Jen’s Diary: What does Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of Revolution Analytics mean for PASS?

16 Apr

Caveat: This blog does not represent the views of PASS or the PASS Board. These opinions are solely mine.

The world of data and analytics keeps heating up. Tableau, for example, keeps growing and winning. In fact, Tableau continues to grow total and licence revenue 75% year over year, with its total revenue grew to $142.9 million in the FY4 of 2014.There’s a huge shift in the market towards analytics, and it shows in the numbers. Lets take a look at some of the interesting things Microsoft have done recently, and see how it relates to PASS:

  • Acquired Revolution Analytics, an R-language-focused advanced analytics firm, will bring customers tools for prediction and big-data analytics.
  • Acquired Datazen, a provider of data visualization and key performance indicator data on Windows, iOS and Android devices. This is great from the cross-platform perspective, and we’ll look at this in a later blog. For now, let’s discuss Revolution and Microsoft.

Why it was good for Microsoft to acquire Revolution Analytics

The acquisition shows that Microsoft is bolstering its portfolio of advanced analytics tools. R is becoming increasingly common as a skill set, and businesses are more comfortable about using open source technology such as R. It is also accessible software, and a great tool for doing analytics. I’m hoping that this will help organisations to recognise and conduct advanced analytics, and it will improve the analytics capability in HDInsight.

Microsoft has got pockets of advanced analytics capabilities built into Microsoft SQL Server, and in particular, SQL Server Analysis Services, and also in the SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW). Microsoft also has the Azure Machine Learning Service (Azure ML) which uses R in MLStudio. However, it does not have an advanced analytics studio, and the approach can come across as piecemeal for those who are new to it. The acquisition of Revolution Analytics will give Microsoft on-premises tools for data scientists, data miners, and analysts, and cloud and big data analytics for the same crowd.

Here’s what I’d like Microsoft to do with R:

  • Please give some love to SSRS by infusing it with R. There is a codeplex download that will help you to produce R visualisations in SSRS. I’d like to see more and easier integration, which doesn’t require a lot of hacking about.
  • Power Query has limited statistical capability at the moment. It could be expanded to include R. I am not keen for Microsoft to develop yet another programming language and R could be a part of the Power Query story.
  • Self-service analytics. We’ve all seen the self-service business intelligence communications. What about helping people to self-serve analytics as well, once they’ve cracked self-service BI? I’d like to see R made easier to use for everyone. I sense that will be a long way off, but it is an opportunity.
  • Please change the R facility in MLStudio. It’s better to use RStudio to create your R script, then upload it.

What issues do I see in the Revolution Analytics acquisition?

Microsoft is a huge organisation. Where will it sit within the organisation? Any acquisition involves a change management process. Change management is always hard. R touches different parts of the technology stack. This could be further impacted by the open source model that R has been developed under. Fortunately Revolution seem to have thought of some of these issues already: how does it scale, for example? This acquisition will need to be carefully envisioned, communicated and implemented, and I really do wish them every success with it.

What does this mean for PASS?

I hold the PASS Business Analytics Portfolio, and our PASS Business Analytics Conference is being held next week. Please use code BFFJS to get the conference for a discount rate, if you are interested in going.

I think the PASS strategy of becoming more data platform focused is the right one. PASS exist to provide technical community education to data professionals, and I think PASS are well placed to move on the analytics journey that we see in the industry. I already held a series on R for the Data Science Virtual Chapter, and I’m confident you’ll see more material on this and related topics. There are sessions on R at the PASS BA Conference as well. The addition of Revolution Analytics and Datazen is great for Microsoft, and it means that the need for learning in these areas is more urgent, not less. That does not mean that i think that everyone should learn analytics. I don’t. However, I do think PASS can help those who are part of the journey, if they want (or need) to be.

I’m personally glad PASS are doing the PASS Business Analytics Conference because I believe it is a step in the right direction, in the analytics journey we see for the people who want to learn analytics, the businesses who want to use it, and the burgeoning technology. I agree with Brent Ozar ( b / t ) in that I don’t think that the role of the DBA is going away. I do think that, for small / medium businesses, some folks might find that they become the ‘data’ person rather than the DBA being a skill on its own. I envisage that PASS will continue to serve the DBA-specialist-guru as well as the BI-to-analytics people, as well as those who become the ‘one-stop-shop’ for everything data in their small organisation (DBA / BA / Analytics), as well as the DBA-and-Cloud person. It’s about giving people opportunity to learn what they want and need to learn, in order to keep up with the rate of change we see in the industry.

Please feel free to comment below.

Your friend,

Jen Stirrup

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What’s so unique about PASS Business Analytics? The Hands On Labs built in as part of the conference, that’s what!

10 Apr

PASS Business Analytics are holding scheduled Hands on Labs as part of the conference.

This means you can book a lab, and get real life, hands-on experience.

That’s not all – you get a Hands On Lab which is held by a real expert – not just someone who reads off a script. We have labs with the following people:

  • Dean Abbot
  • Chandoo
  • Dan Fylstra
  • Ken Puls
  • Scott Shaw

What are you waiting for? Register now and use the following code to register here to get the conference for $1295

See you there!

Jen’s Diary – Time to Answer, or Time to Question? Plus some EMEA thoughts

2 Apr

Hello again,

As always, I do not speak officially for PASS. This is my diary, and a bit of a brain dump.

I’m as busy as ever with PASS Business Analytics Conference, and things are going well. I’m helping to socialize the information about BAC, and I’m dealing informally with sponsors and community members and speakers, in the run up to the event. I’m starting to think about how we continue the BA conversation post-BAC, and there will be more of this discussion in the future. As well as PASS BAC, I am the lead organizer of SQLSaturday Edinburgh, Business Intelligence edition. If you are interested, take a look at our schedule and you will start to see the difference between the BI edition and the normal, full-fat SQLSaturday. There is a focus on data, and in the case of my SQLSaturday Edinburgh BI edition, we are looking at data across traditional Product Groups. Therefore, we have C#, CRM, Access, Visio and SQL Server MVPs speaking, as well as well-known community SharePoint and Business Analytics speakers.

The underlying focus is on data and analytics, and I know that other SQLSaturday organizers are watching the Edinburgh event with interest to see if this approach resonates with the community. This focus on data and analytics is much more than simply taking SQL Server and Azure topics and jamming some R in there as well; it is perfectly possible to talk about R and not mention statistics or analytics once – R is a very wide technology. Business Analytics for me,  an attitude of taking the business into perspective with a focus on business value, business insights, and actionable takeaways, and the Edinburgh schedule will become more clear on this topic in due course when we release our dedicated Analytics track.

Here is an example: are you interested in time-to-answer, or time-to-question? In Business Intelligence, you are interested in time-to-answer. You write your report, you get your answer, and people want the answer quickly. Business Analytics is about time-to-question, or, more specifically, time from the original question until the time you receive the next business question. You may have an answer, but the business users have another question; so in this case, you are all about shortening the time from the question, until you receive the next question. The questions will be focused on ‘what happened’ but they will also be focused on ‘why’ and ‘what do we do next’? The time-to-question metric will also take into account the fact that you are making predictions on your data, which feeds into the next question that the business will ask. Notice that I haven’t mentioned technology here; technology-focused sessions aren’t always Business Analytics presentations because they will be focused on technology ‘time to answer’ topics rather than business focused ‘time to question’ topics. So, R != Business Analytics, for example – it is about the business question you are asking, not the technology you are using.

Tim Ford does an amazing job as SQLSaturday Portfolio holder, and I can see that as an organizer and as a fellow Board member, and Tim and Karla should be congratulated for taking SQLSaturday to a whole new level over the support and reach of these events. One consequence of their success is that there are SQLSaturday events globally, and this is wonderful to see. One thing that I’m mulling over is the fact that some of the remote SQLSaturdays find it hard to get speakers. I wondered if any community folks would consider speaking remotely if events allowed it? One thing that Yaoundé are trying is the ability to have remote speakers, and I *love* this idea. I have submitted to speak remotely in Yaoundé, and I hear that another couple of SQLSaturday organizers are also considering this idea. I have a call next Wednesday with Jody Roberts,  who is a pillar of the community in Africa, and I’m hoping to hear his insights. Thanks also to Steve Simon for his continuing and supportive conversations on this issue.

As well as PASS BAC Portfolio holder, I hold the EMEA seat for PASS, and I really care about supporting these events for remote SQLSaturdays. I can’t always afford to go in person – like everyone else, I pay for my own travel to SQLSaturday events. I’d love to do them all but I simply cannot.

If you are interested in attending PASS Business Analytics Conference, I have the biggest discounts :) so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Love and friendship,

Jen Stirrun

My Kibana presentation slide deck from SQLBits

17 Mar

Here are the slides from my first SQLBits XIV session at the Excel in London, March 2015.

I presented with Allan Mitchell on the topic of ElasticSearch and Kibana. I did the Kibana section and talked around the topic of data visualisation, and the slides are here. I whizzed through these first, before giving a demo. I’ll post up the SQLBits video as soon as I have it.

Jen’s Diary: Overcoming the Power of Feathers through Action

17 Mar

I’m sorry I haven’t kept this diary up to date: I’ve been at SQLBits, SQLPass Nordic, Data Culture events, and other community gatherings. I’ve also had dental surgery, involving the removal of two teeth and the removal of some of my lower jaw. I haven’t been very happy, needless to say.

As always, I don’t represent PASS or any other organisation throughout this blog.

FYI I’ll be holding a Twitter Surgery Hour on Friday 20th March at 12pm GMT so please tweet me at @jenstirrup and ask me whatever you like! If you are not sure what time that is in your time zone, please check here.

never+not+broken[1]I’m not Hindi, but I’m inspired by the HIndu goddess Akhilanda, which means essentially “never not broken.” In other words, The Always Broken Goddess. Sanskrit is a tricky but amazing language. Here, we see a double negative here means that Akhilanda is broken right down to her name. The thing is, being broken is actually part of a renewal process, and it means that your broken parts can shine out more brightly than ever before – simply because you are broken, and moving, and reflect light out wide. It means you can pick up your pieces, and run without limits.

Outwardly, I am not an obvious leader. I realise I am a quiet person. I don’t party. I very rarely drink alcohol. I am not much of a dinner date – I am a forty something single mother, with no real hobbies or interests other than technology. I have never been someone to write home about. I am my own person.

People can know you by your reputation, but your actions can speak louder than words. Let me give you an example: a Jewish tale talks about a man, who went about the community telling gossip about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and wanted to apologise, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

Why do I write this blog? I want to give people something other than feathers, what is said about me, whether it is good or bad. Instead, I want to demonstrate real actions that prove me, demonstrate unequivocally that I work for the community, and work hard. Instead, I hope that these diary post series will overcome the power of feathers – whether they are good or bad – and shine out what I actually do for the community. Actions speak louder than words, and this is how we overcome the power of feathers – let your light shine more brightly than ever, even if you are not perfect but broken. For me, I work really hard for the community and hope that the actions demonstrate that.

I’m hoping that people will see how hard I’ve worked for the community, and they will hold onto that data – we are in a data-driven decade, right? – and they will see the data for what it is. So, what have I been doing?

Ongoing – PASS BA Conference. I attend conference calls for about three hours a week, some weeks, up to seven hours, and these calls are held from 9pm my time onwards. Obviously, that takes out a few of my evenings a week. I obviously have work to to outside of this time, such as sponsorship, blogging on numerous occasions, email.

Ongoing – I have been holding PASS Data Science Virtual Chapter webinars every Friday night, 9pm my time. This obviously takes out my Friday night, in additional to the BAC calls I mention above, and I have been doing this for four consecutive weeks now. This week is the last week, and I’m considering doing a five week introductory course to Python and/or AzureML after that. I’ve held lots of Virtual Chapter meetings before, particularly since I held that Portfolio for PASS last year. My most popular sessions were on data visualisation, personally, but I have noted that my audience has really increased over the last five weeks and I’d like to continue to offer that community support.

March 2015 – I tried to hold another DiTBits (Diversity in Technology) event at SQLBits, but, alas, this wasn’t to be. The event wasn’t marketed and it seemed a pity to try and shoehorn something in at the last moment. Next time, I hope.

March 2015 – I held a two hour R and Python for SQL and Business Intelligence Professionals session at SQLBits. Files and notes to follow (see earlier note about my surgery!) It was extremely well attended.

March 2015 – I held a general session on Data Visualisation, entitled Eye Vegetables and Eye Candy: How to Visualise your Data at SQLBits. Again, notes to follow (I’m still recovering from surgery…)

March 2015 – I did half of a joint session at SQLBits with Allan Mitchell, where I talked about Kibana. The topic was Building Scaleable Analytical Solutions on Azure and it was fun presenting with Allan.

March 2015 – I spoke at SQLRally Nordic on Pulling back the green curtain: Data Forensics, Power Bi and Dataviz.

March 2015 – I held a Women in Technology event at SQLRally Nordic, talking about the importance of diverse teams.

March 2015 – I interviewed Mico Yuk as part of our ‘Meet the Experts’ series and you can listen to the podcast here. I’m really looking forward to meeting her!

Feb 2015 – Ongoing – I worked to help get the Data Science Virtual Chapter off the ground, led by Mark Tabladillo, who is the VC lead. This has involved groundwork, phone calls, and working with Microsoft to get speakers. You should really register for the Data Science VC. It’s great fun!

Feb 2015 – Data Culture – I was the keynote speaker for Microsoft, which was great fun! The slideshare is below. My section is about the middle third or so; credits are on the slides for the other speakers.

Feb 2015 – Ongoing – I kicked off my series Intro to R series of webinars for the Data Science Virtual Chapter
Feb 2015 – I ramped up my SQLSaturday Edinburgh in earnest, which has a Business Intelligence focus.
Feb 2015 – I held an Excel BI VC session on cubes and Excel. I also hosted another session as a mentor.
Feb 2015 – Techdays – I held a webinar on AzureML to over six thousand people. Nervous? Yes, bordering on terror. Great thanks to Andrew Fryer (I’m honoured to call him my friend) for all of his support and he’s an inspiration to me, and I was glad to be his presenting small person for the day.
Feb 2015 – Hants UG – on the same day that I held the Techdays session, I left and travelled to Hampshire to deliver a session on AzureML.
I hope it’s clear that, in the past few months, I have been doing a lot of work for the community as well as my PASS Board responsibilities.
So, if you catch a feather and want to ask me about it, my email is jen.stirrup@datarelish.com or tweet me during my Twitter Hour on the 20th March. I look forward to your input. Just go ahead and ask me!

Data Science VC follow up: Intro to R and Statistics for the Rookie Part 1

20 Feb

I’ve decided to hold a five week introductory statistics and R course. Here, I am sharing the slide deck and the code. The video will go up on our YouTube Data Science Virtual Chapter channel, which is accessible from here.

In the first week, we talked about the relationship between statistics and data visualisation, and how it is extremely useful to have a good grounding in both topics. The slides are here, followed by the code:

The R code can be copied and pasted into your RStudio file:

# Loads sample datasets
data()

# Let’s look at the data
# This command tells you the metadata. What does R see, when it sees ‘iris’?
str(iris)

# What are the attributes?
# This gives us more information.
attributes(iris)

# Let’s see more of the data
iris

class(iris)
# A data frame has columns which can have different types.
# The column names and types constitute the schema.
# how do we know what is in our data frame?

# Column Names
colnames(iris)

# how can we see data in one of the columns?
iris$Petal.Length
# or we could also use iris[,3] to get the same column data.

iris[,3]
# of course, we want to visualise the data.
# Let’s do a simple scatter plot.

# How can we see the first five rows?
iris[1:5,]

# how can we see the Petal Length of the first 5 rows?
iris[1:5, “Petal.Length”]

# This shows us some of the descriptive statistics of each variable
summary(iris)

table(iris$Species)

# Let’s have some dataviz fun!
plot(iris$Petal.Length, iris$Petal.Width, main=”Anderson’s Iris Data”)
# You can now see the plot appear in the right hand side frame of RStudio.
# we can make it slightly more interesting
plot(iris$Petal.Length, iris$Petal.Width, pch=23, bg=c(“orange”, “blue”, “green”) [unclass(iris$Species)], main=”Anderson’s Iris Data”)

# we can make it even more interesting
pairs(iris[1:4], main = “Anderson’s Iris Data”, pch = 23, bg = c(“orange”, “green”, “blue”)[unclass(iris$Species)])
# pie charts!
pie(table(iris$Species))

# ooh, 3D!

library(scatterplot3d)
scatterplot3d(iris$Petal.Width, iris$Sepal.Length, iris$Sepal.Width)

# ooh, even more 3D!
library(rgl)
plot3d(iris$Petal.Width, iris$Sepal.Length, iris$Sepal.Width)

#Save your work!

savehistory(“~/Topic 1 Getting familiar with R A.Rhistory”)

PASS BA Speaker focus: What did Steve Jobs have to say about Daniel Fylstra?

17 Feb

PASS BA Conference is delighted to have Daniel Fylstra speaking at our conference. In fact, he was the first speaker we signed up.

Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say:

“There have been two real explosions that have propelled the industry forward. The first one really happened in 1977, and it was the spreadsheet. I remember when Dan Fylstra, who ran the company that marketed the first spreadsheet, walked into my office at Apple one day and pulled out this disk from his vest pocket and said “I have this incredible new program — I call it a Visual Calculator,” and it became VisiCalc. And that’s what really drove — propelled — the Apple II to the success it achieved.”

I think it’s great that we have such a visionary attending our PASS BA Conference. I’m looking forward to meeting Daniel, and picking up his insights from 30 plus years in the industry. Jobs mentions an event that took place when I was only six years old, and look at how the industry has grown since then. We have Excel’s 30th Birthday this year.

We can really say that the team of Dan Bricklin, Bob Frankston and Daniel Fylstra are great innovators who have really changed the industry fundamentally. Although they didn’t invent the spread sheet, it was Daniel Fylstra suggested it would be a viable product if it could run on an Apple II computer. VisiCalc was born.

Ever used the Microsoft Excel Solver? Well, here is Daniel Fylstra’s paper on the Microsoft Excel Solver, and its design and use. If you’ve ever used it, you should tip your hat to the great team who put it together. Daniel is one of those people. More recently, Fylstra has been working on Integrated simulation, data mining and optimization in Excel. Here’s a recent paper here, from the ACM.

From this insight, there are great innovators and thinkers that can we learn from them. They seek better ways of doing things, about bringing insights from other disciplines. We are inspired by people who see the bigger picture, and I’m personally looking forward to meeting Daniel and thanking him for all he has done for this industry.

Make sure you sign up for the Conference, and take the opportunity to meet a legend in the industry.

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