Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Data Visualizations - Show Some Hide Some

The Search Engine Land site had a post on Jun 29 2009 - Google: We’re Not Really That Big But If We Are, We Aren’t Bad - where charts were used; specifically, charts that Google has used to argue that while it may appear to be a big company, it is not that big when compared to some of its peers, or in relation to the size of the market itself.

Here is the data table used below (from the site):

And two pie-charts:

Let's start with the Google pie chart, which tries to highlight the diminutiveness of Google's market share.
Data visualization experts have lamented the use of pie charts in visualizing data. I will not belabor the point. Instead, I believe the same data could have been displayed more effectively using either of the two charts below

The first one is a simple vertical bar chart, while the second one is a stacked percentage vertical-bar chart. Since we are working with percentages, either chart is conveying the same information.

The data in question for Google is called out by the use of a different color, and the size of the data is made clear by the height of the 'Offline' bar. Even in comparison to the 'Other Offline' bar, the Google bar's size pales in comparison.
Adding a data label may seem redundant, but if the chart does not support hover tooltips, then adding the label, with the precise value of the series, helps.

http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-google-is-not-that-big-after-all-2009-7 mentions the post, and has an accompanying chart:

Here the attempt is to compare each company on two variables - revenue and employees. A dual-Y-axis bar as the one used above is not good, not good at all, for such a presentation of data. What exactly is the point of plotting revenue and employees as bars in this graph?A line-bar maybe, but even that is sub-optimal IMO.

If you have to do this type of a comparison, the scatter plot is most effective since it allows for a meaningful comparison across companies too. To make this interesting, you could also add a third variable, and plot the data as a bubble chart. You could also use a butterfly graph.

When displayed as a vertical bar, what is obvious is that Google has much lower revenue, and even fewer employees when compared to any of the companies it is being compared with. Fair enough. But what the chart does display, but not tell you very clearly, is something very interesting, that I explain with charts below.

Take revenue and employees, the two measures in the chart above. To perform a meaningful comparison, it is first necessary to normalize these values first. One way is by using ratios instead. i.e., the ratio of the company's revenue to the number of employees. Divide the revenue by the employees, plot **that** data instead, and this is what you get:

Innaresting, wouldn't you say?
Google's per-employee-revenue is more than one million dollars (say it Dr Evil style and it doesn't sound as sinister, maybe funnier), while IBM is less than a fourth as much at $254k per-employee, and even Microsoft is only $600k per-employee.

What this tells us, as long a we are comparing these companies, is that Google is able to eke out a lot more revenue from its employees than other companies. Unless its employees are super, super-freaks, it can mean, among other things, that Google has achieved economies of scale far beyond its peers, like Microsoft, IBM, AT &T, and Verizon. In some ways it can also be an apples to oranges comparison, because the businesses that Google and ATT and Verizon and IBM are not exactly comparable. But, this is the set of companies that accompanies the post, and is also the set of companies that Google chose. So there.

If you were to do a similar comparison with Microsoft, taking only its Windows and Office divisions, that have a near-monopoly market share in their respective segments, I am sure you would come up with near-Google numbers, or maybe even better. Conjecture, but a fascinating one, IMO.

If you accept Google's proposition that the other companies in the comparison are in similar businesses as Google, or that they are competitors to Google, then you also have to accept the proposition that revenue-per-employee figures also should be similar. If they are not, it could be because the companies are diverisified into areas where such economies of scale do not apply; which is a fair argument to make, or that these companies are just not able to extract as much money as Google is.

Let's use another ratio. This time, I use market cap-to-number-of-employees as the ratio.

Why use this ratio? What does this tell us, if anything? Well, for one, market caps are fairly fickle numbers, and can be misleading. But since the data is from the Google table, let's use it anyway. What it may tell us is how valuable each employee is to Google's shareholders.

Simplistically speaking, each Google employee adds $5 million to the company's market capitalization.
That is more than twice Microsoft's.
That is more than sixteen times IBM's.
Again, assuming Google's employees are not all hyper-efficient Einsteins, and some or even many would argue that is indeed the case, it means at the very least that Google's hold on the business and industry it operates in is a lot more efficient and powerful than its competitors. Which could result from, among other things, near-monopoly pricing power.

 Let us use a third set of metrics, and this time, let's also plot a bubble chart, that can display three measures reasonably well.

What is plotted on the x-axis is market cap as a multiple of revenue. i.e. for Microsoft, the bubble in blue, this would be 184 billion (its market cap) divided by 60 billion (its revenues), to yield a figure of 3.07. And similarly for the others.
What is plotted on the y-axis is market cap as a multiple of operating profits.
The size of the bubble is the company's revenues.

What does this chart tell us?
Firstly, that Google plots as an outlier. Good outlier or bad outlier? Well, that depends on whether you are Google or its competitor.
It also tells us that Google's price-earnings ratio is way out of whack with its competitors. It could also mean that Google is incredibly over-priced, or that it has such a strangle-hold on its business that giant gains in market share, and consequently revenues and margins, are almost guaranteed over the coming years, which is why the market has driven up its market cap to such heights.

From Google's perspective, unless it intends using the currency of its market cap to make big-ticket acquisitions, such a high market cap is not really that good. It only attracts market envy and unwanted regulatory attention.

Anyway, another example of how data can be used to show some and hide some.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BI Applications

In my previous post, Oracle BI Applications Now Available, I wrote that Oracle BI Applications version are now available. What I did not include is the download link from Oracle E-Delivery.
Here it is: http://edelivery.oracle.com/EPD/Download/get_form?egroup_aru_number=9149012

So, when you select "Oracle Business Intelligence" from the product dropdown, from the resulting search list, click "Oracle Business Intelligence (10.1.3)...".

This brings you to a page with downloads for 10.1.3.x releases. Oracle Business Intelligence Applications are part of that, because they require Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 10.1.3.x version as the underlying platform.

 Happy downloading.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oracle BI Applications Now Available

The latest release of Oracle BI Applications, version is now available.

Some of the highlights of this release are:

  • Certifications of EBS R12.1.2 and PeopleSoft Enterprise 9.1 sources across all product areas (except CRM).
  • Support for deployment of BI Applications on Oracle Exadata Database Machine via the certification of Oracle.
  • Database 11gR2 as a target database,
  • New capabilities for JD Edwards EnterpriseOne.
  • Full localization to 28 languages.
  • And lots more.
You can read more in the New Features doc (Oracle Business Intelligence Applications documentation).

This software should also be available for download from Oracle E-Delivery.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Visualizations in OBIEE 11g

Wrapped up an Oracle University webcast a few hours back with a colleague, Ken Player, on visualizations in Oracle BI EE 11g.
It covered areas as the new charting engine, interactivity controls, and my favorite - map-based visualizations.

Some screenshots from the session; will provide details in a day or two.

We split up the webcast into three parts. Ken did the introduction and covered visualizations. I covered spatial visualizations and the demo. This slide is where we did the handover.

This slide below calls out, using the same background map, all the six formats you can create with Map Views. The color fill, or choropleth as it is also sometimes referred to, is by far the most popular, and can be put to great use when used in conjunction with the interactive color format slider in OBIEE 11g (more on that in a future post).
The bar and pie graphs are useful if you want to display data across two dimensions. For example, when displaying Revenue data by Country, you can use the bar graph to split that data by product category, or by quarter, or year.
The bubble is useful in its own right since it uses size as the metric variable to call attention. It has an advantage over the color format since the main attribute of the format - the size of the bubble - is based on the metric itself. Unlike in the color fill, where the size of the underlying region can distort perception. A large swath of red over Wyoming versus a small patch of green over New York - are they the same? Not really, because the red appears more prominent because of the size of the state of Wyoming. The area of the color fill in this case is independent of the metric being plotted. Hence the potential for confusion.
The variable shape can be used to great effect if you choose to base the color of the shape on a second measure. Then, both the color and size can be used to convey information. Neat.
And finally, the image format. Need a coffee cup image? A burger icon? A happy smiley? Go crazy with the image formats.

And this has some advanced uses of Map Views.
I will talk about these in much, much more detail in the coming weeks, but here's a short summary:

In the first example ("Multi-Measure, Mixed-Format Maps"), you can plot more than one measure for the same level using different formats. So REVENUE-per-STATE is rendered as a color fill. While UNITS-per-STATE-per-YEAR is rendered as bar graphs.

The second is basically the first map, but with a different background map. You can choose to have a basemap that utilizes a heatmap advanced format to render a completely different, possibly non-BI metric. Like population density. Or income distribution. Or age distribution. Or something else. And then create a map format on top of this basemap.

The third shows that you can use CUSTOM boundaries, and quite seamlessly, in Map Views. Saying "US-Midwest" is not really the same as viewing it on a map.

And finally, maps as the ultimate, lossless, high-density data visualizations. Almost 2000 cells worth of data on that single map. Yes. Data for 40+ states based on one metric. That's some 80 cells of data. Then you have data for 500+ cities, rendered as a variable bubble shaped format, where the size is based on one metric, and color based on a second metric. That's 500 + 500 + 500 cells.

And finally a brief look at the components of a Map View. There are basically two main parts of a map. The first is the basemap, or background map as we call it. And the second is the interactive format.

Friday, September 03, 2010

OBIEE 11g Map Visualizations Webinar on Sep 8

Vlamis Software Solutions, an Oracle Parner, along with NAVTEQ, are hosting a BIWA SIG (that would be the Business Intelligence, Warehousing and Analytics Special Interest Group) web seminar - BIWA SIG TechCast - Sept 8 - Noon Eastern (US) - Information Visualization Using Maps in Oracle Business Intelligence 11g. Use this link to register for the seminar.

OBIEE 11g Certification Matrix - Updated

There have been some changes happening on the Oracle Technology Network. As a result, the link to the Oracle BI EE 11g Certification Matrix that I had posted in an earlier post no longer works.
Use this link instead: System Requirements and Supported Platforms for Oracle Fusion Middleware 11gR1 (XLS format)
Bookmark this page for reference in either case: Oracle Fusion Middleware Supported System Configurations

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Adding a new user

 Now that I have installed Oracle BI EE 11g, what I like to do is to create a another user with administrative privileges that I then use for my work. In this case, to satisfy a narcissistic urge I use my name as the user name - "abhinav".

To do that, I first need to login to the Administration Console of Oracle BI EE. which on my computer's installation is http://aagarwa-lap.idc.oracle.com:7001/console You would need to use the username and password that you specified when installing Oracle BI EE (see post Installing OBIEE 11g).
Login to the WebLogic Server 11g Console

Once you login, click the link that says "Security Realms"
Click "Security Realms"
And then click the "myrealm" link to view all users, groups, and permissions for that security realm.
Security realms in place

Since we need to add a new user, click the "Users and Groups" tab, and then click the "New" button.
Users and Groups tab
Enter the new user's name, description, and password. Since this is a simple installation, the "Provider" dropdown contains only one value.
Adding a new user - "abhinav"
Now that we have created the user, the next step is to associate this user with groups. Since I said I want this user to have administrative privileges, I click the "Groups" tab.
Navigating to the "Groups" tab for the user created - "abhinav"
And from the "Groups" page, I select the "Administrators" and "BIAdminsitrators" values from the list on the left, and click the right-arrow to move them to the list of selected values. Click "Save" and you are done.
Adding the user "abhinav" to groups
The final step is to verify that this user works as intended. Try logging into your Oracle BI EE instance with these credentials: http://aagarwa-lap.idc.oracle.com:9704/analytics/saw.dll?bieehome on my instance.
Verifying by logging into Oracle BI EE using the user "abhinav"