March 19, 2013 – Last month we asked the community about the sessions, content and speakers they want to see in the line-up for PASS Summit 2013. The results of the survey provided some interesting insights: a ranking of session types indicated that content on tips & tricks and best practices were the top choice and that tracks on Application and Development, Administration and Deployment and Business Intelligence tracks were what people were most looking forward to; the community was also divided 50/50 as to whether a NoSQL/Big Data track should be added.
A PDF of the survey results is available here.
Cross-posted from the BA Conference blog
March 6, 2013 – As the new PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter prepares for its third meeting – a gentle, business-focused introduction to Big Data – you can catch up on February’s presentations and plan to make this free training part of your monthly schedule.
Stacia Misner will take the VC’s webcast stage March 14 for “A Big Data Primer” (noon ET/16:00 GMT) to demystify Big Data, look at its implications for traditional data warehousing and reporting, and explore the technology and skill sets you need to successfully implement a Big Data strategy.
“This is going to be a great real-world session,” notes VC leader Melissa Demsak. “You’ll definitely leave with some inspiration and practical steps for tackling your first Big Data project.”
With a mission to provide quality virtual training to business analysts, BA/BI practitioners and architects, and data scientists, the VC’s focus is on creating a community for shared learning and enabling the creation of world-class business analytics solutions based on the Microsoft platform, Melissa explains.
“Our topics will naturally intersect with those presented by several of our sister VCs – Business Intelligence, Big Data, Data Architecture, and Master Data/Data Quality – but we’ll be covering them from an analytics perspective,” she adds. “We’ll also include non-Microsoft solutions and topics outside the traditional SQL Server and BI community, such as data visualization, analytics, and data science.”
The BA VC meetings, scheduled for the second and/or fourth Thursday of every month, will all be recorded and archived for on-demand viewing. Recordings of the group’s first two meetings – Mark Tabladillo’s “A Case for Business Analytics Learning” and Chris Webb’s “What’s New for BI in Excel 2013” – will be available soon.
You can become a member of the BA VC by simply clicking Join next to Business Analytics in the list of VCs on the PASS Virtual Chapters page. “We'll keep you posted of all upcoming meetings, learning opportunities, and the latest and greatest information from Microsoft,” Melissa says. “We also have a special $200 discount code for the PASS Business Analytics Conference coming up in April – if you haven't signed up yet, just use the code BAC941VC when you register for some nice savings."
Interested in speaking at an upcoming BA VC webinar? Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org, and make sure you follow the VC on Twitter at @passbavc.
March 5, 2013 – It’s never too early to start thinking about PASS Summit. This year Charlotte, North Carolina – the home of NASCAR and an abundance of outdoor activities, a lively nightlife and restaurant scene, and a vibrant arts and cultural center – will welcome over 5,000 SQL Server and BI professionals for PASS Summit 2013.
The process is already underway to create the best lineup yet of world-class sessions and speakers. The Community Call for Speakers – your invitation to help shape and participate in the Summit 2013 program – is open until April 3. Thinking about submitting a session (or four)? Check out the FAQs and get started today.
Thank you to everyone who submitted responses for the PASS Summit 2013 Program Survey – we appreciate your feedback and ideas on the sessions and speakers you want to see. Members of the soon-to-be-announced volunteer Program Committee will be reviewing your responses as they work to build an educational program designed to meet the needs of today’s data pros. Congratulations to SQL Server DBA Dana Stevenson from California, who won a Microsoft Surface for her participation in the survey.
Full-day pre-conference sessions will kick off the event Oct. 14-15, with the main conference beginning with the evening Welcome Reception Oct. 15 and featuring over 190 sessions Oct. 16-18.
If you’re thinking about attending PASS Summit 2013 but haven’t registered yet, you can still take advantage of the discounted rate when you register by April 15. Already registered? Make sure you tell your friends that you’ll be at PASS Summit for the first time or as a proud alumni by adding an attendee Twibbon to your Twitter account.
See you in Charlotte!
February 18, 2013 – Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a good read with PASS’s new book club. In this Q&A, Ike Ellis, co-leader of the Book Readers Virtual Chapter, shares the group’s first selection, how meetings will work, and how to make time for this important learning activity.
Q: What’s the purpose of the Book Readers Virtual Chapter?
A: Reading a book by yourself is an excellent way to learn. The only problem is, the book can't answer your questions if it isn't explaining something well. Sometimes books don't give you real-world options or tell you actual stories about how a technology or technique has been used in the field. Other times, a book will say something really important, but it's helpful for an expert to point it out and say, "Listen up, this is really important." Book authors also need to be politically correct, so sometimes they may not say, "Yeah, no one really does it this way in the real world." All of these problems are solved with a little book-club mentoring. A mentor can make the book come alive.
Q: The VC’s first book has been selected – Itzik Ben-Gan's T-SQL Fundamentals for SQL Server 2012. Tell us a little about it.
A: The SQL Server community is chock-full of experts, and we could have chosen so many fantastic books. But we had to start somewhere, and who better to kick us off than Itzik?
T-SQL Fundamentals is an excellent way for readers to get a 10,000-foot view of what T-SQL has to offer in SQL Server 2012. We all have blind spots. Maybe some of us aren't using CTEs when appropriate. Perhaps some of us don't know the difference between a table variable and a temporary table or aren’t using the MERGE statement to full effect. This book is a great way to uncover some blind spots and improve our core T-SQL skills.
Q: So how will the book club work, how fast will you be going through a book, and what should people come prepared to talk about at the meetings?
A: Our first meeting, March 20, is an introductory meeting where we’ll frame the importance of the topic, discuss the rules of the group, practice using the remote software, and open the discussion to see what everyone hopes to get out of the group. There might be some kinks to work out since we're brand-new at this and still learning. We'll start reading the book after the first meeting.
We’ll then meet the third Wednesday of every month at 12pm Pacific Time (19:00 GMT). I think we'll end up reading 100-150 pages a month. That's about 4-8 hours of reading, which I think is reasonable. We’ll try not to get too aggressive because we know people have busy lives with too much to do already.
Once we begin reading, everyone should make sure they bring their questions and comments to the meetings. The interaction is why we have this group. I'll be there to answer questions and to verify technical accuracy, but I might not know the answer to every question. I believe that real learning happens when you try to explain what you know to someone else. That's why it's very helpful for readers to help each other – so that both readers benefit from the explanation.
Q: Back to your comment about busy lives – any tips on finding time to read?
A: I read all the time. I read everything I can get my hands on. I think we need to remember that our technical skills all have an expiration date. If we don't sharpen the saw, the blade gets dull – and who needs a dull blade? We have to keep learning, keep growing, keep expanding, or we will atrophy. I love learning and consider it a core skill that every technologist needs to have. Good leaders will allow for time to study and learn during the work day. I would consider approaching management with the need so they can allocate time toward staying sharp.
Q: How can people join the Book Reading VC and send any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future books to read?
A: Joining the VC and getting on our DL is easy: Just go to the PASS Virtual Chapters page and click on the Join button beside the Book Readers VC. We have contact information on the website for any questions. And if we need a separate interface for asking questions throughout the month, we'll start a Google group for our members.
Q: Brad Cunningham is joining you as co-leader of the VC. What can we expect from your co-host?
A: Brad has been a C# MVP since 2008. He's always on the cutting edge of software development, writing new web, mobile, and enterprise solutions. His code has been featured all over the Internet, on numerous podcasts, and at user groups. Brad and I have known each other for years, have co-presented on numerous topics, and have worked on software projects together. We’re good friends and look forward to having a great time sharing our love of technology and books with the community.
February 18, 2013 – There is a lot changing in the data professional’s world these days. More data is being produced and stored. More enterprises are trying to use that data to improve their products and services and understand their customers better. More data platforms and tools seem to be crowding the market. For a traditional DBA, this can be a confusing and even unsettling time. It’s also a time that offers great opportunity for career growth. I speak from personal experience.
We sometimes talk about the “accidental DBA” – the person who finds herself suddenly responsible for managing the database because she has some other technical skills. Although it was not accidental, six months ago I was unexpectedly offered a chance to transition out of my DBA role and become a data analyst. I have since come to view this offer as a gift, though at the time I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
Throughout my DBA career, I’ve received tremendous support from my PASS friends and colleagues, and they were the first ones I turned to for counsel about this new situation. Everyone was encouraging, and I received two pieces of valuable advice: First, leverage what I already know about data, and second, work to understand the business’ needs.
Harnessing the power of data to solve business problems is really the heart of the job. The challenge is figuring out how to do that. PASS had been the source of much of my technical training as a DBA, so I naturally started there to begin my business intelligence education. Once again, Virtual Chapter webinars, local chapter meetings, and SQLSaturdays have been invaluable.
I work in a large company where we are fortunate to have some very talented data scientists and analysts. These colleagues have been generous with their time and advice. I also took a statistics class through Coursera, where I got a refresher in statistics and an introduction to the R programming language.
And that’s not the end of the free resources available to someone wanting to acquire new skills. There are many knowledgeable business intelligence and analytics professionals who teach through their blogs. Every day, I can learn something new from one of these experts.
Sometimes we plan our next career move, and sometimes it just happens. Either way, a database professional who follows industry developments and acquires new skills will be better prepared when change comes. Take the opportunity to learn something about the changing data landscape by attending an upcoming Business Intelligence, Business Analytics, or Big Data Virtual Chapter meeting. And if you are moving into this new world of data, consider attending the PASS Business Analytics Conference in April where you can meet and learn from those who are already on that road.
It’s been said that “the only thing constant is change.” That’s never been truer for the data professional than it is today. But if you are someone who loves data and grasps its potential, you are in the right place at the right time.
February 18, 2013 – The PASS Board recently approved an updated set of bylaws that provide improved representation to our members around the world. As part of this process, we solicited feedback from our members for 30 days. During that time we received three pieces of feedback.
The first comment reads:
Although the bylaws discuss an individual director representing a region – what are the rules around who can represent a region? Must one live in the region, or work in the region? Especially when you get into Europe, there will probably need to be very clear rules about that, as well as what happens when someone moves or changes employment.
The Board will define any regions prior to the elections through the published election procedures. We expect that the regions will be quite large. For example, the bylaws define the US and Canada as the first region. Based on the discussion at our last Board meeting, I expect the second region defined will be Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Ideally, we would find people that both lived and worked in the region. We’re going to do the best we can at defining what being “in” a region means so that potential candidates have a clear understanding of their particular situation.
The second comment is about electronic votes. It reads:
I have a question regarding this section: Section VI.5.Mail or Electronic Vote. Any action requiring a vote of the Board of Directors may be taken by written, mailed, facsimile, online, or electronic ballot. The action taken by such a vote shall be effective upon the unanimous approval of the members of the Board. Is this saying that every vote must be unanimous? I don't think that's the case, but I think it can be read that way.
The VI.5 only applies to votes conducted over mail or electronically such as email votes. This section is included to comply with Illinois state law.
The last comment discusses our meetings. It reads:
The biggest thing I find interesting is that we never have meetings though they are specified. Only thing I see that a meeting could do would be to remove a board member, but that would take the board calling for the meeting, and it seems to need to be in person. But I generally trust the board, unlike national politics. I expect that the board will work in our best interest and deal honestly. :)
We consider the PASS Summit as the official annual meeting. This is one of the reasons finances and organizational details are presented at Summit. In general, there’s very little that needs to officially happen at the annual meeting.
I’d like to thank our Governance Coordinators at headquarters, the Global Growth Committee, and the PASS Board for their work on these bylaws. Reviewing revision after revision of these documents isn’t the most glamorous part of our volunteer work, but it is necessary to move our organization forward.
February 15, 2013 – On January 9, 2013, the Board of Directors formally proposed an amended set of Bylaws for the PASS organization.
The Bylaw changes address the option for regional representation which will facilitate PASS’ vision to better serve our membership around the world. Allowances for mid-term vacancies to be filled by community vote are also included in these Bylaw amendments.
In keeping with Illinois State Law (the PASS incorporation jurisdiction), members had 30 days to provide feedback and insight on the proposed Bylaw changes. Thank you for the thoughtful feedback via tweets, blog posts, and emails. The PASS Board reviewed and discussed all input presented prior to approving the amended Bylaws.
The motion passed with 13 yes votes, 0 no votes and 1 abstentions. A 2/3 majority is required for such a fundamental governance change.
It’s never too late to familiarize yourself with the PASS Bylaws. They are available on the Governance section of the website for download or reference.
This is an exciting time for PASS now that we have the foundation for formal international representation. The changes to the Bylaws are the first step in ensuring PASS truly reflects the global SQL Server Community—your community.
The 2013 elections are around the corner and we encourage you to get involved.
February 6, 2013 – PASS just wrapped up its first Board meeting of the year and, as the minutes* will show, we passionately discussed the future of PASS. We must continue to service and grow our existing community but also recognize the need to meet the changing demands of insight-driven organizations. Our challenges are similar to those your firm or customers are experiencing. PASS needs more data, better ways to analyze it, and a renewed focus on solving business questions instead of focusing directly on tools.
Chris Webb’s recent editorial touched on this need for change. I agree with Chris’ position that organizations are driving toward more and more analytic insight. This insight goes beyond system performance, beyond report speed, and even what kind of charts or graphs to use. Today’s companies must explore their data in new ways, use more of it to model better decisions, and do it faster and more nimbly than ever before. They don’t care how it happens so it’s up to us to figure it out. What an exciting opportunity for all of us to tackle this challenge together.
I feel blessed to work in an industry with so many strong players and vendor solutions that embrace the Microsoft Data Platform—giving us a strong lineage for the types of self-service solutions our companies and clients are looking for. The upcoming Business Analytics Conference focuses on these types of solutions. We’ve got sessions for the power analyst, BI practitioner, Excel guru, data scientist and anyone who is involved in solving these types of challenges for their executives. I know Chris said he is coming to the conference, and I’m looking forward to seeing him there. Those of us in the business intelligence field have long wished for this type of knowledge sharing to help bridge the gap between building these solutions and achieving viral adoption— with the goal of having our organizations use these analytic-based solutions to their fullest potential.
My challenge to you: explore the tools in this new area. We’ve got our Big Data and Business Analytics Virtual Chapters set up to start the transition and a top notch line of speakers for this inaugural event! I have carefully reviewed the program for the Business Analytics Conference and am very excited. It’s been a long time since we had more than a new cool feature to be excited about in the data platform space. These new tools, techniques and cross platform solutions are the kind of things a database person’s dreams are made of! I can’t wait to see you there. Stay up to date on the latest by following @sqlpass and @passbac.
* Board meeting minutes will be available at the end of February.
February 1, 2013 – Cross-posted from Bill Graziano's SQL Server Blog, January 10, 2013
PASS launched a Global Growth Initiative in the Summer of 2011 with the appointment of three international Board advisors. Since then we’ve thought and talked extensively about how we make PASS more relevant to our members outside the US and Canada. We’ve collected much of that discussion in our Global Growth site. You can find vision documents, plans, governance proposals, feedback sites, and transcripts of Twitter chats and town hall meetings. We also address these plans at the Board Q&A during the 2012 Summit.
One of the biggest changes coming out of this process is around how we elect Board members. And that requires a change to the bylaws. We published the proposed bylaw changes as a red-lined document so you can clearly see the changes.
Our goal in these bylaw changes was to address the changes required by the global growth initiatives, conduct a legal review of the document and address other minor issues in the document. There are numerous small wording changes throughout the document. For example, we replaced every reference of “The Corporation” with the word “PASS” so it now reads “PASS is organized…”.
The biggest change in these bylaw changes is how the Board is composed and elected. This discussion starts in section VI.2. This section now says that some elected directors will come from geographic regions. I think this is the best way to make sure we give all of our members a voice in the leadership of the organization. The key parts of this section are:
The remaining Directors (i.e. the non-Officer Directors and non-Vendor Appointed Directors) shall be elected by the voting membership (“Elected Directors”). Elected Directors shall include representatives of defined PASS regions (“Regions”) as set forth below (“Regional Directors”) and at minimum one (1) additional Director-at-Large whose selection is not limited by region. Regional Directors shall include, but are not limited to, two (2) seats for the Region covering Canada and the United States of America.
Additional Regions for the purpose of electing additional Regional Directors and additional Director-at-Large seats for the purpose of expanding the Board shall be defined by a majority vote of the current Board of Directors and must be established prior to the public call for nominations in the general election. Previously defined Regions and seats approved by the Board of Directors shall remain in effect and can only be modified by a 2/3 majority vote by the then current Board of Directors.
Currently PASS has six At-Large Directors elected by the members. These changes allow for a Regional Director position that is elected by the members but must come from a particular region. It also stipulates that there must always be at least one Director-at-Large who can come from any region.
We also understand that PASS is currently a very US-centric organization. Our Summit is held in America, roughly half our chapters are in the US and Canada and most of the Board members over the last ten years have come from America. We wanted to reflect that by making sure that our US and Canadian volunteers would continue to play a significant role by ensuring that two Regional seats are reserved specifically for Canada and the US.
Other than that, the bylaws don’t create any specific regional seats. These rules allow us to create Regional Director seats but don’t require it. We haven’t fully discussed what the criteria will be in order for a region to have a seat designated for it or how many regions there will be. In our discussions we’ve broadly discussed regions for
- United States and Canada
- Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA)
- Australia, New Zealand and Asia (also known as Asia Pacific or APAC)
- Mexico, South America, and Central America (LATAM)
As you can see, our thinking is that there will be a few large regions. I’ve also considered a non-North America region that we can gradually split into the regions above as our membership grows in those areas.
The regions will be defined by a policy document that will be published prior to the elections. I’m hoping that over the next year we can begin to publish more of what we do as Board-approved policy documents.
While the bylaws only require a single non-region specific At-large Director, I would expect we would always have two. That way we can have one in each election. I think it’s important that we always have one seat open that anyone who is eligible to run for the Board can contest. The Board is required to have any regions defined prior to the start of the election process.
Board Elections – Regional Seats
We spent a lot of time discussing how the elections would work for these Regional Director seats. Ultimately we decided that the simplest solution is that every PASS member should vote for every open seat. Section VIII.3 reads:
Candidates who are eligible (i.e. eligible to serve in such capacity subject to the criteria set forth herein or adopted by the Board of Directors) shall be designated to fill open Board seats in the following order of priority on the basis of total votes received: (i) full term Regional Director seats, (ii) full term Director-at-Large seats, (iii) not full term (vacated) Regional Director seats, (iv) not full term (vacated) Director-at-Large seats. For the purposes of clarity, because of eligibility requirements, it is contemplated that the candidates designated to the open Board seats may not receive more votes than certain other candidates who are not selected to the Board.
We debated whether to have multiple ballots or one single ballot. Multiple ballot elections get complicated quickly. Let’s say we have a ballot for US/Canada and one for Region 2. After that we’d need a mechanism to merge those two together and come up with the winner of the at-large seat or have another election for the at-large position.
We think the best way to do this is a single ballot and putting the highest vote getters into the most restrictive seats. Let’s look at an example:
There are seats open for Region 1, Region 2 and at-large. The election results are as follows:
- Candidate A (eligible for Region 1) – 550 votes
- Candidate B (eligible for Region 1) – 525 votes
- Candidate C (eligible for Region 1) – 475 votes
- Candidate D (eligible for Region 2) – 125 votes
- Candidate E (eligible for Region 2) – 75 votes
In this case, Candidate A is the winner for Region 1 and is assigned that seat. Candidate D is the winner for Region 2 and is assigned that seat. The at-large seat is filled by the high remaining vote getter which is Candidate B.
The key point to understand is that we may have a situation where a person with a lower vote total is elected to a regional seat and a person with a higher vote total is excluded. This will be true whether we had multiple ballots or a single ballot.
Board Elections – Vacant Seats
The other change to the election process is for vacant Board seats. The actual changes are sprinkled throughout the document.
Previously we didn’t have a mechanism that allowed for an election of a Board seat that we knew would be vacant in the future. The most common case is when a Board members moves to an Officer role in the middle of their term. One of the key changes is to allow the number of votes members have to match the number of open seats. This allows each voter to express their preference on all open seats. This only applies when we know about the opening prior to the call for nominations. This all means that if there’s a seat will be open at the start of the next Board term, and we know about it prior to the call for nominations, we can include that seat in the elections. Ultimately, the aim is to have PASS members decide who sits on the Board in as many situations as possible.
We discussed the option of changing the bylaws to just take next highest vote-getter in all other cases. I think that’s wrong for the following reasons:
- All voters aren’t able to express an opinion on all candidates. If there are five people running for three seats, you can only vote for three. You have no way to express your preference between #4 and #5.
- Different candidates may have different information about the number of seats available. A person may learn that a Board member plans to resign at the end of the year prior to that information being made public. They may understand that the top four vote getters will end up on the Board while the rest of the members believe there are only three openings. This may affect someone’s decision to run. I don’t think this creates a transparent, fair election.
- Board members may use their knowledge of the election results to decide whether to remain on the Board or not. Admittedly this one is unlikely but I don’t want to create a situation where this accusation can be leveled.
I think the majority of vacancies in the future will be handled through elections. The bylaw section quoted above also indicates that partial term vacancies will be filled after the full term seats are filled.
Section VI.7 on removing directors has always had a clause that allowed members to remove an elected director. We also had a clause that allowed appointed directors to be removed. We added a clause that allows the Board to remove for cause any director with a 2/3 majority vote. The updated text reads:
Any Director may be removed for cause by a 2/3 majority vote of the Board of Directors whenever in its judgment the best interests of PASS would be served thereby.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the authority of any Director to act as in an official capacity as a Director or Officer of PASS may be suspended by the Board of Directors for cause.
Cause for suspension or removal of a Director shall include but not be limited to failure to meet any Board-approved performance expectations or the presence of a reason for suspension or dismissal as listed in Addendum B of these Bylaws.
The first paragraph is updated and the second and third are unchanged (except cleaning up language). If you scroll down and look at Addendum B of these bylaws you find the following:
Cause for suspension or dismissal of a member of the Board of Directors may include:
- Inability to attend Board meetings on a regular basis.
- Inability or unwillingness to act in a capacity designated by the Board of Directors.
- Failure to fulfill the responsibilities of the office.
- Inability to represent the Region elected to represent
- Failure to act in a manner consistent with PASS's Bylaws and/or policies.
- Misrepresentation of responsibility and/or authority.
- Misrepresentation of PASS.
- Unresolved conflict of interests with Board responsibilities.
- Breach of confidentiality.
The bold line about your inability to represent your region is what we added to the bylaws in this revision. We also added a clause to section VII.3 allowing the Board to remove an officer. That clause is much less restrictive. It doesn’t require cause and only requires a simple majority.
The Board of Directors may remove any Officer whenever in their judgment the best interests of PASS shall be served by such removal.
There are numerous other small changes throughout the document.
Proxy voting. The laws around how members and Board members proxy votes are specific in Illinois law. PASS is an Illinois corporation and is subject to Illinois laws. We changed section IV.5 to come into compliance with those laws. Specifically this says you can only vote through a proxy if you have a written proxy through your authorized attorney.
English language proficiency. As we increase our global footprint we come across more members that aren’t native English speakers. The business of PASS is conducted in English and it’s important that our Board members speak English. If we get big enough to afford translators, we may be able to relax this but right now we need English language skills for effective Board members.
Committees. The language around committees in section IX is old and dated. Our lawyers advised us to clean it up. This section specifically applies to any committees that the Board may form outside of portfolios. We removed the term limits, quorum and vacancies clause. We don’t currently have any committees that this would apply to. The Nominating Committee is covered elsewhere in the bylaws.
Electronic Votes. The change allows the Board to vote via email but the results must be unanimous. This is to conform with Illinois state law.
Immediate Past President. There was no mechanism to fill the IPP role if an outgoing President chose not to participate. We changed section VII.8 to allow the Board to invite any previous President to fill the role by majority vote.
Nominations Committee. We’ve opened the language to allow for the transparent election of the Nominations Committee as outlined by the 2011 Election Review Committee.
Revocation of Charters. The language surrounding the revocation of charters for local groups was flagged by the lawyers. We have allowed for the local user group to make all necessary payment before considering returning of items to PASS if required.
Bylaw notification. We’ve spent countless meetings working on these bylaws with the intent to not open them again any time in the near future. Should the bylaws be opened again, we have included a clause ensuring that the PASS membership is involved. I’m proud that the Board has remained committed to transparency and accountability to members. This clause will require that same level of commitment in the future even when all the current Board members have rolled off.
I think that covers everything. I’d encourage you to look through the red-line document and see the changes. It’s helpful to look at the language that’s being removed and the language that’s being added.
I’m happy to answer any questions here or you can email them to email@example.com.
January 23, 2013 – Cross-posted from the PASS Business Analytics Conference Blog
By Chris Webb
One thing that’s always surprised me in the 15 years I’ve worked in the business intelligence industry is how little I’ve been involved in the analysis of the data I’ve been working with. Maybe this was because some of the business users I’ve worked with haven’t been very interested in analysing the data themselves. I deliver a nicely formatted report with a table and a few charts on it. They see whether their sales are going up or down, they get a warm fuzzy feeling (if sales are going up) or some harsh words from their boss (if sales are going down), and that’s it.
I’ve never been happy with this state of affairs, though. Many companies have ignored the potential of the data they’ve captured. What’s more, I feel I’ve been missing out as well – left out of the rewarding process of digging through terabytes of data to unearth some previously unknown insight that could transform my customer’s business.
Fortunately, times are changing. All the recent discussion around “big data” and “data science” is enticing more companies to do something useful with all the data they’ve piled up. This, in turn, presents a challenge and an opportunity to business intelligence professionals like me. The challenge is that now in addition to ensuring that the numbers are correct and the reports are pretty, I also have to be able to help my customers understand their data. I need to know about data visualisation techniques and understand why pie charts are a bad idea and why 3D graphs aren’t cool or clever. I need to know about data mining, how to calculate a forecast using linear regression, and that correlation is not the same thing as causation.
I’ll never know as much about these things as a statistician or a quant on Wall Street, but that’s OK because they’ll never know as much about the systems delivering data to them as I will. But I will need to know enough to be able to talk intelligently to people in these roles – and to be able to provide guidance to my customers when they don’t have skilled data analysts on their staff. This, of course, provides the opportunity for me to become more closely involved with how the business is run and, therefore, more valuable to it.
It’s not just BI pros who will need to move with the times. DBAs, developers, and anyone else in IT who works with data will also be affected by these changes. Having the skills to manage data or move it from place to place won’t be enough in the future; we’re all going to have to work together to add value to our data by helping people understand it. If IT as a whole isn’t willing to contribute to these business goals, it risks being relegated to a non-core function or even outsourced.
All of this is why I’m going to the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago this April. Business analytics is the next stage of evolution in getting the most value from the data we collect and manage, and I want my career to encompass that full life cycle. The BA Conference is a place where traditional BI pros like me and the analysts who work with the data that we deliver can come together and learn more about each other’s responsibilities and how we can all do our jobs better. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn new skills and grow professionally, and I hope you can join me in Chicago and on that continuing journey.