Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Frustration of Business Intelligence

DSCallards tend to work with ambitious SME companies that want to improve the way they do business. Often they struggle with getting timely and trustworthy information out of the systems they have in order to report on how the business is performing. Analysing or predicting trends to cope with ad-hoc changes to their business, the economy or industry compliance is for most a pipe dream. 

It’s surprisingly common, for some on a daily basis, to experience frustration in the amount of time or duplication of effort in the production of report information, it’s not unheard of on an annual basis for this overhead to cost their businesses tens of thousands of pounds. Lack of usage is another frustration for many of our customers. They may have spent money on a new system or even reporting software but still users find it difficult to interpret the information to answer the questions they have. This can lead to the mistrust of data, as a bigger headache is caused by users getting hold of their own subset of data. Most of the time this effort only leads to further frustration as time is wasted battling other colleagues who have done the same thing but have a different set of results. Ultimately these issues result in a genuine fear that important decisions are being made on gut feel and the future of the business is not in their control. 

With reporting and Business Intelligence, the value can sometimes be hard to establish as often you don’t know the outcomes that better reporting and analysis of your data will bring. However, as a conservative base line through working with DSCallards our customers typically identify a minimum of £9,000 ROI within the first twelve months of rolling out our project managed reporting/business Intelligence solutions. Straight away with the design of one report Geotech uncovered over an £85,000 saving from an inaccurate stock management process. Another Phoenix Contact, increased their market share by 12% and experienced double digit revenue growth through an increase in sales directly associated with the competitive edge between sales teams from presenting accurate and timely sales information in dashboards. 

I wouldn’t expect anyone reading this to be experiencing any of these similar frustrations… although I welcome your comments.

Written by Ben Hedger, Senior Business Development Consultant, DSCallards

Increase revenue by 150% in 90 days by introducing 1 webpage of CSS3 animations!

If, like me, you've got what feels like 100's of web pages to keep fresh and alive and interesting you'll need to know this stuff! Then if you get asked as a web designer what value you give the business you definitely need to read on!

A sprinkling of CSS3 goodness over an otherwise plain collection of images can help to bring them to life and inject a little more personality to a page. Using simple CSS3 techniques we can create simple, yet effective, interactions which provides a subtle level of eye-candy. Amongst a plethora of nice things that CSS3 provides us there are a few new styles and properties that we can leverage very simply to our page. But first, we must lay down the building blocks for our images - the HTML:

Here we are creating a series of 5 images each linked to its own image source. Each image has the class polariod applied along with a rotate class - the purpose of these will become clearer a little later. The CSS to style the basic images is thus,

The result is a somewhat uninspiring series of stock images,

To give each image a slighty more polariod look and feel we can update the css to apply a shadow, background gradient and subtle corner rounding:

Back in ye olde' days, I often wrote on the polaroid itself with a short description of the image, noting the people in the photo, location, date etc. We can achieve a similar effect here by altering the structure of the html to include a wrapper for each image and including some paragraph text,

Alterations to the css are fairly minimal. We'll need to set the pen colour up (biro blue works for this).

Now that the images are contained within a div wrapper we can also apply styling to the image specifically. So, why not sprinkle a little more CSS3 around...

Pass the Pritt-stick

I used to stick my polaroids in a physical photo album. Some used to come with feint lines horizontally and vertically across the page to help you to place the photos nice and neatly ensuring that they were straight and equi-distant from each other. However, many didn't provide this aid meaning that you were often placing images by eye and aften the result was a little chaotic. To be honest, I quite liked that look as it felt more real and homely rather than manufactured. CSS3 allows us to mimic this positioning using the transform / rotate style. We don't really want every image to be placed with the same degree of rotation, so we'll vary it. Remember the rotate styles that we added to, what are now, the polariod wrappers? This is how we'll rotate either (P)ositivly or (N)egativly by a few degrees,

Sprinkle some gloss

I suppose we could stop there; we have images that are not dissimilar to the polariods of olde'. But, we're working with slightly more enhanced tech here, so we can add a few nice touches. We could rotate the images back to 'straight' on mouse hover. Note that although IE will simply 'turn' the images, it won't animate it unless you're using IE10+,

We could also alter the scale and opacity of the polariod. We'll very slightly dim the opacity of the image until the user hovers over the wrapper. At which point we'll fully brighten and enlarge the image by a small factor,

Again, IE will perform the scale and opacity functions, but unfortunately not with smooth animation.

The final html & css are:


Now you're asking yourself how does all this clever stuff increase revenue...well I was recently asked to add some "bedazzle" to one of our most visited and popular websites, so I applied this style format to our page containing the details of our valued consultants and trainers from our Business Intelligence Team. Between them this team have over 100 years of Crystal Report development experience and a reputation for delivering some of the best BI projects in the business so I thought I’d better honour them somehow!.

Come and check out the look, be sure to use a proper web browser like Firefox or Chrome to get the true wow factor!

Now I don’t know whether its connected to my amazing new website animations but a colleague recently told me we’d increased our training revenue in the last three months by 150%, that's an amazing increase and you'll excuse me but I'm gonna be humble and for the sake of artistic license take the glory!

That's now adding CSS3 styling to 1 page of your website can increase your organisations revenue by 150% in 90 days!

To find out more about CSS3 check out this forum To find out more about some of our successful BI projects check out our case studies or visit us at our next free seminar.

Written by: Mick Stup, DSCallards

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Achieve the Results You Plan For

Fear of Waste

In this economy, every dollar counts. Guilt or embarrassment sets in from spending on something that doesn't work or collects dust on the shelf from lack of use. by Gary Horsman


At Google we say ‘Data beats opinion’ and ‘Say it with numbers’. Pretotyping does this: it moves you from the world of ideas to the world of data. The discussion between the innovators and investors is no longer about opinion. You don’t just think your product is going to be great; you have data to back you up. That changes the conversation. I like to say: ‘Innovate like a start-up; go to market like a grown up.’ By Alberto Savoia, founder of Pretotype Labs and former Google innovation executive.

Learning, how important is it?

“The need for learning never ends, so your desire to do so should always outweigh your desire to be right”. by

The above are quotes from articles I’ve recently read which have all resulted in the same afterthoughts relating them to the BI industry I work in. I think I can best sum this up by saying for me it raised the importance for setting expectations or to elaborate, you achieve the results you plan for, which coincidently is taken from our customer engagement methodology, our marketing Manager will be pleased!

So to explain and to add more context, what has setting expectations and planning got to do with BI reporting or analytics?

Ever known a company or person to buy into the idea that a piece of software will change their fortunes without understanding whether the potential value delivered back outweighs the cost of buying it? I raise my hand! And it’s not that we’re stupid, but having been in the SME marketplace for the majority of my customer interactions I have witnessed a lot of software purchases being based upon a belief, a desire, a good sales job! And as a result when it gets reviewed and to justify if it’s not being used or not worked, nine times out of ten you will hear amongst the feedback some reference to requirements or spec not being delivered. Basically, what has been delivered is different from what they thought would be delivered?

I’ve sat in the same room, listened to the same conversation about the same project yet on the debrief you still have a totally different understanding of what the customer wants to the fellow project team members.

So how do you limit this risk? Obvious, you say, you plan and document things. And although it does sound obvious traditionally only a few companies, usually the corporates were the only engagements where a Proof of Concept, Business Case, Investment Justification Study were undertaken before a decision would be made on a new reporting platform. Typically, this would be a paid exercise that either an external company or experienced internal specialist would conduct.

I have seen over the past 3-5 years its not only corporates who are raising business cases to justify investment. Of course the financial climate has played a part in this however the concern I have in what I have seen in the SME marketplace is that with financial constraints many are conducted by internal personnel who really don’t have the experience let alone the dedicated time to deliver the plan and keep on top of the documentation required. But surely this can’t be the only reason? Are there not companies out there offering this service for a reasonable fee! I’m pretty sure last time I looked most, if not all software products (even open source!) have partners that will offer to charge you to tell you what you already know…  And herein lies the issue… Many SME Business Leaders are still conditioned to react to consulting fees with this very thought pattern.

Apart from being in a better position professionally is it not better to pay for or hire a third party to conduct the analysis who can also dedicate the necessary time for the job and inevitably get things done a lot quicker. Doesn’t it also give them liability if the analysis proves mistaken and gives a much better chance of receiving an honest, complete assessment? 

Pay a company to scope it. A business case that has liability but also reputation at stake is a professional and lowest risYou k option no matter what I or the emotional part of your brain is telling you... 

Whether its learning to trust data to support your business decisions or conquering the fear of getting it wrong. Through planning, you will set realistic expectations and in doing so improve the relationship with both your colleagues and your customers and you never know maybe you’ll achieve the results you plan for… 

Written by:  Ben Hedger, Senior Business Development Consultant, DSCallards

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Automated Testing with TestComplete: Checking whether System under Test is running on a 32 or 64-bit Operating System

When automated testing under different versions of operating systems, sometimes you want to perform different actions depending on whether you are running on a 32 or 64-bit operating system.

For example, a file may be installed in one directory on a 32-bit system and a different directory on a 64-bit system (as is commonly the case in Microsoft Windows 7 with the “Program Files (x86)” and “Program Files” directories), and part of your testing may be to test that an installer has correctly deployed certain files into the correct directory.

With the TestComplete automated testing software, you can run a JScript routine using the in-built ‘Sys.OSInfo’ property to perform different actions depending on the operating system.

To give an example of how this might be used, the basic JScript function below checks whether the operating system is 32 or 64-bit, obtain a different directory depending on the result and posts the results to the test log:

Of course, this can be extended to be as complex as you like, but it does demonstrate the possibility of what can be achieved with this useful in-built system property.

Written bySam Massey, Senior QA and Support Analyst, DSCallards