SQLPass 24hop Review: Slicers in Reporting Services

Twice a year, SQLPass put on a stellar free ’24 hour hop’ which is aimed at engaging with SQL Server fans all over the world. Basically, SQL experts from all over the world give an hour of their time in order to present you, the SQL Server viewing public, with some SQL goodness, advice and tips and tricks to make your lives easier. Ever since I have got involved with the SQL Server community in the UK and the US, I have learned so much from my peers. I can say that SQLPass and SQLBits have both enriched my life so much in terms of my skills, and also introducing me to some wonderful friends that I’ve made my home in the community. For that, I am grateful. The 24 hop is one of the ways in which we can learn more about SQL!

The SQLPass 24 hop sessions, given in Fall 2011, have been designed to give you a flavour of the precons that will be provisioned as a part of SQLPass Summit.  The 24hop sessions are given by world-class SQL experts. This fall, I listened to a total of 5 different sessions and learned a lot! 
I’d like to thank the following people for giving up their time to educate the wider SQL Community (and me!): Denny Cherry, Stacia Misner, Paul Turley, Rob Farley, Simon Sabin and Peter Myers for their excellent sessions and for giving up their time to help people in the community by provisioning free training. If you are interested, I’d recommend that you take the time to look at the SQLPass preconference training for each of these sessions since you’d be trained by the ‘best of the best’. 

In this blog, I wanted to call out Simon’s Reporting Services session since I thought that his session was particularly outstanding. Simon’s webinar focused on provisioning slicers for Reporting Services. Yes, you read that right! Slicers are available in Excel and in Project Crescent. Every time I show slicers to an Excel user for the first time, the customer is usually impressed by their simplicity and ease of configuration. It’s also possible to ‘theme’ slicers so that they match the rest of the dashboard elements. They also increase usability because they are consistent with Schneiderman’s Visual Information Seeking Mantra: ‘overview, filter and zoom’ methodology with respect to data navigators ‘surfing’ their way through the data.

Basically, Simon used VB and SSRS to produce the slicers in the report. For SSRS people who’d like to know more about what .Net can offer them, this is an excellent route towards learning some .net whilst enhancing report usability in line with the best data visualisation thinking as advised by gurus like Schneiderman. What I especially liked is that Simon paid attention to the .Net requirement from the SSRS writers’ perspective, and was careful to call out any potential pitfalls or mistakes that the SSRS report writer might make. 

The end result was great to see, and Simon produced the report, which you can see on his blog, on less than an hour. It seems to me that his SSRS precon would be especially interesting since you’d obtain lots of useful practical advice, packed into a one-day event, that would really make a difference to writing SSRS reports.

As a business intelligence specialist, I believe firmly that accurate and useful reporting can drive a business from data towards business intelligence and customer intelligence; listening to the stories that the data is telling you. If you can’t ‘hear’ the data because the reports are poor or don’t have the user in mind, then you are still not using the data properly – even if you have lots of it. Quantity of data is not quality of data – it has to be clean and well-presented before it can be used to support the enterprise.

It seems to me that an investment in report writing is fundamentally an investment in business. SSRS precon and training like Simon’s session offers a real ‘value-add’ to the business long term, by supporting the provisioning of reports by report writers to the decision-makers who need the reports to drive the business forward. SSRS can be left behind a bit, in the fanfare over Excel Services, and of course, Project Crescent. Despite the new technologies and new ‘self-service’ business intelligence outlook, there is always a role for straight reporting in running a business knowledgeably and accurately, based on the data. 

If you’re interested in the SQLPass pre-cons, then please do head over to the site and take a look! If you decide to go, please do let me know by tweeting me and hopefully I’ll see you at SQLPass Summit!

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