Thursday, 11 April 2013

PASSBAC keynote: The Microsoft data story, and the next chapters

I attended the keynote from the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago, April 2013. For those of you who missed it, here is some of the content of the keynote.
The take away point is that Business Intelligence must be simple. It is important to make it fun, and we are drowning in data. Not being able to read and understand data, is like being disadvantaged in today's world. We have to move beyond what we now think about Business Intelligence. We have to get inside our data. 

The keynote was opened by Bill Graziano ( twitter ¦ website ) who underlined the importance for a need amongst Business Analytics professionals for knowledge and support. PASS is helping to formulate a community of Data Professionals. If you're a Business Analytics  professional, you can be a part of the shaping of this community and be a part in it. If this interests you, could can take a look at joining up a Virtual Chapter and receive monthly webcasts, for example. This can help you to stay connected once PASSBAC is finished.
Next, we had Dell appearing. They have over 15 years of IM software experience. 
Dell has over 15 years of IM software experience, after their purchase of @Quest, for example. Dell constantly monitor their own brand in social media. For example, they have 6 years experience in watching their brand online, and anticipating with customers from a support and brand engagement perspective. They made the following observations in the social media market:

Dell's Observations
Data Type Proliferation
Vendor Proliferation
Data-Location proliferation
IT and LOB challenges
Snap into existing environments

Given these observations, they then moved to address these points in the market:

Analysis of social media needed to be:
Data-Type Agnostic
Vendor Agnostic
Data-Location Agnostic
Open
Capability needs to be at the tools layer

The takeaway point from the Dell part of the keynote is: Make the hard things simple to allow for more collaboration, exploration, analysis and communication
The final part of the keynote was presented by Amir Netz, who is a Distinguished Technical Fellow at Microsoft. The few times I've been lucky enough to speak with Amir in person, I've found him to be a very approachable and fun guy, and this came across clearly in the keynote, which was probably the most engaging I've seen (and I see a lot!) Netz was accompanied by Kamil Hathi who knows his stuff inside out and is a 'go to' expert for Analysis Services. I was really excited about this keynote since, whilst individually they are both excellent speakers, the idea of a joint presentation sounded fun and informative. They started off by emphasising how 'simple' attracts people. The strategy is to go back to Excel, thereby capturing the simplicity once again.  
How can we make the spreadsheet really interesting again? Well, we can add in lots of unstructured data! To do this, we can use Hadoop, which is a file system, essentially a shoebox of unstructured data. A lot of data, all different kinds! Using Hadoop, you can easily transform the unstructured data. Structure on extraction, rather than a structured data model before extraction. Therefore, you're not imposing a structure on data that the ETL meets via the load; you're structuring the data once it is in Hadoop.

The team then did a great demo of PowerView using data from a dataset of music and songs. We learned that Mariah Carey has had more weeks in the charts than luminaries such as Elvis, the Beatles and U2.
This showed the power of the interaction of the data. In Amir's example, the kids had fun learning about their music idols. This was easily demonstrated in the keynote audience, who were cheerfully shouting out band names. We heard all sorts of names being shouted out: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Madonna and even Milli Vanilli!

Power View is all about sharing information, and having fun with the data. 
Business Intelligence is elective - nobody forces an organisation to use Business Intelligence. It is about time management, and how much time people spend on Business Intelligence.
However, business intelligence can be fun can help you to get the ROI because it means that people will use it, and learn from it. Fun is important, and success is infectious.
It has to be more than fun, but it is a good starting place.  We can use it to start more investigations, and then lead to deeper questions.
The team then did a deeper exploration using Power View for sentiment analysis with Twitter data. Sentiment used as a means of prediction of outcomes. If you'd like to know more about this, I've written a two part MSDN article on the topic.

The most exciting part was the announcement of Codename Geoflow, which allows you to do location sensitive content to your data. In other words, it allows you to create 3D data visualisations based on maps. You have to see it to believe it, and if you're looking for #Geoflow information, here you are http://blogs.technet.com/b/dataplatforminsider/archive/2013/04/11/day-2-pass-business-analytics-conference-new-3d-mapping-analytics-tool-for-excel.aspx … #PASSBAC #SQLBits #SQLPass #SQLFAQ
Amir did a great demo to show the changes in the 'music chart songs' data over time and over place. It is a wonderful story, brought to life by #Geoflow. it also looked great on the huge 81 inch touchscreen, and its a great way to drive visualisations of data. At the PASS BA Conference, we will be lucky enough to have the Microsoft Experience lounge, where we can go and try all of this gadgetry out! Like Amir says, it has to be fun too.

We don't just think about business. Business Intelligence could also be called basic intelligence, but to achieve it, we need to get inside our data and let people work with it in familiar tools. 
This is the Microsoft story, and I'm excited to see the next chapter for our business users.


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