Tag Archives: Consulting

Is it time for a change and consider consulting?

Spring is often thought of as the season for change and renewal. That’s never more true than being in the desert. I was caught totally off-guard of spring in the southwest. The changes are everywhere. I love spring in the desert almost as much as I love autumn in the Midwest.

blooms

I’m pretty fortunate in that when I look outside my office window, I get to see the blooms on the right.

Which brings me to careers and trying new things. Hardly a week passes that I don’t receive a call from an individual or small organization looking to make their way as a services group consulting or creating an analytical product. The general area of analytics is just exploding and if you believe the press, it’s going to continue to do so for the next few years at least.

So, is this a good time to start an analytics consulting company? What is the competition and how much work is available? What are the rates and what is the cost to get into the industry?

All of those questions are good questions to ask. Never has the availability of good software and hardware been so affordable. One can easily put together a respectable analytics development platform for under $5,000. Along with the accessibility of affordable hardware and software, the climate is such that there are clients that can use your skills – if they are the current skill set.

For example, back in the day when I started out consulting, almost all statistical software was on the mainframe. It wasn’t realistic or even possible for me to lease a small mainframe or mini-computer to do such work. The software de jure was SPSS, SAS, BMDP and perhaps Minitab. All had considerable license costs associated with them.

Today, you can buy or build a decent workstation for just a few thousand dollars and install WPS, R and Python and have your own highly respectable analytics platform. Expect to have to add a laptop to the mix because you’re probably going to have to travel a bit when you start out, but still, well under $5,000. I’ll put a plug in for WPS right here. In comparison to our competitor, you can expect to pay approximately $14,000 more for our competitors product on a desktop for the first year than for a workstation WPS license.

As a matter of fact, you could license a copy of WPS for Windows Workstation, Mac OS X and a small Linux Server and still be $6,000 below the cost of our competitors workstation cost.

Which brings us around to getting business for start-up consulting firm. You have to have a state-of-mind that marketing your skills is as important as using your analytical skills. This is a broad topic and marketing and salesmanship is not the most natural thing in the world.

I’m not the most voracious reader anymore. Nothing like what I used to do. But I have been reading a few books that I think everyone who wants to go out and start a small business should read.

Even though no one I know likes to make cold calls, you are still going to have to follow-up with a near-cold call when you get inquires from your web site or blog. I recommend: The Conversion Code: Capture Internet Leads, Create Quality Appointments, Close More Sales

You are going to have to create a website and preferably a blog to communicate with your audience. In this case “your audience” are the companies who are looking for your consulting skills. Spend some time with: SEO 2017 Learn Search Engine Optimization With Smart Internet Marketing Strateg: Learn SEO with smart internet marketing strategies

If you are considering writing a vertical market application for resale, you don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if your idea is workable and attainable. A good read is: Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

And of course, the one that is truly important to me is: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. If you are working alone instead of a small group, motivation can be difficult. Finding a way to stay motivated is important and there are ways to deal with fatigue and lethargy.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in beautiful Tucson, Arizona. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS consulting and contract programming services and is an authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Banking, Financial Services and WPS

As a consultant as well as a reseller, MineQuest Business Analytics often has the opportunity to see and hear about the BI Stack that our customers use. Some of these systems are incredibly complex while others are uniquely simple.

One thing that we have seen time-and-time again is how the mainframe is used in the banking and finance industry. It’s been an evolving process, but the complex statistical systems seem to have moved to less expensive servers and heavy duty analytical workstations while the mainframe has become a repository for data.

Accessing data on the mainframe whether it’s in VSAM, Oracle or DB2 is a cinch with WPS also on the mainframe. As the analytics have moved away from the mainframe, the use of expensive software like those of our competitor is being called into question. The mainframe is now typically used for MXG (computer performance analytics) and ETL work. A lot of what is being done on the mainframe is just the extraction and summarization of data that is to be downloaded to the distributed systems that almost all banks and finance houses have in place.

Putting WPS on your mainframe can save you a lot of money over our competitor’s product on the same machine. If you have not already taken a look at WPS on z/OS you owe it to your company’s bottom line to investigate this product further. You will be pleasantly surprised at what you will see.

Finally, MineQuest Business Analytics can help your organization migrate your current processing to WPS. We can provide project management services as well as consulting, assessments, code review and code migration for your organization.

 

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Building a BI Consulting Company Part II

In the previous post I mentioned that software costs and licensing can be a major impediment to offering a competitive consulting business. I’ve written numerous times demonstrating the cost between a WPS license and our competitor licensed product. You can see those articles here and here.

If you’re a small business and/or just starting an analytics business then cash flow is a major issue. You expect that there will be some significant startup costs but wisely choosing your products can have a major impact on whether you will be successful or not.

The same goes for what you can do with the license. For example, some software companies put the screws to you when you want to use their licensed software in a B2B fashion. This can be innocuous as creating reports and data sets for your customer. The vendor, if they realize it will then dramatically increase your license fees.

How about licensing issues between your company and the software vendor where they have a vested interest in a software solution and you want to offer a competing product? Or perhaps (and more likely) what if they develop a competing product to your solution and decide that they no longer want to provide your organization with a software license? This is a very possible scenario where software companies want to create or move into vertical market applications at the expense of their license holders.

So those are a few things to consider in regards to software costs and licensing. Do your research and ask questions of the vendor. It never hurts to be informed.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Building a BI Consulting Company

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a series of conversations regarding consulting and necessary hardware and software to run a successful consulting house. In the last year we’ve seen so many references to “big data” and many of us in the consulting field just shrug our shoulders and smirk because we’ve understood that “big data” is a lot of hype for most of us. If you want to be precise about it, the term (and what we should be concerned with) is actually “big analytics.”

As a BI consultant or consulting house, you don’t have to replicate your client’s systems or data warehouse to consult on “big analytics.” As a matter of fact, some of the most successful BI consulting going on today are with companies that have outsourced a portion of their analytics to a third party. For example, loyalty cards are a driving force in retail and many organizations have outsourced this to third party analytics firms. We also see a growing opportunity in health care for fraud detection and pricing of procedures and prescriptions.

So the question comes down to what is your consulting focus? Is it providing knowledge and programming expertise to a company and perform the consulting remotely (or even onsite) or is it more encompassing and moving in the direction where you have the client’s data on your systems and perform a daily/weekly/monthly service?

I’m inclined to argue that the more financially successful firms that are offering consulting are the ones that are taking client’s data and providing the analytics services away from the client. The rates and fees are higher than when you are on site and there is limited travel time and expense to deal with.

I often see quotes for servers that they have been solicited from Dell, IBM or HP when they are sizing hardware to run WPS. I am amazed at how reasonably an organization can purchase or lease hardware that is immensely powerful for processing data sets when running WPS. I’ve seen 16 and 32 core servers that can run dozens of WPS jobs simultaneously priced between $40K and $60K.

I’m convinced that if you have a good services offering (and a decent sales staff who can find you clients) that this is the golden age in analytics for smaller firms and firms considering jumping into this space. My observations with advertising agencies and others who offer such services bears out that the supply of talent is low and the demand is high.

Of course, hardware cost is just one factor in this line of business so in a future column we will talk about how software cost and licensing can constrain you to the point where you can’t provide any services to third parties or it can set you free and allow you to make significantly more money. Software licensing is a major component to running a profitable BI/Analytics service.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Newsletter

After kicking this idea around for a few years now, we’ve decide that we should have a newsletter for our customers, potential customers and organizations and individuals who are interested in WPS. It’s a lot more convenient to have a newsletter emailed so it’s sitting in your in-box on Tuesday morning than trying to remember to go visit a website to find out what is going on with a product.

We will keep it a monthly publications and we promise not to spam you with offers and notices on an almost daily basis. What we want to include in the newsletter is information on new features in the WPS product that may be of interest to you. We will also feature tools and tips on using WPS so that you can realize the full functionality of the software.

The first newsletter will be sent out on December 1st to existing customers and those who have had WPS evaluations through MineQuest. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, simply send us your name and email address to info@minequest.com and let us know you want to start receiving the newsletter. We promise not to sell give away your information to any third parties.

And finally, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

What are the benefits when buying from MineQuest?

I’m often asked what are the benefits of buying a WPS license from MineQuest Business Analytics?

There are many, but I will touch on three of them in this post. First, when you purchase your server licenses from MineQuest, we provide a means of protecting your license investment. If you find that you need to scale up your server from say four to eight cores in the middle of your license period, we can upgrade your license so that you don’t lose money in the transition. We do require that you stay on the same operating system, but other than that, you get full credit for the time remaining on your license when you trade up.

The second benefit is that you automatically get a copy of the Bridge to R. The Bridge to R allows you to interface WPS into the R system for running more advanced statistical routines and enhanced graphics.

Third, we offer a first line of support for our customers. We have a few years of WPS experience under our belt and have developed products based on WPS. We know the product relatively well and we provide consulting services to companies needing it. We can implement WPS Link (i.e. submit programs from a desktop to a WPS Server) for customers who want a client server environment on any x86 architecture and help with installation and product overviews to users.

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

WPS and SAS – What Others are Saying

I became aware of a blog post the other day that I thought I would share. David Franklin is a WPS user and a well known and respected SAS Consultant. David has been slinging SAS code for 25 years and wrote a blog post about WPS. I think it’s a fair and attractive review of WPS 2.5 as it pertains to the SAS language market.

David’s website is The theprogrammerscabin.com and the blog post where he writes about WPS as a viable alternative to SAS. His post is entitled, “A Quick Look at WPS version 2.5” and can be found at: http://www.theprogrammerscabin.com/TM201009.htm

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a reseller of WPS in North America.

Business Analytics Predictions for 2011

1. Companies will begin to significantly look at their present enterprise agreements and due to economic uncertainty start renegotiating them in an effort to cut cost. One familiar refrain will be that basic analytical software has become a commodity and they will not continue to pay high annual licensing costs. We will see this trend accelerate dramatically with local and state governments who are being crushed by looming deficits.

2. Open Source will continue to make in-roads in the analytics sphere. R will continue to grow in the enterprise by virtue of its popularity in the academic circles. As students enter the work force, they will want to use software they’re most comfortable with at the time.

3. Enterprises will start offering analysis, reports and data to trade partners that show how they can improve their services with each other. This will be a win-win scenario for both organizations.

4. As hardware capability increases, analytical software pricing will become a major concern as businesses will want to use the software on more platforms and in more areas of the company. Linux will be the platform of choice for most of these companies due to low cost and high performance.

5. Desktop analytics, contrary to popular opinion will continue to dominate the enterprise. This is where the hardcore data analysts live, on the desktop, and this will also be where the new algorithms will be developed. Visualization software will also start to become common on the desktop. Businesses who short change their analytical development staff with low powered desktops and small LCD monitors will see less active development by their staffs.

6. We will see enterprises who have invested in specific high cost analytic languages and who have put into production the rules, reports and algorithms on large servers either recode to a new language or migrate to compatible and lower cost languages.

7. The role of innovation will be double edged. There will be those companies and organizations who invest heavily in analytics see advantages over their competitors. There will also be those companies who gain competitive advantage by utilizing their BI stack more effectively by making it available throughout the company.

8. Licensing will continue to hamper companies and organizations as well constrain growth by restricting what companies can provide (reports, data, etc…) to their customers by virtue of being labeled Data Service Providers. Processing of third party data will be a monumental problem to companies due to license issues.

9. The days of processing large amounts of data on z/OS are all but over. I know this has been said before but there just isn’t growth on that platform. Plus, all the innovation in analytics is taking place on the desktop and smaller servers. Companies will look at moving their analytics to z/Linux and other Linux platforms in an attempt to save money on hardware and software cost.

10. Multi-threaded applications running on the BI stack will be the rage. As core counts and memory availability continue to expand, the ability to make use of SMP and MMP hardware will be more important than ever.

11. Server pricing based on client access or client counts will begin to decline. Competition for customers will make such pricing ill-advised.

12. The allure of cloud computing will be strong but with regulatory constraints and laws regarding privacy including fear of losing control of data (i.e. wikileaks) the two largest service sectors in the United States (which are banking and healthcare) will have taken note and will continue to avoid the use of public clouds.

13. Just as in other parts of the economy where we see the creation and bursting of bubbles, in 2011 social media such as Facebook and Twitter will start to be seen as a venue for narcissist’s and a time waste for many people. Companies who have invested millions of dollars to “mine” tweets will see such analysis as less than helpful given such low ROI and such analysis will begin to fall out of favor.

14. Mobile applications will be hot. The delivery of analytics on devices such as iPads and other tablets including smart phones will become much more common.

15. Since “flat is the new norm” Cell Phone providers will find that the high cost of data plans will drive potential customers away and since Wi-Fi connectivity has become so common (almost everywhere I go there is free Wi-Fi), we will see a decrease in 3G and 4G use and Wi-Fi only tablets will dominate. We already are seeing this trend with the Apple iTouch vs. the iPhone, and now the Rim BlackBerry Playbook will also be offered in a Wi-Fi only version.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.

Consulting Outlook for the Rest of 2010 and 2011

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving and that you were able to spend quality time with your family. I know over the years that the best part of Thanksgiving is telling and reliving the stories of my parents and the pranks that we pulled when we were kids. I think the kids enjoy the stories as much as we enjoy telling them.

Traditionally, the holidays have been slow for the consulting side of business. Lots of folks burn through their unused vacation days and it’s more challenging to contact people to make sales calls. This year will probably not be an exception but I will say that there’s a fair amount of consulting work available if you are willing to look for it or travel. That’s a significant change from last year.

A local consulting house that I have had the pleasure of doing business with over the years, Protec distributes a quarterly newsletter and they describe the state of the industry as it pertains to consulting. They find that the third quarter is much better than the 2nd quarter across the board and rates are starting to slowly increase again. That’s good news!

The other news that I find significant is that companies who have been putting off BI projects are now starting to ramp up to both fund the project and actually get the project initiated. This too is a change over last year where the funding might have been there, but the uncertainty with the economy made the decision to actually go forward with implementation less likely.

That plays into the new mantra that I hear more often which is, “Flat is the new normal.” In my mind that means companies are willing to start projects where there is a good case that money will be saved by reducing costs or by streamlining processes. I also hear from other vendors that companies and state and county governments are renegotiating enterprise agreements that are multi-year in nature to single year contracts due to long term instability.

One area that I’m going to be watching closely is the local and state governments and how they change their spending habits. Here in Ohio, we are looking at an $8,000,000,000 (that’s 8 billion) deficit for the next two year budget. Government employees are probably the most reluctant people when it comes to change, but I suspect that there’s going to be massive layoffs in states like California, Ohio, Illinois, Texas and New York. What I’m most interested in watching is how these governments reduce cost through software licensing, hardware acquisition and operating cost (can we say virtualization?) and privatization of services that are now being done by government workers.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.

Odds and Ends for a Memorial Day Weekend

Here in the states, we have a three day weekend coming up (thankfully). I’ll be off to a small business seminar where only here in the states can you go to a resort for three days, attend a few seminars and write off your expenses on your tax forms. I have some end-of-the-week postings of some thoughts and tidbits of information that I thought might be useful but individually, they don’t deserve a blog post of their own.

Fedora 13

Fedora 13 is out as of 5/25/2010. We run Fedora 11 in house but we’ll be converting over to 13 soon. Version 11 is at its "end-of-life" in one month. WPS runs on Fedora nicely. A quick glance at what is new:

Includes some major features like automatic print driver installation, automatic language pack installation, redesigned user account tool, color management to calibrate monitors and scanners, experimental 3D support for NVIDIA video cards, and more."

You can download the 32 bit or 64-bit version of the Fedora OS from: http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora-options#formats

Visustin Flow Chart Software

If you have a need to create flow charts of your WPS or other SAS language programs, I recently discovered some software that will do just that at: http://www.aivosto.com/visustin.html. There’s a free 30 day trial that is limited in numerous ways, but it does provide you with a sense of what the software can do. Single user licensing starts at $299.

Ultra Edit for Linux

As I write this, there’s not a version of UEX available for Fedora 13. However, I have updated my UEX version to the most recent 1.2.x and I notice much improved screen scrolling over previous versions. This was most noticeable (for me) when running in a VM like Virtual Box. If you’ve used Ultra Edit for Windows, you should take a look at the Linux version too. http://www.ultraedit.com/index.html

Virtual Box 3.2

Since Oracle bought SUN, Virtual Box has been branded with the Oracle logo. On May 18th, another release of Virtual Box, version 3.2 made it out the door and this too has many improvements. Two of the most interesting enhancements are: Memory Ballooning – Ballooning provides another method to increase vm density by allowing the memory of one guest to be recouped and made available to others;

Multiple Virtual Monitors – VirtualBox 3.2 now supports multi-headed virtual machines with up to 8 virtual monitors attached to a guest. Each virtual monitor can be a host window, or be mapped to the hosts physical monitors;

I use Virtual Box for testing and development. As a matter of fact, Vbox is where I host Fedora for any Linux development that I do.

Skype Beta 5

Skype Beta 5 came out a week or two ago and it has added one nifty feature. This version supports group video conferencing for up to five members. That means you and four other people. I use Skype and it saves me a lot of money. It works pretty well and I’ve not had any problems with it yet.

I used to use MSN Messenger for IM, etc… but almost everyone I do business with uses Skype today. I really don’t like the flashing advertisements that rotate on Messenger either. I find that distracting. One advantage of Skype is the ability to screen share. It’s amazingly easy to implement… just a couple of clicks and you are off and running. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles using Skype’s screen share but it gets the job done. I’ve done remote presentations from the US while at a client’s site sharing my screen with folks in the UK.

One other advantage of Skype over MSN Messenger is that Skype is available for both Mac OS X and Linux operating systems. It appears that you can screen share and video conference with the Mac version but the Linux version doesn’t support screen sharing (yet). Finally, this version also supports HD Video for select cameras. HD meaning 1280x720p.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.