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

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!

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

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See you there!

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

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.

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 Stirrup