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Program Manager on the Power BI Customer Advisory Team at Microsoft.

PASS Business Analytics Conference–Recap

PASSBAC NameTagThe very first PASS Business Analytics Conference (PASSBAC) has come to an end. And it was fantastic. Since you follow my blog with rapt joy, you know that I had the great honor of speaking at this shiny new event. While I have spoken many times to user groups and several SQL Saturdays, it was my first time speaking at an event of this caliber. While I was certainly nervous about presenting, I was even more excited. I LOVE presenting. And I feel comfortable in saying it is something I am pretty good at. While my co-presenter, Doug Lane (b|t), was very appreciative of my asking him to present with me, I must confess that his advice on writing abstracts was invaluable in our getting selected. I met Doug at a SQL Saturday in Chicago a few years ago. It was great to share this honor with a friend from my #sqlfamily. I do want to send special thanks for Joe D’Antoni (b|t) and Scott Stauffer (b|t) for their efforts in coming to my aid the night before the biggest presentation of my career.

Speaking wasn’t the only first for me at PASSBAC, nor was it the only thing I had the honor of sharing with a friend from my #sqlfamily. In 2011, I attended my very first PASS Summit. At that time, I took part in a program for first-time Summit attendees called First Timers. This featured having a Summit mentor as well as taking part in extra networking events. At one of these networking events, I met Angel Abundez (b|t). At PASSBAC, Angel and I both had the honor to be invited to sit at the Bloggers table to Live Blog the keynotes. On Day 1, I sat down next to him and we had a moment of, “Wow, we’ve come a long way in a few years.” You can read Angel’s Live Blogging here. To me, that transformation from First Timer to Bloggers table is more than just the fact that we are both seeing solid growth in our careers. It also speaks of how open and inviting the SQL community is. I often hear that people in other industries and even other groups within the technology sector are just in awe of what we have going on. PASS is an important part of that.

I have to say that I was not only honored that PASS asked me to participate in the Live Blogging of PASSBAC, I was nervous. I had never done that before and wasn’t really all that sure what it would entail. I ended up getting some great advice from John Sansom (b|t) and Jason Strate (b|t). John provided me with a blog post of his about Live Blogging that was really helpful. At the end of that post, John links to a Live Blog from the 2011 PASS Summit by Brent Ozar (b|t). I looked at that post and thought, “Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln! How can I even come close to matching that?” There are lots of pictures and great commentary. Even if I had convinced my wife to let me take her camera, I would be more likely to drop it on my foot than capture anything of value quickly enough to add it to a live blog post. Then I realized that there was no reason I had to try to match what Brent or any other person had done. I did see that Jason had kept it pretty simple in his Live Blog of the Day 3 keynote of PASS Summit 2011. I figured I would start simple. I set up the Live Blogging plugin for my WordPress blog and decided to try to keep my entries short enough to cross-post them on Twitter. It turns out that was a good choice as so many people told me how much they appreciated what I was doing. I was honestly blown away by the feedback I was getting for my efforts. I even noticed that the PASSBAC homepage was featuring my live blogs of the keynotes. Thanks so much to everyone who followed and expressed their appreciation in one way or another. You can read my Live Blogs from PASSBAC Day1 and Day2. On Day 2, I even got the timestamp working. Yay. As you can see, the keynotes were awesome, from my perspective.

My choice to cross-post to Twitter ended up being a great one from a networking standpoint. It turns out that only the @passbac account itself had more #passbac tweets than I did, according to, who provided Twitter analysis for the conference. In addition, the analysis performed by iTrendTV showed that I was in the Top 5 in both “Largest Audiences” and “Most Engaging Authors.”  Notice Angel in there with me and some fine company.

My point here is that we need to remember that the I in ROI means “investment.” That investment doesn’t always involve money. Sometimes it means we stray out of our comfort zone or take a risk by doing something new in a public setting. In my case, I was confident that live blogging was a great opportunity that I had to take. I looked at overcoming my trepidation as the investment toward the ROI of increased connections in the industry. I knew that doing a decent job with the live blogging had a good chance of leading to expanding the network of people I value so much.

I had a tremendous amount of fun Live Blogging. I hope I get invited to the Bloggers table for more events in the future.

On the morning of Day1, SQL Sentry hosted a breakfast and informal discussion on Business Analytics emceed by Kevin Kline (b|t). The panel was made up of the following great experts:

Chris Webb (b|t)
Craig Utley (b)
Jen Stirrup (b|t)
Paul Turley (b|t)
Stacia Misner (b|t)

It was great discussion that could have gone on a few more hours and I would have been happy to stay for it. Thanks much to SQL Sentry, Kevin and the great panelists.

I went to fantastic sessions by Jen Stirrup (b|t), Jason Thomas (b|t), Angel Abundez (b|t), Craig Utley (b), Ayad Shammout (b|t) and Denny Lee (b|t), and more. I spent a lot of time learning more about Excel features and geo-spatial topics like GeoFlow.

Overall, the event was just amazing. I am so glad I got to go. The fact that I got to participate in a meaningful way makes it even better. I really want to thank all the people in PASS HQ, Board Members, Sponsors, Program Committee and everyone else who worked so hard to make this event happen.

PASS Business Analytics Conference – Live Blogging – Keynote Day 1

Greetings! I have had the great honor to be asked to Live Blog the Keynotes for the PASS Business Analytics Conference here in Chicago. Behold!

All set for the keynote to start.

PASS President Bill Graziano taking the stage.

Gartner: Business Intelligence is growing faster than any other business area.

Connect-Share-Learn: Working together is key for success.

Virtual PASS Chapters rock. Take geography out of the equation.

…and the puns just keep on coming…

HUGE thanks to Sponsors and Exhibitors. This couldn’t happen without you!

Matt Wolken from Dell taking the stage to discuss the promise of Analytics.

Dude, you’re getting a Dell.. keynote speaker. Cool.

Who is the “average” social media user? Unlike Trix, it’s not just for kids.

Key social media users are those that control the money/budget.

People closest to the action ARE the authority today.

Analytics used to be about executives looking back. Now it is about finding new customers.

Companies implementing BI are 13% more profitable than their peers.

57% of all CIOs say they plan to expand BI this year or next.

Business Analytics shifting to be seen as a revenue source. People work for your company; your data should work too.

Data no longer sourced just INSIDE organizations. So much out there you can bring in to complement what you already have.

“Dell now has software”

Now consuming many different types of data: structured, semi-structured, text, etc… How to manage all that at once?

SO much data sprawl in organizations. People have their own versions of truth their way. Key is to integrate and share.

Dell has been one of the leaders in listening for the brand via social media. What are people asking? What can we do about it?

Dell is turning data on conversations into actionable insight. Stay ahead of the curve to change features before issues arise.

Microsoft speakers Amir Netz and Kamal Hathi taking the stage now.

Amir’s parents spent 6 months salary to buy him his first computer, an Apple IIc with TWO disk drives.

That experience changed his life and led to working with Data.

That story is prime example of an investment in enabling users. The payoffs are there.

Kamal discussing his history with CompuServe. Lots of data there, which led him to Microsoft.

So many idea in data now. How can a business user make sense of what tools to use when there are so many? Simplicity.

Behold: the Spreadsheet. Back to Excel. #ISeeWhatYouDidThere

Data Explorer taking the stage now. Again, finding data from Outside the Organization to complement that from Inside.

Data Explorer is essentially collaboration with the world via the Internet.

THIS is AMERican Idol data. Very big data.

Advertisements for the Model T were not about driving. They are about tinkering and tools. Mechanics.

Contrast with recent BMW ads: The Ultimate Driving Machine. Different focus.

The Elephant is in the building. HDInsight for the win. #hadoop

Let Excel turn your data into information. Turn raw data into columns for ease of use.

What kind of Pivot? Well, #PowerPivot, of course!

Simplicity: Working with Big Data in Excel without dealing with MapReduce, or any of the other dev tools, etc. Excel can do it.

Amir’s kids created their first slide deck in third grade. But have never seen a slide projector before. #TechnologyChangesPeopleDont

BI nowadays is like a slide projector. You need professionals to make the slides. Costs money and time.

We need to do the same thing with BI that PowerPoint did to the slide projector. SIMPLIFY IT.

Amir’s Son: “Kids know nothing about Business; even Intelligence is suspect!”

Ahh… Power View! Kids know PowerPoint today. Behold: Power View. Love it.

VISUALIZE data. A picture is worth a thousands. Sometimes cliches are so common for a reason. #TrueStory

Billboard Top Ten from various countries in Power View: Paul Anka puts Canada on the map! what about Rush??

Who does Australia have? MVP Rob Farley! @rob_farley

Key takeaway from visualizing Billboard music data? SO many songs popular in the US come from outside the country!

So, is the Billboard Top Ten the Data Explorer of the music world? Looks like it can be.

Analyzing artists by weeks on the Billboard charts. Using Power View to find the greatest artist of all time?

Visualizing data can help you overcome your preconceptions. This is KEY for quality use of analytics.

Amir’s story of ULTIMATE user acceptance? A fist-pump from his son. #AwesomeSauce

Why all the enthusiasm about Power View? FUN. #TotallyAgree

Amir: BI is elective. Nobody FORCES people to use BI. FUN can be the first step to true ROI.

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Well, you can sure make him thirsty. Fun + BI = user acceptance.

Analyzing Tweets. Find out WHEN people are tweeting, not just what they are tweeting about. Gold mine.

What kinds of events make people tweet about your business? Get insight to drive strategy.

Truly advanced tech should be indistinguishable from magic? Try Data Science. The data is there. Use it.

Which has more impact? Positive sentiment or negative? Business Analytics can help you find out!

Kamal: Twitter has replaced TV.

American Idol contestant the Judges don’t like consistently generates positive sentiment in Tweets. Power to the People. #democratization

“Faster Insights for everyone, on ALL data” #Booyah

Kamal: Adding #GeoFlow to Excel. Bring it.

Showing 3-dimensional model of the globe in Power View. Turns dots into bars! BI-Candy!

Amir showing #geoflow on a touch screen. Data at your fingertips! Literally. Stunning.

Amir: The story we just told you for the last hour? Let’s do it in two minutes. #awesome

Amir: the Dick Vitale of #msbi #marchmadness

Amir: BI has to be something that everybody can use. BI need not stand for Business Intelligence. It needs to stand for Basic Intelligence.


My Interview For Louis Davidson’s “Why We Write” Series

SQL Server MVP and author Louis Davidson (b|t) recently started a blog series called, “Why We Write.” His plan is to survey fellow writers/bloggers who make their living doing something other than writing to see why they spend their free time writing. For his first interviewee, Louis chose SQL Server MVP, author, and PASS Executive Committee member Thomas LaRock (b|t). You can read that interview HERE.

I was honored, and a bit flabbergasted, when Louis asked me to go second. You can find that interview HERE. Thanks very much, Louis.

Upcoming Presentations–April 2013

I have the great joy of presenting at a handful of events in April. I absolution love presenting, so having 3 opportunities to present within the same month is pretty great.

PASS Business Analytics Conference – April 10-12, Chicago IL

Hailing Frequencies: Analysis Services Terms and Concepts

SQL Saturday #211 Chicago – April 13, Chicago IL

Hailing Frequencies: Analysis Services Terms and Concepts

SQL Saturday #175 Fargo – April 27, Fargo ND

MDX Trek: First Contact

If you happen to be attending any of these events, please stop by.

Discount Code for $200 Off PASS Business Analytics Conference

Since you follow my blog with rapt joy, you have no doubt noticed that my last two posts are related to the PASS Business Analytics Conference coming up April 10-13 in Chicago. PASS gave me a discount code that allows those who use it to save $200 on their registration for the Conference.

The code is: BAC689BL

Using this code by March 15th will allow you to register for $1395, instead of the current full price of $1595.

As of March 16th, the full price goes to $1795. At that point, using the code above will allow you to register for… wait for it….$1595. Ahhhhh…. Predictive analytics….

Please note that this code is for new registrations only; it cannot be applied retroactively to existing registrations.

PASS also informed me that I will receive $50 for each person that registers for the conference using this code, up to a maximum of $500. Well, that’s really cool.

But here’s the thing. I don’t support PASS for monetary gain. I don’t volunteer as a PASS Regional Mentor for truckloads of cash. And I am not helping to promote the PASS BA Conference because I am speaking. I really believe in the value of this event.

So, any funds that come to me through the use of the discount code above will be donated to The Manya Memorial Fund.

If you or anyone you know is interested in attending this fantastic event, please feel free to use the BAC689BL discount code or share it with others. Thanks much.

Business Analytics and PASS: Yes Please!

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 how 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 five 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 that hands of more people in this 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. 

I am certainly not the only one who has noticed the rise of Business Analytics. The Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS), which holds a SQL Server Summit every year, announced the first ever PASS Business Analytics Conference taking place in Chicago this April.

PASS BA Conference(b|t)

I have a passion for presenting and my excitement for analytics comes through. I have presented at many SQL Saturdays and various user groups both in person and remotely. When this conference was announced, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would submit a session or two. I also knew that this was going to be a very long shot for me. The competition would be VERY stiff and, being the first event of this kind for PASS, there would be a lot of people vying for spots to present. I couldn’t believe it when I got the email that one of those sessions I submitted was accepted. It will be the crowning achievement of my Presenting career to date. I will be co-presenting with a friend of mine, Doug Lane (b|t), who I met at a SQL Saturday event in Chicago a few years ago.

Our session, Hailing Frequencies: Analysis Services Terms and Concepts, is a Star Trek themed introduction to the terminology and ideas that are an important foundation for Business Analytics projects using Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services as the technology of choice. We will be focusing on SQL Server Analysis Services 2012 and covering both the traditional Multidimensional Model (Cubes) as well as the new Tabular Model. The increased demand for analytics will lead to more and more analytics projects. Yes, I put that together all by myself. As such, it is important for people to have an understanding of what they are getting into and start off on the right foot.

There are so many amazing sessions at this conference. In addition to having the privilege of speaking, I am really excited to be counted as an attendee. Here are just a few of the many sessions that I am particularly excited about.

Dave DuVarney (b|t) of SolidQ is giving a session: Delivering Agile BI Solutions. I firmly believe that analytics projects are iterative and work best when users and stakeholders get their hands dirty early and often. This will provide awesome insight into how to handle this well.

Cindy Gross (b|t) of Microsoft and Eduardo Gamez of Intel are presenting: How Intel Integrates Self-Service BI with IT for Better Business Results. One of my first projects in my SQL Server career was designing/implementing a SQL Server Reporting Services Report Model for enable power-users at a client to create their own reports. Ever since then, I have been a proponent of empowering end users as part of an overall reporting solution. This session looks to be a magnificent look into how a highly respective organization like Intel was able to create a holistic solution with great success.

Marco Russo (b|t) will be delivering a session on: Modern Data Warehouse Strategy. In his abstract for this session, Marco points out that new technologies around Self-Serve BI and Big Data Analytics are not doing away with the concept of a Data Warehouse, “but we do need to update our strategy for data warehouse implementation to fit the requirements of this new era.” I am still relatively new to Data Warehousing in general so I expect to get a massive benefit from this session. Marco’s blog and book, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services: The BISM Tabular Model, have been of enormous help to me on my current Tabular Model project.

There are 60 sessions in all. Sixty. I am just ecstatic that PASS saw the value in holding an event like this focusing on Business Analytics. I feel so honored that I get to be a part of it.

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.

Who’s Got Two Thumbs And Is Speaking at the PASS Business Analytics Conference?

PASS_BAC_Logo_JPEGThat would be my friend, Doug Lane (b|t). Oh, and me, too. We are actually co-presenting a Star Trek themed session: Hailing Frequencies: Analysis Services Terms and Concepts.


In this Star Trek-themed presentation aimed at non-technical folks, we will explain the terms and concepts important to understand when participating in projects involving SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). You’ll learn the key differences between the SSAS Multidimensional Model (Cubes) and the SSAS Tabular Model. You’ll also learn the definitions and examples of key terms for each model, including but not limited to: measure groups, measures, dimensions, attributes, and hierarchies in the SSAS Multidimensional Model and tables, columns, and calculated measures in the SSAS Tabular Model. We will also demonstrate the basics of browsing of both Multidimensional and Tabular models using Excel 2013.

This conference has an amazing list of speakers.


The fact (no pun intended) that my name is among this group of fantastic presenters from Microsoft and the SQL Community is pretty overwhelming. And the fact that I get to share this opportunity with a friend I met at a SQL Saturday is just that much better.

Summing Up PASS Summit 2012

I attended my second PASS Summit this year. And my experience, once again, was awesome. This year was definitely a different kind of awesome, though. Last year, I was a First Timer and was awesomely overwhelmed at pretty much everything. This year, I was a First Timer Mentor, helping a group of First Timers learn the ropes and get their feet wet in the most excellent SQL Training event there is. This year was my first Summit as a PASS Regional Mentor. So, I had some official stuff I needed to do like attending the Regional Mentors meeting and the Chapter Leaders meeting and spending some time helping out in the Community Zone (a new feature this year). I also had the change to sit down with Chris Shaw (b|t), the other Regional Mentor for Canada, and several of our Canadian Chapter Leaders for an in-person meeting to talk about the challenges they face and how we, as Regional Mentors, can help them out. That was fantastic. Particularly since Canada is so vast, and Chris and I both live in the US, it was an amazing opportunity.

I also volunteered as an Ambassador, helping answer questions and direct people to where they need to be. It was my involvement this year that made such a difference for me. Putting together an event like the PASS Summit is a massive undertaking. Even though my part was miniscule, I felt honored and proud to help out a community that means so much to me. I also got to meet the AWESOME people of PASS HQ and do what I could to make their time a bit easier.

The sessions I attended were really cool and I cannot wait to start watching the session recordings. I met a lot of new people, including Buck Woody (b|t) and Denny Lee(b|t) and so many others for the very first time. I got to spend time with so many people who I rarely see. There are too many to name that fall into this category. SQL Karaoke was EPIC and frequent. That was just awesome to do karaoke to a live band. Just. Awesome.

I was asked recently what my biggest takeaway from Summit 2012 was. It only took about 1 second to come up with the answer, “Community.” This year, for me, was more about the Community than anything else.

I have to send out a hekaton of thanks to PASS HQ, the sponsors, speakers, volunteers, vendors, Microsoft, and everyone else who made the 2012 PASS Summit just friggin awesome.

Oh, and it took all week, but on Friday, I finally managed to juggle three of the full-sized beanbag chairs in the Community Zone.

SQL Saturday Nashua (146) Recap

FenwayGateBOn October 20th, I had the pleasure to attend SQL Saturday 146 in my hometown of Nashua, NH. To speak in the vocabulary of my youth, it was wicked good. I have decided to have parts of this post be in Bostonian, the dialect of English that is common in a pretty wide radius around the fine city of Boston, MA. I will note the Bostonian sections by using the <Go Sawx!> tag at the beginning and the ending tag of </Go Sawx!>.

I know that Fenway Park is actually in Boston, but the majority of people in southern NH are Red Sox fans. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to come clean: I married a Yankees fan.


<Go Sawx!>

The Speakah Dinnah was on Friday night, and it was a wicked pissah. Meetin’ Mike Walsh (blahg|Twittah) and Jack Corbet (blahg|Twittah) for the first time was awesome. It is so much fun meetin’ people you have only chatted with on Twittah and stuff. I also got a meet a ton of new people and have a really good Seafood Samplah. It was a sweet time. And the SQL Satuhday hoodie all the speakahs got is spectaculah.

</Go Sawx!>

Saturday, I showed up early to help set up the PASS table and staff it with mighty Joe D’Antoni (blog|Twitter). As two PASS Regional Mentors, part of our job is to help out with the PASS table at events like SQL Saturdays. I spent pretty much all of my time there when I wasn’t in a session (or the bathroom, but we won’t go into that). I had a great time chatting with the attendees about PASS. The overwhelming majority of the attendees said it was their first SQL Saturday. It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm of people so new to SQL events.

I gave my MDX Trek: First Contact presentation during the first session of the day. It went well and I had good questions asked. It was really fun and I got some great feedback. Thanks to those who attended and endured my Star Trek nerdery.

I then sat in on Matt Masson’s (blog|Twitter) EIM – Bringing Together SSIS, DQS, and MDS session. I had not seen much of Data Quality Services before. That was pretty cool and great to see those tools put together to great effect.

I spent the third session hanging in the speaker ready room with Bill Pearson (Twitter), Andy Roberts (blog|Twitter) and Slava Kokaev (blog|Twitter). It was great to just sit and relax a bit and chat about Business Intelligence.

The fourth session of the day for me was with Bill Pearson in his Overcoming Barriers and Avoiding Mistakes With BI presentation. It was actually more of a group discussion format. That was cool and a refreshing change from the typical presentation format.

<Go Sawx!>

The aftah pahty was at a restarant called Mahtha’s Exchange (Martha’s, actually). I hung out with some really cool people and had killah appatizahs. It was low key and just really fun. Any chance to spend time with othah SQL people is a great time. Oh, and that Peanut Buttah Pie was frickin awesome, guys.

</Go Sawx!>

Mike and Jack put together one great SQL Saturday. The feedback from attendees and presenters alike was overwhelmingly positive. With the help of awesome volunteers like David Taylor (blog|Twitter) and so many others, SQL Saturday 146 in Nashua a great success.