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See You in Chicago

Cross-posted from Dirty Reads
By Rod Colledge

The SQL Server Community, specifically PASS, has provided me with enormous opportunities for professional growth, and so I always look to give back in whatever way I can. In the last 5 years, my focus has been exclusively on Business Intelligence, so when I heard about the PASS Business Analytics Conference being held in April in Chicago, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. I submitted an abstract and was selected to speak, so in April, I’ll be making the 18-hour trip to Chicago with one of my StrataDB colleagues, Mr PopBI, aka Peter O’Gorman.
 
What immediately struck me about the conference is that it uses the phrase “Business Analytics” instead of “Business Intelligence.” “Business Intelligence” is used almost universally these days as a blanket phrase for all sorts of things. So I did some research on the difference between the two terms. "Intelligence" is a synonym for “aptitude,” “clever,” and “brain power" – all of which are fairly generic terms that could really mean whatever you want them to mean. “Analytics,” on the other hand, is a synonym for “investigation,” “scrutiny,” and “breakdown,” which I believe to be much more of a descriptive term for the work we as BI professionals are engaged in.
 
Before you think I’ve set off on a self-indulgent grammar excursion, this is a really important distinction, because what we as BI professionals do, or what we should do, is provide business users with a platform for information discovery – Investigation, Scrutiny, and Breakdown. It’s really important to understand that the sole reason we exist as IT professionals is not just to make lots of money and drink beer, but to support the business users. At the end of the day, they’re the reason why we’re here, and if we forget that, they’ll forget about us. So with this in mind, my session, Self-Service Business Analytics in 2013, is about how we as IT professionals can assist the business using the Microsoft BI platform.

Including the term “Self-Service” in my title was always going to open me up to criticism from my colleagues. Take this blog post for example, Self-Service Business Intelligence: It’s Wrong, Bad and Shouldn’t be Anyone’s Goal. Wow, that’s a broad, sweeping statement! Read the post, however, and the core point is that the business cannot (effectively) perform BI without IT professionals, but the reverse is also true: IT professionals cannot perform BI without the business. This is something that Microsoft has long recognised. Effective BI systems are those that combine the traditional strengths of Corporate BI (Data Quality, Security, Governance, and Performance) with the flexibility and agility of Self-Service BI. Microsoft’s term for this is Managed Self-Service BI.
 
My session will explore the awesome benefits of Managed Self-Service BI – how we, as IT professionals, can work with the business to achieve truly meaningful business outcomes. It is, after all, the whole reason for our existence.

If you’re a BI professional or a business user with a keen interest in analytics, this is the conference to attend in 2013. I’m really pumped about this one, and I’d love to see you there – I might even shout you an (Australian) beer!

What’s on My BA Conference List?

Cross-posted from Amy Lewis' blog
By Amy Lewis

With April just around the corner, I’m growing more excited about the PASS Business Analytics (BA) Conference by the day! As a business intelligence professional and confessed data geek, I feel this event has been tailor-made for me. Not only am I looking forward to sessions that will help me find the best approaches to information delivery, but I’m also focused on how to gain more insight from the vast amounts of data floating around my company and available through other channels.

I’ve been involved in the BI community for many years, both as a BI professional and as a leader of the PASS Business Intelligence Virtual Chapter. I’ve been “deep in the weeds” with Integration Services, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services. And now with mobile technology exploding and Big Data getting ever bigger, I have even more “to-learns” to help my company get the most from its data.

So as I plan my schedule, I’m searching the lineup of 60+ amazing sessions looking for those geared toward BI pros looking to gain more insight from Big Data as well as those that can show me how to visually present and consume all this data at my fingertips (on my new Windows Phone :). Here are some sessions on my list:

I’ll be using the conference Schedule Builder to create my personal itinerary and will share it on my blog soon. And because I’m sure I won’t be able to fit in all the great sessions I want to see, I’ll be getting the session recordings to catch those that I miss, review my favorites, and share the event with my team members.

As an extra bonus, I’m staying in Chicago for SQLSaturday #211 the day after the BA Conference. With 40 additional top-notch sessions to choose from, I’ll get even more valuable training – for free! (Note: There is a $10 lunch fee.)

If that wasn’t enough to look forward to, the trip is also a chance for this Midwest girl to “come home” and take a quick side trip to my alma mater, Purdue University, only 2 hours from Chicago. Boiler up!

PASS BA Conference: Discount and “Hangout” Code

Cross-posted from powerpivot(pro)
By Rob Collie

April in Chicago beats April in Paris this year. Why? Because this April in Chicago is the PASS Business Analytics Conference featuring Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) and yeah, gridheads like me too.

I want you to join me there. PASS has arranged for me to share with you a discount code that you can use when registering for the event. The code is BAC858BL, and it will entitle you to two things:

  1. First, you get $200 off the regular conference price.
  2. Second, you get to spend time with me, Karen Lopez (@datachick), Lara Rubbelke (@SQLGal), and Thomas LaRock (@SQLRockstar) and pick our brains about data, analytics, business, and whatever else you want to talk about. I think this takes the form of a breakfast (commonly referred to as First Coffee) but am still awaiting the details.

Those of us that live and breathe data for a living – particularly those of us who tease insight out of data – are finally going to have a place to connect, share, and learn from one another. The “accidental architect” that Thomas refers to on his blog is a role that resonates with me as well, I’ve seen that progression first hand many times over – most Excel Pros are “accidental” Excel Pros for instance.

You don’t “get there” without understanding all the tools and options available. You don’t get there without leaving your desk and talking with others, sharing experiences, and learning – unless you can get other people to come to your desk, of course, which is pure magic and rarely achieved.

For many folks that journey gets a big jumpstart this April in Chicago. I can’t wait to be there to help get this party started quickly, as C&C once said.

Some Sessions that Caught My Eye…
In response to my last post on this topic, a reader asked me for a list of interesting/relevant sessions to attend. Since the reader is an Excel Pro, I explicitly filtered out all of the backend stuff (including most of the Hadoop-style Big Data sessions). 

Here is the list, and it’s a good one. I rarely find half this many sessions to attend at a conference.

60-Minute Demo: Microsoft BI Tools on SAP Data Excel Charting Tips
Advanced Dashboards Using Excel, Excel Services, and PerformancePoint From Data to Insight – Views from Microsoft Finance
Advancing Analytics at Microsoft Advertising GeoSpatial Analytics Using Microsoft BI
Analytics for Business Strategy Make Cloud BI Work for You
Big Data Analytics with Excel 2013 Office as Your BI Platform
Business Intelligence on Mobile Devices Sports Analytics: Big Data in the Big Time
Drab to Dynamite! Managed Self-Service BI Using Real-World Data SQL Server Predictive Analytics: Customer Stories
Data Visualization with Power View and the Tabular Model The ABCs of Scoring: Why, How, and Getting a Good Grade
Data Discovery and Transformation Experiences for Excel and PowerPivot The Essential 8: Narrative Reporting Techniques
Data Analysis with R and Julia  

 

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!
 

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!
 

Dr. Steven Levitt Keynoting at the PASS BA Conference

We’re thrilled to announce that award-winning economist Dr. Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics and its sequel SuperFreakonomics, will be delivering the Day 2 keynote at the PASS Business Analytics Conference. 

 
Data tells important stories – a message Dr. Levitt has spread throughout the worlds of economics, business, and research. A tenured professor in the University of Chicago's economics department, Dr. Levitt received the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, given to the country's best economist under 40.
 
When his Freakonomics – co-written with Stephen Dubner – hit the shelves in 2005, it became an instant cultural phenomenon, spending more than 2 years on The New York Times bestseller list and selling more than 4 million copies around the world in over 30 languages. 
 
We look forward to you joining us in Chicago April 10-12 as Dr. Levitt and other industry-leading business analytics experts share their passion for data. Space is limited, so register today to reserve your spot!
 
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