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.

The Problem of Facebook Only Updates

There is an assumption in our society that everyone has a Facebook account.  The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth.   Here are some points on why putting all of our eggs into Facebook is a HUGE problem:

  1. If Facebook is the only place companies go to send updates, this would mean Facebook is a monopoly and needs to immediately be dismantled.
  2. Facebook has not demonstrated that they have our societal values as a priority.  The purpose of Facebook, especially now they are public, is to profit from the data their users give them – for free.
  3. Facebook is just like any other web site and experiences outages (accidental and caused by hackers) more than the radio or other forms of media.
  4. Is Facebook really the best “platform” for dispersing information?  What about email, weblogs, and other systems?  Diversification ensures survivability.
  5. People, like myself, who don’t find Facebook as beneficial as having true one on one contact, are left in the dark.  One could argue this is discriminatory toward those who choose more personal relationships.
  6. In the end, the electricity goes out, so does Facebook and a bunch of other things.  Ink or pencil and paper will survive.
  7. There is very little in evidence that shows Facebook is beneficial to company revenue.

I hope this gets you, the reader, thinking about the role Facebook should play in our future.  I would argue that any business or entity that only offers updates through Facebook are just being lazy and not investing the true potential of their business.

As a solution, members of the media and anyone trying to disseminate information to the public should follow an example from Lois Capps:

“Please keep in touch with me through my website, by liking my Facebook page, following me onTwitter, or sending me an email.”

Website updates along with Twitter updates and  blog posts should not be overlooked and replaced with Facebook, period.  To do so is lazy.

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?

Confidence In Metrics

Metrics are the individual numbers that relate to other numbers that tell a story. Often, these are the numbers that people of all levels of the company use to make decisions.

If a company has a firm grasp of their metrics, fully understand their engine, and have reporting in the right places, there can be some pretty impressive looking dashboards available that tell the health of business at a glance.

However, those fabulous looking metrics and dashboards might be completely meaningless if the there is a broken link between the customer touch point and the data server.  As companies grow, data grows exponentially and marketing landing pages pile up on the server, there is more and more potential for something to break.  Undetected breakage can kill a company!

The best way to resolve this is to assume that the entire system is broken and one must test, test, and test again.  Keeping records at the major data transfer points is one way to keep track of records dropping out and why.  Doing routine quality checks on the data is also a way to keep confidence levels up.

Knowing the data, the trends, and the engine is a great way to detect breakage.  If sales from search take a dive and they have been consistent for the past three years, maybe something broke… maybe your campaigns need a refresh.  A good analyst usually has great instinct on the issues.

Patience in drilling down, slicing and dicing, and becoming intiment with your data is the only way to understand it, make sure it works, and that the story is non-fiction as opposed to some strange, poorly written fiction novel.

How confident are you in your metrics? Is it fiction or non-fiction?

Components of a Comfortable Office

As I begin considering a home office remodel, I have been looking at pictures of offices.  If a picture appeals to me, I try and figure out why.

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

1) Dark hardwood desk and cabinetry.

2) Clutter Free (indicates sufficient storage)

3) No Visible Accessories (printers, staplers, etc are hidden)

4) One to two plants

5) Decorative lighting including spot lighting and general task lighting

6) Ergo Chair

7) Creative use of wall space either for art or accessories including pens, whiteboard, etc.

What features of your office do you find essential and/or creative?

Need Intelligent Software

Today on Seth Godin’s blog, Seth posted a bit of a rant titled The End of Dumb Software. Seth brings up some great points about access Notes and the logic behind 2 am meetings.   Perhaps it has become time for software to be a little more intelligent and user friendly.  I am surprised that a company like Apple has not already given intelligent software with logic.