At PASS Summit 2014 in Seattle, I attended a couple Q and A sessions with the PASS Board of Directors members. There were three such sessions. I missed the general Q and A as my Summit presentation was at that same time. Rather than try to capture the play by play of everything, I decided to distil all my notes into a single post that is more of an article. I have not really tried this type of journalistic article before, so I hope you will bear with me.
For the past two years, the PASS Board election process has been somewhat less than smooth from a Community perspective. Last year, there was uproar over the fact that people with multiple sqlpass.org accounts could vote from each account, thereby allowing them to vote multiple times. To try to rectify that situation prior to the 2014 election, PASS instituted a policy that required people to update their PASS profile in order to be eligible to vote. The plan was to also look for duplication in the accounts and have people with multiple accounts choose a single one to serve as their account. As listed in this post by PASS President Thomas LaRock (Blog|Twitter) on the PASS blog, PASS communicated this requirement many times on many different channels. Despite this, there were many members that did not receive the message and/or take necessary action to ensure their eligibility to vote in this year’s election. Once again, there was a massive outcry against PASS over this situation. When asked about this situation, PASS Executive Vice President, Finance and Governance, Adam Jorgensen (Blog|Twitter) replied, “A significant amount of work went into the communication plan on this. People didn’t get an email, but email was not the only thing.” Given the fact that PASS tried so many avenues of communication, Adam wants to ask PASS members the following: “What is the BEST way to make sure, when we communicate with folks, that they read it AND take action? What is the best vehicle? What channels are most effective for them?”
All of this outcry started once the election began and people discovered they were not eligible to vote. There was an understandable amount of frustration for people whose reactions suggested they felt they were being disenfranchised. The PASS Board responded to this outcry by extending the election to allow people more time to update their profiles. I asked what went into making that change. Adam explained that the PASS organization is governed by Bylaws as well as the laws of the state of Illinois. As such, it is not going to be able to turn on a dime. According to Adam, “We had to decide if wanted (and if so how) to change things and extend the election. This required 12 people in a very short time. HQ did a great job to help coordinate that. We had to talk to our legal counsel to assess the ramifications of changing things midstream.” Denise McInerney (Blog|Twitter), PASS Vice President, Marketing, added to this, “HQ did an amazing amount of work during that election change. A lot of credit goes to HQ for enabling us to do this as quickly as we did.” Adam went on to describe some of the thinking that was involved in this process. “Is it good governance or bad governance to extend or change the election in the middle? LOTS of conversation on that.” In the end, the Board made a conclusion that I agree with: “[It is] bad governance to change the election, BUT governance isn’t just about trying to err on the side of good or bad governance, but also about keeping a community what we want it to be.” The Board decided it was more important to keep the community whole than to perfectly adhere to policies they had enacted.
Another topic that has ben on people’s minds is the decision to commit to continuing to develop the Business Analytics (BA) Conference. At the Blogger Q and A, Thomas LeBlanc (Blog|Twitter) asked why this investment was going to continue given the challenges it has faced. Thomas LaRock gave the first response. “Three years ago, Microsoft came to us and said, ‘You guys have built something incredible. Can you go find the Business Analytics folks?” Basically, PASS has helped to build and foster an amazing community around Microsoft data technologies in terms of those who develop tools, and provided the services for others to do so. Microsoft asked PASS to try to do the same thing for the people who consume those services and that data. In the age of Self Service and tools like Power Pivot, there is certainly some overlap in terms of people enable analysis of data and those of perform that analysis. But largely, the audience for the BA Conference is one that PASS has not really targeted or served before.
Regarding the fact that the BA Conference has not really found its footing yet, Denise contributed, “You learn as you go. We didn’t quite hit the mark on getting the program and audience matched up. We tried to be too many things to too many people.” She added that PASS does Community very well. I have to agree on that. And that Community really helps people develop and learn. Attendees at PASS events often have great experiences of learning something cool and saying, “I’m going to try this at work on Monday.” According to Denise, “We want to create THAT experience for the business data user.”
Adam acknowledged that there have been questions around why PASS didn’t just do a BI (Business Intelligence) conference. “It’s not about BI. And if you do a BI conference, where does half of Summit go?” He then added what I feel is a great point, “We don’t want to split audiences up; we want to bring them together.” This is key as it reinforces that understanding that many of us have that the audience for the BA Conference is not really a subset of the existing PASS Summit audience; it is a different group of people that PASS has not served before. As Adam explained, “Are we taking something away? We’re not. We are building something new that is additive.”
Regarding BA Conference location, the first was in Chicago. Last year was held in San Jose, CA. Next year will be in Santa Clara CA. 2016 is back in San Jose. Thomas LeBlanc asked why the BA Conference is not as mobile as Summit. According to Denise, “Silicon Valley was strategic. Silicon Valley is on the leading edge with what is happening with Analytics. By locating there, we thought we would have access to a pool of speakers that would be local to the conference.” The idea is that this would make it easier to get speakers. Locating in Silicon Valley is not just about speakers, though. Denise continued, “Lots of the target audience lives there. Exhibitors would be nearby and it would be easy to get them.”
The topic of Speakers brought forth the topic of the decision NOT to have a Community Call For Speakers for the BA Conference this year. Instead, the speakers will be invited only. For many, this is seen as a problem. I, myself, being a speaker who has content appropriate for business users, was disappointed by this decision at first. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. In the existing PASS Community, we have a lot of presenters with content around BI. But we have very few with analytics topics. My own content around showing people how to use Power Pivot is still BI, even if it is aimed at the business user. It is still about enabling analytics as opposed to performing analytics. Adam pointed out that when Summit first started, there was not Community Call For Speakers. According to Adam, “We have looked at the [evaluation] results over the past few years. People liked it but the program was mis-targeted to them.” Some have asked why the board did not choose to do a community call for a percentage of the sessions. Adam indicated that the board discussed that and arrived at this though: “What percentage is acceptable to be NOT OK with attendees? That would be zero.” I have to agree with Adam, here. That is also why I totally understand why I did not receive an invitation to speak. I have not demonstrated that I have content appropriate to an Analytics audience.
At this point it is appropriate to bring in some comments from the separate Q and A about the BA Conference. Jen Stirrup (Blog|Twitter), Director-at-Large, Virtual Chapters, gave further explanation behind the decision to keep forging ahead. “We did a lot of research with the BA Conference. People are really excited in Microsoft products, so that will continue to be a base. But, Tableau, for example, has its own user conference. We don’t want to just create another Tableau conference. I have spoken at those. They were much more sales driven and about user stories. With PASS, the main emphasis is on practicality. Learn on one day and apply it on the next.” She then put a key difference between BI and Analytics that I had not heard before: “BI projects focus on deliverables. BA stuff focus on business value.” That makes sense to me. With BI, we work to produce some object, whether it be a data model, cube, report, dashboard… As Jen added about Business Analytics, “[it] is less time-boxed and more value oriented.”
Amy Lewis (Blog|Twitter), Director-at-Large, PASS Programs, made a fine point here as well: “One thing we did poorly before was focusing on the tools. We saw we need to stop focusing on the architect perspective and more on the data analyst standpoint.” When asked about the personas present in the intended audience, Denise added, “We have come to understand it is not about job title. It was about what they do all day. What they have in common is Find Data, Make Sense, Produce Something With Impact.” Denise went on to point out that there were marketing issues in the past. “As far as Marketing, last year people thought it was a SQL conference. It has its own site, now. All the messaging is consistent now to clarify that.” Head on over to the new website to learn more about the new and improved messaging.
I want to close with a direct request from the Board. Adam pointed out that the PASS Board are fairly reachable people and are happy to respond to questions they receive. He stressed, “I would request that if you want to know the answer to a question, ASK THE QUESTION. We are happy to have conversation, but the judge, jury, and executioner style is just NOT productive.” Adam gave a great example of a blogger who wanted some facts for a blog post and ended up having a great conference call with several board members to get the information he needed. Tom then added, “I have really enjoyed this blogger Q and A at Summit. We should find a way to do this more.” We discussed the idea of doing this quarterly or something and in a format like #DataChat on Twitter happens now. That sounds like a good plan and a good way to help people who may feel they are not being heard to have another avenue to speak out.
I hope you found this helpful. I certainly feel better about these topics having attended the Q and A sessions and put in the work to write this up.