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From the BI/BA Blogosphere: March 15 Update

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

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 (www.solidq.com). 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?
McD:
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."  

 

Win Registration to the PASS BA Conference

This could be your lucky week! With just a month to go, excitement’s in the air around the PASS Business Analytics Conference. We’ve heard that many of you are interested in attending and are looking to get the best rate by registering by this Friday, March 15. But wouldn’t free be even better?

For those who haven't signed up yet, here’s your chance to win registration to what’s going to be an incredible 2 days of business intelligence and analytics learning. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter today through Wednesday (March 11-13), and share how your job function is becoming more analytics focused for your chance to win one of five passes*.

Make sure you’re following the BA Conference on Twitter (@passbac/#passbac) and Facebook to participate. Only one entry per person please, and remember to post your answer by midnight Pacific Time Wednesday, March 13. We’ll announce the winners on Thursday.

Good luck! And even if you don’t win, you can get $200 off registration by using the discount code from your local or virtual PASS chapter or favorite blogger – just remember to register by March 15 for the best rate.

See you in Chicago!
The PASS Business Analytics Team

* Prize includes: One full-conference registration to the PASS Business Analytics Conference. Travel, accommodation, and other expenses not included.

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.

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!

Business Analytics? There’s a Virtual Chapter for That

As the new PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter prepares for its third meeting – a gentle, business-focused introduction to Big Data – you can catch up on February’s presentations and plan to make this free training part of your monthly schedule.

Stacia Misner will take the VC’s webcast stage March 14 for “A Big Data Primer” (noon ET/16:00 GMT) to demystify Big Data, look at its implications for traditional data warehousing and reporting, and explore the technology and skill sets you need to successfully implement a Big Data strategy.

“This is going to be a great real-world session,” notes VC leader Melissa Demsak. “You’ll definitely leave with some inspiration and practical steps for tackling your first Big Data project.”

With a mission to provide quality virtual training to business analysts, BA/BI practitioners and architects, and data scientists, the VC’s focus is on creating a community for shared learning and enabling the creation of world-class business analytics solutions based on the Microsoft platform, Melissa explains.

“Our topics will naturally intersect with those presented by several of our sister VCs – Business Intelligence, Big Data, Data Architecture, and Master Data/Data Quality – but we’ll be covering them from an analytics perspective,” she adds. “We’ll also include non-Microsoft solutions and topics outside the traditional SQL Server and BI community, such as data visualization, analytics, and data science.”

The BA VC meetings, scheduled for the second and/or fourth Thursday of every month, will all be recorded and archived for on-demand viewing. Recordings of the group’s first two meetings – Mark Tabladillo’s “A Case for Business Analytics Learning” and Chris Webb’s “What’s New for BI in Excel 2013” – will be available soon.

You can become a member of the BA VC by simply clicking Join next to Business Analytics in the list of VCs on the PASS Virtual Chapters page. “We'll keep you posted of all upcoming meetings, learning opportunities, and the latest and greatest information from Microsoft,” Melissa says. “We also have a special $200 discount code for the PASS Business Analytics Conference coming up in April – if you haven't signed up yet, just use the code BAC941VC when you register for some nice savings."

Interested in speaking at an upcoming BA VC webinar? Email your ideas to passbavc@sqlpass.org, and make sure you follow the VC on Twitter at @passbavc

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!

  
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