberg and you really wonder what Google is doing with all of that data they keep acquiring.   By maintaining a self database on my desktop computer which I can add to and tweak at a whim, I am able to give myself peace of mind and control over MY data.  Curious, about what KPI’s I track?  Stay tuned, that is a topic of another post.

Without further ado, here are some tools that you can use to create your own personal intelligence platform on your local computer:

  • Microsoft Excel
    • A stunningly powerful tool to use for even the novice user.  Create your own tables, link them how you want and design your own graphs and dashboards at your own pace and complexity.  Available for both Windows and Mac.
  • Numbers
    • A Mac only platform designed to compete directly Microsoft Excel which offers much the same functionality, but lacks some advanced capability compared with Excel.  The simplicity and robust visual que are 2nd to none, but as the data set grows, you may be wishing you chose Excel in the beginning.
  • Qlikview Free
    • I have been a fan of Qlikview for years.  I love the ability to create charts and dashboards from Excel spreadsheets and the gnarly level of interactivity that it provides.  The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think and well worth a few minutes reading their documentation.   The limitation here is the limited number of shared files you can open.  Windows only.
  • MySQL / Apache / PHP / HTML5 / HighCharts
    • Ok, if you are going with this option, you are a true geek with coding ability.  This isn’t for the lighthearted as configuring MySQL, Apache, etc etc will take time.  But the advantage is you are left with an enterprise class database and a truly blank slate in regards to dashboards.  You can even create your own forms in HTML to add data.  Mac/Linux/Windows
  • Microsoft Access
    • If you need something in between Excel and MySQL to store data, Access is a great option and can interface with Excel graphs and dashboards.  With a mild learning curve, the ability to store any kind of data, and the convenience of a query builder UI, Access makes for a very robust solution. But, it lacks more advanced visualization, so be prepared to connect Excel to Access. Windows only and available with Office Professional.

As you can see, creating a Personal Intelligence platform off the cloud is possible.  You can take full control of your data and keep it private at the same time.  As data becomes more and more of a commodity and SaaS business models continue to nickel and dime everything, home based data management will be more and more appealing.  Excel is the perfect anti-cloud.

Developing KPI’s: Accountability for Remote Workers

While Marissa Mayer’s decision to remove the privilege of remote work from Yahoo!’s culture was met with shock and bewilderment initially, the truth was that Yahoo!’s remote workforce have been slacking.  Since the company is only as good as its best slacker, putting an end to an easy pay check outside the office was the right move.

Since remote work is here to stay, companies need an objective way to monitor their employees.  Just like an employee sitting in office, a remote employee needs to guarantee a certain level of access to their co-workers.  So, how do you know your remote employees are actually working?

As an employee with a few years experience working remote and working with remote bosses, I’d like to discuss some of the data points I think are pertinent to measuring remote employee connectedness and availability.  As a former Citrix Online employee, I am all too familiar with using GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting as tools to enable a positive, productive remote work experience.

Lets take a look at some data points that could give any boss reason to reign in a slacking remote worker:

  • VPN Access – Timed Logged In
    • Most remote employees access company resources through a VPN for security.  Just like Mayer discovered a lack of VPN use at Yahoo!, tracking the amount of time an employee spends on the VPN is essential to understanding their connectedness.  One could also monitor GoToMyPC usage as an alternative to VPN access.
      • While the goal would be agreed upon between employer and employee as some employees may not need to be connected 8 hours a day, the employee should be accountable for at least 90% of the VPN requirement.
  • Phone/Skype Availability – Calls Answered or Callback Time
    • This is simple, if you call the employee, whether via phone or Skype, do they answer?  If they don’t answer, how long does it take for them to call you back?
      • The goal here is to have the employee answer the phone approximately 33% of random calls, with a response time of four hours for messages left.
  • Email Use – Messages Received/Response Time
    • This may or may not be for all employees but since email is taking over for phone calls, remote employees should expect to be in contact with their manager on a routine basis.  The KPI should focus on proactive emails during the period (i.e. did I receive an email from employee) and the response time for emails sent to the employee.
      • Goal is defined as receiving X number of emails from employee with a 24-hour response time for emails sent to the employee.
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings Attended/Attendance Time
    • Is the employee actually attending team or company meetings?  This KPI tracks their attendance and how long they are connected.  After all, an employee who sits out of team meetings is not likely to be a productive member. Services like GoToMeeting make it easy to know who is connected to a meeting.
      • Goal is to have the employee attend 90% of a meeting’s length and attend 100% of meetings.  Making sure the employee knows to attend a meeting is, of course, the manager’s responsibility.

As you can see, any contact point the employee has with the company can be used to monitor their engagement.  You might be asking yourself how to track these KPI’s and who owns it.  Well, it depends on whether the company has a KPI program or whether a manager is interested in tracking their own team.   In my opinion, whether or not an employee is productive falls squarely on the shoulders of the direct report manager and it would be up to them to create the KPI’s suitable for the situation, leveraging IT and BI departments to access data.

Once a manager begins monitoring remote worker KPI’s, they enable an objective analysis and discussion of expectations between both parties.  Putting the KPI’s onto a shared dashboard is a great way to start off a one on one meeting.

What does an actual dashboard for remote employees look like?  Stay tuned, a mockup is in the works.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on remote employee KPIs?  leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@mooney1).

Search Engine Battle Gets Interesting: Bing Rewards

There is no question about Google being the dominant player in the search engine market.  Internet search evolved from Dogpile to Alta Vista, all the way to Google with many more players in between.

Bing search result resembles Google closely.

With my 2012 goal of ridding Facebook and Google from my life (I feel both of these companies are too big and have too much data), seeking an alternate search engine is high on my to-do list.  There are few alternatives, so I have been testing Bing over the past few weeks.  Overall, Bing is a competitive alternative with a very similar look and feel of Google

What was surprising to me, was the pop-up window in the upper right of the screen. The pop-up suggests that I signup for Bing Rewards (more on this later), do 2 additional searches and enter a sweepstakes for an Xbox 360.  While I wasn’t wild about entering a sweepstakes for an Xbox, the concept of trading searches for product was intriguing. So I dug deeper.

Example products/services to redeem your ‘rewards’ on.

It seems that Microsoft is eager to get people to use Bing, so they’ve come up with something called Bing Rewards.  Very much like a rewards program for your credit card, you earn points for each internet search.  Once you collect enough points, you can redeem them for coupons and product like a $5 Amazon.com gift card or even 60 minutes of Skype credit.  The part I thought was especially thoughtful was the ability to turn your rewards into a charity donation to an organization like TeachForAmerica or DonorsChoose.org.

While I will happily use Bing as my default search engine going forward without the inspiration of collecting BingRewards, I have to hand it to Microsoft to sweeten the search engine Battle and reward customers for their data, rather than stealing it (as Google does).

If you use BingRewards and can speak to the program, please leave a comment.  I, and the rest of my readers, would love to hear about your experience.

Data Perspectives – Trial Users

One of the keys to getting customers hooked on your SaaS product is offering a free trial.  Letting someone experience your product for free for seven to thirty days is a great way to establish trust with the potential customer, let them experience the product, and also gain insight into how they will use the product (customer segmentation).

On a recent project, I was reviewing data for a client and noticed a very interesting pattern in the login histories (not really, but we will call it logins since the real data can’t be shared) for trial users.  This particular client offered a 7-day credit card trial with auto convert to a selected plan (i.e. monthly or annual).    What I expected was a nice curve from day 1, declining each day, relatively smoothly and then an increase in logins after conversion.

However, after summarizing the login data for the first ten days of service (including 3 days for the auto convert), I found a sharp decrease in logins from day 1 and day 2, as well as a blip on day 6. See the chart below.

What was even more fascinating is how the other analysts and “experts” at the company interpreted this data.  Some of the comments are below:

  • “Wow, people pay us and use less?” – referring to the drop is usage on day 8 after becoming a paying customer
  • “Those auto convert reminder emails are working, driving usage!” – referring to the increase in logins one day prior to trial end on day 6
  • “Looks like we need pay per login” – referring to the sharp decline in logins from day 1 to day 2
  • “If we can get the customer to use beyond day 4, we have them!” – not sure how this really fits in as we haven’t correlated logins with LTV, yet
  • “People are cheap” – referring to the people logging in on day 6 to use the product prior to cancellation
  • “If you are going to login to cancel your auto convert on day 6, wouldn’t you try the product one last time?” – again, referring to day 6

The chart is quite simple, a single line with 10 data points.  What isn’t simple is really what this data means.   In fact, I don’t think we can make a decision directly from this data. Rather we need to further understand what the trial users are actually doing on day 6 and how users with logins on day 7 compare to the users on day 1 (is this a bad a marketing channel).  It would also be great to dive into patterns of logins just prior to churn or trial cancellation.

What fascinates me the most, is not only the different perspectives on the data, but the deeper questions that come out of the data.  Data and customer insights are evolutionary.  The more you know, the more you ask questions and the more the decisions and knowledge evolve.

Balance, Don’t Forget It!

Balance is one of those things that I think a lot of people go through life without. It applies to just about everything and can be hard to achieve. In fact, we often forget to look for the balance in every situation.

Here are some examples:

1) Horseback Riding – The rider must balance their weight on the saddle. Lean too far right or left and you risk falling off. Lean too far forward descending a steep hill and you risk tumbling forward, horse and all. Constantly maintaining balance in the saddle is the key to happy horses and happy riders.

2) Triathlons – During a triathlon, the triathlete is balancing speed with energy exertion, meaning that you want to finish in the fastest time possible but still have energy left to make it across the finish line. Fail at fueling your body correctly or pushing yourself too hard and your performance will show it. Balance the speed and energy to be a successful triathlete.

3) Swimming – The key to moving through the water is perfect balance, which creates minimal drag. Michael Phelps (sorry, you can’t talk about swimming and not mention him) is somewhat of a scrawny guy, but his success comes from finding the most streamlined position and movements in the water. Phelps does not need power when he is not losing speed to drag; he just needs enough to maintain. Balance makes you a happy, efficient swimmer.

4) Nutrition – Eating lots of one thing, really doesn’t work for the human body. In fact, the phrase concerning moderation is right on. Eating a balance of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and fats is the key to feeling great and losing weight.

5) Personal and Professional Life – Working too much can lead to burn out. Not working enough can lead to bankruptcy and foreclosure. Not having enough fun can lead to depression. Not exercising enough and eating too much can lead to obesity. I think you know where I am going with this. Life balance is about getting paid to do something you enjoy, hanging out with the people that make you laugh, going to the symphony, and even sweating a lot playing basketball or running through the neighborhood. Finding balance in life can be difficult and many die never having it.

As you are reading this, ask yourself, Where is the balance in this moment? Is the lighting just right? Is your chair comfortable? What can you do to bring balance to the moment?

When you get up tomorrow, keep balance in mind all day. Observe your world and find the places that you may have forgotten where balance exists or needs to exist.

DON’T FORGET IT!

Immersion, The Good, Bad and the Ugly!

Immersion is the concept of surrounding yourself with a given subject to concentrate on learning it.

The GOOD
The good is that immersion is a very efficient way of learning something. You can jam pack a lot of information in a very narrow window of time. Picking up the basics of a new language or skill is possible over a long weekend.

The BAD
Immersion usually occurs for a limited time. From a day to a few weeks, immersion is not something that you want to do for long. The learner risks burn-out as the human body needs to time break old habits and adjust to the new knowledge.

The UGLY
Immersion can overwhelm the learner. In such a short time, a lot of information gets thrown at you. While it is important to absorb as much information as possible, sometimes grasping the larger picture and concepts is all you can do.

My weekend at the Total Immersion swim clinic was definitely, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1) It was good because I made huge improvements with my swim stroke.
2) It was bad because it was so short and I wish I had a little more than two days to grab all the information and absorb more detail.
3) It was ugly, by the end of the second day, my brain was so overwhelmed with information that it was almost exploded.

Have you ever tried immersion and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly?

What Do You Know When You Don’t?

Knowing something is half the battle. Communicating that something is the other half, but that is the subject of another post.

Knowing how your customers use your product and how they want to interact with you is a great thing. Two major steps toward becoming customer oriented.

But then you realize that what you know, might not be what you know. You see signs that your data may be incomplete or inaccurately measured. What do you know now?

1) You need to stop and reevaluate what you know.
2) Depending on the issue, you might be realizing that what you know, might be valid to some degree.
3) On the other-hand, you might be realizing that an entire rebuild of the data warehouse is in order.
4) You start making a mind map of the situation to visualize the scope of the problem.
5) You start counting the knowns, the unknowns, the could-be’s and the what-if’s.
6) You then start to think that maybe if you ignore it, it might, with a one in a trillion change, actually fix itself.

Then you realize you just reconstructed the famous Donald Rumsfeld speech:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld (more Rumsfeld quotes)

In the end you may know much more than when you started. But the process of determining what you don’t know and what you do know is a great one! It is called validation.

Everyone should have a process of validation.