Raw Data By P3 Adaptive
The Numbers that Didn’t Exist, with Tim RodmanListen Now:
Tim Rodman revisits his backyard BBQ education in PowerPivot. Not just any BBQ, this one hosted two corporate powerhouses casually chatting analytic software over the grill. After this informal introduction, Tim went on to become yet another Power BI OG. Flash forward to current times where his experience with Acumatica paired with his background in accounting, ERP systems, and Excel makes him uniquely qualified to build better reporting. Imagine a blank slate where insights that never existed before in an organization just seem to manifest.
Unexpectedly, in this episode, we learn the true nature of mega drilling machines. From Tim’s description of these machines, it’s easy to imagine them as metaphorically linked with Power BI: nimble cutting discs making multiple, surgical cuts that cause little bits to fall away creating colossal tunnels underground– small, incremental changes creating a path to actionable insight.
Contact Tim and check out his website, AUGForums.com
References in this episode:
Tim’s First PowerPivotPro.com Blog Post on Self Serve BI Adoption
Tim’s PowerPivotPro.com Blog Post on Data Nirvana
Raw Data with Brad and Kai from Agree Media
Hitler Hits A Breaking Point with Tableau
Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends! Today, we're jumping into the way back machine because our guest is Tim Rodman. If you rewind about eight or nine years, people from Microsoft would periodically ask me the same question over and over again, which is how are people hearing about Power Pivot? And my answer was always, it's a million different individual stories. And one time, shortly after I met Tim, someone from Microsoft asked me that question, and without missing a beat, I said, well, there's the barbecue vector. They of course blinked and said what? And I said, well, this guy I just met, he learned about Power Pivot at a neighborhood barbecue from a neighbor who had just taken one of my classes. And that chance conversation with a neighbor at a neighborhood barbecue in July of 2012, launched Tim on a completely different career trajectory. Tim was also one of the founding members of the original Power BI User Group in Cleveland, Ohio. And that's where I got to know him personally.
Rob Collie (00:00:54): I can't know this for sure, but I think there's a reasonably good chance that Tim and I invented the ConcatenateX function at a bar across the street from the User Group afterwards. He and I lost track of each other for a few years, but he's back on the scene now. And talking to him was almost like a time capsule of sorts reminding me of things that I used to be saying. And one of those things that he reminded me of, which is just as relevant today as it was back then, is that the number one output of Power BI are numbers that didn't exist, numbers that your business needed, but that you could never get. I think that's a great theme, and I'm going to go back to saying it.
Rob Collie (00:01:31): He's a savvy operator in the world of ERP systems, and specifically is a big deal in the Acumatica world. We talk about all of that of course, we get into all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies, because he's a very interesting person. It was fantastic catching up with him. I hope you enjoy it as well. So let's get into it.
Announcer (00:01:49): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?
Announcer (00:01:53): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with your host Rob Collie. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to p3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.
Rob Collie (00:02:15): Welcome to the show. Tim Rodman, it has been a long time. I am so glad to talk to you. How are you today?
Tim Rodman (00:02:21): Doing good. Thanks for having me on I've been list thing back through some older episodes, and it's really cool to actually be a guest on here. This is great.
Rob Collie (00:02:29): Really, really excited that we get to do this. Now, where do you live these days? Are you still where we met?
Tim Rodman (00:02:33): No, we met up in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm now about two hours south in Columbus, Ohio. So still pretty close to you. You're still in Indie, right?
Rob Collie (00:02:40): Yep. Still in Indie. You've halved the distance. It's a two and a half hour drive. Although it's weird, when we go to visit Jocelyn's parents in Elyria, we go the north route. We go north from Indianapolis and then shoot over past Cedar Point. But if we're going to the east side of Cleveland, we go the completely different way we go through Columbus. It actually makes quite a bit of difference in arrival time.
Tim Rodman (00:03:00): Interesting.
Rob Collie (00:03:00): Yeah. Yeah. The boring routes between Indiana and Ohio. That's what people tune in to hear about. They're like, oh-
Tim Rodman (00:03:08): It's very flat.
Rob Collie (00:03:09): I should optimize my route.
Tim Rodman (00:03:13): Yeah.
Rob Collie (00:03:14): All right. So why don't we get in the way back machine, first and foremost, how did we cross paths? How much of it do you remember? I'm going to lean on your memory a little bit. I'll jump in with the things that I remember.
Tim Rodman (00:03:25): Well, I didn't trust my memory, so I jotted down some notes here.
Rob Collie (00:03:27): Ah, comes prepared.
Tim Rodman (00:03:30): Yeah. I'm prepared here with my notes. Actually you put at the top of my first blog post on your blog, which was back in April 2014, you put some of the backstory at the very top of that. And I went back to the dates on it, which was July of 2012. So July of 2012, you're not involved yet, but I'm down the street at my neighbor Andy's house in the backyard with a bunch of other neighbors having a barbecue. Andy and I start talking about work, and he brings up this thing called Power Pivot, because you were recently at his company.
Rob Collie (00:04:07): Yep.
Tim Rodman (00:04:08): Teaching it to them. So that was my first introduction to Power Pivot, July 2012. And then we crossed paths first in September of 2013. So a little over a year later at the Inaugural Excel User Group meeting. Although I like to describe it now as the world's first ever Power BI User Group meeting.
Rob Collie (00:04:31): Yeah. Cleveland was patient zero for these user groups. Yeah. Okay, so it's really funny, your neighbor Andy, there's a guy that I'm in contact with every 18 months just sort of randomly. Not your neighbor, Andy, but it's just enough time between that I completely forget that he is not your neighbor, Andy, that introduced you to Power Pivot at a barbecue. And I go, oh, that's right, you're the guy that hooked Tim Rodman. And he goes, oh Rob, you say this to me every time. I am not that guy, but thank you. But yeah, so the barbecue route, you've got to have a real comfort with your neighbors if you get to that point, you know?
Tim Rodman (00:05:12): Well, I think it showed how excited he was about it. And what hooked me about it was when he told me his company size, because the company he worked at I think was doing around $800 million a year in revenue at the time, and the company I was at, we were doing around $300 million a year in revenue, and I was outgrowing Crystal Reports, and SSRS, and the stuff we were trying to throw at problems. And so it caught my attention that here's a guy who's at a bigger company and he's using Excel.
Rob Collie (00:05:42): Turbo Excel. Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:05:43): Because his tools weren't doing the job either, and that definitely piqued my interest.
Rob Collie (00:05:48): Which is really funny, right? $800 million in annual revenue, $300 million in annual revenue. What I have come to realize is that on the grand scale, the overwhelming majority of companies are smaller than that. Now, the majority of total revenue in the world is heavily weighted towards the high end. Right? So the giants do comprise a very large overall percentage of business conducted in terms of dollars, right? But in terms of absolute number of businesses, there's a very, a very long tail that is well below $300 million in annual revenue. And these tools scale up and down that spectrum as if they're not even missing a beat, it doesn't matter how big you are. The only real limit is there's a point at which you're so small that the percentage efficiency gains you would realize by getting a better data strategy together might not be worth the time you put into it. But even that, you've got to be really small for it not to matter.
Tim Rodman (00:06:45): Yeah, totally agree.
Rob Collie (00:06:46): You've got to be making cupcakes out of your garage. Before it doesn't make a difference.
Tim Rodman (00:06:53): Napkin math, right? That's when it scales too far down.
Rob Collie (00:06:57): So now it's almost the opposite in a way, Power BI is so official. Whereas Power Pivot was Turbo Excel, like Excel Plus. You had this relief that a company bigger than yours was already using it. That was promising to you. It sort of allowed you to lean forward. Now if those two revenue numbers had been reversed, maybe you wouldn't have. You were a $800 million and they were $300 million. Now of course, it shouldn't make a difference at all, but when you don't know anything going in, of course it makes a difference. But now I think we have the opposite problem where Power BI is so well respected and entrenched and it feels solid, that I think a lot of companies think that they're too small for it, which is not true. And gosh, in terms of pricing, oh my gosh, the pricing for smaller firms, Power BI is priced in a way that the mid-market can and should be devouring it. Perhaps even more aggressively than the enterprise.
Rob Collie (00:07:45): So I mentioned to my wife, Jocelyn, today that today's podcast guest is someone that she knew, someone she met, I told her who it was and she goes, oh yeah, he worked the drilling company. And I'm thinking to myself Rigid Tools or DeWalt, but I go, oh, she said the big drilling, and I'm like, all right, yeah. The big drill. That is correct, right? I mean, I remember, as soon as she said that it all came back to me.
Tim Rodman (00:08:09): Yeah, that's right. It's called the Robbins Company. Now I haven't been there for many years, but it was a very cool company to work for. And I thought the same thing going in, I pictured a giant DeWalt handheld drill that you go into the earth with, but they're actually flat. And so, what put them on the map was the chunnel from England to France, that project is what put tunnel boring into like, all right, we can really do this, because it was just a very notable project. They actually drilled, I believe it was four out of the six tunnels. So there's two for roads, two for trains, and two for utilities going from England to France. And I think four out of the six were the Robbins Company. And these giant machines, they're longer than a football field, but the front is actually flat. It's not a big drill like you would see in a cartoon, right? When a cartoon character's going through the earth, they've got this drill.
Rob Collie (00:09:04): Yeah, it's not the teenage mutant ninja turtles version. Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:09:07): It's flat. And they have these little discs. They're very similar to a disk that you throw in track and they stick out. So they're just cutting sideways into the rock in multiple places. And then a little bit falls off. It goes a little further, a little bit falls off. Really neat company to work for, a really neat product. Fun product.
Rob Collie (00:09:28): Yeah, and then Elon Musk goes and forms the Boring Company. Did the Boring Company, do they make their own boring devices or do they just use the boring devices?
Tim Rodman (00:09:40): Good question. I had moved on when I first heard about the Boring Company. So, yeah, I don't know.
Rob Collie (00:09:46): The Hyperloop, right? It's going to replace, in theory, I'm crossing my fingers it will replace airline travel. Giant air evacuated tubes under the country, just zap from place to place like there's pneumatic tubes at the bank.
Tim Rodman (00:09:58): I got one more story kind of in that same vein. It is interesting to see the customers of these machines. I didn't have a front row seat, I was in the IT department, mostly working on the ERP system, but I did hear stories. They would sell it to another country and that was it. They weren't allow to know what was happening after that. So when you get underground, things do get pretty interesting, especially internationally. This is an international company doing a lot in China and India, especially. It's just kind of interesting to make up your own stories about what they might have been drilling for.
Rob Collie (00:10:31): Wow. Wow. That is insane. Have you been watching the show Better Call Saul?
Tim Rodman (00:10:37): I have not.
Rob Collie (00:10:37): It's like a prequel to Breaking Bad, and there's a giant basement that figures prominently in Breaking Bad, and in Better Call Saul, they show the construction of this basement. And it's very, very similar. It's really cloak and dagger. They're interviewing different engineering teams to come in and do it. But the engineering teams get blindfolded in a different city at an airport and driven across the country, and they have no idea where they are. The team that eventually ends up doing the work spends six months sequestered. They have no idea where they are in the world.
Tim Rodman (00:11:05): That's interesting. Yeah, satellites have mapped out everything above ground, right? If you want to be discreet, you got to go underground. Be interesting to know what kind of things are going on out there.
Rob Collie (00:11:14): But that's not what you're up to these days. So you are wielding Power Pivot at the Robbins Company. It was during that era that we got to know each other, but at some point something else pulled you away, right? What's been your path since then?
Tim Rodman (00:11:28): So here's where I had to go back and look at the date. So it was July 2012 that talked to my neighbor, Andy. And then he came over probably within two or three weeks after that. At night after the kids were asleep, pulled out his Excel files and started showing me some of the stuff that he was doing. And then I got really interested.
Tim Rodman (00:11:47): And so, somewhere between July and then I was at that first user group meeting in September of 2013. But then in April of 2013, kind of in between there, is when I first got my hands on installing a new ERP product called Acumatica. And I've always been more in the ERP space. I started off in accounting at Deloitte as a financial auditor. So I was always very close to the accounting side of things. And I got into ERP kind of by accident, ERP is like your back office systems. SAP and Oracle are the well known names for big companies. QuickBooks is the well known name for tiny companies. And then there's a whole mid-market for everyone who's generally between $10 million a year and a few hundred million a year. You're kind of in that mid-market space. There's a bunch of different ERP products, and Acumatica caught my attention because it was pure cloud, pure HTML, from scratch written and starting in 2008. I started getting into that at the same time that I was doing Power BI. So I had this interesting struggle of I've got two really cool, cutting edge products that I'm in on the beginning, or relatively early on in. Which one is going to win as I'm struggling? So I struggled with that probably for about a year or actually more, maybe more like two years, because it included, even after that September 2013, first user group meeting.
Rob Collie (00:13:19): So you were struggling with which of these two exciting new technologies to really throw yourself into.
Tim Rodman (00:13:25): That's right.
Rob Collie (00:13:26): In the end, did you come to the conclusion that that was a false dichotomy, and it was really both?
Tim Rodman (00:13:32): In the end, I think it was right at the time to decide that I needed to pick a focus. But yeah, I agree that that gets to what I'm doing now. They go together very well, but at the time, I feel like I did need to pick one bucking bronco to ride on. These kind of early software products, you want to devote your attention to it. And so, I'm glad that I did focus on Acumatica.
Rob Collie (00:13:56): Okay. And so, when you say focused on Acumatica, did you leave your previous job and become an Acumatica implementation consultant? Is that first direction that you were going?
Tim Rodman (00:14:06): That's right. I kind of worked with the product from April of 2013. That's when I first got my hands on it. And between then and September 2015, I was still at the Robbins Company learning Acumatica in the evening. And then September 2015, I went to work for Acumatica and was mainly involved with implementations for about five years till last November 2020.
Rob Collie (00:14:32): Okay. So for five years you were an Acumatica employee, not like a partner, like the Microsoft model, where Microsoft has a million partner companies that help implement their stuff. It wasn't like that, you were an employee.
Tim Rodman (00:14:44): Well, I did bounce around. In those five years, I was at Acumatica then I was at two different partners, which was actually fairly common, because things were moving around so quickly, but I was doing basically the same job the whole time.
Rob Collie (00:14:56): Okay. All right. So there was basically the same sort of implementation, but depends upon timing and all that kind of stuff. Sometimes the checks coming from this firm versus another firm. That makes sense to me. You said that was for five years. So now what is Tim Rodman up to?
Tim Rodman (00:15:10): So since last November, a little over a year now, I've just been independent. It was kind of middle of the COVID and with the way we were caring for the kids, we got two elementary school kids.
Rob Collie (00:15:22): Oh boy, yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:15:22): I was basically working part-time anyways. So the benefits were gone. My wife was working just enough to be full-time at her job and get benefits. So I'm already in like this hourly phase anyways. So I'm like, hey, why don't I just give this independent thing a shot? So for about a year now I've been independent just doing reporting in Acumatica. And because of that, Power BI has come back in a bigger way than when I just learning Acumatica.
Rob Collie (00:15:54): [Taxes 00:15:54], back on the menu boys.
Tim Rodman (00:15:55): That's right.
Rob Collie (00:15:59): Fantastic. Welcome. Welcome back. Yeah. So that's neat, right? One of the things that comes up pretty frequently on this show is that life and career are more like the decathlon than like any single track and field event. And on the one hand, you'd think maybe that's too specialized. Acumatica reporting, seriously? But no, if I wanted someone to help me with Acumatica-based reporting and analytics, come on, it's the Rodman. That's who's going to be.
Tim Rodman (00:16:31): I really like that decathlon point that you've made. I've heard it on previous episodes. I totally agree with it. That's been my experience this past year. I went down into a super niche. I know Acumatica from an implementation standpoint, I like reporting the best, and I spend most of my time on that. Is there really a market for that? And I found, yeah, there is because most the consulting companies, your model is to sell an ERP product and implement an ERP product. After the company goes live, then you're still going to support them. You're still going to write reports to them when they need, but largely your model is to then go move on to the next one, sell and implement. So all I do, all day, every day is reporting. I'm not distracted by implementations. And I found that to be really nice, not just from a knowledge standpoint, but from a muscle memory standpoint, my fingers have more knowledge in them just being familiar with where to click, to do certain things, because I'm doing it all the time. I'm not having to reteach the muscle memory every month or so when I actually get around to writing a report.
Rob Collie (00:17:41): Yeah. So much domain knowledge, so much tribal knowledge built up. Even if you take on a new client, working with a new company for the first time, you already know two thirds of the story. Almost everything there is to know about Power BI. Like you're very, very comfortable there. You know everything about the plumbing of Acumatica, what its quirks are. All that kind of stuff. It's eccentricities. You know where the defined things. And then all that's left is whatever particular business problems that they're confronting that are somewhat unique to them. And that stuff's fun. That's just a fun thing to get into, in my experience. So you save a lot of time, not just time, but also really boring time. Learning all that other stuff is usually like, even if you're able to charge the same hourly rate for it, it just doesn't feel the same. It's not as much of a satisfying existence doing that boring stuff. And again, we're not talking about the tunnels here. We're talking about the actual not exciting version of...
Tim Rodman (00:18:32): Well. Yeah. And I think that goes back to getting up to speed on a product. And to me, as I was getting up to speed on Acumatica, the hardest question was not to know what it could do. It was to know what it couldn't do, because if someone asks you, can it do this? And if you're going to say no, you've really got to be confident that you've covered all your bases there. Right? And that's where I am glad that I focused on a product and just got to know it well so that I could be confident. And then, as you say, the fun stuff, which I think is also the value add stuff, the important stuff, the softer side, the business side that now is what I get to focus on knowing that I have a solid set of Craftsman tools in my tool belt.
Rob Collie (00:19:12): Yeah. Aren't most ERP systems supposed to come from Germany? Is Acumatica a Germany-based organization or does it come from somewhere else?
Tim Rodman (00:19:20): It's not, it's close. It's Russia.
Rob Collie (00:19:22): Really? Okay.
Tim Rodman (00:19:23): Similar engineering mindset.
Rob Collie (00:19:25): I see, I see.
Tim Rodman (00:19:27): The core developer team, they got international offices now, but still the core team is in Moscow, Russia.
Rob Collie (00:19:34): I actually have opinions on this. I think there's a huge difference between what little experience I have with this topic, which doesn't stop me from opining. There's a huge difference in engineering philosophy between the Russians and the Germans. All you have to do is go look at World War II. The Russians have a very, very keen sense of how things are actually going to be used, and they do not over engineer beyond that. The German philosophy is you over-engineer everything. There's no question that the best tank of the war, maybe the best three tanks of the war were all German designs, but that's with an asterisk, when they were running. There's parallels in the BI world.
Rob Collie (00:20:06): Every day at an Air Force base in the United States, or any Air Force base that the United States operates, there's this ritual will where everybody who works at the Air Force base, no matter what their job is, they all get out and they form this big wide line and they walk the entire length of every runway picking up pebbles and all the little detritus that might get sucked into an intake and ruin a bajillion dollar airplane, right?
Rob Collie (00:20:26): Whereas, the Russian philosophy is you could take a big handful of mud and just throw it into the intake and it just makes it stronger. And so much of the old BI world was that really sensitive, clean room environment mentality that just does not survive contact with the real world. I think a lot of German engineering, not all of it obviously, but the most representative outlier example of the culture is an over-engineered machine that doesn't stay on the road.
Tim Rodman (00:20:54): I hadn't considered that. I could see that from an ERP's perspective. You look at SAP, that's the most notable German ERP product, and it is very much that. You do things a certain way and it's very precise. The Acumatica approach is much more of a minimum viable product approach. They launch stuff and then if it gets used, then they bother to make it run better and stuff like that.
Rob Collie (00:21:21): Microsoft has made this transition from being the on-premises, release every three to five years software to very cloud-based, MVP-based approach. And that I'm amazed at how well they've pulled that transition. It is a very difficult cultural change to make within a company. Set aside the workflow and technical changes, just the cultural changes is just like, and that all happened after I left. So if I ever went back to Microsoft, that would be in a completely foreign land. I wouldn't recognize it today. I do wonder how many big, established companies are able to truly make that transition and make it work.
Tim Rodman (00:21:54): I'm definitely watching Microsoft very closely. They're what they now call Dynamics 365. Before they swallowed up four ERP products around 2000.
Rob Collie (00:22:05): Yep.
Tim Rodman (00:22:05): Maybe like 2000 to 2005.
Rob Collie (00:22:06): Yep.
Tim Rodman (00:22:07): They were Axapta, Division, Great Plains, and Solomon. They branded Axapta's AX. Division, NAV. Great Plains, as GP and Solomon is SL. Well, Great Plains and Solomon have kind of fallen onto the maintenance mode. And now the two horses are AX and Division, which they confusing, if I'm current on this rebranded AX, as Finance and Operations, and NA Vision as Business Central. So Business Central is more in like the mid-market space that I'm in, but I'm definitely keeping my eye on that. It looks very interesting, especially with something I've seen them call the Dataverse. If they could really pull off a different style of database that allows you to go in and write power apps that are first class citizens in an ERP system, that all utilizes a common database on the backend, I think that's the general idea of their Dataverse. They used to call it Common Data Model. That's very interesting to me, but retooling an ERP system is quite a beast.
Rob Collie (00:23:11): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:23:11): It's a multi, multi year job. So we'll see if they can pull it off. But yeah, culturally if you're talking Microsoft's changes, it's very interesting to see what they do from an ERP perspective with that new culture.
Rob Collie (00:23:24): Does Acumatica include a CRM component?
Tim Rodman (00:23:27): Acumatica does. They're actually kind of rare in that respect that they built it into the core from the very beginning. So even if you aren't licensed for the quote-quote CRM area. Opportunities and leads, you still have the ability to track activities on anything, even like accounting journal entries, if you want to. So yeah, that philosophy was baked in from the very beginning, which I think is a pretty good competitive advantage.
Rob Collie (00:23:53): So it is neat to see systems that aren't sort of the usual suspect, right? Like Acumatica seems relatively new, relative to something like SAP anyway. So it has a CRM in it.
Rob Collie (00:24:03): Relative to something like SAP anyway. So it has a CRM in it. We started of course in the most random hodgepodge way possible here at P3, we just grab a system off the shelf, grab another system off the shelf. The joke is, well that's best of breed. Now it's the random collection of stuff that we happen to buy at certain points in time, right?
Rob Collie (00:24:17): And you mentioned how long it takes a company like Microsoft to retool an ERP system. But holy cow, once you adopt one, you're stuck, even as the benefits of switching might pile up over time, so does your entrenchment, for instance, we're on Salesforce, CRM, it's so central to our business, that it leaks into other places too. It has integrations all over the place and you can't tear that thing out. Your entire nervous system would go with it if you try to get that parasite removed, like the alien.
Tim Rodman (00:24:48): And I think that speaks to an important difference between ERP ecosystems and what I'd call data or BI, any kind of data ecosystem. A data person is much more apt to just grab the best tool for the job, or whereas an ERP person is just much more entrenched. The ecosystems tend to live separately. There's these vendors that we call ISV vendors, which are independent software vendors that they'll plug into the various ERP products.
Tim Rodman (00:25:16): So they'll go like to the different conferences for all the different ERP products. But for most people who are really an expert on a particular ERP product, that's all they have time for. They don't cross paths with other ERP systems, just because of that, it's very... An entrenched nature. You get really into the weeds in terms of how you execute certain things. And you're just kind of stuck with what you got.
Rob Collie (00:25:40): How humane is Acumatica when it comes to giving you access to the data? SAP is famously difficult to get data out of. One of the reasons I'm sure behind the scenes for all of this is that an ERP system. any ERP system that is very open with its data is easier to replace. Just run a bunch of exports, right? Or so goes to the paranoia anyway. Maybe that's not true. There was a time when Microsoft very closely guarded the formats of the office document, the specifications for those as if those were the reason why the office couldn't be copied, turned out that wasn't the case at all. The reason office can't be copied is all the behaviors of the application, not the nature of the file format structure.
Rob Collie (00:26:25): So it turned out like completely opening that file format structure didn't damage or endanger the offices standing in the market at all. But for a while, there was a fear that it would. So I know entire software companies that are built strictly on the premise of trying to make and succeeding, actually of making SAP data a much more easy to consume, like in a data Mart format than in its native 55,000 tables of SQL or whatever of Oracle, whatever. So when you need to get data from Acumatica in order to build reports, how much secret handshake is involved if any?
Tim Rodman (00:27:05): Before I respond to that, let me explain why I stayed in the ERP path. So I always look at things through a reporting angle, but I look at as two sides of a coin, you got heads and tails. Heads is the business per process side of things, tails is what I just call the reporting side of things. You can throw a BI at it or whatever. I just call it reporting, because that's the word that I find people most commonly use. But I find that to be two different sides of the same coin, where if you touch process, without keeping in mind reporting, you're asking for trouble because you're just going to be in the Lean Six Sigma, make things so efficient, but we don't even know why we're making it efficient type of a world. I don't want to be there. Then on the other side though, and this is why I stayed in the ERP world, I didn't want to just go down the reporting path and be just data analyst without understanding the business process side.
Tim Rodman (00:28:02): Because I think as you probably experienced, you can never touch data without touching garbage and the data janitor side of things and missing data. So to be in a system where you now have the ability to influence the process and maybe customize the screens or change the way things are captured in order to fill in that missing data, you're in a much better position to deliver more comprehensive reporting. So that's my look at it. And from that angle, when I was looking for a new ERP product, that was one of the things that was very important to me. And one of the things that caught my attention with Acumatica from the very beginning was just how open the technology was. So like for example, I looked at NetSuite for a number of years, but every time I tried to figure out how NetSuite worked, I couldn't get my hands on it. It was like a black box.
Tim Rodman (00:28:56): Whereas Acumatica, I read about it on a blog post somewhere. And a couple months later, I was talking to a partner and he's like, "Okay, how about I just let you into my university account and you can download it, install it yourself." So even though it is a cloud, most people deploy on cloud in the Acumatica Amazon data center. You can also take the same installation file and install it on your local machine. So at the end of the day, it's just a backend database and having the ability to, if I wanted to, move it out of the cloud and move it locally, which you can do, that was really important to me because I cared about accessing the data to your point.
Rob Collie (00:29:38): Okay. All right. So let me keep pressing you on this point, however, I can use the cloud or I can stall it locally. Great, great, great. There's sort of like this sense of physical possession, but SAP was, and probably remains to this day very often deployed on premises and still is about as opaque as it comes when it's time to get access to the data. Does Acumatica force you to design reports that are ultra ultra ultra detailed and then export them to CSV format in order to get it into Power BI, which would be a very common thing. Does it offer any like integrations or direct connect type of APIs? What does it really look like? When you go into Power BI and say, okay, get data from Acumatica. What are you actually getting?
Tim Rodman (00:30:23): So there is some pre-built stuff and they are in the Power BI I don't even remember what you call it, like templates or whatever that area is. Last I look, it was mostly CRM data that's pre-built there. But they did do so. Something back in 2015, and I actually did a guest blog post, another one on your blog in June of 2015. Got it right here on my notes to highlight what they did in 2015. They were, I believe the first ERP product to embrace OData. Which now Microsoft has done as well in their ERP products. But I really like the way that they did it because I've tinkered a little bit with business central and it wasn't quite this easy, but the way Acumatica does it is, you design a query using a screen, it's called a generic inquiry and you do it graphically.
Tim Rodman (00:31:11): You pick your tables. You do your joins. You're essentially doing a sequel query, but you're doing it graphic. And then you check this one little box that says, enable for OData. So you could pull data from any table you want, join it together however you want, group it, filter it and then enable the thing for OData so you can connect it from Power BI, which is the reason why that feature there is huge to me. And that's why Power BI is coming up more and more in conversations with clients.
Rob Collie (00:31:43): Okay, cool. So do you find that the throughput of OData is sufficient? Is it a relatively slow query or is it returned kind of snappy or we're not typically dealing with billions of rows, I wouldn't think, but that's one of the things that I'm always a little concerned about with these XML driven type of APIs. I've asked the question now, five times, I feel like I should ask it [inaudible 00:32:05] I don't really need to, you know what I'm asking.
Tim Rodman (00:32:10): No, you got it. It's definitely slow. Now, when you connect to Acumatica from Excel, at least I haven't tried it in Power BI, but from Excel, at least it knows to use the JSON rather than the XML, which is a little friendlier, but it's still slow. I'm not to the point yet where I'm doing anything at massive scale. My thought is you would throw a Power BI premium license at it so you could do the incremental refresh because Acumatica does retain all the last modified information on all the records. So you'd be able to do that. But where I'm at right now with clients is, and I use your line all the time. And I most of the time credit you for it. Maybe not all the time. Most of the time I credit you for it. And the line is that, look, we're here to create numbers that never existed before in your organization. So I'm really not concerned about speed right now, I'm not even concerned about refresh right now.
Tim Rodman (00:33:02): I remember when we talked about back at the user group in 2013, when we talked, I remember you pointing out to me that most of your data sets were just CSV files, because you're just trying to show people calculations that they never even knew were possible. And once you blow their mind with that and you open those doors to all these sorts of different ways of looking at data than they even realized ever existed, then you can deal with the larger datasets, all the technical stuff that everyone wants to talk about. But to me, that's not the point. I just listen to your at Ken Puls podcast episode and he made the point that he still primarily lives in Excel with Power Pivot. And I do the same thing primarily for the reason that I'm communicating now in an application that you understand. And that's my whole goal. I'm just trying to get you in the door here. We're not trying to get too fancy yet. Just get you in the door.
Rob Collie (00:33:54): As a side note, I definitely need to connect you with the Excel team. They're hungry to talk to people like you who are still very much living in the modern Excel environment and not so much in the Power BI environment for good reason, one of them is so much more graphically sexy and has its own dedicated marketing and everything. Whereas Excel is this does anything tool. They can't just go out and promote Excel as the power tools that are within it. They have to do everything. They've got to cater to every kind of user as well.
Rob Collie (00:34:26): Power BI gets a much, much, much less diluted version of its own marketing than the Power BI equivalent hiding in Excel. It's a lot easier for Microsoft than for the Excel team and everybody to run into Power BI customers than it is to run into really hardcore Power Pivot customers. And I really think they need to meet you. The team does occasional meet the real world, meet the customer over a web meeting. I did one of those with them recently, and my main message to them was you need to talk to other people. I can tell you my story, but this is still going on out there and I'm not actively practicing it anymore. So if you're interested in talking to a whole bunch of Excel people about Power Pivot, let's hook that up.
Tim Rodman (00:35:03): Sure. Yeah. I will say that even though I introduce an Excel, I still view Excel more as a prototyping tool. I like to describe it as more like working with clay than working with concrete. I still do a lot out with the Acumatica reporting tools, but it's more like concrete. You make a report and someone's like, "Oh, I want to see this by item instead of by a customer." Then you got to get out the jackhammer, tear it down and report the concrete to make the report. Excel just much more malleable, right? So it's more my prototyping tool. The end results still might wind up with one of the Acumatica reporting tools or it might even wind up in Power BI. So another thing I like about Acumatica and I'd love to get an answer from someone, maybe you, anyone on this, you can embed Power BI back inside of Acumatica.
Tim Rodman (00:35:56): They've got a couple screens that they made where all you need is a Power BI Pro license on the Power BI side. And then you do it inside Acumatica. You sign up for a secret key on the Power BI side. You plug that in to Acumatica. And now I can drop reports on the Acumatica menu that are Power BI reports from powerbi.com. And I can assign security to those reports using the regular Acumatica security. So I have done that a few times, but Excel still my prototype, but then it might wind up permanently living in powerbi.com.
Tim Rodman (00:36:33): So my question is from a licensing perspective. So from a technical perspective, I know all I need is a Power BI Pro license. I plug that in, it works. And from the Power BI side, as far as I can tell, it looks at it like there's one user called Acumatica that's doing all the requests for reports. From an Acumatica side, I could have 10 people that are using that report. From a technical side, I know it works. From a legal side, I don't know if I'm supposed to buy Power BI licenses for all 10 people. And then how am I even supposed to monitor how I know how many people are really using it at that point? I'm not sure.
Rob Collie (00:37:14): I know that we've done quite a bit with Power BI embedded at this point. So someone on our team probably hasn't answered, there's always a little gray area in all Microsoft licensing. Sometimes it experiences there's been a little bit of don't ask, don't tell kind of gray area. You're saying that you're still managing to enforce row level security?
Tim Rodman (00:37:33): No. Okay. I give up row level security, which I'm okay with. Because again, after creating numbers that never existed before. So I give that up and I just get one user and I let everyone view that report who has access to it.
Rob Collie (00:37:46): So the gray area here might just be that okay. If you're willing to give up row level security and you're willing to give up usage reporting, right? Because only have one user, you only have one level of security there's no granularity there and there's also no granularity of user. I don't know, but I am not very close to the licensing stuff. I'd hate for anyone to be listening to this going, "Well, Rob Collie said it was okay." Like, Nope, no I did not.
Tim Rodman (00:38:10): And that's not what I'm looking for. This is a, "Hey, is anyone out there listening know the answer?" Because what I wonder is, is it more like a SQL thing where I can download the SQL developer edition, which has all the SQL functionality and nothing's going to stop me from using that in a production environment. Legally though, I shouldn't do that. Is this that same situation? If it is, it just seems strange that in 2022, I'm not going to get busted for more multiple people accessing Power BI. It just seems weird to me. So that's why I don't know if I'm missing something.
Rob Collie (00:38:41): It's just a matter of where they pay attention. Here's another way to say it is that, I bet that none of your clients make Microsoft's radar in terms of like there's even a salesperson assigned to them.
Tim Rodman (00:38:52): And that's kind of my explanation to clients at this time. It's like, "Look use at your own risk, but yeah. Is anyone going to care at this point? I don't know."
Rob Collie (00:39:01): So who owns the Pro licenses who's paying for them? Is it your clients or is it you?
Tim Rodman (00:39:06): The client would still pay. So yeah, that's where it's not quite embedded. My understanding of embedded is you're a software vendor. You're using Power BI on the backend and you bake it into your application. That's not the case here. We've got a client who buys their own license. They plug the keys into their own Acumatica environment, which was an off the shelf product, not something they created themselves. So yeah, it's kind of an interesting situation.
Rob Collie (00:39:28): We recently talked with Mary Fealty from Ireland and she runs a Power BI consulting practice. It's focused on like an industry that she knows very well. And she went to the trouble of having Power BI embedded implemented on her website. So her clients log into her website for their analytics, not to powerbi.com and never see any of the really scary, intimidating Power BI website Chrome, all the stuff, all the menus and all the bells and whistles that distract from the actual report. And I'm assuming you probably aren't seeing all those distractions in this lowercase E embedded story in Acumatica, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to embed and suddenly be looking like an eye frame to the entire Power BI workspace. Maybe that is what it Is.
Tim Rodman (00:40:20): No you're right. And that's what I like about it. It's very clean and really no one knows it's Power BI, but it's still interactive. You can still click on my slicers, drill down, stuff like that.
Rob Collie (00:40:29): So depending upon various sensitivities and things like that, I mean, one option for you would be to long term, big picture, blue sky thinking here would be to implement your own instance of Power BI embedded, pay the monthly premium All You Can Eat model and then none of your clients would even have that question anymore and they wouldn't have to buy any licenses either, you would be their only provider of all this. You'd have a stickier service as well, but at the same time they might be really nervous about now there's one more place where their data is exposed. Their BI is living in your... And it could still be embedded back by the way, just an idea.
Tim Rodman (00:41:09): It's a good point. There's actually a company in the Acumatica space. I'll give them a shout out, called DataSelf. And they do that. They started with Tableau actually. And now because everyone's asked them for Power BI as well, they're doing Power BI, but they basically our software company they're taking care of the licensing on the back end and delivering it up on the front end.
Rob Collie (00:41:29): Yes, DataSelf. Come to the dark side. We have cookies.
Tim Rodman (00:41:34): I love by the way, your YouTube video that you did, which I didn't realize was you until I heard it on the podcast, the one with Hitler. Oh, that one was awesome. The Alteryx licenses comment specifically was just awesome. I was falling off my chair when I heard the Alteryx licences.
Rob Collie (00:41:51): There's some serious insight baseball in that. We had like a year before, maybe two years before been at one of the large four accounting firms doing some work or at least some training, it was like a bake off. We were representing Power BI and Tableau had parked multiple of their own full-time employees in the offices at this firm. All they were was just do whatever you want. The reporting minions, build whatever you want. Because the Tableau licenses are so expensive, it made sense to just eat three employees on this account and Microsoft wasn't sending anybody. We got brought in by the accounting firm to represent the side, right?
Rob Collie (00:42:29): That just shows you the difference in business model between the two companies. When you have an extra zero on your price tag, you provide a lot more support, a lot more direct support. We were in there and it wasn't just Tableau, Alteryx was there and they had people on the ground. Wow, this is heavy. This is so heavy.
Tim Rodman (00:42:46): Crazy.
Rob Collie (00:42:47): Yeah. The one thing in there that I wish I hadn't done was explicitly name Power BI. That video comes off a little bit more like super, super, super partisan rather than just like telling the true joke about what's going on with Tableau, right? But oh, well, that video is modest success has still been like the most viewed thing I've ever put on YouTube.
Tim Rodman (00:43:11): It was well done. Just the lines were very well thought through, you could tell.
Rob Collie (00:43:16): There was a spreadsheet of the original, like the original German. And what I translated to was like when he said something repeatedly, that was very clearly the same word, I had it be the same thing in the English pseudo translation. You got to take an artisanal approach to Hitler Lampoon videos. But yeah, I didn't link that to any of our official accounts or anything, that was a burner. I'm glad you enjoyed that.
Tim Rodman (00:43:41): Well, I think it also highlights what I think you're very good at, which is communicating to I'll call it the masses, which is a lower price tag, so maybe you don't like to describe it that way, but even your book, your very popular book, that's what got me hooked. I mean, Andy is the one who opened the door, but then the book is what really got me in to Power BI and you made it clear very early on in that book about the whole calculate numbers that haven't existed. You might not have used that language, but it was very clear to me that Power BI was good at that. And when I first met you at that first user group, I'll go back to September, 2013 again, after we met at, I think it was a Microsoft office there in Independence, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, we then go across the street with just a few of us. Whoever wanted to, I think it was Mavis Winkle.
Rob Collie (00:44:34): Yeah, that's right.
Tim Rodman (00:44:37): I brought my laptop over there. I was the only one who brought my laptop and we're just sitting there at the bar. I pull out the laptop and you're asking me questions about what I was trying to do. And I was trying to write this Dax that would give me something that I think is a very common situation in ERP systems because ERP systems have a lot of one to many relationships and users though don't really understand that. When they're asking for something, they'll describe, "I want you to give me a list of purchase orders maybe and on those purchase orders, I want you to give me the date that it's supposed to get delivered." That's the way they're thinking. Purchase order, date. But in actuality, I just saw stat on this the other day. I think it's something like 52% of purchase order lines, wind up changing their delivery dates, especially nowadays with all the supply chain issues, right?
Tim Rodman (00:45:33): So that what ends up happening, even if you were lucky enough to place that order of 50 products with your supplier. And even if they put the same data on all 50 products, the chance of that not changing is very slim. So reality, you've got more multiple dates. So I was just trying to do something very simple. They just wanted to see it all in one cell in Excel and they just wanted, all right, if it's multiple dates, sure. Yeah. I don't believe it. But if that's what you say, I just want a comma delimited list. And that's when you, Rob Collie mentioned something that was coming called concatenate X. And I was like, "Oh, this is very interesting." And it didn't exist yet, but you already knew the problem. And I was very fascinated by that.
Rob Collie (00:46:17): So the way I remember it, we're going to take your memory as superior on this topic. But let me just tell you the way that I remember it, the way I remember it is that you and I were sitting there, in the course of that conversation, we came with the need for concatenate X.
Tim Rodman (00:46:31): Oh, that makes it even better than I remembered it.
Rob Collie (00:46:35): And then I went back to Microsoft and said, "Hey, can we have concatenate X?" And we eventually got it. The world would've discovered this a million times over as time went on, right? But I think that was the first time that I encountered a need for that concatenate function that didn't exist. There was no way to do it either without the concatenate X function.
Tim Rodman (00:46:55): Well, there was, but it was ugly. There was. I had something, but it was super ugly. I didn't like it.
Rob Collie (00:47:00): You don't want to feel dirty.
Tim Rodman (00:47:04): Yeah. You don't want to take forever to run and yeah, yeah. I know though, you came up with the name on the spot. So either you just named that on the spot, that's why I assume that you had already had this in mind.
Rob Collie (00:47:17): And again, I think it would've been a very, very, very obvious function name to Microsoft as well. Once we recognized that we'd gotten down to behind the scenes was this virtual table of strings. And we wanted to concatenate them all together. That is an X function. That's an iterative X function. Like the sum X function will go over that same table that you've generated in your measure.
Rob Collie (00:47:39): You're like three quarters of the way through the measure and you've generated this table and then some X will iterate over those and sum them up, right? We needed a text aggregation function of like sum X or average X or whatever, but I didn't have anything to do with writing the spec for how the concatenate function is built. They didn't even tell me they were doing it. I told them we needed it on this email exchange that very night or the next day, like how cool would be to have concatenate X. We just ran into a need for it. And...
Rob Collie (00:48:03): Like, how cool would it be to have ConcatenateX? We just ran into a need for it. And no one told me that they were doing it and then it just showed up.
Tim Rodman (00:48:06): Interesting. Well, that makes it even cooler. I love the function. And I also like how at the end, they give you the ability to say, I forget exactly how the arguments work, but something like, "All right, if I wind up with more than five values, I can display whatever I want". So that is just beautiful to me. Depending on how much space I have, I can say, "All right, show three dates, maybe".
Rob Collie (00:48:25): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:48:26): If it's more than three, then I can just display a message that says, "More than three dates".
Rob Collie (00:48:30): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:48:30): It works great. Especially on ERP data.
Rob Collie (00:48:32): Yeah. It was just a beautiful, beautiful thing. And I was so happy when it showed up. Now of course it might have been Tim that someone else had already been pressing for ConcatenateX. And it's just that I didn't have visibility into that. So my email to Microsoft that didn't pick up a lot of traction might have been because they were already working on it. Who knows, right? Until I know otherwise I will say that there is a reasonably good chance that you and I were the first place that the world discovered that it needed ConcatenateX. We were the reason that got implemented when it did, as opposed to later.
Tim Rodman (00:49:04): Well and there's one thing for sure. I was very happy that I brought my laptop to the bar.
Rob Collie (00:49:09): I was too because I was so geeked out about the idea of ConcatenateX. There's a blog post on my blog that used to get a lot of traction where I invented ContainsX, iterate through a table to see if it contains a string. And I think now today with functions like accept and intersect, in the DAX language, which didn't exist back then, I think ContainsX would be a much easier thing to do today than it used to be. The ContainsX post, the way I did it, the way I had to do it back then was really, really difficult. Very hairy, not fun. And it's much easier I think to use these new functions. But I don't know, I haven't tested that particular scenario. Those were fun blog posts to write though. And they used to get a lot of traffic. I don't think they do anymore. Because I think DAX has moved on and gotten better but ConcatenateX was a must have. There was just that there weren't really any of acceptable workarounds for that problem.
Tim Rodman (00:50:03): Well, I will say though that I am not a DAX master by any means.
Rob Collie (00:50:08): Neither am I anymore.
Tim Rodman (00:50:10): I feel like though I am still able to deliver value to clients. All going back to that numbers that never existed before. So take ConcatenateX as example, one simple function that you can use that does something that's very difficult to do otherwise. And it's just opening the door to these possibilities that you never even thought about before. I just did the other day for a client. This is the Sarah problem example, the bubble up type of situation.
Rob Collie (00:50:37): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:50:37): They just wanted to flag some stuff. So I went back to those blog posts that you've written and without fully understanding all the DAX, as long as it doesn't take forever to run and I can validate the numbers. I'm good with it. And the DAX doesn't look totally crazy. Like it's not understandable. I'm able to do really cool things with essentially Excel skills. And I was skeptical about this at first. I remember you turned to me one time during the user group and you're like, "Oh, Tim's got a question, Tim, the skeptic". You called me the skeptic. It's just my nature, I am skeptical about things. But it's really proven to be the case that a guy with primarily Excel knowledge is playing with DAX and I kind of have the feel for what I'm getting out of my league and I back off but it's still okay. I'm still able to deliver cool stuff. It's great. I love it.
Rob Collie (00:51:26): When I used to teach classes, one of the things I would try to drive home for people is that your first job is to go out and really suck at this stuff, really suck at DAX, really be bad at it. Because when you're bad at DAX, you're already a superhero. You've just got super powers. You just haven't learned how to control them yet. And you don't have to be, you don't have to be a master. And that's something we've talked about a lot recently, I think on episodes that we've recorded but I don't think have released yet. How put off I would be today if I tried to join the DAX army today from scratch? So much of the DAX are on internet sites these days like blogs, et cetera, is so hyper optimized, sophisticated and it works backward from the query.
Rob Collie (00:52:07): It works backward from creating the right table. And then only at the last minute does it do the math over this virtual table that's been created. Whereas the original dirty alleyway street fight version of DAX that I was practicing was more about the verb. It was more about the thing we had to go do. And ignoring these virtual tables as much as possible until you got deeper and deeper and you had to learn more and more about virtual tables. And there's a reasonably good chance that I would look at today's DAX articles and such and go, "Oh no, this isn't for me". But the real test of it is the value you can deliver. And I'm not a DAX's master either. Everyone at the company is better at DAX than I am. I will on occasion have to go asking for DAX help from our own team and they always solve my problem. And I go, "Wow, that's great".
Tim Rodman (00:52:57): Well, I think that's the power of the community speaking right there, right? I mean, that's going back to the Excel example to why Excel is so popular. It's not because the functions are named the best and do the brutally most efficient calculations. Why is Excel popular? Because I can go on Google and Google my business problem language of what I'm looking to do. And I can land on a blog post that shows me how to do it. It's the same with DAX now, right? I can just kind of Google what I'm trying to do and I can pretty quickly, usually land on something very often. One of your old blog posts that kind of walks me through, not just how to do it but the philosophy on why you took that approach. And that's good enough. I understand what's going on. I don't know the super technical details of it but it solves the problem and I move on.
Rob Collie (00:53:46): Yeah, it's Decathlon again, right? You need to be credible in every event, 90th percentile at every event. And that at Decathlon is 99th percentile all overall. That's good enough. So yeah, there are a few things that I've been writing down as we go here. So have you ever met Kellan?
Tim Rodman (00:54:02): I don't think so. There was one person I was on a phone call with, I can't remember who it was. I don't think so though. Not Kellan.
Rob Collie (00:54:08): Oh the two of you would get along famously. He's the business process architect, Rain man genius behind the scenes here at P3. And not even really behind the scenes, I mean he runs the thing. So anyway, the things you were saying about you can't influence process without paying attention to reporting. You don't want to just be stuck on the reporting side without the ability to influence process. That sounds like good Kellan Danielson and Yoda wisdom that you were laying down there. Like I started getting my, this is Kellan Twitch. So if I think about it from like a CRM perspective, you want to influence the quality of the data that's being captured and entered by human beings.
Rob Collie (00:54:51): So just really simple example, if you can go upstream and you can introduce better data validation on a particular form field that ensures that it doesn't have any letters in it or something, right? That can have an enormous impact. That's the most simple example of that. Is that how you look at it? When it comes to reporting, the business process, not just the process but also the software and the UI that implements that process. It's upstream from the reporting. And if you can filter the junk proactively, then your reporting is not breathing so much carbon dioxide.
Tim Rodman (00:55:29): Absolutely. The way I like to describe it. And I think this comes from my accounting background and the way I describe ERP systems to people is that accounting is the graveyard of every ERP transaction.
Rob Collie (00:55:42): Oh, I love that.
Tim Rodman (00:55:42): Unfortunately, a lot of accountants-
Rob Collie (00:55:44): Can you say that one more time? I just want to hear that, I want that twice on this show. Do it again.
Tim Rodman (00:55:52): To me accounting, specifically, the Journal-Ledger is the graveyard of every ERP transaction. An ERP system is designed around the Journal-Ledger. A CRM system is designed around the customer but an ERP system is designed around the Journal-Ledger. So that everything flows downhill into the accounting department. Now it's the graveyard but there's still a lot of what I'll call Zombie transactions that go on because the accountants are stuck in their cubicles. They don't want to go outside the cubicles to fix the sludge that's flowing downhill. So they just correct things in the Journal- Ledger with all these zombie transactions. And it's a nightmare situation but I like being in the position to say, "Hey, how about we go upstream? How would we fix it there? Then your month end process close is going to be a lot easier." So one thing I like designing in Acumatica, there's a dashboard utility that you can do in Acumatica.
Tim Rodman (00:56:51): Nothing like Power BI but it's all right. And I like designing what I call a stuff that should never happen dashboard. And it's got just a bunch of widgets on it. They're very simple KPI widgets that just have a number. And if the number's greater than zero then it's red.
Rob Collie (00:57:08): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (00:57:09): If the number's zero then it's green. So all those situations that I find rather than even trying to fix them yet, I just put them on the dashboard and then you can at least look at the dashboard. If I see any red widgets on there, I click in and I find the transactions that I need to fix. That right there helps but it's even better, like you said, if you can go upstream and fix it, wherever it got entered.
Rob Collie (00:57:31): I love the philosophy behind that kind of report. A report that if I everything's right, it's empty. Exception reports like that are glorious. And the way you construct them is in a way validating that things are operating the way they're supposed to. And I love that kind of stuff. I think that is more and more of the world's reporting should be designed that way. Not everything fits that mold but sometimes all you're doing is looking at a report full of numbers, trying to find a place where two numbers are different when they shouldn't be. Well, then just make the report that goes and does that for you goes. And computers are really good at this sort of thing, comparing two numbers over hundreds of rows or thousands or millions, whatever. And just let me know when there's an exception.
Tim Rodman (00:58:11): I think that's an interesting point you just made. I have a philosophy on that, that I think that why people accept that has a lot to do with paper, historically. So if you think about someone's DAX, historically. One, it was a lot larger than our DAX now. And why? It was so I could have stacks of reports sitting on the DAX. Yeah. And why did I have stacks of reports? Because that was the only way to get the data out. And what did I do with it? I just sifted through the pages. Sometimes I manually added stuff up or I was looking for just those few numbers. And that's just what I was used to doing in a paper world. So it kind of just carried over to the digital world. And we're not quite there yet where people are saying, "Why don't we just skip that step and just highlight the stuff that we need to care about, right?"
Rob Collie (00:58:51): Oh, I completely agree with you. And I think you can take that as even a more general principle, which is that so many of the things in the business world today that we take for granted are merely the artifacts of how hard it would've been in the past to do it differently. For example, one of the reasons why certain organizations run on these weird custom calendars that are four week, five week, is because, gosh, like there's no way for us to compare months against each other because they have different composition of weekdays and weekends. In a lot of businesses that makes a big difference. Some businesses are weak on weekends or slow on weekends and others are exactly the opposite. And so the ratio of weekday and weekend days in a month is going to heavily skew your numbers.
Rob Collie (00:59:35): So the solution was to just completely throw out the calendar and change the entire calendar to compensate for this. Whereas if we'd had DAX from the beginning, we might have said, "Hey look, no, we can calculate a good denominator here". We can do that sort of the weighted average of composition of each month and sort of level set for fairness to make it an apples and apples comparison across months, across periods. And now we wouldn't have to carry around all of this tremendous weight. Another version of this is I ask, why is revenue dollars typically the first column in almost every report? It's not the most insightful metric for managing your business. It's just the easiest number to calculate.
Tim Rodman (01:00:13): I totally agree with that. Well, same with your dates thing. I think in a lot of ERP systems, you can only run it by financial period.
Rob Collie (01:00:20): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (01:00:20): So people had to make the financial period more granular to your point because they couldn't go all the way down to the date level or would overwhelm the calculation engine. Yeah, absolutely.
Rob Collie (01:00:28): So there's an opportunity. And this also rears its head in, I'm going to get a little bit out over my skis here, just a little bit but not too much, which is a lot of reporting has historically been tied to the monthly close. Because just the amount of labor that goes into everything, it's not something you can repeat more than once a month. Well, we can only close the books once a month because it's so labor intensive and that's the only time that the numbers are going to be right. And so we only find out our number at the end of the month and it's like surprise. "We thought we were doing well this month but nope we didn't. And it's too late to change anything. So just everybody just cross your fingers and grit your teeth and next month will be better, right?"
Rob Collie (01:01:03): This non actionable version of BI that got this reputation for being rear view mirror only. And so often what one of the themes is you just go in to any organization and find the reports that are only generated once a month and start generating them daily. And suddenly they're now actionable. It's the same number. It's just that you get a preview of what the end of the month is going to look like five days in and the opportunity to make a change. It's all about the action.
Tim Rodman (01:01:27): It's the same premise behind the stuff that should never happen dashboard. Who that resonates the most with is the accountant because it takes them a lot longer to close the month when they find that bad stuff that they need to clean up. The problem isn't just that they need to clean it up all at once at the end of the month. The other problem is no one remembers why it happened because it happened two weeks ago.
Rob Collie (01:01:47): Yeah.
Tim Rodman (01:01:48): If I can know when it happened, it's fresh in everyone's mind and it's a lot faster to clean it up. Yeah?
Rob Collie (01:01:52): Yeah. So good. Right. Two weeks in business is a long time. A lot of memory gets lost in that. I can completely see that. You're talking about these numbers that don't exist, right? It's been so long since I've said that. And it's not because that saying has lost its power. I've just forgotten it. I hadn't heard that in a long time. We're creating the numbers that didn't exist before, the numbers you either really badly wished you could have or wouldn't have even dared to imagine that were possible, is very often even that second category. I think the closest thing that I say to that these days is faucets first. What everyone needs is water. So let's go build a faucet. And if we need to run a hose to the faucet rather than some sophisticated stainless steel pipe or a copper pipe, we don't have to even go into pecks for this. We just need a hose and everyone's going to get a drink and everyone's going to hydrate.
Rob Collie (01:02:39): And we're going to be better off. Do that first because you don't even really know how much water you need out of the faucet or where the faucet should be located. And BI was so forever a plumbing first endeavor which was just an epic fail. Just never worked. Never once. I was still challenged for the world to show me the BI project that was plumbing first and was actually successful. And then whenever someone submits a candidate for this, we just go look at it and say, "Oh look, look the export to Excel button is just being worn out".
Tim Rodman (01:03:12): The most popular reporting button. I use that line a lot as well. I love that line. I actually experienced this recently with the client. They wanted to report on their phone call data. So for their industry, as a lot of checking in with their customers, otherwise they don't necessarily get the orders. They go somewhere else and they wanted to mash-up the phone it with the billing data. And at first we started to attack it the old way. It's like, "Ah, well there's an API available that we could use to suck in the data on a nightly basis, blah-blah". But eventually I'm like, "Ah, how do we just tack it from the other angle? Let's just get one data dump and let's build the report".
Tim Rodman (01:03:49): We did it in Excel with Power BI. And once we had what the end result looked like and they were thrilled with it and now they're using it. Now you're motivated to go kind of back into the plumbing, right?
Rob Collie (01:04:02): Totally.
Tim Rodman (01:04:02): And that's what we did. Now it lives in powerbi.com but it didn't start there. It started in Excel and that's the hardest part, getting momentum, getting off the ground, finding that end result and then working backwards. That's just technical stuff. right?
Rob Collie (01:04:15): I think people often will get confused when I'm talking like this and go, "Wait, do you have something against good high quality plumbing? Do you have something against data marks and data warehouses?" I am like, "No, I do not. If that exists, I'm going to start there".
Tim Rodman (01:04:30): Agreed.
Rob Collie (01:04:30): But if it doesn't exist, I am not going to get hung up on it. Because I'm positive. We can be delivering amazing business changing results within a matter of a week or two at the most. Even if we just don't worry about the plumbing for now, we can get there. And one of my earliest clients when it was still just me, the whole project started with exports from Cognos that were dumped into a desktop SQL because we didn't have Power Query yet. There was no other way to ingest text files. Dumped into desktop SQL and all this dashboard did, this scorecard was reverse their stock price decline.
Rob Collie (01:05:07): And no one was complaining as the stock price went from trending down to trending up. No one was complaining about the fact that every week or whatever someone had to go and re-run an export and dump it back into SQL, right? This went on for like 18 months. Changing the fortunes of everybody, like the shareholders were happy. And then they finally said, "Okay, all right, we're burning a little bit too much labor here. Let's go and bite the bullet and that was a longer project." That was the apex predator of a plumbing project, right? Because the reason the export happened from Cognos is because the relationships with all the operational systems that fed ultimately up. There was all this security and nuance about schema and everything that had only been captured in the Cognos universe.
Rob Collie (01:05:50): Actually business object is the one with universe but whatever, anyway, a lowercase universe for anyone who's out there. Wining in pain right now. Either way, they're both gone, we're replacing all of them. So they had to go back to raw from the metal ETL. I mean that was a big project to get the manual refresh out of the loop. But it was one of those things where you could sort of confidently execute the project. You knew exactly what the ROI was.
Tim Rodman (01:06:14): And that's I think the key right there. You know justification for the spend. Yes, absolutely.
Rob Collie (01:06:19): So the people who get upset at me when I say, "No, don't build the data warehouse first". If I'm on my game that day, I said, "No, data warehousing follows what we do". Where we usually there's an uptick in ETL, eventually relative to even before, we're not the end of it. We're not the asteroid that eliminates ETL. ETL multiplies after we've been working somewhere for a while because there's ROI in it. It's provable, it's concrete. Whereas these people have been burned so many times by the plumbing first philosophy that they don't want to a green light any more plumbing projects. Now it's more like as tactical plumbing projects, those add up to be more time for the data warehousing pros and the ETL pros and all of that than they would've been spending otherwise on their one glistening shining monolith to rule the all that never finishes.
Tim Rodman (01:07:06): This is not an environmentally friendly analogy here but maybe we've got a forest and farms analogy where you're going through and all these trees are these very challenging business problems, right? We're chopping down trees here and clearing more space for farmland. We're not anti farming. We're making room for more farmland, right? To your point, there's going to be more data warehouse work on the backend for you. So we're working together here.
Rob Collie (01:07:29): Yeah. It's just that we don't cut the tree down immediately. We walk around the forest a little bit. We blea some paths and then maybe we'll go back and clear the trees, whatever.
Tim Rodman (01:07:38): Oh yeah, there you go. Maybe we're more surveying. Yeah. We're finding a way through the forest and then you come back and build the road. Yeah. Maybe that's better.
Rob Collie (01:07:45): You're right. There's no PR or value in us in this metaphor. Right? Either way we're going to clear cut.
Tim Rodman (01:07:53): Yeah. It's not a good modern analogy.
Rob Collie (01:07:55): All right. Well, one day as a lumberjack would probably be one day too many for me, I would not farewell. So, okay. We talked about the value in being able to go upstream from the reporting. But what about the flip side? What about going downstream from the reporting? So you think about it being a loop. So data comes out of these business processes goes into the reporting. You have great example, your exceptions, right? So your exception calls out. There's something wrong here. All right. This is something that I think another way that things are going to be growing, coming up is that exception report. Now I'm going to pick on it a little bit without knowing anything about it. So if I'm wrong about this, I'm about to say then perfect. I'm exonerated. Because I actually don't know any of the details.
Rob Collie (01:08:38): This is a safe place. Think about that exception report. It tells you there's a problem. But then it sits there and says, "Good luck. Go solve that problem, right?" The report gets to take a total pass. It gets amnesty from being involved in helping you solve it. When reporting is doing its job, it basically helping you come to the conclusion that there's actions you need to take. Information and a vacuum is worth nothing. It's only when it translates into improvement and actual improved action that it makes a difference. Okay. Why does the dashboard at the piece of software? Why does the report get to bow out of the action taking process? It knows all the context, right? It knows the things that are mismatched. It knows the systems. In some sense, it knows the systems or at least it combined with the report author and the Power BI people.
Rob Collie (01:09:24): We know the systems that it came from. Why not have a button right there that says, "Help me go fix it"? What typically happens is you have to leave the context of the report. Completely shift gears, go sometimes even log in to a different system, one of the operational systems. And then look back at the report. What was the ID on that again? Oh, okay. I got to go search for ID. 63157. Increasingly I'm trying to, the times that I actually do build business focused reports, which usually happens in our advertising, analyzing our advertising spend and effectiveness here. I will try to include contextual links, the calculated column of a concatenation of something. So I can go to the salesforce record of this lead and to further explore, it's like a drill down like a drill through a drill across type of thing.
Rob Collie (01:10:13): And the way that Microsoft, this is going back to your point about keeping an eye on dynamics in that side view mirror. One of the things that are up to and this is something we talked about relatively at length on the podcast with Lori Rodriguez, if anyone's listened to this and is interested in hearing more about this. Go listen to the Lori Rodriguez's podcast, which I think is the longest one of all time.
Rob Collie (01:10:35): But I think that closing that action loop is going to be one of the ways in which BI tools are going to be evaluated going forward. BI has never until very recently been able to remotely deliver on its initial promise. The promises that the BI industry were telling 30 years ago were never fulfilled. There was never a happy zone where you actually got it under control and you actually did a good job of BI. But what we found is that our clients start to get the BI monster under control. They start to realize that, "Oh yeah, this is just part of a bigger story". And so I think that BI is not going to get the excuse. It's not going to get the free pass to get out of jail free car when it comes to taking action. And so this is where Microsoft's strategy, when they started calling this stuff Business Apps, it all started to dawn on me about a year and a half ago.
Rob Collie (01:11:21): Remember the scene in independence day, where they start to figure out what's happening. They see the countdown, they go, "Oh, checkmate, right?" They know that the of the attack is coming before it actually happens. That's kind of the feeling I got when I started putting it all together. I'm like, "Oh, no look out everybody, here it comes. It's coming in slow motion. And there's nothing you can do about it". Which is the whole Power apps thing. The flows thing, all of these Power Virtual Agents, all of this stuff is the condensed version of it. If you start to view BI as a form of middleware because it's having to touch different systems, maybe there's some exceptions in your world with Acumatica but most of the time, what we find is that the ERP have-
Rob Collie (01:12:03): Your world with Aragami. But most of the time, what we find is that the ERP has, let's say, some large fraction of the data that's relevant to some report. But there's other systems, there's other line of business systems that are outside the ERP that are just as relevant, and in order to get an end to end view of how things are performing, and Power BI is so good at this, right? The splicing, it happens with a star schema and the data model, and it's just so effortless. You think of it as this bridge between systems, but it's read only, it's read only middleware.
Rob Collie (01:12:29): Well, you start to view it as, okay now that purpose of that middleware is to tell you things that you should probably be doing to improve. Now, you can get the old fashion middleware that take action, more transactional middleware. And why can't that take off from inside the Power BI report itself? And there's so many different levels of ambition there. The least ambitious is the kind I just described with the calculated column and the hyperlink, at least don't make me re-navigate to the same context again, because the report knows.
Tim Rodman (01:12:57): When your point about the hyperlink, yeah, before it gets even fancier, that's huge. The simple lowly hyperlink is the reason why, in my opinion, web-based applications are a big deal. Because like in Acumatica and I'm sure it's similar and other truly web-based systems, the transaction number is built into the URL. When I navigate to a record, the URL has that record ID in it. So if I build a hyperlink that has that record ID, I go specifically to that transaction, not just to that screen. That ability to click on something was something you couldn't really do in desktop applications. And you might be sitting there thinking, Tim, who uses desktop applications anymore?
Tim Rodman (01:13:39): Well, in an ERP world, still most of the systems were designed like in the 1980s. And because of that whole, once you're in it, it's hard to get out of it. It's still very, very common. So yeah, even just there, if you just do that calculated column with that hyperlink, I think that's a big deal. Because I'm one click now right to the transaction where I need to make the change.
Rob Collie (01:13:59): That's the least sophisticated version. And the most sophisticated version is that they're is a button in the report. You can increase quantity, "Oh we need to order three more widgets or 30 more or 300 more to fill this warehouse back up before it runs out." Right? Why not just to have the button right there that says, "Okay, order 300 or transfer 50 from warehouse six or whatever." Right? So, it could be directly integrated into the system. Now, [Louie 01:14:24] on that same podcast said, "Why doesn't it go the other way though? Why don't you go into the ERP system and have the reports just as like contextual popups there?" And I didn't even really understand a hundred percent what she was saying at the time, but turns out [Nar 01:14:39] on our team, just listen to that podcast. And then sent me this link to MicroStrategy.
Rob Collie (01:14:44): I thought that MicroStrategy had converted themselves 100% into a Bitcoin trading operation. Because they've got a very... They're led... They have eccentric leadership let's say. But now, they have this thing, I forget what they call it, I think they call it Hyper-Intelligence. And it looks to me like it's a browser plugin that allows micro strategy reports to be attached to objects in your Salesforce, in your ERP, if it's web-based, right? You're in.
Rob Collie (01:15:09): And there's probably something where you... I was hypothesizing this and I think he's right. There's probably something where you can identify certain HTML tags and say, "Take this dimension value out of this tag and use it to filter the report."
Tim Rodman (01:15:22): I see some training software that takes a similar approach, right? It knows when you hover over something or click on something then that relevant video or whatever pops up. Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:15:30): I've got a long history with browser plugins. Because I saw them deployed for the first time when I was working at Microsoft in the late nineties, there was... Office deployed this thing were it allow you to comment on any webpage, insert comments into any webpage. And the way it worked was you just, the comments weren't being stored in the webpage, because the webpage wasn't owned by the system. You could make a comment on an ESPN article. The comments were stored in this Office database, this Office server database that predated SharePoint, and the browser plugin knew what webpage, the URL and what element you commented on. And that's how it could pull up... So we could have like threaded conversations on webpages back in the late nineties.
Rob Collie (01:16:10): Also, when we had Kai and Brad on the show in one of the earliest episodes, one of our entire earliest products was nothing, but a browser plugin that took over from Facebook. It's really funny story, if you haven't heard that one.
Rob Collie (01:16:25): So, browser plugins are pretty amazing. And I looked at that and now I looked at that and I was like, "Oh, this is hot. This is a way..." As far as I know Microsoft hasn't explored this particular thing yet. That would be a really amazing. And it not difficult at all for them to do. I think this is a well within their capabilities and their platform. They could probably have that going in a couple of sprints.
Tim Rodman (01:16:46): Why I think Dynamics 365 is very much on my radar is, I would define it this way... Technically, I don't think would actually be this. But I think of it this way, if you just design an entire ERP application in Power Apps, that's essentially, what's interesting to me about it. Because now, Power Apps can be inside Power BI, Power BI can be inside Power Apps and you now have the flexibility on either end, to your point, to put the report on the data entry screen or to have the button on the report.
Tim Rodman (01:17:16): And because it's all a first class citizen in the same platform, you'd be able to do that. And I think part of the trick there is the back end and that's the Dataverse/common data model part of it. If all the data's getting stored in the same place. And I think that seems to be where they're headed, that's a pretty compelling scenario.
Rob Collie (01:17:35): Well, I do think it bears watching even if the picture I'm painting is correct, this is still very much check-mate in low motion. It's not like we're four weeks away from the extinction of salesforce.com
Tim Rodman (01:17:47): Case in point, most mid-market EERP systems are from the 1980s, making one of those things go away is almost impossible.
Rob Collie (01:17:54): But Microsoft can play the long game here. It's like every year the oxygen content and the Salesforce bubble drops by half a percent.
Tim Rodman (01:18:08): I totally agree with you there.
Rob Collie (01:18:09): "You're breathing a little heavy over there, Salesforce? How's it going? I wouldn't worry about it Salesforce is no big deal, just atmospheric irregularity."
Tim Rodman (01:18:19): Your only hope is Satya getting replaced with a Steve Ballmer number two, that's the only hope you have.
Rob Collie (01:18:24): I don't think that's going to happen. I had a much greater affinity for Ballmer than I did for Bill. I think it's justified, but it also bothers me that Ballmer gets such a bad rep. Because he was a leader that I actually wanted to work for. I wanted to do better for him. And I did not get that feeling from... Bill had no desire to develop or encourage or inspire anyone.
Tim Rodman (01:18:51): Yeah. I'm not talking about personal level. I mean just more as a strategic, the business Apps versus the phones and the retail stores, on that level purely.
Rob Collie (01:19:01): Totally, totally. I get that. I'm not any good at that. I wouldn't be able to lead a multi-billion dollar organization like Microsoft in a chaotic time like that either. So, I'm very sympathetic to that. And so then it just becomes personal to me. Like, "Who would I actually want to work with? Who would I want to work for? Who would I want to pledge my sword to?"
Tim Rodman (01:19:17): I got to circle back on something before we run it out of time. I won't say his last name, but a guy named Tony that I work with at the Robins company. So, I'll go back to the first guest blog post I did on your blog was April, 2014. And what I was experiencing or on the beginning of experiencing was the whole idea that you laid out in the book, which was more business first, not IT first, business led. And so I was trying that out at the Robbins Company, of, "Hey, how about instead of IT creating all the reports..." We had hundreds of reports and we just kept creating more and creating more. "How about we try empowering the business users to create their own reports?" So we did that with Power Pivot. We've built a little data warehouse that gave you easy access to the data, and then tried showing people how to do stuff with Power Pivot.
Tim Rodman (01:20:07): And I'd say we had at least a couple of successful people that came out of that. And one of them was Tony. Who actually I believe in the past year or so, made it through your interview of death. Although, he is working at DataSelf currently, that's where he ended up landing. Point is that the whole business first, even with Power BI, it can succeed. Tony was on the business side, but he totally dove in, loved the stuff and became self-serving in a sense in terms of being able to self propel himself to continuing to learn DAKS, and all that stuff.
Rob Collie (01:20:43): Yeah. And I think that there's still institutional resistance to this idea, big time, but it's not as open anymore. The idea that the business should be closely involved in the creation BI has, I think has become relatively non-controversial. I enjoyed it when it was controversial. It was more fun in some ways, but it's better for business when it's not. There's still tremendous resistance underground in IT circles in certain places anyway. All the time I'm running into examples where I see, especially large enterprises, by default attempting to use Power BI as just the new SSRS. They're try to pigeonhole it as visualization. It's just the thing that's at the end of the query drive train, that's still missing the point.
Tim Rodman (01:21:24): Let's Still do all the ETL, all the data warehouse outside of it. And we'll just slap Power BI for the visual layer. Yep. definitely seen that.
Rob Collie (01:21:31): It's not even the last mile, right? It's the last three feet, that's how they view it. Look behind the hood of those Power BI reports, and every one of them is powered by one wide franken table view out of SQL. You're just like, "Oh, Dios mio."
Tim Rodman (01:21:43): When I think, you've made this point on previous episodes, that say in a sense you might say that challenge has been overcome, but I think it's cropping back up again, because of Power BI success. I think you've made this point on previous episodes, that now Power BI is so well known that it's in organizations, they don't even know what it is, right? So they don't even know about the need for a star schema and measures and all that. So, I think it is maybe coming back around as the same problem, but with different symptoms that you have to look for, if you want to attack it.
Rob Collie (01:22:16): Yeah. Now it's being adopted a lot of times because it's so cost effective compared to the competition and it's become the responsible choice. The reason why the Excel crowd took to it, at least initially, like in our classes in particular, like is because they've been doing things in Excel the hard way for so long. And they're so personally motivated to not do that hard way and that limiting way. So, in order to break out of that shell, you had to start doing things a little bit differently. You had to learn about lookup tables, dimension tables, and why you need them. And don't hard code a year into your DAKS, use data ad. So, that formula works everywhere.
Rob Collie (01:22:54): You just, all these things that you are motivated to make that change. IT very often, it's like, "Okay, well this is the new tech, we'll plug it into this role." And a lot of times the software is like that, right? You upgrade or purchase a software in a particular role and you still have to do a lot of shimming, but it's interface with the world is the same. It plays the same role. Power BI does not play the same role when you're doing it, right? So when you said you got this person, you're going to name by my first name, but you weren't going to give the last name, I was positive that different first name was going to come out of your mouth.
Rob Collie (01:23:23): Because I have a similar thing to say, I've been this whole time to say it. I have no idea if you're aware of this connection, you probably are, but it'll be fun either way, but it'll be delicious if you're not aware of it. So a few years ago I ended up having some relatively serious business conversations with someone who was out of my league, not just out of my league, but also like a different flavor, very much the executive that's like, "Don't waste my time." Type of executive. "I'm not playing games here." That kind.
Rob Collie (01:23:54): Which, even if I reached the level of success this person has, I wouldn't be like that. So, it was like, there were two problems going on, I was out of my depth and going cross species communication. And so, I was not acquitting myself well at all in these conversations. This guy, every time we interacted, he just came away, I think, with a lesser impression of me. Every single time. It was like every time I said something, he just would like shake his head like, "Oh, oh my sweet summer child." Right? Over and over and over again. And so like, he just wrote me off.
Rob Collie (01:24:23): And now, years later I would approach the same conversation in a very different way. I've learned a lot. I've changed a lot and I do a better job, but I just kept faceplanting with this guy. And then after he wrote me off, months pass and all of a sudden now the blue, I get an email from him. And it says, "Why didn't you tell me you knew Tim Rodman?"
Tim Rodman (01:24:44): I think I Know who this is. but keep going.
Rob Collie (01:24:46): This was like the one time that I had any leverage at all on him. And I'm like, "Oh, yeah." And I reply back, I'm like, "Of course I know Tim Rodman, how do you know him?" So, that reopened the conversation. I swear, just him finding out that you and I knew each other, it was enough for him to reopen the conversation with me. And then, I faceplanted again. And he wrote me off again. But you almost resurrected that without even lifting a finger.
Rob Collie (01:25:20): It turns out that the thing we were talking about turned out to be not even be necessary. We didn't need it. At the time I thought we might need this relationship. And so I was still trying, but I'm older, I'm wiser, and I've had more at bats. But this is a relationship I am permanently like his Bozo zone. That's how much weight your name carries. He temporarily thought I was less of a Bozo, until I re-convince him.
Tim Rodman (01:25:51): It's amazing when you start blogging, right? You just have no idea who read your stuff and what they think about you. And I think it's a blessing and a curse. I almost wonder, actually, I'm curious to get your thoughts on this. There's a person I was following who worked at Microsoft for a while, Jen Underwood. And I heard her make comments on a podcast, something about blogging, she wouldn't do it again, if she could start over. And she is like, "I estimate that I probably lost over a million dollars through that dumb blog basically."
Tim Rodman (01:26:23): And actually, you can't even find her blog anymore. I think for technical reasons, she was getting so much spam and stuff that the site went down or something. But I'm curious actually your perspective. Blogging is just giving stuff away, and you don't even get the return 90 plus percent of the time. How do you sit with that nowadays looking back?
Rob Collie (01:26:42): It's a complicated answer. Well, first of all, P3 wouldn't exist if I hadn't blocked. There's no two ways about it. There's so many ways in which it wouldn't have existed without the blog. I wouldn't have even discovered how awesome this stuff was if I hadn't blogged about it. But that's something that a lot of people I think don't know, or even if they were reading back then, they don't remember is that... Well, actually I never really told anybody either. I came clean about it over the years in the blog. But the beginning, I didn't think it was going to be any good. I was just writing blog to find a job, because I had to move to Cleveland, my clock was running out of my Microsoft career because I was in Cleveland. And so, I wouldn't have discovered how good the tools were.
Rob Collie (01:27:21): I wouldn't have then known that the consulting industry was going to need a real makeover from scratch makeover. And so, the idea of building a consulting firm in a new from the ground up was part of that discovery process. And then, all of the original business that I had as a consultant, came through the website. And of course you're right, my website traffic tells one story, and then the number of clients tells a different story. Lot, at least two zeros off of the number. You're like going for a very small percentage. Converting one of your blog readers into customers is amazing, in terms of actual quantity of people. And it was just the blog for so long, that was our biz dev. It was our advertising, it was everything. People would just hit us up, despite the blog looking silly and lots of stick figure illustrations.
Rob Collie (01:28:09): And even those were like really, really polished compared to the origin illustrations I was using. A lot of times people would read the blog and not even know that we were a company. So, it was a crucial bootstrapping device in so many ways. I refined my voice. I learned what worked. I learned priceless amount of wisdom, built up in the course of writing that blog for so many years. And I have no regrets about blogging, I think it was great.
Rob Collie (01:28:33): Now today I went and enter the Power BI blogosphere today, because it's just so heavily diluted. So heavily competed. There's so many players in that space and we've been out of that game. I've been out of that game for so long, that the vast majority... Well, not vast, but certainly the majority of people who are using Power BI today, have no idea about there was this thing, power pivot pro.com. So it's a different ROI today.
Rob Collie (01:28:56): Now at the same time, think about giving things away for free. Look at the podcast. We're still in, we're not giving away formulas for free here, but people who are listening are deriving some degree of professional benefit from it, at times, it doesn't have to be every minute of every podcast, right? And we give it away. We're not charging for it, anything like that. So, we're still in the free content biz. We have some other things in the works that are even more ambitious. In the spirit of free content. Writing a lot of blog posts about DAKS would be, for us that's yesterday in our life cycle, we have moved to the next stage of things. And that's not really where the customers are necessarily. The richness of customers... The density of potential customers isn't necessarily, unfortunately it's not found where the formula writers go. Because the formula writers, they don't end up being in charge as often as they should be.
Tim Rodman (01:29:45): I'm not even necessarily trying to put dollars on things. When you put content out there coming back to what opened this topic was, you make connections that you don't even realize half the time. Right? So you definitely get a return in terms of you learn a ton of stuff and doors do open. But I think the weird thing about it, is many times connections are made that you have no idea about. To bring it back to what brought this up, right?
Tim Rodman (01:30:08): And there is something that's like, you don't get to participate in that, right? You don't even get to see that part of it. You just put something out there and it goes out into the universe and maybe never returns, right? And there's something a little sad about that part about it. But I agree that overall, it opens doors and it connects you to opportunities that never would've been there.
Rob Collie (01:30:28): And if I had more time, and I had something interesting to be blogging about, and I actually do it just doesn't happen to be DAKS anymore, right? I would love to go back to writing in a public sense. I would write on different topics. I probably wouldn't write on Power BI.
Tim Rodman (01:30:43): That makes sense to me, it's a trailblazing medium blogging, right? When you're cutting that path through the forest, blogging is just a great way to keep your sanity and even for yourself to go look years later at what you were learning at the time, right? But yeah, once you're rolling, it's just a lot of work for maybe not as much output.
Rob Collie (01:31:03): And then just the personal satisfaction. I just don't think that I have nearly as much to contribute on an incremental relative basis to what it's already out there today, relative to what I could have before. Why would my DAKS' post be any more useful than someone else's. I am debating writing up a word Aragami model.
Tim Rodman (01:31:21): Ooh, what's that?
Rob Collie (01:31:23): Have you been exposed to a word Aragami thing?
Tim Rodman (01:31:23): I don't think so.
Rob Collie (01:31:24): The idea is a word that appears in the podcast for the first time in its history. So, Acumatica is never appeared in the podcast until today. However, Acumatica is going to get filtered out of the word Aragami game because it doesn't appear in our 200,000 word Corpus dataset of most commonly used English words. It's not an English word really. It's a proper... It's a brand name, right? So Acumatica is not going to count as a word Aragami. But we get transcripts done of every podcast. For example, go look at my Twitter account or the P3 Twitter account.
Rob Collie (01:31:55): Most of the tweets lately from those two accounts just in the last few days have been the word Aragami word clouds of certain episodes. So think about the analysis that goes into that. We have to take these text files of transcripts, feed them through Power Query, QRL all of the headers and I stamps and all of that, and then ultimately split every sentence on every space and turn it into like a nearly million row table of individual words and who spoke them and when, and then do this really crazy like year to date or inception to date type of greatest formula in the world pattern. But looking for whether this word has been used before.
Tim Rodman (01:32:32): That's sound like a good blog post. Well, it's one of those things too, right? Whether the blogs are worth it or not. I think both of us would say they are. One thing for sure, I sure appreciate all the blogging you did years ago. It turned a corner for me in terms of even what I'm doing now. And I'm sure there's many stories that you don't even know about that change people's career paths, because of all the content you put out there.
Rob Collie (01:32:53): It has been like this really validating and rewarding victory lap thing about having some of the people on, the OG crowd, right? That was hanging around the campfire back then, seeing all the great, awesome things you all went off and did, it's cool. It's cool to have helped inspire that thing and helped jumpstart it. All I was, was just some number of months ahead of you on the discovery curve. "Hey folks, really cool stuff over here, check it out."
Tim Rodman (01:33:18): Yeah. It's a good trail blazing medium. That's why I started blog about Acumatica. It was really a way for me to take notes, but do it publicly. Yeah.
Rob Collie (01:33:26): All right. Well, what we're coming around to is that there's someone who was reading your blog, who is a big gun and somewhere along the way reading your blog after saying, "Oh man, that guy's a Bozo." He's like, "Wait, wait, wait, this name matches. This name that Tim is talking about is someone who was really important and valuable to him. Is this Bozo?"
Tim Rodman (01:33:51): Well, I'm glad I give you another chance even though you faceplanted again.
Rob Collie (01:33:56): Yeah. Again, I think that if that relationship needed to be reestablished, we could probably do that today. I never do anything right the first time.
Tim Rodman (01:34:02): Maybe he listens to the podcast and you have no idea. So this will come back around.
Rob Collie (01:34:05): Oh, I seriously doubt it. Maybe I will send him a link to this episode when it goes live and say, "Hey, your ears are burning and this one, man." So, yeah, podcasts are supposed to be partially about promotion. Give us your website. Someone's listening to, this is going, "Oh, yeah. Heck yeah. We're in Acumatica. We need to talk to this guy." How do they find you?
Tim Rodman (01:34:28): I got a terrible website name right now, it's augforums.com.
Rob Collie (01:34:33): A-U-G...
Tim Rodman (01:34:34): A-U-G.
Rob Collie (01:34:35): Forum?
Tim Rodman (01:34:35): Forums, with an S. F-O-R-U-M-S .com. The idea was to be the AUG was Acumatica User Group. It was to be the forums for user groups. I haven't completely given up on that, but I was just at timrodman.com. So you can actually type in timrodman.com. It takes you to augforums.com. If you look up on the top there, click the consulting page and you can read about what I'm doing from the consulting side. It's got my email address on there.
Rob Collie (01:35:00): Awesome. Awesome. Well, sir, I really appreciate us doing this. What a treat.
Tim Rodman (01:35:05): Great talking with You.
Announcer (01:35:06): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive, help your business, just go to P3adaptive.com. Have a day to day.
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