Jen’s Diary: Why are PASS doing Business Analytics at all?

As always, I don’t speak for PASS. This is a braindump from the heart. I realise that we haven’t communicated about BA as much as some members might like. It’s a hard balance – I don’t want to spam people, and I don’t want to get it too light, either. If you want to sign up for PASS BA news, here’s the link. So I have to apologise here, and hold my hands up for that one. I’ll endeavour to ensure we have a better BA communications plan in place, and i’m meeting the team on Friday to discuss how we can make that happen.

In the meantime, I’d like to blog about BA today. How did we get here, and where are we going? Why are PASS interested in Business Analytics at all? To answer this question, let’s look at the history of Business Intelligence, what Business Analytics means, and how PASS can be part of the story. Let’s start with the history lesson. What are the stages of Business Intelligence?

First generation Business Intelligence – this was the world of corporate Business Intelligence. You’ll know this by the phrase ‘the single source of truth’. This was a very technical discipline, focused on the data warehouse. It was dominated by Kimball methodology, or Imon methodology, dependent on the business requirement. However, the business got lost in all this somewhere, and they reverted to the default position of using Excel as a tool to work with Excel exports, and subverting the IT departments by storing data in email. Microsoft did – and still do – cater for the first generation of business intelligence. It has diversified into new cloud products, of course, but SQL Server still rocks. You’ll have seen that Gartner identified SQL Server as the number one RDBMS for 2015. Kudos to the team! For an overview, the Computer Weekly article is interesting.

Second generation Business Intelligence – the industry pivoted to bring the Business back into Business Intelligence. You’ll know this by the phrase ‘self-service business intelligence’. Here, the business user was serviced with clean data sources that they could mash and merge together, and they were empowered to connect to these sources. In the Microsoft sphere, this involved a proliferation of tabular models, PowerPivot as well as continued use of analysis services multidimensional models. As before, Excel remained the default position for working with data. PASS Summit 2015 has a lot of content in both of these areas.

So far, so good. PASS serves a community need by offering high quality, community education on all of these technologies. Sorted, right?

Wrong. The world of data keeps moving. Let’s look at the projected growth of Big Data by Forbes.

Well, the world of business intelligence isn’t over yet; we now have business analytics on the horizon and the world of data is changing fast. We need to keep up! But what do we do with all this data? This is the realm of Business Analytics, and why is it different from BI? The value of business analytics lies in its ability to deliver better outcomes. It’s a different perspective. Note from our first generation and our second generation BI times, technology was at the forefront of the discussion. In business analytics, we talk about organizational change, enabled by technology. In this sphere, we have to quantify and communicate value as the outcome, not the technology as a means to get there. So what comes next?

Third generation of business intelligence – self-service analytics. Data visualisation software has been at the forefront of second generation Business Intelligence, and it has taken a priority. Here, the position is taken that businesses will understand that they need data visualisation technologies as well as analytical tools, to use the data for different purposes.

How is Business Analytics an extension of Business Intelligence? Let’s look at some basic business questions, and see how they fall as BI or BA. Images belong to Gartner so all kudos and copyright to the team over there.

What happened?

If the promise of business intelligence is to be believed, then we have our clean data sources, and we can describe the current state of the business. Gartner call this descriptive analytics, and it answers the question: What happened? This level is our bread-and-butter business intelligence, with an emphasis on the time frame until this current point in time.

Why did it happen?

We can also understand, to a degree, why we are where we are. This is called diagnostic analytics, and it can help pinpoint issues in the organisation. Business Intelligence is a great domain for understanding the organisation until this point in time. However, it’s a rearview impressio of the data. What happens next? Now, we start to get into the remit of Business Analytics:

What will happen?

Businesses want to know what will happen next. Gartner call this predictive analytics, and this perception occurs when we want to try and look for predictive patterns in the data. Once we understand what will happen next, what is the next question?

How can we make this happen?

This is the power of prescriptive analytics; it tells us what we should do, and it is the holy grail of analytics. It uses business intelligence data in order to understand the right path to take, and it builds on the other types of analytics.

Business Intelligence and Business Analytics are a continuum. Analytics is focused more on a forward motion of the data, and a focus on value. People talk about ROI, TCO, making good business decisions based on strong data. First generation and second generation are not going away. A cursory look around a lot of organisations will tell you that. The Third Generation, however, is where organisations start to struggle a bit. PASS can help folks navigate their way towards this new generation of data in the 21st century.

How do we measure value? It is not just about storing the data, protecting it and securing it. These DBA functions are extremely valuable and the business would not function without them – full stop.  So how do we take this data and use it as a way of moving the organisation? We can work with the existing data to improve it; understand and produce the right measures of return, profiling, or other benefits such as team work. Further, analytics is multi-disciplinary. It straddles the organisation, and it has side effects that you can’t see, immediately. This is ‘long term vision’ not ‘operational, reactive, here-and-now’. Analytics can effect change within the organisation, as the process of doing analytics itself means that the organization solves a business problem, which it then seeks to re-apply across different silos within the organization.

SQL Server, on the other hand, is a technology. It is an on-premise relational database technology, which is aimed at a very specific task. This is a different, technologically based perspective. The perspectives in data are changing, as this Gartner illustration taken from here shows:

Why do we need a separate event? We need to meet different people’s attitudes towards data. DBAs have a great attitude; protect, cherish, secure data. BAs also have a great attitude: use, mix, apply learnings from data. You could see BA as a ‘special interest group’ which offers people a different choice. There may not be enough of this material for them at PASS Summit, so they get their own event. If someone wants to go ahead and have a PASS SQLSaturday event which is ‘special interest’ and focuses solely on, say, performance or disaster recovery, for example, then I don’t personally have a problem with that.  I’d let them rock on with it. It might bring in new members, and it offers a more niche offering to people who may or may not attend PASS because they don’t feel that there’s enough specialised, in depth, hard-core down-to-the-metal disaster recovery material in there for them. Business Analytics is the same, by analogy. Hundreds and hundreds of people attended my 3 hour session on R last year; so there is an interest. I see the BA event as a ‘little sister’ to the PASS ‘big brother’ – related, but not quite the same.

Why Analytics in particular? It’s about PASS growth. To grow, it can be painful, and you take a risk. However, I want to be sure that PASS is still growing to meet future needs of the members, as well as attracting new members to the fold However, the feetfall we see at PASS BA, plus our industry-recognised expert speakers, tell us that we are growing in the right direction. Let’s take a look at our keynote speaker, Jer Thorpe, has done work with NASA, the MOMA in New York, he was Data artist in residence at the New York Times and he’s now set up. The Office for Creative Research & adjunct professor at ITP. Last year, we had Mico Yuk, who is author of Dataviz for Dummies, as well as heading up her own consultancy team over at BI Brainz. They are industry experts in their own right, and I’m delighted to add them as part of our growing PASS family who love data.

The PASS BA event also addresses the issue of new and emerging data leaders. How do you help drive your organisation towards becoming a data-oriented organisation? This means that you talk a new language; we talk about new criteria for measuring value, working out return on investment, cross-department communication, and communication of ideas, conclusions to people throughout the organisation, even at the C-level executives. PASS BA is also looking at the career trajectories of these people as well as DBA-oriented folks, and PASS BA is out there putting the ‘Professional’ aspect into the event. We have a separate track, Communicate and Lead, which is all about data leadership and professional development. A whole track – the little sister is smartly bringing the Professional back, folks, and it’s part of our hallmark.

PASS is part of this story of data in the 21st Century. The ‘little sister’ still adds value to the bigger PASS membership, and is an area of growth for the family of PASS.

Any questions, I’m at jen.stirrup@sqlpass.org or please do come to the Board Q&A and ask questions there. If you can’t make it, tweet me at jenstirrup and I’ll see if I can catch them during the Q&A.

3 thoughts on “Jen’s Diary: Why are PASS doing Business Analytics at all?

  1. Pingback: Alphabet Soup | Peter James Thomas

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