PASS BA Conference Blog


Category: Data Analytics and Visualization

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.

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!

From the BI/BA Blogosphere: March 29 Update

It's a Good Friday to catch up on your business intelligence and analytics reading with the community's top bloggers:

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.

From the BI/BA Blogosphere: March 22 Update

It's been a busy week! Catch your breath and catch up on what's happening in the business intelligence and analytics world with the community's top bloggers, including a special Big Data focus and a Stephen Few editorial to ponder over the weekend:


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

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.

NodeXL Map of #sqlpass and #passbac Connections on Twitter

“We live in a sea of tweets, posts, blogs, and updates,” as Marc Smith says in describing his upcoming BA Conference session, Charting Collections of Social Media Connections with NodeXL

A sociologist specializing in the social organization of online communities and computer-mediated interaction, Marc is the Chief Social Scientist at Connected Action and co-founded the Social Media Research Foundation, a non-profit devoted to open tools, data, and scholarship related to social media research.

So what’s an organization to do with the bewildering stream of social media comments? Marc says that with better tools – including the free, open NodeXL, which he started while at Microsoft Research – and a few key concepts from the social sciences, the swarm of favorites, comments, tags, likes, ratings, and links can be brought into clearer focus to reveal key people, topics, and sub-communities.

With the NodeXL add-in for Excel in Office 2007 and 2010, creating a social network map becomes as easy as making a pie chart. NodeXL supports the exploration of social media with import features that pull data from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, web hyperlinks, and personal email indexes.

Check out the cool NodeXL map Marc made of the BA Conference (#passbac) and (#sqlpass) connections on Twitter, and come see how this tool lets non-programmers quickly generate useful network statistics and metrics and create visualizations of network graphs.

 *Maps are updated to February 26, 2013.

Musings on a BI Career: Past and Future

Excerpt cross-posted from
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!

Business Intelligence and Power View: A Subtle Change or an Inflection Point?

Cross-posted from Jen Stirrup's Business Intelligence Blog
By Jen Stirrup

Can organisations be brave enough to use their data to get along the “inflection point”? If so, how can they do it? Can Power View help?

Andrew Grove wrote a book Only the Paranoid Survive, which discusses how Intel survived change after change in the computing industry. Grove had a very interesting idea: Businesses are affected by six forces, both internal and external:

  • Existing competition
  • Complementary businesses
  • Customers
  • Potential customers
  • Possibility of alternative ways of achieving the same end
  • Suppliers

Grove proposed that if these forces stayed equivalent, the company will steer a steady course. However, what happens if any of the forces increase or decrease in terms of their pressure? Can this change turn into an inflection point?

An inflection point is illustrated at left, courtesy of Wolfram Mathworld. In other words, the inflection point is where the curvature of a line goes from negative to positive. Translated into business terms, this can be considered as part of a maturity process, whereby the immature company goes through a turbulent “adolescence,” to reach maturity.

If you've been part of this process, you'll recognise the signs - team members who do not like change, for example, and are resistant to new ideas. Perhaps you see that your organisation is offering new products and services from the business perspective, but IT is simply not keeping up with the changes foisted on them. That's when silly mistakes can happen - for example, server failure since everybody was too busy trying to paste over the cracks but didn't look at the fundamental issues because they were chasing their tails.

From a business intelligence perspective, I think it can be important to understand that business intelligence problems can actually be change management problems; they have to be understood as exposing less visible failures in the system. In other words, it isn't the SSRS report that's wrong; it's the failure of the processes that produce the report in the first place, so it no longer answers the business question. Essentially, the business has changed but isn't served any longer by the supporting players.

How does the enterprise get upwards and onwards? There are whole books written on this issue, but one way to look at it is to move people away from “gut feel” towards data-based analysis. This can be extremely hard to do. For some people, they will simply never listen to what the data is showing them. Perhaps they may even recognise that they aren't producing the “supporting act” data in the first place to move the business forward.

One way to engage people in data is to give them access to it, and Power View in Excel 2013 is an accessible way of doing just that. There is a lot of value in letting people “see” the answers for themselves. There is danger too; they will soon see the “failures” in the data – where it is poor, wrong, or just plain missing.

It's an adventure with data. It's up to the organisations themselves to see if they can be brave enough to use their data to get along the inflection point. It might just be a subtle change for them; or it could open up the opportunity to allow people to see their data.
Power View is more than just pretty pictures because it can really mean engagement with the data, and encourage exploration to an Excel-oriented audience who didn't have the opportunity to visualise and play with their data in this way before.

Don't be fooled because it is in Excel – it can help your business users to ask new questions of their data. It's a change of thinking about data, putting it into the hands of business users who can change the organisation. Perhaps they will help organisations to move along the inflection point towards maturity.

That's the real power of Power View.

Note: Learn more about Jen's upcoming sessions on Power View and Mobile BI at the PASS Business Analytics Conference.

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