PASS BA Conference Blog


Category: Conference Sessions

PASS BA Conference: Another First

The inaugural PASS Business Analytics Conference made its mark on Chicago and the world of business intelligence and analytics April 10-12, featuring 1,150+ registrations and almost 900 attendees from across 26 countries. Thanks to all our attendees, speakers, volunteers, sponsors, and organizers for making the event such a success!

From amazing keynotes by Microsoft's Kamal Hathi and Amir Netz (watch the streaming replay now) and Freakonomics author Dr. Steven Levitt, to over 60 sessions by 85 of the BI/BA industry’s top experts and a Community Appreciation Party at Lucky Strike, the event delivered world-class training and nonstop networking opportunities. Many attendees also spent a day in one of the BA Conference’s five pre-conference sessions or took advantage of the co-located BigDataCamp meet-up before the Welcome Reception.

Check out all the highlights – including Microsoft’s public preview announcement of 3D mapping tool Project codename “GeoFlow” for Excel - in our community blog post roundups and on our Facebook photostream.

If you missed the conference or just didn’t get to all the sessions you wanted to, you can own the full set of PASS BA Conference session recordings on USB flash drive, including 60+ conference sessions and the Microsoft keynote. Order yours today!

More Business Analytics
Join Microsoft’s Roger Barga, who wasn’t able to make the PASS BA Conference due to weather, for a webinar presentation of “The Unrealized Power of Data,” Thursday, April 25, at noon ET – hosted by the PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter.

Microsoft Keynote Takes Music Tour of PowerPivot, Power View, Data Explorer, and Project “GeoFlow”

In a high-energy Day 1 PASS Business Analytics Conference keynote that had attendees laughing throughout, Microsoft BI’s Kamal Hathi and Amir Netz analyzed the Billboard charts and the effects of American Idol twitter activity using Excel 2013’s PowerPivot, Power View, and Data Explorer - and showed off the new public preview of Project codename GeoFlow on an 80-inch Perceptive Pixel touch-screen display.

Focusing on simplicity, Amir said Microsoft wants to do with BI what "PowerPoint did to the slide projector,” making business intelligence cheaper, faster, and easier. BI needs to be something that everyone can use, he added: BI should stand for "Basic Intelligence.”

The opening keynote also included Dell Software Group’s Matt Wolken talking about the promise of analytics and the opportunity for data pros to use analytics to help drive revenue in their organization. “BI is the fastest growing enterprise application,” he noted, adding that companies implementing BI/BA solutions are 13% more profitable that their competitors.

PASS President Bill Graziano led off with a warm welcome to almost 900 attendees and a call for data professionals to come together to connect, share, and learn beyond the BA Conference. “We are asked on a daily basis to do more with data and within our roles as data professionals,” he said. “There’s a real need for knowledge and support for this growing field of business analytics. As a community of professionals, experts, and partners, we can support and learn from each other as the world of data changes around us.”

Below, check out our Day 1 press release and keynote recaps and articles from press and bloggers (updated as new posts go up) and see how to get the preview of the GeoFlow 3D geographical data visualization add-in for Excel. And tune in to the always entertaining and informative #passbac Twitter stream for the latest news and views.

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.

Exciting Times for Business Analytics

Cross-posted from the SQL Server Blog's PASS BAC Preview Series
By Marco Russo

We live in exciting times from the point of view of data analysis. Nowadays, the problem is no longer how to find the raw data, but how to handle the pressure of data coming in from so many places. At the end of the day, the goal is always the same, extracting useful knowledge from data. This has been the goal of Business Intelligence (BI) since 1958, when Hans Peter Luhn used this term for the first time. In more than 50 years, the technology evolved, increasing the manageable amount of data and lowering the related costs. However, it always required professionals who were able to create and refresh the data model, empowering end users with canned reports and data navigation tools. A common issue in this process was the gap between people who knew the business and BI developers. In the best case, this gap produced long development times. In the worst case, it led to project failure.

Today, this gap can be drastically reduced. Thanks to Self-Service BI products, if you know your business, you can create a data model without having to ask for a BI professional consultancy. However, a common mistake is thinking that these new technologies are meant to kill the traditional data warehouse approach, i.e. the Corporate BI. In reality, self-service BI is an opportunity to improve the ROI of a properly built data warehouse, even if an optimal architecture might require some adaptation to the data warehouse schema, in order to simplify and optimize the extraction of data for self-service BI purposes.

When we use the term Business Analytics we refer to the exploration and investigation of data. This requires the usage of statistical methods and data visualization, and oftentimes needs adapting the data model. The PASS Business Analytics Conference (PASS BAC) in Chicago this April is the right place to go to learn more about tools, methodology and best practices in the Business Analytics area.

I will speak at the PASS BAC in two sessions about the state of the art in self-service BI:

  • In the session Self-Service Data Modeling, I discuss the challenges of creating a proper data model by using Excel 2013 and PowerPivot. Thanks to the DAX language, it is possible to apply few transformations to the raw data. However, preliminary data preparation might be necessary and users that do not have a knowledge of ETL and SQL need other tools and techniques to adapt their raw data to the required model. I will show how to solve these issues in common scenarios, using tools designed for end users and not for BI developers.
  • The second session, Modern Data Warehousing Strategy, is about changes in the Data Warehouse architecture and modeling required to face the challenges of the self-service approach and the new demand caused by Big Data technologies such as Hadoop (HDInsight). A good data warehouse is still the optimal starting point for any analysis, but we need to update our strategy for data warehouse implementation to fit the requirements of this new era. What kind of data modeling should we use for the data warehouse? What is the role of data marts? Do technologies such as PowerPivot or Analysis Services Tabular affect the way we should model our data? Do columnstore indexes remove the need for an analytical server like Analysis Services? We will discuss these and other questions, offering an updated approach to the data warehouse modeling methodology.

Look at the many other sessions available in the program and join us in Chicago at the PASS Business Analytics Conference!

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.

McDowell Interview: PASS Business Analytics Conference, Microsoft Data Mining

Excerpt cross-posted from KDnuggets
By Gregory Piatetsky

I interviewed Douglas McDowell about the PASS Business Analytics Conference, SQL Server, Microsoft Data Mining, less known but useful features of SQL, NodeXL, Big Data and more.

Douglas McDowell is the CEO of North America for SolidQ ( He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for SQL Server and serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS). He is an author and contributing editor for SQL Server Magazine.

I spoke to Douglas ahead of the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago April 10-12. (Note: KDnuggets readers can save $150 when you register for the PASS BA Conference by using the BAC13KDN discount code.)

GP: What is the  PASS Business Analytics Conference?
McD: It's a very exciting time for data professionals as more and more organizations turn to data-driven insights to stay ahead in today's competitive marketplace. Staying up to speed in this constantly changing world of data can be a challenge - that's where the PASS Business Analytics Conference fits in.

The conference was established to meet the needs of a growing Business Analytics community affiliated with Microsoft technologies such as Excel, SharePoint, SQL Server, Parallel Data Warehouse, Azure, Hadoop and more. The event is geared towards data and business analysts, data scientists, architects, and business analytics/business intelligence professionals and covers a wide range of information from data exploration and visualization, predictive analytics, content management and architecture, information strategies, and much more.

GP: What is the role of SQL Server in the Microsoft eco-system?
As a partner and insider I have listened to Microsoft's vernacular shift from "SQL Server" to "Data Platform" and other similar terms. Some might think it a de-prioritization of SQL Server, but that would be a mistake. Microsoft is focused on the exploding business analytics (BA) needs of clients and understands it requires a complete toolbox of complementing technologies to deliver it all. As far as I can see, SQL Server is and will be a core component to BA for Microsoft going forward. Whether it be in the cloud or on-premise, SQL Server will hold critical features and therefore the Microsoft licensing model for core BA functionality. I see SQL Server getting more robust and more integrated with the rest of the Microsoft BA platform (since SQL Server will not and should not contain everything). ...

Read the full interview

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."  


From the BI/BA Blogosphere: March 8 Update

Got 5 minutes? Take a reading break with these blog posts from around the world of business intelligence and data analytics:

Don’t Miss a Thing at the BA Conference – Get the Session Recordings

Can’t possibly attend all the sessions on your PASS Business Analytics Conference must-see list? You can catch those you miss and relive your favorites by ordering the session recordings at the special pre-event attendee rate of $295*.

Including over 60 breakout sessions across five comprehensive topic tracks – plus the Microsoft keynote – the session recordings come on a convenient USB flash drive. Not only are the recordings a valuable resource as you continue your training throughout the year, but they are a great way to share the conference with your teammates.

Don’t miss a thing – make sure you add the recordings as you go through the registration process. Or if you’ve already registered, you can order them today by contacting Shannon Cunningham via email or phone (1-888-714-5544 / 1-303-530-4879) to update your registration record.

Hurry! The pre-event attendee pricing ends Friday, April 12, at 3pm Central Time.

* Plus $15 shipping and handling in the US/Canada; $25 international. Limit 1 USB per attendee at the attendee price. Note: PASS BA Conference presentations are the property of PASS and its presenters. Replication of any form of the drive, content, or presentations contained within is strictly prohibited.

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.

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