PASS BA Conference Blog


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.

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!

Changing Times for Data Professionals

By Chris Webb

One thing that’s always surprised me in the 15 years I’ve worked in the business intelligence industry is how little I’ve been involved in the analysis of the data I’ve been working with. Maybe this was because some of the business users I’ve worked with haven’t been very interested in analysing the data themselves. I deliver a nicely formatted report with a table and a few charts on it. They see whether their sales are going up or down, they get a warm fuzzy feeling (if sales are going up) or some harsh words from their boss (if sales are going down), and that’s it.

I’ve never been happy with this state of affairs, though. Many companies have ignored the potential of the data they’ve captured. What’s more, I feel I’ve been missing out as well – left out of the rewarding process of digging through terabytes of data to unearth some previously unknown insight that could transform my customer’s business.

Fortunately, times are changing. All the recent discussion around “big data” and “data science” is enticing more companies to do something useful with all the data they’ve piled up. This, in turn, presents a challenge and an opportunity to business intelligence professionals like me. The challenge is that now in addition to ensuring that the numbers are correct and the reports are pretty, I also have to be able to help my customers understand their data. I need to know about data visualisation techniques and understand why pie charts are a bad idea and why 3D graphs aren’t cool or clever. I need to know about data mining, how to calculate a forecast using linear regression, and that correlation is not the same thing as causation.

I’ll never know as much about these things as a statistician or a quant on Wall Street, but that’s OK because they’ll never know as much about the systems delivering data to them as I will. But I will need to know enough to be able to talk intelligently to people in these roles – and to be able to provide guidance to my customers when they don’t have skilled data analysts on their staff. This, of course, provides the opportunity for me to become more closely involved with how the business is run and, therefore, more valuable to it.

It’s not just BI pros who will need to move with the times. DBAs, developers, and anyone else in IT who works with data will also be affected by these changes. Having the skills to manage data or move it from place to place won’t be enough in the future; we’re all going to have to work together to add value to our data by helping people understand it. If IT as a whole isn’t willing to contribute to these business goals, it risks being relegated to a non-core function or even outsourced.

All of this is why I’m going to the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago this April. Business analytics is the next stage of evolution in getting the most value from the data we collect and manage, and I want my career to encompass that full life cycle. The BA Conference is a place where traditional BI pros like me and the analysts who work with the data that we deliver can come together and learn more about each other’s responsibilities and how we can all do our jobs better. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn new skills and grow professionally, and I hope you can join me in Chicago and on that continuing journey.


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!

24 Hours of Free Business Analytics Webcasts Jan. 30

If you’re a business analytics professional, you don't want to miss our free 24 Hours of PASS: Business Analytics online event on January 30.

Beginning at 13:00 GMT (see the schedule in your time zone), some of the world’s top industry experts will take to the virtual stage to deliver a series of one-hour webcasts focused on data analytics and visualization, big data innovations and integration, information delivery, advanced analytics, and more.

This edition of 24 Hours of PASS will feature 12 hours of live business analytics webcasts, followed by 12 hours of on-demand replay. Thanks to our generous sponsors, there is no cost to attend the webcasts. All you need to do is register now for each session you want to view. 
Wherever you're located, we hope you can join us for 24 hours of business analytics best practices, expert tips, and demos delivered directly to your computer. Make sure you follow us on Twitter (@pass24HOP) for the latest updates, and we'll "see" you there.
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