Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How Chaotic Is Your SAP BI Environment?

Tomorrow, March 9, at 10 am and 2 pm ET, APOS Systems will host a webinar on this topic:

If you can't attend, register for the webinar anyway and we'll send you a link to the recorded webinar so you can enjoy and share it at your leisure.

Chaos is never a neutral term. It carries so much cultural baggage that it may not have been the most appropriate naming convention for a scientific theory, and you'd think scientists might have learned this lesson and not nicknamed the Higgs boson the "God particle." I suppose we all have our blind spots.

Chaos Theory is the field of study within mathematics that studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions — a response popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. When we say such systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions, we are saying that the slightest variation in those conditions can cause drastic changes to downstream events. Such systems are generally characterized by:

  • High volume of inputs: the number of elements interacting within a chaotic system is so large that it is virtually impossible to account for them all without extreme computing power.
  • Nonlinearity: complexity of inputs makes determination of cause and effect very difficult, if not impossible
  • Dynamism: it's a moving target; before you can analyze the state of a chaotic system, the state has changed.

Chaos Theory is one of the most interdisciplinary of mathematical studies, because chaos is so prevalent in the world. In fact, the science of chaos started with an attempt to model and predict weather. Those studies started in the 1960s, with impressive, but limited, results. (You can usually get a pretty good idea of tomorrow's weather, but looking five days out, all bets are off.)

BI Chaos

A high volume of inputs, nonlinearity and dynamism are characteristics of many of the BI systems we see. BI Chaos is characterized by a high-volume, nonlinear and dynamic state obscuring a clear understanding and deep knowledge of the system, its dependencies and its future states, and creating a barrier to proactive and preventive management and targeted administrative action.

Of course, we are using chaos as a metaphor for the difficulties the BI team has in administering the BI system, but if you've faced some of the challenges that BI administrators face on a daily basis, I think you'll agree it is a very appropriate metaphor.

A BI system may be chaotic if it is difficult to form a clear understanding or a deep knowledge of its component parts. For various reasons, such knowledge is obscured, making it very difficult to manage the system proactively or preventively.

Chaos is less of a problem if you have an unlimited pool of administrative resources, but for the rest of us, this lack of predictability may frequently place the administration team in a reactive mode. Chaos may prevent your team from entering into a proactive mode and acting in a timely manner on evolving requirements and expectations.

BI Chaos - Feature or Bug?

BI Chaos happens because your system is performing the function for which it was designed. In a very real way, you are a victim of your own success. If you are not experiencing chaos within your system, you have to ask yourself whether you are realizing the full potential of the system.

If you want to reduce, prevent and manage the chaos in your BI deployment, you have to start by recognizing that chaos is the rule, not the exception. It's a feature, not a bug.