PASS BA Conference Blog

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Category: Business Analytics Community

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!

From the BI/BA Blogosphere: March 1 Update

Catch up on your business intelligence and analytics learning with some of the community's top bloggers. Enjoy these recent blog posts from around the world of data analytics that you may have missed:

 

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  

 

BAC to the Future!

Cross-posted from SQLRockstar
By Thomas LaRock

Yesterday I talked about the Accidental Architect. Today I want to add some additional thoughts.

There is a reason why we end up gravitating towards careers as DBAs or architects: natural curiosity. We want to know how something works. We want to do our best to ensure that a system is built the right way (well, as right as possible based upon all available information).

This natural curiosity means that when someone asks if we know something we choose to say “Not yet” as opposed to “Not my job.”

So it may not be entirely by accident as to how we ended up where we are today. We are also likely to be the type of people who take on a role, do our best to excel in that role, and after three years or so we feel it is time to move on to the next challenge.

So, what *is* your next challenge? I know where my next challenges are: the remaining 80% of the data platform tools that I haven’t learned enough about yet. I’m reviving my mathematical background and diving into data analysis and statistics. I’m also heading into the Cloud, trying to learn more about all the PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS options that are available currently.

I’m also looking to connect, share, and learn with others that are heading in the same direction.

This April in Chicago we will have the first ever PASS Business Analytics Conference where we intend to get together to do just that: connect, share, and learn.

Sound familiar? It should, it’s what PASS is all about.

Here’s my ask of you today.

Go and register for the conference. Use the promotional code BACROCKSTAR and get $200 off the current full registration price. In addition to the discounted price, I am going to arrange for a “meet and greet” while in Chicago for everyone that uses the BACROCKSTAR code. Right now I am thinking of hosting everyone immediately following the welcome reception on Wednesday night at a soon-to-be-determined location.

You can come and ask questions of me, Rob Collie (blog | @powerpivotpro), Karen López (blog | @datachick), and Lara Rubbelke (@SQLGal). Come and ask us where we see significant opportunities for data professionals in the coming years. Come and ask us about the customers we interact with currently and where we see the biggest pain points.

Come connect, share, and learn with the people that are already knee deep in the coming data revolution.

See you in Chicago!

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!
 

From the BI/BA Blogosphere: February 22 Update

Been snowed under this month and behind on your reading? Here are some recent blog posts from around the world of data analytics you may have missed:

From DBA to Data Analyst: My Story

Cross-posted from the PASS Blog
By Denise McInerney

There is a lot changing in the data professional’s world these days. More data is being produced and stored. More enterprises are trying to use that data to improve their products and services and understand their customers better. More data platforms and tools seem to be crowding the market. For a traditional DBA, this can be a confusing and even unsettling time. It’s also a time that offers great opportunity for career growth. I speak from personal experience.

We sometimes talk about the “accidental DBA” – the person who finds herself suddenly responsible for managing the database because she has some other technical skills. Although it was not accidental, six months ago I was unexpectedly offered a chance to transition out of my DBA role and become a data analyst. I have since come to view this offer as a gift, though at the time I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

Throughout my DBA career, I’ve received tremendous support from my PASS friends and colleagues, and they were the first ones I turned to for counsel about this new situation. Everyone was encouraging, and I received two pieces of valuable advice: First, leverage what I already know about data, and second, work to understand the business’ needs.

Harnessing the power of data to solve business problems is really the heart of the job. The challenge is figuring out how to do that. PASS had been the source of much of my technical training as a DBA, so I naturally started there to begin my business intelligence education. Once again, Virtual Chapter webinars, local chapter meetings, and SQLSaturdays have been invaluable.

I work in a large company where we are fortunate to have some very talented data scientists and analysts. These colleagues have been generous with their time and advice. I also took a statistics class through Coursera, where I got a refresher in statistics and an introduction to the R programming language.

And that’s not the end of the free resources available to someone wanting to acquire new skills. There are many knowledgeable business intelligence and analytics professionals who teach through their blogs. Every day, I can learn something new from one of these experts.

Sometimes we plan our next career move, and sometimes it just happens. Either way, a database professional who follows industry developments and acquires new skills will be better prepared when change comes. Take the opportunity to learn something about the changing data landscape by attending an upcoming Business Intelligence, Business Analytics, or Big Data Virtual Chapter meeting. And if you are moving into this new world of data, consider attending the PASS Business Analytics Conference in April where you can meet and learn from those who are already on that road.

It’s been said that “the only thing constant is change.” That’s never been truer for the data professional than it is today. But if you are someone who loves data and grasps its potential, you are in the right place at the right time.
 

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!
 

  
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