Enhance the way you do business in the cloud with Intuit’s Quickbase

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My recent experiences with Intuit’s QuickBase product led me to write this article.  I found it to be a great tool for project management – and beyond my needs, several departments adopted it as a means to build custom, cloud-based applications.  Here are a few quotes from my former team.  I’ve also reviewed the application on TrustRadius for any of you that may be looking to purchase.

Quickbase allowed our professional services team to fine tune our delivery processes, reduce delivery time, and ultimately improve our margins.

We felt more connected as a team due to the workflow and notification capabilities.  We felt in-sync!

Quickbase allowed us to quickly adapt and keep pace with our ever-changing business.

I felt more empowered to write my own reports and see data the way I needed to in order to run my business unit.

The flexibility of Quickbase’s platform allows for almost limitless use for the product.  If you are considering a similar tool (i.e. SalesForce), here are a few features that we enjoyed.  Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way by Intuit.

  1. Get started quickly with best practice templates.  My favorite?  The Project Management template.
    • QuickBase provides numerous out-of-the-box templates.  On many occasions, we thought up a concept and then realized that Intuit already had a template available that solved 75-80% of our needs.  We were then able to quickly customize this template to build our “custom” application.  It was simple to add fields, modify forms, etc.
  2. Easy-to-use reports, charts, and graphs.
    • Not only is it easy to setup reports around your data, it is also easy to view and modify the data directly from your report.  The QuickBase platform allows you to drill into the data from the reporting elements.  You can then use ‘Grid Edit’ mode in many cases to directly edit the data that you’ve drilled into.  This assumes that you have the appropriate access to that data, of course.


  3. Control access easily through customizable roles.
    • Access and security is sometimes an afterthought.  Quickbase allows you to setup custom roles and then secure that data that resides in your application tables down to the data element.  You can choose the basic functions of view, add, modify, delete.  This flexibility allows you to setup complex security in your application to reflect the unique needs of your business community.  You can also nest roles for individuals that may be in more than one.

  4. Easily add custom fields to support your business need.  There are a variety of data types which you can select.
    • Be it a custom application, or the customization of an existing QuickBase template, it is tremendously helpful to be able to add custom fields to your application.  This is done easily by the ‘Add New Fields’ feature.  Intuit has made it really easy by predefining a number of logical data types.  You can even use their scripting language to create a derived or calculated field.  Personally, I’ve found that calculated fields come in extreme handy.  In terms of project management, I’ve used calculated fields to determine the variance between two dates.   This helped me to analyze how long a certain activity was taking to complete across several projects.

  5. Subscriptions and notifications are a powerful way to keep your users engaged and target communication to them at the right time.
    • QuickBase has an excellent built-in feature to handle notifications.  These are helpful when setting up complex workflows.  They are also very nice for prompting users to take action on particular pieces of data when it has changed.  We were able to reduce our delivery timeframes by notifying different functional groups when activities were completed ahead of schedule.  This had a direct impact on our business and helped us to achieve better margins.

Don’t take my word for it.  Quickbase offers a free 30-day trial (no credit card data required).  Sign-up with your email address and let me know what you think!  In the trial, you’ll have the ability to use all of the features above and get a look at the available templates.  If you’re looking to build a pilot ‘business case’ for your boss – this is the spot!

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Considering BI? Follow these 10 steps for success!

Business intelligence.  It consistently ranks as one of the top priorities in various CIO and IT surveys.  In January 2013, Gartner conducted an executive program survey of over 2,000 CIOs.  I’ve listed the top 10 business and technology priorities from the survey below.

Top 10 Business Priorities Top 10 Technology Priorities
  1. Increasing enterprise growth
  2. Delivering operational results
  3. Reducing enterprise costs
  4. Attracting and retaining new customers
  5. Improving IT applications and infrastructure
  6. Creating new products and services (innovation)
  7. Improving efficiency
  8. Attracting and retaining the workforce
  9. Implementing analytics and big data
  10. Improving business processes
  1. Analytics and business intelligence
  2. Mobile technologies
  3. Cloud computing (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS)
  4. Collaboration technologies (workflow)
  5. Legacy modernization
  6. IT management
  7. CRM
  8. Virtualization
  9. Security
  10. ERP Applications

SaaS = software as a service; IaaS = infrastructure as a service; PaaS = platform as a service
Source: Gartner Executive Programs (January 2013)

That said, it is a known fact that many business intelligence (BI) projects fail. Are you planning to implement a BI and analytics program? Maybe thinking of big data?

Here are a few lessons learned that will put you on the path to success:

  1. Ensure executive sponsorship from the start of your project.  This may seem like a simple thing, but ensuring that the executives stand behind your project is critically important.  Before the project starts, lay out the business plan, create budgets (operating/capital), document key stakeholders, and setup a governance structure.  Keep these executives apprised of progress throughout and ensure they see the business value that you are providing.
  2. Understand your current software agreements – and choose the right software/database platform for your organization.  Many people ask me – what is your favorite BI software/database platform?  My answer is that is always depends.  It depends on what contracts your company already has in place.  It depends on the skills and expertise of your staff.  It depends on the budget of your project.  The net is that there are a variety of really good BI tools on the market.  To name a few – Microsoft, Oracle, MicroStrategy, IBM, Teradata, etc.  For a small scale rapid BI implementation, consider cloud-based tools such as Intuit’s Quickbase.
  3. Be inclusive during requirements gathering – don’t design in a bubble.  IT departments often get frustrated with business users as they feel that they can get the technical solution in place much more quickly without the business users involvement.  While this is probably true, if you don’t get critical buy-in from these business users – your initiative will ultimately fail.  The business users need to understand that the system will support their needs and requirements.  This is also critical when you get to the decommissioning phase (item #9 below).
  4. Employ a professional services team to help you.  This is not necessary, but in my personal opinion, I feel that it is tremendously helpful.  Your staff may or may not have dedicated time for the project.  Bringing on a few technical consultants and a project manager can really help to drive the project forward.  In addition, they hold an objective opinion and can help facilitate communication and decisions among departments.
  5. Don’t overlook security.  Security is often over-engineered in BI projects.  Please remember that BI projects don’t need to have ERP-level security.  You may consider bringing the security up a notch in order to gain better performance.  During your design, you may also identify that the users of the BI platform may be power-users by nature.  The platform doesn’t have to be available to everyone.  You may consider allowing a greater level of access to a few number of “power-users”.  This will depend on your specific deployment, but make sure you plan to discuss security early in the project and don’t leave it as an afterthought. 
  6. Document data definitions and ensure buy-in of that definition across groups.  Data definitions can be the most challenging part of a successful BI project – particularly if you have multiple groups involved and they each have their own definition of one piece of data.  This is a tedious process, but be diligent in working through definitions for your data and particularly for any calculated fields.  You may consider software packages that help you to manage this workload (i.e. Informatica’s Business Glossary)
  7. Keep it simple for the end-user and consider a portal.  Presentation is also important.   In a recent implementation, I used Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 and its Team Site capability to disseminate reports and data by department.  We used team sites for the various departments and a public site to bring all of the departments together.  Consider building a portal similar to this for your end-users.  This makes the report/analytics delivery seamless and easy.  In an ever-growing mobile world, ensure that the portal is mobile capable.  Your users will want to access data when on the go.
  8. Allow for collaboration, but in a controlled environment.  Control the data model and only expose elements that have been approved by your data stewards.  Allow for power-users to create their own reports, but do it in a controlled way.  Expose approved data models to them.   Keep the report creation controlled to departments so that you can keep the solution clean and tidy.  You may even consider a workspace for the custom reports/analytics so that it can be separated from the standard content that is developed and available with the platform.
  9. Decommission old reporting solutions.  During go-live, don’t forget to decommission the legacy reporting solutions.  If you do not, people will continue to use them.  Caution:  if you decommission them, you’ll need executive sponsorship (item #1) and also assurance that you’ve captured the requirements from this system (item #3).
  10. Constantly innovate and evolve your new platform.  Don’t let the platform go-live and become immediately stale.  Engage the end-users and have a constant feedback loop established with them.  Get them engaged to have them help you innovate and build additional content that will better serve their community.  Hold a user-group for key power users so that they can collaborate and share lessons learned.

TrustRadius – A great new Technology Crowdsourcing concept from Vinay Bhagat

Earlier in the year, I wrote an article about Technology Crowdsourcing.  There is a new player in this space named TrustRadius.

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The talented Vinay Bhagat and his team have created a unique platform which compiles software reviews sourced from product experts.  Key differentiators in this new platform include:

  1. TrustRadius is really focused on trying to source in-depth insights from primary product users/ experts
  2. The reviews of TrustRadius are structured, and soon will be able to be added to, and amended over time.  Structure allows for curation into things like comparisons.

They were launched in May and were funded by the Mayfield Fund in July and are rapidly starting to scale.  So far, they have 23k monthly visitors and are growing at 30% per month.

Review of Microsoft Business Intelligence at TrustRadius

For interested higher education folks, I’ve posted a few reviews there that you may find interesting: