Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Big Data - What's in it for the Little Guy?

I had the pleasure of speaking at the LIFT-IT Big Data Panel hosted by the Long Island Forum for Technology on June 19.  The other speakers included Pete Moran, CEO of General Sentiment, who gave a fascinating talk on the use of Big Data and Analytics in Social Media, as well as Darryl Ramsey and James Toscano of Juniper Networks.  Many thanks to the moderator, Peter Rothman, CIO of Alcott HR and Chairman of the LIFT-IT group, as well as Diane Muscarella of LIFT for organizing the event.

While the other speakers were focused on the more typical aspects of Big Data, I decided to address the topic of "Small Data", specifically the data and analytics needs of small and medium sized businesses.  You can find my presentation, Big Data for the Little Guy:  What's in it for the rest of us?, on the REanalyze web site.

Not every company deals with “big” data, but every company can use data and analytics to make better decisions and transform their business.  There’s no “magic” solution, and the answer won’t just “pop out” of a Business Intelligence tool.  Rather, it’s a matter of framing the problem, defining the data requirements, and visualizing the data.  I suggested that business executives start by asking and answering three simple questions:
  1. What business questions are you trying to answer?
  2. What data do you need to answer the questions?
  3. How can you visualize the data to gain insight?

One deceptively simple, yet powerful, way to frame an analytics problem is by asking 

“If we only knew _____ , we could ______.”  

Just fill in the blanks, and you’re well on your way to a specific, actionable problem statement that can lead to an analytics solution.

The presentation included some examples, as well a brief case study from a client, a medical components distributor looking to improve its Demand Planning and Inventory Management capabilities.  I concluded with the following takeaway: 

  • Data without analysis is nothing…
  • Analysis without insight is nothing…
  • Insight is everything

What are your thoughts on Big Data and Analytics for the Little Guy?  I’d love to hear your comments.  Until next time...



Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or

© 2013 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top 5 Takeaways from INFORMS 2012 Business Analytics Conference

Rob was a Guest Blogger for the INFORMS Analytics 2012 Conference.  This was originally posted on the Conference Blog. 

As expected, it was a great conference with valuable presentations and plenty of opportunities to network with professional colleagues.  After a day to reflect, here are my top 5 takeaways (not necessarily in order).  Hopefully they will be useful to both experienced analytical professionals and executives, and those just starting the journey.

(1)   Google Insights for Search
Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, gave a compelling keynote that made great use of this free tool.  Check it out if you haven’t done so already.  It’s a great way to identify market trends based on search frequency.  The data goes all the way back to 2004, and you can download the results to combine with other data sources.

(2)   It’s not just about the analytics
Congratulations to TNT Express, winners of the 2012 Edelman Award.   My biggest takeaway from their presentation had nothing to do with their network optimization models.  Rather, it was how they built an entire optimization “ecosystem” centered on their GO (Global Optimisation) Academy.
  • “(In addition) to adopting OR tools, TNT Express has teamed up with the Tilburg University/TiasNimbas Business School (Netherlands) to create a two-year management development program in transportation network optimization. Called the GO Academy, the training has been delivered to more than 150 managers from TNT since 2008.”
Lots of companies have advanced analytical capabilities, but TNT have added huge value to the organization – and set a great example for other companies -- through leadership, education, training and change management.

(3) The role of Analytics in Decision-Making
We’re always looking for better ways to describe what we do and how we add value through Analytics, and I thought a few of the speakers had particularly interesting angles.
  • Thomas Olavson of Google described his team’s role as “replacing intuition with data-driven decisions”.
  • Colin Kessinger of End-to-End Analytics reinforced the role of leadership.  “Math supports the decision-making process, but the math doesn’t make the decisions”.  Don’t expect an analytical model to give you “the answer”.
  • Both Colin and Glenn Wegryn of P&G focused on visualization & interactive decision support.  According to Colin, “This is what gets you a seat at the executive table”, and Glenn provided the evidence when he described the weekly “immersive business reviews” for P&G’s executive team (with a great picture of the huge hi-def screens that surround the conference room).
  • Focus on the “so what” or the “why” – not the “what”.  Reports are a dime a dozen.  How are you going to help drive better decisions?
  • A neat quote from Glenn Wegryn:  “We bear gifts - in the form of rational business insights”.  (In my words, "Geeks bearing gifts" -- OK, that's a really bad pun...)

(4)   Simpler is Better
The simplest approach that solves your problem is usually the best one.  Several speakers hit on this point in different ways.
  • There is “no correlation between analytic complexity and business value”, according to Glenn Bailey of Manheim.
  • Chris Fry of Strategic Management Solutions paraphrased Einstein – A model “should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”.
  • Before you jump into a big, complex analysis with expensive 3rd-party software, make sure you really understand the problem you’re trying to solve.  Colin Kessinger advises that if you can’t build and understand a prototype in Excel, you don’t really understand the problem and you’re not likely to be successful with a complicated off-the-shelf software solution.
  • Thomas Olavson echoed the sentiment that “small steps lead to big wins”.  He favors analytical building blocks and rapid prototypes, and cautions against looking for “grand unified theories”.

(5)   50 Minutes with the 5 minute analyst
It seems only appropriate to make the 5 Minute Analyst my 5th highlight.  In a very interactive conference session, Harrison Schramm of the Naval Postgraduate School shared some fun and thought-provoking “toy problems”.  Be sure to check out the 5 Minute Analyst column in Analytics Magazine.  The most recent column is available here.

Let me know your thoughts.  It's been fun being one of the Conference Bloggers and I look forward to continuing these interesting discussions.  Until next time...


Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or
© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So Much to See, So Little Time...

This is the first of several posts as a Guest Blogger for the INFORMS Analytics 2012 Conference.  It was originally posted on the Conference Blog.
I can't wait to get to Huntington Beach and the INFORMS 2012 Business Analytics Conference.  I'm looking forward to connecting with colleagues and friends, both old and new.  And this conference is one of the best "idea generators" I've ever found.  I always come back with pages full of ideas (most of which I unfortunately never pursue!).

If you're anything like me, the biggest challenge with any good conference, like this one, is deciding which presentations to attend.  I've been attending this conference for about 10 years, and the presentations seem to get better every year.  But that only makes it harder to decide which ones to see.  I spend most of my time doing Supply Chain work, but I'm often just as interested in topics outside of the Supply Chain tracks.  In fact, there's hardly a time slot without two, three or even four presentations that I'd really like to see.  It certainly helps that we can see the presentation slides in advance (thank you INFORMS!).  They're a good (not always great) indicator of presentation quality.  Clear writer = clear speaker?

Here's an optimization problem to ponder.  Wouldn't it be great if each attendee could rate each presentation in terms of likely interest, and then have a scheduling algorithm create a schedule to maximize the total utility, i.e., people get to see the most presentations they’re interested in?  I know that might wreak havoc with the track structure.  In a simpler scenario, you could maintain the integrity of the tracks (which presentations go in which tracks), but just vary the scheduling of tracks and of presentations within tracks.  What do you think?

Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or
© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rob Ende Guest Blogging at INFORMS Business Analytics Conference

INFORMS_2012_Conf_HeaderI am very excited that I've been selected as a guest blogger for the INFORMS 2012 Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research.

The conference takes place April 15-17 in Huntington Beach, CA, and is the leading venue where world-class organizations showcase the strategic use of business analytics and O.R.

The conference blog can be found here, and the blog will replace the conference home page once the conference begins.  I will also mirror my posts right here on REanalyze This!

In addition to taking in some great presentations on the success of Business Analytics in areas such as Supply Chain and Forecasting, I will be co-facilitating a discussion group on best practices in spreadsheet modeling:
  • Garbage In, Gospel Out?  Join Rob Ende, CEO of REanalyze Inc. and SPRIG President Rick Carter, CEO of Equation, in a discussion of tips and tricks on spreadsheet design, development and auditing to prevent errors, reduce risk and ensure quality results.

Please check back for conference updates starting April 15.  Until next time...

Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or
© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nominations for 2012 ‘Assembly Plant of the Year’ Award

Are you proud of your manufacturing operation?  If so, you should consider nominating your facility for the 2012 Assembly Plant of the Year award, co-sponsored by The Boston Consulting Group and ASSEMBLY Magazine.

The press release from BCG can be found here.

Companies interested in applying can fill out the online form at There is no entry fee, and more than one plant may be nominated. The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2012.

Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or
© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Analytics Magazine - a Must Read for Business Analytics

If you manage a business analytics function or analytically-oriented projects, or if you think your organization would benefit from a more analytically-oriented and data-driven approach to decision-making, I highly recommend that you subscribe to Analytics magazine.  

Analytics, a digital magazine published by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), provides readers with real-life examples of how data, modeling and mathematical analysis is used to drive better business decisions and provide concrete competitive advantage.

I'm a fan of the "Executive Edge" column.  The current issue's column features Kathy Chou, VP of Sales Strategy & Operations at Hewlett-Packard, on how HP achieved great rewards by applying analytics to the Sales function, typically one of the most difficult places to make headway with data-driven analysis and decision-making (How Analytics Turned Sales from Art to Science at Hewlett-Packard).

Another recent column from Chris Fry of Strategic Management Solutions talked about some keys to producing real, sustained value from analytics projects (Closing the Gap Between Analytics and Action), including:
  1. Focus on the business process, not just the model
  2. Make the model transparent to users and stakeholders (no "black box")
  3. Highlight the "so-what's" - the conclusions and actions you want the user to take
It's best to view Analytics in the digital reader version and you can download .pdf versions of your favorite articles.

Happy Reading!

Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or

© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What’s Lurking in your Spreadsheets? (Part 2)

Note:  This series of posts is not intended to be a “How To” guide.  My purpose is to highlight some common issues and mistakes in spreadsheet development and how to avoid them and the resulting risk to your business.  Even if you don’t develop spreadsheet models yourself, hopefully this will help you know what to look for and questions to ask those who DO develop spreadsheets for your business.  If you would like more detailed “how to” instructions and examples on any of these topics, I refer you to a good Excel reference book like the Microsoft Excel 2010 Bible by John Walkenbach.

In a previous post I discussed the prevalence of poor spreadsheet modeling practice in most organizations, and the resulting risk to the business.  In that post, I covered one very common mistake – using fixed or hard-coded values or constants in formulas. 

This time I would like to cover another common type of spreadsheet error:  incorrect cell references or ranges.  You are probably familiar with Relative and Fixed references (even if you didn’t know what they were called).
  •  “A1” is a Relative reference referring to Column A, Row 1.  If you copy or drag a formula to the right, the A1 becomes B1, C1, etc. If you copy or drag it down, it becomes A2, A3, etc.  In other words, the reference is “relative” to whatever cell you’re in.
  •  “$A$1” is a Fixed reference.  No matter where you copy or drag it, it remains $A$1 and always refers to the same cell.   In other words, the reference is “fixed” no matter what cell you’re in.  And of course you can fix just the row (e.g., A$1) or just the column (e.g., $A1).
Each type of reference is appropriate in different circumstances.  The problem is that it’s easy to use the wrong type in a formula and not realize it.  Then when you copy and paste the formula somewhere else, you may end up referring to incorrect cells and getting incorrect results.  Things may appear OK but the calculations may be totally wrong!

It’s critical to review all the formulas in a spreadsheet model to make sure the correct types of references are being used.  You can also use Excel’s built-in auditing features, e.g., Trace Precedents, to look for mistakes.

Here’s another neat trick:  Press Ctrl and the accent key (it looks like ` and is next to the “1” key on the top left of your keyboard).  This turns on the Formula View which shows the formulas in every cell on your worksheet.  This is a great way to scan your formulas for errors, especially incorrect references.

Perhaps the best way to prevent incorrect references is to use Range Names. To name a cell or a range of cells, just select the cell(s), click in the Name box which can be found toward the upper left corner of the window, type in a name and hit Enter.  Then, whenever you refer to that cell or cells in a formula, you can use the Range Name instead of entering the cell reference.  Here’s an example, first with a normal reference to cell A2, and second where cell A2 has been named “Margin”.
a.      = SUM(B3:B6)*A2
b.      = SUM(Q4_Sales)*Margin

Why is (b) so much better than (a)?  Three main reasons. 
  1. First, when you’re writing a formula you don’t need to remember that the margin is in cell A2; you just type “Margin”. 
  2. Second, you don’t have to worry about using the wrong type of cell reference.  If you write a formula using “A2” (a Relative reference) instead of “$A$2” (a Fixed reference) and then you drag or copy it to other cells, you will end up with the wrong values.  If you write a formula using “Margin”, you can drag or copy at will with no concerns.
  3. Third, it’s much easier to understand what a formula is doing.  In example (b), it’s easy to see that you are multiplying Sales by Margin.  Not so in example (a).
In future posts I’ll continue to point out other problems to look for in spreadsheet models, along with some best practices to reduce the risk to your business.

Meanwhile, I’ll close with the same question from last time:  Do you run critical parts of your business on spreadsheets?  If so, have you thought about where and how they are being developed, and what sorts of errors may be lurking inside?

Until next time…

Rob Ende is Founder and President of REanalyze Inc., a Supply Chain, Inventory Management and Analytics consultancy based on Long Island, New York.  Rob can be reached at 631-807-2339 or

© 2012 REanalyze.Inc.. All Rights Reserved.