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Archive for the ‘PASS’ Category

Vote In The PASS Elections!

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If you’ve been a member of PASS since before June 13th this year, you’ll have received an email telling you that voting has opened in the PASS Board of Directors Elections. This is a friendly reminder to you to use that vote! Check out the candidates here.

For those of you who (like me) live in Europe, the Middle East or Africa, you should realise that for the first time one seat on the board is reserved for someone from this region. I welcomed this change when it was announced, and even though I was a little disappointed to see that the only EMEA candidates who made it this far are from the UK I still think it’s important that PASS is reaching out beyond its North American heartland.

I cast one of my votes for Jen Stirrup. While I know many of the candidates to a greater or lesser extent, Jen is the one I know best and I have always been impressed with her energy, organisational ability, integrity and vision. I think she would make a great contribution to the Board if she was elected.

Written by Chris Webb

September 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Posted in PASS

PASS Business Analytics Conference Summary

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The PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago finished yesterday, and because I was there and because I did a fair amount of cheerleading for it (see here and here for example) I wanted to post a few thoughts on how it went.

I’ll be honest and say that I had a few worries before the event. Would anyone want to go? Would the sessions be a repeat of what get on the BI tracks at the PASS Summit and hundreds of other SQL Server conferences? In fact, everything went really, really well. Some of the sessions were quite sparsely attended (though this had nothing to do with the quality of the content – some of the best sessions didn’t get much of an audience) but overall there was a very respectable number of people (1200ish?). I had as many people in my session on OData as I’d get at any other large conference, and it was standing room only in at least one of Marco’s sessions. I also rather liked the fact that it was smaller than the Summit – it made it much easier to meet all the people I wanted to meet. If it carries on for a few years it could easily attract a much larger number of people.

Regarding the content I was particularly pleased because a lot of the topics I’d asked for turned up on the schedule. In fact one thing that struck me (and a few other people said the same thing to me as well) was that this was the first conference I’d been to in a long time where there were sessions that I really wanted to see in every time slot. My favourite session of the whole conference was Marc Smith on NodeXL; anyone that reads my blog knows I’ve been a big fan of NodeXL for a long time, but I learned a lot from this session because it concentrated on the basics of social network analysis rather than the tool itself. This was a prime example of the kind of topic that you simply wouldn’t get at a regular SQL Server conference – it was a business analytics session. Even the more technical presentations, such as the one on HPC Services for Excel, was outside the usual boundaries of SQL Server BI. Incidentally, I must get round to playing with HPC Services for Excel – you could use it to parallelise some DAX calculations, or even to batch process large numbers of PowerPivot models on desktop machines overnight…

So, in summary, the conference was a big success and I had a great time. I’ll definitely be going back next year. And did I mention that I got to meet Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame?

Written by Chris Webb

April 14, 2013 at 2:59 am

Posted in Events, PASS

SQLBits and PASS Business Analytics Conference News

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I’m going to be speaking at quite a few conferences this year (I’ll blog about them all soon once they’re confirmed) but I thought I’d post something quickly about the two big events in the first half of this year that I’ll be going to.

First of all, registration for SQLBits XI, which will be taking place on May 2nd-4th in Nottingham, UK, is now open. You can find all the details here:
SQLBits is the largest SQL Server conference in Europe and a must-attend if you’re serious about SQL Server (but then I would say that – I’m one of the organisers). We’ve attracted some big names to come and speak this time: just take a look at the precons and the sessions that have been submitted. There will also be some Robin Hood-themed fun, so don’t forget your bow and arrows!

I’ll also be speaking at the PASS Business Analytics Conference in Chicago in April. Again, there’s a great line-up of sessions plus a keynote from Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame; you can get an idea of what’s going to be presented by attending the Business Analytics 24 Hours of PASS on January 30th. Also, if you use the following code during registration:
You’ll get a $150 discount on the conference rate!
Unfortunately if you’ve already registered the discount can’t be applied retrospectively…

Written by Chris Webb

January 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Events, PASS

The PASS Business Analytics Conference is not the PASS Business Intelligence Conference!

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The call for speakers for the new PASS Business Analytics Conference (to be held April 10-12 next year in Chicago) is now live here:

Since I think this conference is a Very Good Thing, and because I’ve been asked to help shape the agenda in an advisory capacity, I thought I’d do a little bit of promotion for it here.

The important thing I’d like to point out is that this is not just a SQL Server BI conference: it covers the whole SQL Server BI stack, certainly, but really it aims to cover any Microsoft technology that can be used for any kind of business analytics. Which other technologies actually get covered depends a lot of who submits sessions but there are no end of possibilities if you think about it. I’d love to see sessions on topics such as F#, Cloud Numerics, Sharepoint, NodeXL, GeoFlow and especially non-BI Excel topics such as array formulas, Solver and techniques like Monte Carlo simulation, for example.

This brings me to the point of this post. Obviously I’d like all the SQL Server BI Pros out there who read my blog to consider submitting a session (or if you can’t travel to Chicago, the call for speakers for SQLBits is open too) and to attend. However what I’d really like is if the SQL Server BI community could reach out to the wider Microsoft Business Analytics community to encourage them to submit sessions and to attend too. This is where your help is needed! Who do you think should be speaking at the PASS BA Conference? Do you know experts outside the realms of SQL Server BI who you could persuade to come? What topics do you think should be covered? If you’ve got any ideas or feedback, please leave a comment…

Written by Chris Webb

December 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Posted in BI, PASS

Analysing #SQLPASS Tweets using NodeXL

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I’ve got a large backlog of serious technical blog posts to write but today, since I’m still recovering from my trip to the PASS Summit in Seattle last week, I couldn’t resist going back to my favourite data visualisation tool NodeXL and having some fun with it instead. Anyone that saw the keynotes last week will know that the future of BI is all about analysing data from Twitter – forget about that dull old sales or financial data you used to use on your BI project – and so, inspired by Sam Vanga’s blog post from today on that same topic I decided to take a look at some Twitter data myself.

In NodeXL I imported 1757 tweets from 515 different people that included the #sqlpass hashtag from the 8th of November when Twitter activity at the conference was at its peak (I couldn’t import any more than that – I assume Twitter imposes a limit on the number of search results it returns). In basic terms, when NodeXL imports data from Twitter each Twitter handle becomes a point on a graph, and a line is drawn between two Twitter handles when they appear in a tweet together. I won’t bother going into any detail about how I built my graph because analysing the results is much more interesting, so I’ll just say that after playing around with the clustering, layout and grouping options here’s what I came up with:


It looks very pretty from this distance but it’s not very useful if you can’t read the names, so I saved a much larger .png version of this image here for you to download and explore, and if you’ve got NodeXL you can download the original workbook here (don’t bother trying to open it in the Excel Web App). It’s fascinating to look at – even though the data comes from a very restricted time period the cliques in the SQL Server world emerge quite clearly. For example, here’s the group that the clustering algorithm has put me in  (I’m @Technitrain), which is at the bottom of the graph on the left-hand side:


There’s a very strong UK/SQLBits presence there (@timk_adatis and @allansqlis for example), but also a strong BI presence as well with @marcorus and @markgstacey, which is pretty much what you’d expect. There are several other small groups like this, plus a large number of unconnected people in groups on their own in the bottom right-hand corner of the graph, but on the top left-hand side there’s a monster group containing a lot of well-known SQL Server personalities. Jen Stirrup (@jenstirrup) is right in the centre of it, partly because she’s one of the SQL Server Twitter royalty and partly because of her well-deserved PASSion award that day. Highlighting in red just the tweets that involved her shows at the very highest level how well-connected she is:


Keeping Jen selected and zooming in shows the people clustered together with Jen a bit better:


Selecting not only Jen’s tweets but also the tweets of the people who tweeted to her and also to each other (which is one of many useful features in NodeXL), highlights just how close the members of this group are:


This is clearly where the popular kids hang out…

Anyway, I hope this gives you an idea of the kind of thing that’s possible with NodeXL and Twitter data and inspires you to go and try it yourself. Hell, NodeXL is so much fun it might prove to the DBA crowd that BI doesn’t need to be boring!

Written by Chris Webb

November 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Posted in NodeXL, PASS

Interesting Products I Saw At PASS

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For my last post from the PASS Summit, I thought I’d mention briefly some of the products that caught my eye as I wandered round the exhibition hall this afternoon:

  • OData Connectors from RSSBus (, a series of web apps that expose OData feeds (which then of course can be consumed in PowerPivot and SSAS Tabular) from a variety of data sources including Quickbooks, Twitter and MS CRM. I’d seen the website a month or so ago, actually, but I found out today they are close to releasing OData connectors for Google, Google Docs, Facebook, Email and PowerShell as well, which open up some intriguing possibilities for PowerPivot analysis. I can imagine doing a really cool demo where I set up an email address, got the audience to email me, then hooked PowerPivot up to my inbox and analysed the emails as they came in!
  • XLCubed ( – well, ok, they aren’t exactly new to me but it was good to have a chat with the guys on the stand. It’s worth pointing out they have a good mobile BI story for SSAS users.
  • Kepion ( – I was quite impressed with the demos I saw of their products for building SSAS-based BI solutions, especially for (but not restricted to) financial planning; it looked pretty slick. 
  • Predixion ( – again, the company itself isn’t new to me but I got a demo of their new product, Predixion Enterprise Insight Developer Edition, which I’d been meaning to check out for a while. This is an immensely powerful free tool for doing data mining in Excel and it’s very closely integrated with PowerPivot too. Even if you don’t want to do complex stuff, it has some features that would be useful for regular PowerPivot users such as the ability to select a column in a PowerPivot table, analyse the data in it and then generate bandings which are then persisted in a new calculated column.

Written by Chris Webb

November 10, 2012 at 6:12 am

Thoughts on the PASS Summit 2012 Day 1 Keynote

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Normally I’d rush to blog about the announcements made in the keynotes each day at the PASS Summit, but this year I had a session to deliver immediately afterwards and once I’d done that I saw Marco had beaten me to it! So, if you want the details on what was announced in today’s keynote I’d advise you to read his post here:

I can’t not comment on some of these announcements though, so here (in no particular order) are some things that occurred to me:

  • The first public sighting of Power View on Multidimensional raised the biggest cheer of the morning, which surprised even me – I didn’t realise there were so many SSAS fans in the audience. I’m certainly very pleased to see it, even if it isn’t shipping right now (it’s not in SP1 either). Part of why I’m pleased is that all too often Microsoft BI has been good at building amazing new products but then forgetting about the migration path for its existing customers: think of the Proclarity debacle, and more recently I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the abandonment of Report Models. I suspect this is because Microsoft is not like most other software companies in that it doesn’t do much direct selling itself, but lets partners do the selling for it, and when partners get stick from customers over issues like Proclarity migration then the partners have no leverage over Microsoft to make it deal with the problem. Power View on Multidimensional is a welcome exception to this pattern, and I’d like to see more consideration given to this issue in the future even if it comes at the expense of developing cool new features.
  • The PDW V2 news is interesting too. It was clearly stated that Polybase will, initially allow TSQL to query data in Hadoop but that other data sources might be supported in the future. I wonder what they will be? DAX/Tabular perhaps? Or something more exotic – wouldn’t it be cool if you could query the Facebook graph or Twitter or even Bing directly from TSQL? I’m probably letting my imagination run away with me now…
  • The other thing that popped into my mind when hearing about Polybase was that it might be possible, one day, to use SSAS Tabular in DirectQuery mode on top of PDW/Polybase to query data in Hadoop interactively. I know Hadoop isn’t really designed for the kind of response times that SSAS users expect but I’d still like to try it.
  • It hardly seems worth repeating the fact that Mobile BI is very, very late but again it was good to get some details on what is coming. As partners we can deal with the criticism we get from customers and plan better if we have some idea of what will be delivered and the timescales involved, something that has been conspicuously lacking with Mobile BI up to today. To use a current phrase, Microsoft and its partners are “all in this together”, so please, Microsoft, let us help you!

Written by Chris Webb

November 8, 2012 at 1:06 am


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