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Taking Business Analytics to the Next Level

By Bill Graziano
PASS President

Welcome to an incredible time of learning and networking! I’m so excited you could join us at the inaugural PASS Business Analytics Conference to connect with fellow analytics pros, share your experiences, and learn more about the power of data to transform business. Whether you’re a business analyst, data scientist, or BI/BA architect or practitioner, if your life revolves around data, you’re in the right place.

It’s an exhilarating time for data professionals as more and more organizations turn to data-driven insights to stay ahead in today’s competitive marketplace. But staying up to speed in this rapidly changing world of data can be a challenge. How can Big Data, predictive analytics, data visualization, Hadoop, and even the new version of Excel help your organization get the most from its data? The BA Conference is here to help.

Organized by data professionals for data professionals, the BA Conference features more than 70 real-world sessions by 85 top industry experts on today’s hottest analytics topics. With five comprehensive topic tracks, your biggest problem over the next 2 days may be figuring out how to fit in all the presentations on your must-see list. And if you just can’t get to them all, make sure you stop by the registration desk and order the session recordings.

In addition to the amazing sessions lineup, we’re thrilled to bring you thought-leading keynotes by Microsoft BI’s Kamal Hathi and Amir Netz and award-winning economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt. I encourage you to take time to talk with our sponsors and exhibitors in the Expo Hall and check out the latest tools and solutions for enriching and simplifying your life in analytics. Then, make sure you visit our Community Zone to explore the many ways you can stay involved in the business analytics community year-round.

Whether at the Welcome Reception, during meals, in the hallways between sessions, or after hours as you enjoy beautiful downtown Chicago, please take full advantage of your time here to connect with the best and brightest minds from around the world of business intelligence and analytics and celebrate the power of data to make a difference.

Together, we can learn to make better data-driven decisions and take our companies to the next level.

Why I Am Attending PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago

Cross-posted from BI with an accent...
By Rafael Salas

The PASS BA Conference is less than 3 weeks away, and if you are still pondering whether to attend, let me share with you a few good reasons – my reasons, of course – to attend.

  1. Catching Up. The last couple of years, the analytics and BI landscape has experienced dramatic changes as new technologies make their way in, and the heavy buzzword marketing machinery from vendors makes it harder to separate the wheat from the shaft. You can use this conference to see if Big Data is really for you, or to get your head around advanced data analytics, and perhaps to find out if data science is real or just marketing fiction.
  2. Agenda & Speakers. The lineup of speakers is great, and the topics are well balanced across 5 different tracks that promise to deliver first-hand, real-world experiences: Big Data, Advanced Analytics, Data Visualization, Information Delivery and Collaboration, and Strategy and Architecture.
  3. Networking. Yes, the usual but important part we tend to miss when we go to conferences. Being around 1000s of professionals with similar challenges and interests is a unique opportunity to get connected and learn how others are doing it.

I will be one of the PASS networking ambassadors for Thursday's evening event and will be hanging out at either the Experience Lounge or the Microsoft Kiosk, so if you decide to attend,  please make sure to stop by and say "Hi."

This is a 2-day conference plus a pre-conference day. Registrations are still open, and you can get $200 off the registration fee by using  code BAC945MVP.

Looking for Big Data Value in All the Wrong Places

Cross-posted from the SQL Server Blog's PASS BAC Preview Series
by Hyoun Park

When Johnny Lee wrote his country classic, Looking for Love (In All The Wrong Places), he wrote with such heart, such pain, and such meaning that you just knew that he was writing about the challenge of creating a business plan for Big Data. For those of you who know the song, you might have missed this detail because you were so caught up in the story. Or perhaps maybe the soothing melody just took you away. But in any case, even a cursory understanding of the lyrics makes it clear that this song was meant to provide guidance to the enterprise analysts and project managers trying to figure out why Big Data is going to help them out.

Just think of the first line, "Well, I spent a lifetime looking for you/Singles bars and good time lovers were never true"

Who hasn't spent a lifetime thinking about how data could help their organization? But the challenges of integrating Big Data into sales, marketing, service, product development, HR, operations, and manufacturing were just too challenging. You could never settle on the correct solution. And when you chose that simple SaaS solution for a one-time need, it never quite worked out the way you expected.

If only there were a roadmap for figuring out how and where to begin in a cost-effective manner. And a way to prioritize how to set a realistic business goal for analytics. And it didn't take a lifetime to find...

"Playin' a fool's game hoping to win/And telling those sweet lies and losing again"

Amen to that. How many promises were analytics supposed to solve? When these analyst firms start throwing around claims like "Analytics pays back $10.66 for every dollar spent," people start to think that kind of return is possible and expected. (OK, I may be guilty for that last statistic.)

But how do you get to that kind of return? How do you play the game of analytics so that this is a realistic business return and not just a sweet lie you tell to your CIO before finding that those returns aren't happening after all?

"I was looking for love in all the wrong places/Looking for love in too many faces/Searching their eyes looking for traces of/What I'm dreaming of"

The vendor landscape for Big Data analytics and data management is enormous. There are a few short lists and short cuts for general analytics deployments, but there are so many specialized tools and new vendors that it is hard to keep up with them. It would be a lot easier if there was a simple way to weed out the contenders from the pretenders without pulling out a full-fledged RfX.

"Hoping to find a friend and a lover/I'll bless the day I discover/another heart ,looking for love."

Somewhere out there is that One True Pairing for your company: Big Data that has the functionality that the IT office wants, the usability that the line-of-business wants, the cost structure that the CFO wants, the support that service and help desk personnel want; and the agility and scalability buzzwords that your executives keep going off about. Should all of these be equally as important? Or are there certain areas where you can skimp on your analytics investment so that you can focus on the areas that truly matter?

"And I was alone then, no love in site/I did everything I could to get me through the night/I don't know where it started or where it might end/I'd turn to a stranger just like a friend."

When you're tasked with building the business case, it sure feels lonely. And you do go out to anyone in Project Management or IT land who has done this before to get some advice. Do I use TCO or ROI and how do I do that without leaving anything out? Am I just looking for some basic business requirements? Will I ever finish this business case or are we just going to end up taking a blind leap into building a data warehouse or implementing a Big Data appliance? Is this going to end up being an all-nighter to figure all this out? Is SQL Server enough or is it time for Hadoop?

"Then you came a-knocking at my heart's door/You're everything I been looking for"

That's the goal, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's probably not going to be as easy as having your analytics solution and all of the value propositions fall in your lap. But there are a number of basic findings that can help you to estimate some of the value propositions you're looking for, such as the keys to maximizing potential ROI, the best way to measure indirect benefits, the four stages of the Analytic Enterprise, the five key components of analytic benefits that Nucleus has identified through over 60 case studies, and attributes that provided Big Data users with an average incremental 241 percent ROI over their existing analytics efforts.

If, like Johnny Lee, you've been trying to build the business case for Big Data in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places, you should stop by my session at the PASS Business Analytics Conference on April 11th so I can help you find everything you've been looking for in a Big Data business case.

Learn more from Hyoun at his PASS BA Conference session, "Building the Business Case for Big Data."  

 

PASS Business Analytics Conference — Why Am I Presenting There?

Cross-posted from The SQL Herald
By Joey D’Antoni

The new PASS Business Analytics Conference is a new concept for PASS — we’ve seen Business Intelligence (BI) User Groups and even SQLSaturdays dedicated to this subset of PASS, but a whole conference? What is driving this demand? I can’t explain the whole industry, but I can at least provide some perspective from what I see in my window.

I don’t intend to start a debate between relational databases and NoSQL datastores — that’s a religious war I have no intention of jumping into. I’m also not going to abuse the terms "big data" and "data" in combination with some body of water (data pond, data lake, data ocean, etc. — seriously, who comes up with this stuff?). What I will talk about is how a relational database isn’t always the right answer for every data set, and how relational databases from major vendors (especially with enough cores to do serious analytic workloads) are REALLY EXPENSIVE. So, especially since a lot of my expertise is in Infrastructure-based solutions, how did I end up presenting at BaCON?

My organization sees the changing landscape of data — and we generate and save TONS of data. We’re not always choosing the best path for our architecture. So given I’m on the architectural team, I started investigating some alternative solutions like Hadoop and Hive for less structured non-transactional data. To make it easy to learn this stuff, it helped to have a use case, where I could take it from start to finish. I’m not by any means an expert in data analysis, but I am fortunate to be presenting with a great friend who is — Stacia Misner (b|t). So what are we going talk about at BaCON?

Our data set represents about a week’s worth of set-top-box data from the largest cable provider in the US. We are going to discuss our data source and how we used Hadoop and then Hive to allow us to perform multiple types of analysis on the data in an extremely nimble fashion. From there, using Power View and some other tools, we see the impacts of various events on metrics such as viewer engagement and channel preferences.

For those of you who are SQL Server and/or Oracle professionals — this is a brave new world, but think of it like learning a new version of something. You are building on an existing skill set — you already do tons of data analysis in your job. This is just another step in the process, and it will be part the skill set of the 21st century data professional.

Presenting at PASS Business Analytics Conference Chicago, IL, April 10-12

Cross-posted from MarkTab Data Mining
By Mark Tabladillo

I will be presenting a one-day pre-conference and a regular breakout session at the inaugural PASS Business Analytics Conference April 10-12 in Chicago, IL. This large conference requires paid registration. This post has details about the one-day pre-conference on April 10 and the regular conference session. Also, I provide a promotional code for a US$200 registration discount. However, first I will provide a general case for business analytics learning.

Motivation
This term “business analytics” is increasingly being used to emphasize the need for scientific modeling and differentiate with the more common (but still important term) “business intelligence.” I delivered the inaugural session for the PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter (online) with a presentation titled “A Case for Business Analytics Learning.” Thoughts I have in that slide deck support reasons why this conference contributes to your own and your organization’s learning about scientific modeling and analytics.

Pre-Conference Session: A Best Practices Cookbook for Data Mining
I am presenting this one-day pre-conference on April 10 with Artus Krohn-Grimberghe, who is a data mining consultant and faculty member living in Germany. Here is the abstract:

Data mining increasingly fascinates business people and information technology professionals alike, with the promise of finding meaningful patterns, relationships, and opportunities in our continuously growing volumes of data. There are tried and tested best practices you can follow to begin and improve your data mining efforts. You’re invited to a full-day data mining seminar with Mark Tabladillo and Artus Krohn-Grimberghe to see these best practices in action. Aimed at the beginning to intermediate data scientist, this pre-conference workshop builds on Mark and Artus’ experience in teaching university students and advising industry clients. Following a cookbook theme for their presentation, they will be explaining and demonstrating their best practices framework by cooking through a data science example from beginning to end, covering these topics:

  • How to avoid mythology while establishing a data science investigation
  • How to apply the best artistry in data cleansing and transformation (shaping)
  • How to apply best practices for machine learning algorithms
  • How to communicate your data mining story within and beyond your organization

The presenters have designed specific breaks during the workshop where you can discuss and interact with them and other attendees. Note that these best practices transcend Microsoft SQL Server Data Mining, applying equally to other software, such as Matlab, Octave, R, SAS, SPSS, and Weka. After this workshop, you and your data science team will have the knowledge and best practices to approach small to large data mining challenges with confidence.

Regular Breakout Session: Data Analysis with R and Julia
R is a free, open-source environment for statistical analysis and graphing. In its almost 20 years of existence, R has remained popular in both academic and business environments. The newer Julia is a high-level, high-performance dynamic programming language for technical computing, with syntax that is familiar to users of other technical computing environments. This session outlines functional and performance differences between these two software packages. You’ll see demonstrations of best tips for integrating this software with Windows and walk away with guidelines for working with commercial software.

Promotional Discount
The code BAC698MVP will enable you to receive a US$200 discount from the conference registration fee (attendees who’ve already registered cannot retroactively use the discount code). You can find more information about this conference at http://passbaconference.com/ and register here.

Channel 9: Why You Need to Be at the PASS BA Conference

Tune in to today's Channel 9 broadcast as Blain Barton welcomes PASS's Thomas LaRock and Microsoft's Jennifer Moser, Cindy Gross, and Chuck Heinzelman to talk about the upcoming PASS Business Analytics Conference.

The ensemble discusses why the BA Conference is a can't-miss event if your world revolves around data, what you’ll get out of the conference, and how it is  different from any other BI, analytics, or database event in the data community today. Plus, Jennifer announces a late-breaking session addition featuring Yahoo! and how it built one of the world’s largest SQL Server Analysis Services cubes at 24TB.

Haven't registered yet? Get the best rate when you sign up by March 15 - register today!
 

Business Analytics and PASS: Yes, Please!

Excerpt cross-posted from Mark V SQL
By Mark Vaillancourt

Over the past few years, I have been truly amazed at the power of business analytics. I know that part of that is due to my increased exposure to it through client projects. But it seems clear to me that the understanding of what analytics brings to the table has grown as well. One example of the rising prominence of analytics is the fact that IBM is paying out marketing dollars on prime-time commercials about it. From my perspective, that is neither insignificant nor a coincidence.

More and more companies are realizing their data isn’t some static asset that they should just stick onto disks like people used to hide money under their mattresses. It has value far beyond just keeping accounts up-to-date or being able to show many customers bought Jiffy Pop last week. That is information. And that is certainly important. But analytics takes us to another level entirely.

A client recently told me that his company has gotten really good at measuring operational metrics. Data can help you do that. But analytics can help you determine if you are measuring the rights ones in the first place. Suppose your company can tell the efficiency of Process XYZ with amazing precision, and managers all over the company spend a lot of time, both in and out of the office, worrying about how it will fluctuate. Quality business analytics could help you show them how much of an impact Process XYZ actually has on company success. You may end up lowering the company’s overall healthcare costs by preventing a few ulcers.

I am actually just finishing an SSAS 2012 Tabular Model for the client above in the next couple weeks. It is the first business analytics project in his company. It is just a Proof of Concept, and it is not yet complete, but he keeps telling me how valuable it has already been. It is allowing him to correlate data points he never could before. While it is a short project, and the team is just me and a part time PM, I am trying to keep it in the Agile vein and releasing new versions to him every few days or so with new fields, new measures, etc. Within about 5 minutes after I made the very first release, he told me that he had been able to prove a theory about what was causing a particular business pain, a pain that went up to the highest levels of his company. My point with this is that analytics can often help us see things from different angles or perspectives that are otherwise impossible.

I just can’t wait to get this into the hands of more people in the company. Then we will really see what, I think, is the greatest benefit that business analytics provides: Questions. You read that right. Not answers. Questions. Answers are great, and analytics can provide those. But questions are the gems. Truly successful business analytics will lead you to the questions you didn’t know to ask.

If you work in a company that has data, then you work in a company that is likely to benefit from business analytics. We, as a global community, are producing and consuming ever increasing volumes of data and at increasing speeds. Analytics is no flash in the pan; it is here to stay, and the appetite for it will only get larger. The sooner you start learning about it, the better. The PASS Business Analytics Conference is an excellent place to start. You can register here. Your career is worth the investment. Who knows? Maybe you could end up leading your company (and yourself) into an era of better insight and success than ever before.

Note: Join Mark and co-presenter Doug Lane at the PASS BA Conference for Hailing Frequencies: Analysis Services Terms and Concepts – a Star Trek-themed introduction to the terminology and ideas important for business analytics projects using SQL Server Analysis Services.

Musings on a BI Career: Past and Future

Excerpt cross-posted from DataInspirations.com
by Stacia Misner

I wasn’t going to do it. The whole recap of the year just retired. The goal-setting of the year just arrived. But I did find myself having to plan a few things – plan for customer visits and activities, plan travel for upcoming events, plan time to prepare content for those events, and so on. And as I thought about those plans, I couldn’t help but ponder where I’ve been and where I’m going, and thus this post was born. …

Accidental Business Intelligence? Not Really
I always think of my career in BI as accidental, although taking a longer view I realize that it really wasn’t. In February 2011, I told my story to Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) as part of his SQLPeople series of interviews. There are some karmic aspects to that story that I would never put in print, but I’d be happy to tell you in person someday if you ask nicely.

In that story, I mention working with Lotus Notes. In the late 1990s, I had this feeling that using technology as a knowledge management tool was an attainable goal and put a lot of energy into learning how that should happen. But then I got deflected into business intelligence, which turned into a fascinating and rewarding career. But all along, I had this nagging feeling that BI was just part of the story. I wasn’t satisfied with just delivering on reporting and analysis. As important as that is, I believed additional transformation in the way we work with data and with each other was necessary in order for BI to fulfill its promise.

Collaborative BI
I’ll admit that in the beginning, I wasn’t very impressed with SharePoint – I believe it was SharePoint 2003 when I was first introduced to it. I had been working with Lotus Notes long before that time and felt that it could run circles around that release of SharePoint. Full disclosure – I haven’t looked back at Lotus Notes since I left it, so I have no idea of its capabilities today. But starting with SharePoint 2007, I started thinking beyond the traditional dashboard compilation of scorecards and reports. I was thinking about unstructured data to support the structured and would mention it in my presentations and classes. Then with SharePoint 2010, I started thinking about the collaborative and social aspects and started putting these pieces together with ideas that I had been nurturing since the late 1990s. And so, a presentation was born for a webinar, a few SQLSaturdays, and continues to evolve as I gear up for the PASS Business Analytics Conference in April 2013. Because an hour presentation only sets the stage for some of my ideas, I have set up a Collaborative BI resource page that will grow as I commit these ideas to writing.

Big Data
Meanwhile, the buzz around Big Data became louder in 2012. Now I’ve been around a few years, and I’ve seen buzz come and go. I had plenty to keep myself busy meanwhile during 2012 and just watched and waited to see what would happen. And then things started to get interesting. So much so that it’s time to start talking about it. Consequently, I am working on presentations on this topic throughout the year (keep an eye on Upcoming Events for online and in-person events), including a session at the PASS Business Analytics Conference on Power View and Hadoop in collaboration with Joey D’Antoni (blog | twitter). And that’s just the beginning. I plan to add another resource page for my thoughts on BI and Big Data. Watch for more blog posts and presentations.

When I think back to my “accidental” discovery of BI and the ideas we were throwing around at the time, I realize we were a bit ahead of our time. What we needed at that company to achieve those big ideas was Big Data – we just didn’t call it that then. We started on a much smaller scale and focused on data warehousing and reporting and analysis tools, and we were barely ready for that then. I work with customers today who are still barely ready for that.

Data Science
But now in the era of Big Data and data science, I start thinking about those big ideas again and how much more attainable they are today, 14 years after I started down this path. The BI world is poised for the biggest change I’ve seen in my career. While I cannot share the specifics of what we were thinking about in my R&D days, I can try to explain how I see the difference between BI as we traditionally think of it and where data science can take us.

BI helps us understand what happened or what is happening now, using established processes and tools. Although BI can scale quite dramatically, scale introduces some complexities that in some ways limits the types of reporting and analysis that we can do. Data mining is often included in a discussion of BI technologies, but its use has not been very prevalent in my client base. Data mining can not only be used to explore data to help us understand what happened, but can also be used to predict what might happen. And this is where we see data science come into play now. Data science can help us look forward and to predict an outcome or a correlation. It incorporates many techniques that are common to data mining, but it can go beyond those techniques as well. We can work with larger data sets than ever before because we can store data more cheaply than ever before and we have better tools for dealing with these larger data sets using commodity hardware.

Is the Data Warehouse Dead?
No, I don’t think so. At least not completely. There’s still a place for operational and mission-critical information that’s been consolidated, cleansed, and corporately-sanctioned as truth. I don’t really care what we call that information source – a data warehouse, a data mart, whatever. We need access to that type of information because that’s how we decide what to do today to achieve our goals, respond to specific problems, or show the board (or the world) how we’re doing as a business. The new potential with Big Data and data science is the opportunity to explore data in ways never before possible. We don’t know what the opportunity or business value in that data might be until we examine it in new ways or combine it with other types of data – data that was captured by others and shared publicly is just one example. Creativity is key. But like traditional BI, in my mind, it’s all useless unless we can DO something with that information. And of course, we need to share and collaborate!

What do you think? Is BI as we know it going to die or thrive in this brave new world of big data? I look forward to delving more into these topics more in future posts. I hope you do, too!
 

MICROSOFT’S KAMAL HATHI AND AMIR NETZ TO KEYNOTE DAY 1 OF THE PASS BA CONFERENCE

Kamal Hathi, Director of Program Management for BI, and Technical Fellow Amir Netz will deliver a joint keynote on Day 1 of the PASS Business Analytics Conference. Join these top minds in the Business Analytics space as they share insights on the development, design and delivery of Business Intelligence and Big Data technologies, including PowerPivot, Power View, SharePoint, and SQL Server Reporting and Analysis Services.

A founding member of Microsoft’s Business Intelligence platform Kamal Hathi has served in a variety of engineering management roles in various product groups and is responsible for the overall strategy for BI technologies.

A leading world expert in BI and Business Analytics technology and a Chief Designer of SQL Server, Amir Netz is focused on the democratization of BI through end-user self-service enablement using Microsoft Office, SharePoint and SQL Server.

Kamal and Amir join a speaker line up of over 60 Microsoft and industry experts alongside award-winning economist and Day 2 Keynote Dr. Steven Levitt. Register today to reserve your opportunity to hear from the best in the industry!

Why Attend? Check Out Our Full Program and This Letter to Your Boss

We’re excited to announce the full program for the PASS Business Analytics Conference, with over 60 sessions by top Microsoft and community experts on the hottest topics around data discovery, data exploration and visualization, predictive analytics, content management and architecture, collaboration, information strategies, and more.

From learning best practices and developing new connections with peers and experts to walking away with a deeper and broader understanding of Microsoft’s collaborative BA platform – Excel, SharePoint, Azure, Hadoop, Parallel Data Warehouse, and SQL Server – check out the top reasons you need to attend the BA Conference. Need help convincing your boss? To help you get buy-in from your manager, we’ve put together a letter you can customize with the top reasons your business will benefit from your attendance.

And remember that you can save $200 when you register by Friday, Jan. 25.

To all those who’ve already registered, thanks for your support and let’s make some noise! Spread the news and let your colleagues know you’ll be attending the analytics event of the year. Show off the conference attendee badge, Twibbon, signature, and banners on your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages and on your emails, blogs, and websites. And we’ll see you in Chicago!
 

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