SAP Insider Reporting & Analytics 2017 INTERACTIVE

Join me in Las Vegas for SAP Insider’s Reporting & Analytics 2017 conference!

Join me at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 29 – December 1, 2017 for Reporting & Analytics 2017 INTERACTIVE, just one of the four events SAP Insider has organized. The event is co-located with Managing your SAP Projects 2017, Cybersecurity for SAP Customers 2017, and SAP Cloud Platform Seminar. Your registration will allow you access sessions across all 4 events at no additional cost.

Secrets of a Business Intelligence Barista

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 / 4:20 PM – 5:20 PM / Sunset 2

Attend this session to learn how you can build a team that is both business-savvy and tech-savvy while looking to the neighborhood coffee shop for inspiration. You’ll be better prepared to build better BI solutions “from the grounds up” by putting the right BI tools on the menu, providing both instant (self-service) and barista (IT-supported) offerings, rewarding your best customers, and giving passionate customer support. By attending, you learn:

  • How to create a “third place” between a business user’s cubicle and the IT department
  • Methods to map business requirements to their appropriate “quadrant”
  • Why the “self-service BI” quadrant isn’t necessarily the “magic” quadrant
  • How to teach these principles in your organization

Take home a sample quadrant diagram to map existing users and applications.

Best Practices for Managing Universe Design Projects

Thursday, November 30, 2017 / 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM / Sunset 2

A well-designed universe is the foundation for a successful business intelligence project and satisfied users, but many universe design projects are doomed before a developer opens the Information Design Tool. A successful universe relies on effective project management as much as technical skill. This session is designed for non-technical BI managers and analysts as well as seasoned universe designers and will share best practices for each stage of the universe lifecycle. You will:

  • Gain a detailed understanding of project objectives for each stage of the universe design lifecycle — Prepare, analyze, plan, implement, test, deploy, and maintain
  • Learn key questions that project managers should be asking at each of the 7 lifecycle stages
  • Apply lessons from agile methodology such as breaking a large universe project into multiple smaller sprints and paired programming

Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

What can BI managers learn from the restaurant business? Plenty.

I’ve never eaten in one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, but I did have my first Shake Shack burger during a 2011 trip to New York City to teach classes on SAP BusinessObjects administration. In honor of Shake Shack’s recent IPO (see SHAK quote on Yahoo Finance), I found a copy of Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business at Half Price Books (ISBN 978-0060742751).

Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. Service is a monologue— we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality , on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response.

Danny Meyer in Setting the Table

Shake Shack Vegas 2015

In our zeal pursuing “self-service business intelligence”, we’ve often left users on their own, without any helpful assistance at all. Is it any surprise that software vendors are responding with both client and server solutions that business users can install and support themselves?

Shake Shack Los Vegas 2015

Mr. Meyer offers an interesting perspective on hiring. The Union Square Hospitality Group looks for 51 percenters, regardless of whether its hiring a dishwasher, server, or chef. Ideal candidates have 51 percent emotional hospitality and 49 percent technical excellence. Mr. Meyer offers 5 attributes to look for when hiring your own 51 percenters.

The overarching concern to do the right thing well isn’t something we can’t train for. Either it’s there or it isn’t. So we need to train how to hire for it.

Even excellent employees make mistakes, and Mr. Meyer offers a chapter entitled “The Road to Success is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled” and provides some excellent tips about going the next mile and “writing the last chapter” on a guest’s less than stellar experience.

Shake Shack Vegas 2015 01 600

Business users aren’t accustomed to getting hospitality from their IT department. Most, sadly, aren’t accustomed to even getting good service. But an effective Business Intelligence Competency Center must aim for a higher standard. You may be wondering what a book about restaurants can teach you about business intelligence, but I believe successful BI managers will be inspired to write lots of notes in the margins as they read this book.

And plan a trip to the Shake Shack.

IMPORTANT! If you’re headed to SAP Insider’s BI 2015 and HANA 2015 conferences in Las Vegas, there’s a Shake Shack right around the corner.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tales of the Siren: A Starbucks Melody

What happens when a Seattleite starts a blog about her favorite coffee shop?

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time it’s pretty hard to miss that I’m a big fan of Starbucks. Nearly every morning begins with a Grande cup of brewed goodness from the Starbucks tucked inside my local grocery store. On other days, I’ll tear open a Via packet and make coffee at home. Starbucks has elevated our view of coffee and ignited our desire to make connections with other people in the “third place” created by their stores. I’m firmly convinced that Starbucks can teach us how to create better human connections in our organizations, making the BI Competency Center the “third place” between an office worker’s cubicle and the IT department.

Starbucks cups

Tales of the Siren: A Starbucks Melody (ISBN 978-1499344202) is a book written by a fellow blogger named Melody Overton who created the Starbucks Melody blog. Being a passionate Starbucks fan in Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle has given her a unique perspective on the company. She’s woven her stories into a book that is “the other Onward”, covering roughly the same period that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz writes about (see my related book review for Onward).

After reading Melody’s book, I’m convinced that I must add visiting Seattle and attending a Starbucks shareholder meeting to my bucket list. If you’re a fan of Starbucks, you’ll enjoy Melody’s unique perspective. And if you’re a blogger, whether you blog about Starbucks, stamp collecting, or Scandinavia, you’ll learn some valuable lessons about how Melody has pursued authenticity over audience (although she has ample amounts of both).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Meet Me at Starbucks

What can we learn from Starbucks’ first global ad campaign?

Starbucks Cup with Dallas Name 500

Last week, Starbucks launched its first global ad campaign, “Meet Me at Starbucks”. Shot over a 24-hour period in 40 Starbucks stores across 28 countries, it reminds me of Apple’s “shot around the world in one day” commercial, 1.24.14. The 30-second and 60-second spots cull footage from longer documentaries that you can watch on Starbuck’s special “Meet Me” web site. The ads illuminate the human interactions that occur daily at the “third place” Starbucks creates between our “first place” of home and our “second place” of work.


In my recent ASUG presentation, Secrets of a Business Intelligence Barista, I made the case for integrating the Starbucks customer experience into our Business Intelligence Competency Centers.

The business intelligence competency center is a third place between the cubicle and corporate IT that provides a collaborative environment to solve business challenges and align execution to organizational strategy.

I’m a realist- “Meet Me at the Business Intelligence Competency Center” isn’t going to generate the same emotional response that Starbucks has achieved with their new campaign. But I’m also an idealist. Solving business problems with data? That’s something that can be life-changing for the people we serve.

Some of our business intelligence consumers are gregarious. Some are cantankerous. But as you begin your week today, look beyond the crisis of the moment. Look beyond the technology. Take a moment to make the human connection.

What’s your reaction to Starbucks’ new campaign?

2014 ASUG SAP Analytics and BusinessObjects User Conference

I’m headed to Fort Worth, Texas for this year’s ASUG SAP Analytics and BusinessObjects user conference.

Texas Flag

The 2014 ASUG SAP Analytics and BusinessObjects User Conference is coming to the Omni Fort Worth Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas this September. I will be there to present a breakout session, participate in two panel discussions, and hang out in the SAP Press booth for the launch of the third edition of their Web Intelligence book, which I helped co-author (see related article, SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, Third Edition). Several of my co-workers are also presenting breakout sessions.

Expert Panel: How to get agile with SAP Lumira

a panel discussion with State of Indiana OMB Director Chris Atkins, SAP technology evangelist Timo Elliott, SAP VP Product Management Lumira Ty Miller, and myself. Moderated by SAP marketing director Pierre Leroux.
Monday September 22, 2014 at 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

In an era in which businesses demand agility and speed and IT struggles to keep up with their demands, com and learn from 5 experts on how data discovery is changing the BI landscape. We will be discussing how best to implement data discovery successfully, with an emphasis on people-focused discussions rather than technical hints and tips. Hear the panelists talk about pulling data quickly from multiple sources, dealing with data governance, and development bottlenecks. Explore how SAP Lumira can complement your existing BI investment. Ask them questions via Twitter using the hashtag #saplumirapanel.

Secrets from the Business Intelligence Baristas

a panel discussion with Dallas Marks and friends
Monday, September 22, 2014 at 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM
Trends and Strategy/Roadmaps and Product Direction – Session 0802

Much has been written about creating a Business Intelligence Competency Center or Center of Excellence. But many BI organizations struggle to move beyond IT’s traditional “utility company” method of delivering services and instead become a customer-focused organization. In this session, our panel will discuss BICC best practices of building a team that is both business savvy as well as tech savvy while looking to the neighborhood coffee shop for inspiration. You’ll be better prepared to build better BI solutions “from the grounds up” by putting the right business intelligence tools on the menu, providing both instant (self-service) and barista (IT supported) offerings, rewarding your best customers, and giving passionate customer support. No green apron required.

Taking SAP BusinessObjects from Stock to Custom

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Session 0307 – BI Platform (Security, Administration) and Server Administration

SAP BusinessObjects administrators will learn the secrets of customizing the BI Launch Pad and in SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1. We’ll also look at new personalization capabilities in Web Intelligence 4.1. With detailed step-by-step instructions, you’ll be able to deliver a tailored information portal that meet user needs without custom coding.

  • Build a brand for your Business Intelligence Competency Center
  • Customize the BI Launch Pad portal
  • Personalize the Web Intelligence experience

“Cost Saving” Project Cuts You Can’t Afford

A Diversified Semantic Layer panel discussion with Eric Vallo, Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald and Dallas Marks
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM
Session 0112 – BI Platform (Security, Administration) and Server Administration

Time and time again, pieces of your technology projects drop on the cutting room floor. But do you really know what those items will cost you in the long-term? Come join this sure-to-be lively panel discussion with SAP Mentors and Industry Experts on the good, bad, and ugly of successful SAP Analytics projects. We’ll cover the things we commonly see get cut from projects, and why those things really shouldn’t be cut. We’ll cover topics like Project Management, Master Data Management, Data Quality, Capacity Testing, and whatever other project components you want to discuss. If you are responsible for delivering a successful SAP Analytics project, you don’t want to miss this panel discussion.

  • What makes a SAP BI project successful?
  • What mistakes have other customers made in their projects that I can avoid?
  • What is the value in keeping some of these commonly cut project components?

Land and Expand

Expanding user adoption by learning from the experts.

Land and Expand binoculars and mapMuch has been made of the “land and expand” sales strategies of data discovery vendors Tableau and Qlik. First, “land” a single license of desktop software in the middle of a data-starved organization like accounting. Then “expand” by selling additional desktop licenses to curious co-workers, eventually spreading to multiple departments then roping in IT to adopt a server or cloud-based solution. Beautiful.

But did you know that it’s possible to use a land and expand strategy with your existing enterprise BI solution?

This article won’t help you decide if your organization should invest in data discovery tools. But I hope it will provide inspiration and ideas for extracting additional value from existing investments. Here are some practical ways that your Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) can increase user adoption of existing enterprise business intelligence.

Make it Easy to Get Started

Take a look at the homepages of SAP Lumira, Qlik, and Tableau. Go ahead— take a look. I’ll wait.

Did you see how easy it is to download the software? All three vendors provide a “free download” link in the top right corner of their web sites. You can achieve the same goal by creating or enhancing a BICC portal on your corporate intranet such as Microsoft SharePoint. There are typically two tasks users must accomplish:

  • granting BI platform access to an existing user’s ID
  • installing any client software such as the Web Intelligence Rich Client, Live Office, or Analysis for Microsoft Office

Many organizations have been reluctant to distribute desktop software such as the Web Intelligence Rich Client. But as its name indicates, it is a richer experience (without the annoying Java warnings, too). Whether a software installation is requested by a service ticket or downloaded from a server, be sure to provide easy-to-follow instructions for getting software on your BICC portal.

Give Away Free Samples

The second thing that data discovery vendors do really well is provide sample content. Make sure that all users (for SAP BI, the Everyone group) can access a folder of curated sample content. Ideally, this sample content should use corporate universes but could also use eFashion. Make sure that the samples are generic (don’t reveal sensitive information) and perform quickly by using only small data sets.

Give Away Free Tutorials

Data discovery tools typically feature free tutorials that can be accessed from inside the software itself or from the company web site. But using inexpensive tools such as tools such as Camtasia or ScreenFlow, you can go one step further by creating tutorials that use your organization’s data instead of sample data. SAP has done a fantastic job of describing how to create free tutorials— just look at their Learn BI web site for inspiration.

Your BICC portal should also include one or more pages that list the universes or BEx queries available in the BI platform. In addition to the semantic layer name, include a brief description (cut and paste from the universe parameters), the business user point of contact, the technical point of contact, and directions for requesting access to the information.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the SAP Learn BI site. Don’t be afraid to start small and build out a larger set of tutorials.

Give Away Free Webinars

In addition to static tutorials, hold repeating monthly or quarterly webinars. Check out this tweet from Qlik.


You should certainly record webinars and post the “best” one to your BICC portal. But I would encourage you to routinely (perhaps quarterly?) give live webinars because it’s a way to make the human connection with your user community. Their questions will provide valuable insight into how you can continuously improve your training materials, universes, and standard reports. Share presentation responsibilities throughout the BICC giving everyone on the team an opportunity to refine their presentation skills, even if they only handle 5 or 10 minutes of a larger presentation.

Be sure to collect data from your attendees such as name, department, job title and email address. Follow up with a quick email thanking them for their participation.

Reach Out to First-Time Casual Users

If you’ve ever downloaded a free version of a data discovery tool, you’ve seen the vendor’s CRM back-end in action. Via automation and an inside sales force, users who have downloaded the software are periodically contacted, asked if they need help, and reminded of free resources. Being able to cross-reference a user ID to an email address or phone number is key here. New users can also be identified by studying access requests submitted to the help desk.

Know Your Influencers

Desktop data discovery tools succeed not only because they create valuable content, but the person using it becomes a passionate evangelist for the product. In most organizations, these folks are known as “power users” and are sometimes noted as such in the BI security structure. However, just being labeled a power user doesn’t necessarily mean that you are one. Look for users that create and share a large amount of content. Because power users tend to push boundaries, it can also be helpful to look at the number and type of service requests users submit to the help desk.

Monitor Key Metrics and Refine Strategy

In all cases, user activity generates data. Data can be refined into key metrics. And key metrics can be monitored to refine BICC strategy. Look for insight from the SAP BusinessObjects auditor database, usage metrics from your BICC portal, usage metrics from a self-service download site or document management system, and help desk tickets. All of these sources are capable of providing data, but most will need additional additional refinement to reveal insights. Try to budget projects around these untapped data sources as part of your BICC’s annual planning.

Does it take too long to gain access to the enterprise BI platform? Does Brenda take too long to approve access requests? Is installing software a help desk fiasco? Address pain points and continually refine your BICC strategy.


Does your organization need a data discovery tool? Maybe.

Does your organization already own a data discovery tool due to the land-and-expand vigilance of their vendors? Highly likely.

Is there still untapped potential in your existing enterprise business intelligence platform? A distinct possibility.

I hope this article has given you some ideas to tap that latent potential.  Some of these topics are explored in my 2010 ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference presentations, KPIs for Business Intelligence.

The Teavana Experience

The Teavana Experience is the antithesis of the Starbucks Experience.

Teavana teapot

Last year at the 2012 ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference, I gave a presentation entitled Secrets of a Business Intelligence Barista. In it, I made the case for Business Intelligence Competency Center, or BICC, being as customer-friendly and service-oriented as a neighborhood Starbucks. Just as Starbucks describes their stores as a “third place” between home and work. I shunned the traditional definitions of a Business Intelligence Competency Center and instead described it as follows:

The business intelligence competency center is a third place between the cubicle and corporate IT that provides a collaborative environment to solve business challenges and align execution to organizational strategy.

If you couldn’t tell, I like Starbucks a lot. I visit one at the beginning of nearly every work day. I try to read every article or book I can about their organization (see related book reviews). Early this year, I became a shareholder. So shortly after Starbucks purchased the tea retailer Teavana, my wife and I visited one for the first time.

Sadly, the Teavana experience was the antithesis of the Starbucks experience.

The high-pressure purchasing experience was so miserable, I nearly walked out of the store without purchasing any tea. But curiosity as a shareholder got the best of me, so I let the experience play out. The store employee pushed really hard to sell me way more tea than I wanted as well as an expensive tin to keep it in. When I got home and angrily Googled about the “Teavana Experience,” I found out that my experience was not isolated. I’ve included some links below if you’re interested in reading more.

If only I had Googled before going into the store instead of after. As you can see, I tweeted about my Teavana Experience back in May and it’s taken me a few months to collect my thoughts and relate my Teavana Experience to business intelligence.

Unfortunately, our users can interact with the BICC expecting a “Starbucks Experience” only to walk away with a disappointing “Teavana Experience”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s look at three ways our BICC team can turn a Teavana Experience back into a Starbucks Experience.

The tea users brew “at home” doesn’t taste like the store samples

At Teavana, there’s never a sample that just contains one variety of tea – it’s always two. And the tea is brewed much stronger in the store than the typical consumer will brew at home. But the result is frequently that a customer cannot replicate the taste of the in-store experience. Similar situations occur in business intelligence when a tool isn’t as easy to use or as flexible as it appeared either during the vendor’s demo. This situation can also occur over time as turnover in the user community erodes the original population of users that received training.

Opportunity: improve user adoption through increased education- both at time of delivery and on a periodic basis such as an internal user group.

Users end up spending more time and money than originally budgeted- and still don’t get what they want

At Teavana, customers who wish to only sample a few ounces of tea are bullied into taking a whole pound. And an expensive tin to keep it in. In my experience, the new trainee that was so helpful showing my wife and I around the store was forbidden to ring us up at the counter. And afterwards, I can see why. He undoubtedly had not yet been brainwashed in the art of increasing the amount of the sale. This sensation can occur with business intelligence projects, particularly when a traditional waterfall design methodology is used. Business users articulate requirements, IT labors over those requirements in near isolation, and the finished product- whether delivered on time or not- doesn’t effectively solve the users’ business problem. Then the finger pointing begins.

Opportunity: Agile methodologies. Beware- going agile can be radical shift both for users and for IT.

Customers are angry after a negative personal encounter with staff

During my first and only Teavana experience, I grew increasingly frustrated at the checkout counter as the Teavana employee kept trying new and innovative ways to increase the amount of the sales transaction. I reached a point where I was ready to halt the purchase and simply walk out of the store. I left the store vowing never to return again. So far, I’ve kept my promise. And I’ve seen no signs from Starbucks that they’ve redesigned the customer experience at Teavana. Instead, the company seems to be focusing on its other acquisitions like La Boulange and Evolution Fresh. Perhaps- like me- the executives at Starbucks have buyers remorse over Teavana.

Opportunity: Train BICC support staff in customer service skills. No budget? Take a team field trip to Starbucks. And as you’re sitting at a table sipping lattes, discuss as a team what makes the Starbucks experience special. Was there an unhappy customer during your visit and how were they treated? There’s many lessons that your team can learn from friendly baristas in green aprons. Include customer service skills in the hiring and review processes.

Coda (9:00 PM on 10/23/2013):

How ironic that the day I finally post this article that Starbucks announces the grand opening of a Teavana tea bar in New York City.


Links about The Teavana Experience

Have you had a Teavana experience at your local shopping mall? While interacting with your organization’s business intelligence competency center? Both?


A book review of Onward by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Onward tells the story that begins with the private memo that Howard Schultz sent to then-CEO Jim Donald in February 2007 entitled “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience“. That memo was leaked to the public. Subtitled “How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul,” the book provides a first-hand account of how Starbucks, a darling growth stock of Wall Street, weathered the recent economic downturn and challenges from its competitors. Schultz would return to the CEO post in January 2008 and initiate a series of dramatic changes. The most daring was the closing of all 7,100 US locations— for three hours— to retrain all its partners in the art of the perfect shot of espresso.

We’re taking time to perfect our espresso.

Great espresso requires practice.

That’s why we’re dedicating ourselves to honing our craft.

Where his previous book, Pour Your Heart Into It, described how Starbucks maintained its values and unique corporate culture during rapid growth, Onward describes how Starbucks maintained its values during a dark downward financial spiral. At the onset of the 2008 recession, the daily trip to Starbucks was one of the first things consumers began to cut from their household budgets. Simultaneously, competitors such as McDonalds were upgrading their coffee offerings while undercutting Starbucks on price. What is also different from the previous book is how technologies such as the world wide web, Wi-Fi, smartphones, and social media have changed how Starbucks interacts with its customers and partners.

As a long-time BusinessObjects professional, I found myself thinking about how BusinessObjects was assimilated by SAP during the same timeframe as this book. Starbucks had a distinct set of values that were furiously maintained despite some drastic changes in its operations. In contrast, SAP seemed to go out of its way to prove to the world that BusinessObjects did not have a unique set of corporate values worth preserving. Instead, SAP seemed quite focused on destroying anything BusinessObjects employees, or even customers, found of value.

As judged by its stock price, Starbucks has turned the corner. It sharpened its focus and improved its back-end operations while staying true to its mission –  “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”.

From page 13:

If home is the primary or “first” place where a person connects with others, and if work is a person’s “second place,” then a public space such as a coffeehouse— such as Starbucks— is what I have always referred to as the “third place.” A social yet personal environment between one’s house and job, where people can connect with others and reconnect with themselves.  From the beginning, Starbucks set out to provide just such an invaluable opportunity.

So when some refer to Starbucks’ coffee as an affordable luxury, I think to myself, Maybe so. But more accurate, I like to think, is that the Starbucks Experience— personal connection— is an affordable necessity. We are all hungry for community.

I’m guilty as charged. Most of my work-day mornings begin at Starbucks. For me, the quality of the coffee, Wi-Fi access, and community make it the perfect place to begin the day.

Howard Schultz is fond of saying that Starbucks isn’t in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.  Anyone in the “people business” will profit from reading this engaging story.


UPDATE 09/29/2012: Mike Urbonas has another take on Onward- a really smart article on Smart Data Collective about how Howard Schultz used business intelligence to “get his hands dirty” and find out what was really going on at Starbucks.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pour Your Heart Into It

A book review of Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz

Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang was published in 1997 and chronicles the early years of Starbucks.  Starbucks was founded in 1971, providing high-quality whole coffee beans to coffee aficionados.  Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ current CEO, joined the company in 1982 but departed in 1985 after failing to persuade Starbucks owners to branch into cafes like the ones he had visited in Italy.  Mr. Schultz created a small chain of cafes named Il Giornale, named after the Italian newspaper.  Two years later, after choosing to focus on their Peet’s Coffee acquisition, Starbucks owners would sell the company to Mr. Schultz, who combined it with Il Giornale but kept the name Starbucks. And instead of simply a local retailer of specialty coffee beans, we today know Starbucks as a global “third place” between home and work.

While my original idea was to provide a quick, stand-up, to-go service in downtown office locations, Starbucks’ fastest growing stores today are in urban or suburban residential neighborhoods. People don’t just drop by to pick up a half-pound of decaf on their way to the supermarket, as we first anticipated. They come for the atmosphere and the camaraderie.

People didn’t know they needed a safe, comfortable, neighborhood gathering place. They didn’t know they would like Italian espresso drinks.  But when we gave it to them, the fervor of their response overwhelmed us.

from Chapter 8, If It Captures Your Imagination, It Will Captivate Others, pages 121-122

In a chapter entitled The Best Way to Build a Brand, Howard Schultz talks about what has made Starbucks an enduring brand.

Our product is a log more than coffee. Customers choose to come to us for three reasons: our coffee, our people, and the experience in our stores.

Howard Behar [then head of Starbucks retail, now a board member] has [a saying]: “We’re not in the coffee business serving people. We’re in the people business serving coffee”.

Chapter 18, The Best Way to Build a Brand, pages 249-250

A major theme of the book is the establishment of values, creating a unique corporate culture and maintaining that culture as the company experienced massive growth.  He tells the story of Starbucks refusing to offer skim milk. Although health-conscious customers asked for it, the coffee purists (including Howard Schultz himself) thought that beverages made with skim milk tasted bad.  Was offering skim milk simply catering to customer choice, or a crisis of values?

In hindsight, that decision looks like a no-brainer. But at the time, we weren’t sure what impact it would have on our brand and our identity… How did we deal with our consciences? We had to recognize that the customer was right. It was our responsibility to give people a choice.

Chapter 12, The Value of Dogmatism and Flexibility, page 169

In corporate IT, there are certainly standards that make things run smoothly. But there are other standards that simply drive our customers nuts.  There are times for IT dogmatism, but there are also times for IT flexibility, particularly if we want to see increased user adoption of our business intelligence systems.

The book is interesting because it describes initiatives to expand the Starbucks brand into other areas beyond coffee. Curiously, these same initiatives are curtailed as the company refocuses during the 2008 economic downturn, chronicled in Howard’s 2001 book, Onward (see my related book review of Onward).

In the book, I discovered a lot of lessons about customer service that I hope to incorporate into my work habits.  After all, I’m not in the business intelligence business serving people, I’m in the people business serving business intelligence.  I want to become a business intelligence barista, helping my customers create that “third place” between the information worker’s cubicle and the IT department.  A place where people come for three things: our business intelligence, our people, and the customer experience.

I’m glad I read this book even though I’m not in the coffee business.  Which books have you read outside the business intelligence industry that you’ve found useful in your work?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed this book from a public library. It was not a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”