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


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

  1. Pingback: News About PASS For Week Ending April 25, 2015 | PASSWatch

  2. I’m really excited about R integration. It will put MS analytics platform where it needs to be. It will all depend on how it’s integrated. Personally I think Power Query is a complete over lap with R. R has lots more however it’s a very comprehensive tool for shaping and cleansing data, all be it job lot in-memory with a steeper learning curve. Unless I don’t understand what Power Query offers it kind of makes it redundant. Also it’s not just the language; Microsofts has an in memory engine that can be manipulated with DAX, MDX and Power Query. R has it’s own in memory engine. I imagine the integration of these engines won’t be trivial if at all possible.

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