What should you ask, what other stuff you could have asked: Watson Analytics the new analytic approach to new business users.

The issue on data analysis has undoubtedly grown in importance during the last few decades due to the inception of modern technologies, social media and growing data sets. Despite the benefits they offer, it should not be forgotten that these technologies instill hardships to analyse the data to the average business user. Recent IBM users meet on IBM’s Watson Analytics proved to be an eye-opener, which provided clear insight on cloud-based analytics service based on the Watson cognitive computing platform.

On the one hand, the important take away points from the meet could be broadly classified into three arguments. Firstly, it’s based on the structured data and is built using the different existing IBM products such as Catalyst, Project Catalyst Insight, Data Foundry and Neo etc. Secondly, Watson is initially being offered as cloud based and is targeted to a new set of audience. Watson differs to the existing Cognos BI where it overcomes the cluttered analysis work, presents clean visualisation based on simple text questions and also suggests other important bits. Finally, the future plan is to integrate Watson with the data warehouse, BI and other data sets. But for now to answer our business questions, Watson Analytics Beta version is out for testing.

On the other hand, what I see to be a major downside is producing structure data. This again would pose us to the usual routine of data cleansing and big data challenge. Since it’s based on expert system model, there is no clear way to write business rules in to the system. Although there are above-mentioned obstacles, I believe Watson provides more flexibility to the current analytics and a new direction to future analytics with answers based on plain language questions.

AAIR Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence SIG 2014

The 2014 AAIR Special Interest Group (SIG) Forum for Data Warehouse, Business Intelligence and Analytics, and Load Management was held in August in Brisbane. It was hosted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), who put on a great event with representatives from institutions across Australia attending. The event was a useful time to hear about how various Universities are moving forward in business intelligence and to speak about the various challenges and new developments.
There were a number of presentations across a wide variety of BI issues. Some of these included:

  • From Business Intelligence to Intelligent Business: Strategy, Agility, Innovation (Dr Sam Nielson, Queensland University of Technology)
    A presentation about using business intelligence as a strategic asset. QUT has a team focussed on knowledge, innovation and visualisation rather than operational work. They have the opportunity to stop and reflect on the data. This has led to a number of new visualisations of data such as subject pathways, prerequisite analysis, geolocating attendance, and student success analysis. Skills required for this level of BI include foresight, vision, system thinking, motivating and partnering.
  • A Warts & All Look at CSU’s Approach to Identifying & Managing Students at Risk of Attrition (Julie Newham & Tim Scott, Charles Sturt University; Matt Feltham, Altis Consulting)
    CSU presented on a project they successfully delivered in a short time frame. Their Students At Risk project aimed to provide a list of students most at risk of attrition. This was a complex project requiring a large breadth of data and with success hard to matter. Their plan was to identify relevant factors, populate the data warehouse, and then build a predictive model. They found two factors to be relevant:

    • Student Aptitude (assignment marks, GPA, student progression)
    • Student Engagement (accessing online resources)

    The predictive model provided each student with a rank based on likelihood of attrition, and the highest ranked students were targeted for intervention.

  • Late to the BI Party, but Keen to Mingle (Tim O’Dea, James Cook University)
    Tim presented JCU’s recent BI developments. They are only new but have come a long way better. They provide their users with a dashboard portal, using tabs for a number of dashboards, toggles between graph and chart views and ability to change the x-axis.
    JCU are also using GraphViz to create unique visualisations, such as a historical comparison of enrolments from various points in the session (e.g. 2 weeks before, 1 week before, first day, 2 weeks before census, census date)
  • Advanced Data Blending and Analytics Made Easy (Kerrin Paterson, University of Western Sydney; Steve Hitchman and Susan Day, MIP)
    MIP presented a product named Alteryx, which allows users to visually design data blending workflows, pulling in social media and other data and perform various data blending functions. The tool allows ease of re-use and maintainability. Kerrin spoke about how different contexts require different BI and therefore different tools. Enterprise BI would use a data warehouse, whereas team and personal level BI will use a combination of data warehouse along with spreadsheets and other files.

AAIR DW/BI SIG, August 2013

The AAIR DW SIG was held in the Blue Mountains and provided a great opportunity to meet likeminded professionals in the higher education space to hear the challenges, projects and developments occurring at other institutions.

We heard from a number or presenters which included:

ALTIS – University of New England
UNE showcased their sentiment Analysis Project. They largely have a transient student cohort and rarely see their students so it was important that they use online information to determine the student engagement. The Automated Student Wellness Engine (AWE) uses triggers to indicate a student’s wellbeing and thus identifying students that fall below a given index are targets to reach out to.

Data Warehouse Automation – MIP
MIP presented an agile data warehousing approach through data warehouse automation. DWA covers the following aspects

  • Automated source system discovery, target schema design and validation
  • Automated generation of target schema and ELT code
  • Automated testing for compliance and change
  • Automated generation / management of BI metadata
  • Automated documentation and lineage

The presenter compared DWA as a revolution, similar to that where the automotive industry assembly lines were automated through robotics.
More information can be found at:

ANU Sharon Bainbridge – Establishing a BICC
Spoke about the challenges in being able to establish a BICC at ANU and addressed the hurdles associated with that journey. The focus was on what is a BICC and why you need it along with the executive sponsor and strong stakeholder engagement.


Newcastle University Tony Blanch – A collaborative Approach to BI
Tony spoke about the importance of cross collaboration when establishing BI within any organisation. He spoke about starting out by focusing on the low hanging fruit to get buy-in and build from there and engage with the University community.

Uni of Sydney Darren Dadley and Paul Lui
Showcased the last 2 years work at University of Sydney. The current designs mainly focussing on strategic reporting but now going down into the details, especially for Research.

Shirley Alexander – Keynote – Deputy Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching UTS
A very interesting presentation that went through a variety of aspects and initiatives at UTS.  Shirley referred to the University of Purdue http://www.purdue.edu/ and the Data Information Literacy group  http://wiki.lib.purdue.edu/display/ste/Home and demonstrated the importance of acting on signals.

Luke Rowlet – Flinders University
Luke spoke of Flinders University’s BICC being able to develop an incremental data warehouse through an agile project methodology. He specifically referred to Kanban which is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see and developers pull work from a queue.  He mentioned the value of the Kanban board to keep the project team focused and continued incremental deliverables. Another advantage is that the incremental deliverables are fully completed packages from design to implementation allowing for an agile approach.

More information at:

Millie Taylor – University of New England
UNE spoke of their journey over the last two years in redeveloping their data warehouse since a number of significant members had left their team. It was a new team requiring a review of existing technologies. In summary they have done away with Cognos and moved to SQL Server Analysis Services delivered through SharePoint. Existing ETL jobs and data warehouse design redeveloped from the ground up to cater for the current business environment and the new tool set.

Southern Cross University – Julie Arthur
Focussed on Quality Assurance and the need to utilise external data with internal data processes especially with reference to PRISMS and MRT (migration Review tribunal). The MRT database airs the dirty laundry of institutions especially when complaints are made from international students. With the introduction of streamlined Visa processing there is a strong focus for managing agents and the performance of students when they arrive.

QUT – Daniel Mockler
Showcased the interesting a simplistic layout of strategic information on a web page rather than through a portal. It looks simple, easy to navigate and relevant information seamlessly.
They also went into significant details showing

  • Geospatial capability
  • Mobile deployments
  • And a live demonstration that made the solution look very impressive

UWS Terry  Gozard – Text Analytics
Showcased how UWS is using text analytics for qualitative analytics to extend the value of the quantitative information. With over 120,000 open ended responses being analysed using IBM SPSS. It also highlighted the many challenges with this and the fact that one word ‘assignment’ was represented by over 200 differing occurrences. Focusing on what students are saying is an important area to focus on.


Announcing your new DW SIG Leader


Dear AAIR DW/BI SIG members,

I would like to introduce you to the new coordinator of the DW/BI SIG, Craig Napier. Craig is the Project Manager in the Performance Indicators Unit at University of Wollongong and has agreed to take over the coordination role for the next 12 months. Many of you may have met Craig at the recent SIG event held at Leura and would remember he received one of the ‘best presentation’ awards at the event for his captivating talk about Networking Relationships Analysis – well done Craig!

After coordinating the DW/BI SIG since the humble beginnings in 2006, and seeing it grow and indeed flourish over the years, I am sure Craig will do a fantastic job keeping up the interest and ensuring members are informed about things related to the SIG. I will certainly still enjoy being an active member of the group. Please join me in congratulating Craig in his new role. Craig’s contact details can be found on the DW/BI SIG page of the AAIR website at http://www.aair.org.au/pages/data-warehousing-and-business-intelligence.


Andrea Matulick
Business Analytics Manager
Planning Services Unit | Vice-President (Strategy & Community Engagement)
Flinders University
Sturt Rd | Bedford Park | South Australia | 5042
GPO Box 2100 | Adelaide SA 5001
T: 08 8201 2835
W: www.flinders.edu.au
W: www.flinders.edu.au/unistats


Email Craig


Active Reporting considerations

I recently attended the IBM Cognos Report Studio: Author Active Reports training and found the session very informative and an essential component for any organisation developing an interactive, mobile reporting strategy. My thoughts are focused on the ability to integrate a mobile reporting strategy within a broader information Management strategy, listing the benefits and challenges of bringing this to fruition.


  • Deploying reports to a device is very simple and can be scheduled at any time
  • Basic Active reports can be generated quickly
  • It is a much needed tool set in the IBM Cognos suite and interactive reports can be accessed outside the organisation seamlessly
  • Active reporting is critical to disseminate information across the organisation providing users with a high degree of interactivity
  • There is a free download of the IBM Cognos Active Report 10.1.1 Cookbook http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/data/library/cognos/reporting/active_report/page593.html which is a must read


  • Existing report studio reports will need to be replicated into a mobile Active Report (a copy of the existing report with modifications to enable mobile compatibility is required)
  • If your existing report has prompts they will not work, connections and controls will need to be established
  • Drilling up, to assist with navigation and the user experience is very cumbersome and the creation of breadcrumbs is very time consuming. Drilling down can be done easy but the ability to get back to the summary data is more difficult
  • Developing visually appealing interactive reports does take time and without in depth knowledge off report studio, development will take significantly longer
  • The Trade-off between initiating a formal active reporting project versus integrating active reporting into future projects must be considered

Overall, active reporting is a much need tool for the University that can be quickly deployed with maximum impact. Existing or new reports, that fall into the categories of highly used (based on report executions), strategic in nature (used for senior executive meetings) and dynamic in nature (frequently changing) would be worthwhile candidatesfor active reports, but use caution if you are trying to convert a complex report as I have found it is much easier to start from scratch.

I would like to hear the how your institution is deploying mobile reporting and any challenges being experienced.

Craig Napier


COGNOS Tips & Tricks – Content Store

Accessing users ‘My Folders’

If you have ever been involved in front line support activities for a COGNOS implementation with multiple end users you will likely have been asked to fix/review a report sitting in a users my folders.

Having worked with the COGNOS software for many years I (and my colleagues here at UOW) had always undertaken the laborious task of accessing a users ‘my folder’ through the IBM COGNOS Administration portal.

This task was very tedious having to navigate to the security tab then either traversing the security structure or searching for a user. Once there unfortunately you were still unable to open the report and therefore needed to copy the reports back to an accessible location. Open/fix and copy back….I could go on but I think you get the picture, what was essentially a 2 minute job often blew out to be much longer.

We recently discovered that you can obtain a direct link for navigating and editing user my folders through COGNOS connection.

Unfortunately the process to obtain this link the first time starts along the same lines as above.

Using COGNOS 10:

  1. Launch
  2. IBM COGNOS Administration
  3. Security tab
  4. Navigate to or Search for user
  5. Click user
  6. Enter ‘My Folder’ folder
  7. Select ‘Set Properties (from the top right)
  8. Click ‘View the search path, ID and URL’ (From the Right)
  9. Copy Default Action URL into new browser window

This should take you to the users ‘my folder’ in a window that you have full control as an administrator and can open/edit/rename reports.  This is also very handy when attempting to edit or create schedules within users my folder as schedules will not be maintained when copying reports.

You will also notice from this view you can navigate your user structure through the breadcrumb links. If you select the top level security breadcrumb and save this URL as a favourite it will make you’re my folder navigation tasks much simpler in the future.

This article may be a pleasant surprise to some whilst others may have been using this method for years and can not believe we have only just stumbled over it.

For those that fall into the first category, your welcome hopefully it saves you some precious time in the future.

For those that fall into the second category I am sure you have many more tips and tricks to share and we would encourage you to post these in the comments section below.

Thank-you for reading this article we should have a new posting going up within the month of February on COGNOS active reports.

If you would like to request a particular topic for an upcoming article of have your own COGNOS tips that you would like to share please leave them in the comments section below.

2012 IBM Information on Demand BI Conference – Las Vegas 21-25 October

From the moment I landed in Las Vegas to the moment I left the USA I was in information overload.

The conference was super sized with 12000 attendees and 1600 sessions to choose from hosted in the massive Mandalay Bay Convention Centre.

The key focus technologies were Big Data, The Cloud and Watson, and the key application area was Health. Higher Education was not well represented at the conference.

IBM is working with the US Government to increase the “bang for buck” for each health dollar spent in an attempt to meet the tsunami of demand that the US Health System will be placed under over the next 20 years, due to the aging Boomer generation.

Big Data in Health, not only covers the vast number of patient transactional records being laid down on various databases by clinicians but also the enormous quantities of device data that  are beginning to be generated for each patient fitted with health devices, for example heart monitors. 

The Cloud is viewed as the place where Big Data will be located, and searched, to produce highly distilled result sets which will be used locally for decision making. The concept is that The Cloud enables Big Data to be held in an environment that is massively scaleable with regard processing power and storage, as well as centrally available to stakeholders. All of the US patient transactional records for example could be held in The Cloud.

With Watson, IBM promise the next era of IT, not one of clever programs presenting information to human decision makers, but of cognitive engines which assist human decision makers by presenting other options and reviewing proposed options. The base knowledge to drive the cognitive engine will come from The Cloud and native language interaction with decision makers is already proven.  IBM see Watson as the basis for Clinician Assistance Software which will interact with the Clinician to assist them improve diagnosis and lower risk.

My take on all this, is that there is no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to IT solutions. It is always matching appropriate technologies and approaches to business problems. However, each of Big Data, Cloud and Watson are useful technology sets, but in my opinion Watson is the one to watch, as Information Technology steps over from conventionally programmed systems to cognitively capable systems.


AAIR forum SIG 2012

In July  I was lucky enough to attend the 2012 AAIR SIG forum: A new beginning in demanding times. This years forum was jointly hosted by RMIT and Victoria University and ran over 2 days.

It was great to see such a big turn out with over 100 delegates in attendance. I learnt a lot over the two days and was able to catch up with many of the universities in attendance to share our current projects, challenges and experiences.

The forum was broken into two steams – Load planning and business intelligence. I was more interested in the business intelligence stream.

Some of the key take aways included:

–  the importance and profile of BI teams is  continuing to grow in Australian universities

– BI teams are getting more executive support

– BI teams doing more than just transactional reporting and analysis

– BI teams are now creating scorecards and complex dashboards

– BI teams are being asked to do more with data such as Planning, forecasting, budgeting and predictive analytics

– BICC’s are becoming the standard way of implementing BI within universities

– data quality still proves to be an on going challenge for confidence in BI solutions

– building a self service analytical culture within universities continues to be challenging

In summary it was excellent to see how much progress has been made by all universities in the last 12 months. I look forward to seeing where everyone is at in another 12 months time.

For more information please see the official site below: