Why UK Power BI Summit? Derive business value from your data

I’ve created UK Power BI Summit in response to an industry need for Power BI to have its own event, and I hope to produce a repeatable model for other Power BI groups globally. I am working with Microsoft in Redmond at the moment, in the hope that I can spread the world globally about the power of enabling businesses through data, via easily-accessible tools.

What’s the rationale? Personally, the next step in my career is to continue my trajectory from the data center towards boardroom level leadership and consultancy, in order to help organisations become 21st century, data-driven organisations. Data is at the foundation of businesses. Data, in turn, leads to insights and better decisions that improve the business. Ideally, businesses should have data as part of their DNA. This does not mean that there is not a place for context or for ‘gut instinct’. Data gives businesses new insights, and, in turn, it gives them new options.

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My favourite bookshop in the world: The Strand Bookstore, New York, on the corner of Broadway and E 12th Street.

With my business and technical skills in mind, I am doing my MBA at this stage in my career to focus on building businesses as data-driven organisations. The MBA will help me to combine my technical and business expertise within an established framework that will help me to be more effective in a leadership role. I believe that the MBA will help me to articulate and achieve a strategic viewpoint, which, in turn, will help businesses to use their data more effectively.

I am not alone in this data-driven journey. My industry experience tells me that many organisations suffer from one thing: hype about the possibilities and opportunities in data, and, particularly Big Data, but they don’t know how to get started in terms of technology, people, and enabling business processes that would consume these services.

Organisations can find it difficult to know where to start, or even how to start. Very often, businesses simply store all of their data, rather than think proactively about the data that they have, and how they could use it. As businesses continue to get excited about the opportunities of Big Data, they will also need Data Thought Leadership in order to guide them effectively towards success.

Digital Transformation is a much bandied about term. It isn’t simply whacking a few Virtual Machines in Azure, moving data to the cloud and – yay – digital transformation. It’s about transforming the business through the use of technology, and it has the business at the front-and-center of the activity.

Now is the time for businesses to bring their data and their strategy together, using the latest technologies – but they can’t do that, until they see their data. This is where Power BI come in.

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The Power BI event is aimed at those people in the organisation who are aware of business needs, user needs, and have winning ideas and who are willing to learn about user-oriented technology to make that happen. The event is aimed at helping these people to learn about the technology from beginner to advanced, according to their needs.

Although the event is about technology, it’s also about the business, and deriving business value from your data. It’s not a straightforward technology event. It’s about the business as well as the technology, and how it’s used. It’s about bringing you along the journey, further.

I thought that the difference between UK Power BI Summit and other events such as PASS SQLSaturday events, SQLBits were fairly clear, but it would seem from my email traffic that my assumption wasn’t correct.

Just to be clear:

  • I am not part of the SQLBits committee and I have nothing to do with their leadership. I don’t represent them and I’m not featured on their promotional video. I’ve been speaking there since SQLBits 7 through to SQLBits XV. You can look for my SQLBits 7 – 15 sessions here.
  • I am part of PASS and a non executive Director, and I sit on the PASS Board as an elected Director. I don’t represent PASS here. If you want a PASS-validated blog, then please head over to their site. This isn’t a PASS event.

Let’s look at the SQLBits mission statement, taken from their site:

SQL Bits was started by a group of individuals that are passionate about the SQL Server product suite. There is a breadth of knowledge in the SQL Community that will benefit everyone in the community. We want to spread that knowledge. We all work with the SQL community, some of us for many years and have all been given the MVP award by Microsoft.

Let’s look at the PASS Mission Statement, taken from their site:

PASS is an independent, not-for-profit organization run by and for the community. With a growing membership of more than 100K, PASS supports data professionals throughout the world who use the Microsoft data platform.

PASS strives to fulfill its mission by:

  • Facilitating member networking and the exchange of information through our local and virtual chapters, online events, local and regional events, and international conferences
  • Delivering high-quality, timely, technical content for in-depth learning and professional development

PASS was co-founded by CA Technologies and Microsoft Corporation in 1999 to promote and educate SQL Server users around the world. Since its founding, PASS has expanded globally and diversified its membership to embrace professionals using any Microsoft data technology.

So, the UK Power BI Summit is ultimately looking at using Power BI to transform businesses, through expertise in the technology, embedded in business-oriented discussions. The technology should support the business in its mission to adapt to the new world of data.

If you’d like to register, click below:

Eventbrite - UK Power BI Summit

Power BI Connectivity to SAP BusinessObjects BI Now Generally Available

Now available is the Power BI connectivity to SAP BusinessObjects BI, a joint business intelligence interoperability solution delivered with SAP in Microsoft Excel, Power BI for Office 365, and SAP BusinessObjects BI. With this solution, users can connect to SAP BusinessObjects BI Universes as another supported data source in Power Query for Excel, enabling them to access and analyze data across the enterprise and share their data and insights in the cloud and any device through Power BI.   
 

Microsoft currently offers multiple ways to interoperate with SAP. The BI connectivity is another option customers have using Excel and the latest version of SAP BusinessObjects BI. Users can rely on the latest, accurate, and trusted enterprise data directly in Excel through an SAP BusinessObjects BI Universe without having to wrestle with copying and pasting or manually importing data. Companies that have made investments in both BI stacks can now effectively leverage their technology investments to maximize ROI. IT can also use the connectivity to continue to manage critical company data sources while giving business users access to trusted enterprise data in familiar tools they use every day without requiring them to learn new skills.

Shout out for my favourite Power BI MSDN and TechNet blogs this month

childrenyellingI wanted to call out some of our favourite TechNet and MSDN blogs posted about Excel, Power BI, Office365 and Azure over the past month. These links are a great place to get started if you want to know more about how you could use PowerBI.

I’ve selected some of the most interesting case studies, and we’d like to call out the Data Insights from the Microsoft Vision Center at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in particular. Some of our readers will be in the world of Finance, so the article Power BI for Finance will be of most interest here.
·         Power BI for Finance

Democratization of Data: From Ideas to Decisions with Power BI

“Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” Howard Aiken, Founder of Harvard’s Computing Science Program.

Data is moving so fast these days, and there is a shift whereby people are paying for value, not technology. This is where cloud computing comes in: it is very empowering, because anyone with an internet connection can access it. With Power BI in the cloud, small businesses are liberated with the ability to use the same tools and techniques to explore ideas as larger organisations.

In this session, we will look at understanding the Power BI components and tools available in the cloud, including the Power BI Admin Center, Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map. We will look at how to use them will accelerate ideas and help to clarify decisions, and related to this, discuss the roles within IT and the business in relation to these tools. We will also look at business puzzles versus business mysteries, a definition evoked by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers) in relation to Power BI.

“Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it,” said Gary Hamel, a management guru. With Power BI, let’s see how you can translate your ideas in to a message that people can see, using cloud as an empowerment tool.

 

Democratization of Data: from Thoughts to Decisions presentation at SQLKonferenze – see you there!

I’m proud to be speaking at the SQLKonferenze in Germany.  It’s a very special event: 10 years of PASS in Germany!  I am doing two things:

  • I’m giving a brief talk during the opening session on Monday 10th Feb, as part of my role on the Board of Directors for PASS, where I am honoured to have been elected to hold the Europe seat.
  • My general session is on the Democratization of Data: from Thoughts to Decisions.


“Do not worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” Howard Aiken, Founder of Harvard’s Computing Science Program. 
Data is moving so fast these days, and there is a shift whereby people are paying for value, not technology. This is where cloud computing comes in:. it is very empowering, Because anyone with internet connection can access to it With Power BI in the cloud, Small Businesses are liberated with the ability to use the same tools and techniques to explore ideas as larger organizations.

In this session, we will look at understanding the Power BI components and tools available in the cloud, including the Power BI Admin Center, Power Query, PowerPivot, Power View and Power Map. We will therefore look at how to use them will accelerate ideas and help to clarify Decisions, and related to this, discuss the roles within IT and the business in relation to synthesis tools. We will look at business versus business mysteries, puzzles, a definition evoked by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers) in relation to Power BI. “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it,” Said Gary Hamel, a management guru. With Power BI, let’s see how you can translate your ideas in to a message did people can see, using cloud as on empowerment tool. 


Under the motto “community powered product knowledge” the event will provide you with the experts of the German and worldwide international PASS SQL Server Community and experts from Microsoft for two days on 11 and 12 February 2014 
The event is a Technical Deep Dive into SQL Server 2014. A day earlier, on 10 February 2014 , there is also the opportunity for PreCons sessions, the specific usage scenarios of SQL Server illuminate in three full-day Power Workshops in detail. 
And there is also something to celebrate: the launch of Microsoft SQL Server 2014 and 10 year PASS Germany eV! In two or three days of the conference you will get views and information on topics such as business intelligence, in-memory computing, Developing on top of SQL Server 2014 Data Tools, mission-critical high availability based on improved availability groups, hybrid cloud deployment concepts for example: Disaster Recovery and Enterprise Information Management with SQL Server Integration Services, Data Quality Services and Master Data Services. 
Meet at the SQL Server conference and learn about the innovations of SQL Server 2014 and you can sign up now.

My PowerBI Contest Entry: it is not your belt rank that matters but the legacy you leave

“In martial arts it is not your belt rank that matters but the legacy you leave.” – Grandmaster CK Leow, Founder, Moodukkwan Malaysia


It’s the voting round in the Power BI contest.  I would ask you to please vote… but not necessarily for me. I mean for any and all of the participants who took the time and effort to create Power BI contest entries.

 
In my opinion, entering the competition wasn’t just about being clever with Power BI, communication skills in explaining it well, and the diligence and time management to squeeze it all in on time. It was also about self-discipline in learning the new software, and challenging yourself to do it. On this, I think every entrant was a winner.

I’m not a fan of competitions where the loudest voice is the winner, and I’m no fan of relentless self-promotion either. I don’t do competition… I do collaboration. I take the long view that collaboration and teamwork wins out in the end, and competition usually means I disengage. Like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, sometimes you have to stand back and let them roll by. Conserve energy for what is really important.

For me, I entered the competition to share my knowledge with other people, and also to get to play with some meteorite data which I enjoy. I could also talk about some data visualisation principles as part of a training exercise, and I was happy with simply sharing the joy of data! Due to this, I’m going to point out my favourite entries below. These are not my entries, but are entries that I particularly enjoyed.

 

For closure, my video is below and I hope that you enjoy it, regardless of whether you vote for it or not.
 My emphasis was on training rather than on doing something flashy because I think that meets more of a community need to learn about PowerBI, and my guess is that the competition was a great way for a lot of people to learn about the software whilst having some fun along the way.
The ‘Flashy versus Few’ debate continues elsewhere, but if someone learns anything from my video, I’ll be happy with that!


 

Business Intelligence Barista: Mixing your choice of BI Coffee with Tableau, Power BI or Qlikview?

** Update at 11th March: 
This is not an advert for PivotStream and I am not endorsing their services or solution. 
To show that this blog post is not an advert for PivotStream, I will explore alternatives, which I will follow up in a future post.
In the meantime, you could look at PowerBI and Office 365 with Azure, for example. 
Any questions, please leave at the bottom of this post and I will pick them up. 
I strongly advise people to make up their own mind when choosing a solution but this is blog post discussess some of the factors that you may want to take into consideration, along with other items such as technical support and so on which I do not cover here.
**

Choosing a Business Intelligence is a bit like making coffee for the whole company. Everybody likes it their way, and they want it right now. Plus, everybody wants it differently. Some want a latte, a cappuccino, or a dainty little espresso so strong that you can stand your spoon in. Some want it hot, some want it with ice, or poured over ice-cream. Some are allergic to milk and nuts, so they have to have special treatment because of the constraints on them. Plus, if that wasn’t hard enough, everyone wants the sprinkles, right? They want the syrups and they might want brown sugar, white sugar, sweetener, Stevia or just plain.  They might even want the pretty little picture on the frothy coffee to make it look nice.
You get the idea, right?

So, given that everyone has different requirements, how do you go about keeping everybody happy? If you think about how hard it is to keep everyone happy when you’re just making coffee, think how hard it is to select a business Intelligence solution. Not just any solution…. the *right* solution. The one that will keep everyone happy and give them what they want. The solution that will keep the ambulance away from the door, where constraints must be met or there will be serious trouble. The solution that will keep everyone out of danger whilst making sure that the sprinkle lovers get their sprinkles, and the folks who like a chocolate covered spoon in their coffee get a little chocolate covered spoon – in milk, dark or white…

This blog is a guidepost for people who ask me the following question a lot: Which BI tool should I choose? Truthfully, chucking a large chequebook at a technology is not going to solve all your Business Intelligence problems. To be honest, that’s like buying a great big coffee machine that might look shiny, but doesn’t actually put the sprinkles on top for you. Additionally, asking consultants and teams of sales people to do a ‘beauty parade’ of BI tools may not be the answer either. Sometimes that is just a way to stave off the decision; we are doing something so we must be doing something right because we look busy.  No-no.

So, here I have taken two extremely well known technologies: Tableau and Qlikview, and put it against a Microsoft Partner PivotStream whom you may not have come across. You may have seen recently that Microsoft are offering a Power BI solution which has the Power BI tools as a standalone option. I haven’t included it here because this technology is still in Preview, and I felt it wasn’t fair to include Preview technology. Instead, I chose PivotStream because they currently offer Microsoft BI Tools hosted in the cloud right now.

Note: These are just my insights. I didn’t tell either vendor that I was going to write this, and ultimately, the opinions are mine. However, I keep getting asked the questions, and if you are looking for a BI tool and are bewildered by the options, this post is for you. I compared on a few metrics: Business Criteria; Data Visualisation Criteria and Technical Criteria

CAVEAT: Here are my thoughts below. I expect that the people who love any of these technologies with a passion will comment, and they are free to do so. I am not saying that this is sanctioned by any of the aforementioned organisations. Instead, it is just the world how I see it, and I may be wrong! If I am, please do feel free to correct me.

Ok, to business. My assessment is at the end of the tables.

Business Criteria

Business Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Time to implement
Fast
Longer
Longer
Scalability
Good
RAM Limited
Excellent
Tableau: virtual RAM
Enterprise Ready
Good for small organisations who can use the cloud option. On its own, Tableau Desktop is not expensive.
Good for medium businesses who might find it more cost-effective to take more licenses. Requirements for very small teams may not be suitable or cost-effective. There is a myriad of product options and it’s not clear how the one or two person team could have a cost-effective option.
Good for SMB
Qlikview is more mature but Microsoft has a much clearer vision than previously. Tableau is demonstrably used in many large organisations, as their customer list shows.
Long-term viability
Fastest growth
Public company
Dependable
Excel is widely used in the organisation so no adoption is required
Getting free online help?
Tableau forums
Qlikview LinkedIn group
Microsoft online communities
Tableau and Microsoft provide great free online help. Qlikview has its own forum which you sign up for. Tableau has the best free training videos I’ve ever seen.
Getting paid training
Yes
Yes
Yes
The costs vary depending on the courses.
Big Data Support
Above Average
Average
yes, ODBC connectivity to HDInsight
It is on all of their roadmaps. Tableau offers a bewildering number of ways to connect to lots of data sources. However, they don’t connect to PDW very well so Microsoft wins for PDW support. It isn’t clear if QlikView support PDW or not.
Partner Network
Average
Qlikview: 1000+ partners
Small. More direct approach.
Since PivotStream are a younger organisation, their partner network is emerging. Mainly deal direct, not via partners.

Visualisation Criteria

Visualization Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Eye Candy’ Appear
Yes
medium
Medium
Tableau blows users away with its beautiful data visualisation. I’ve seen it – I know. It has ‘wow!’ factor.
Data Interactivity
Excellent
Excellent
Excellent
Tableau’s interactivity has improved a lot and hits the mark for a lot of requirements. The scripting requirement in QlikView makes me a bit wary for users. Microsoft’s various reporting tools need to be aligned more, but this isn’t news to them – I am sure it will become easier to get PerformancePoint to talk to PowerView etc. in the future. Small steps in a huge task, which is a side-effect of the sheer range of reporting offerings that Microsoft have in place today.
Visual Drilldown
Excellent
Excellent
Very Good
I’d like to see drilldown in PowerView, for example. Excel has a neat drill down feature.
Offline Viewer
Free Tableau Reader
Personal Edition
Excel spreadsheets downloaded
Tableau and Pivotstream offer Excel downloads for offline viewing.
Analyst’s Desktop
Tableau Pro
Qlikview Desktop
Excel
Excel is familiar within the organisation.
Dashboard Support
Good
Excellent
Excellent
Dashboarding methodologies can be implemented in QlikView and Tableau. Tableau has basic default KPIs but these can be manufactured easily enough. QlikView seem to be popular with finance departments and seem to talk well with them.
Web Client
Very Good
Very Good
Very Good
No real distinguishing factor here. Microsoft has Excel services and we know that business users love Excel!
Mobile Clients
Excellent
Excellent
Good
Tableau and Qlikview have an edge on Microsoft for now, but the release of PowerBI for O365 is visibly getting traction and interest in the Preview.
Visual Controls
Very Good
Very Good
Very Good

Technical Criteria

Technical Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Data Integration
Excellent
Very Good
Very Good
Tableau integrates easily with Google Analytics for further analysis, but this is not required at the early stages of a BI strategy. You can get extra connectors for QlikView from DataRoket
Development
Tableau Pro
Qlikview Developer
SQL Server Business Intelligence or Excel skills
QlikView has scripting, which the organisation will need to learn. This may incur training costs. If the organisation already has strong SQL Server BI Developer skills in-house, and would not require further training..
64-bit in-RAM DB
Good
Excellent
Excellent
SQL Server ‘talks’ to other systems and will output data easily to QlikView and other formats. This is not reciprocated i.e. once the data is in QlikView, it stays in QlikView.
Mapping support
Excellent
Average
Excellent
Tableau has Mapping. Excel 2013 has 3D Power Map as a feature within it, and this is interesting for further, future analyses.
Local data files (text, spreadsheet etc.)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Relational databases (SQLServer, Oracle etc.)
Yes
Yes
Yes
OLAP cubes (SSAS, Essbase etc.)
Yes
No
No
Online data sources
Yes
Yes
Yes
Microsoft’s new Power Query allows you to search online and scrape datasets straight into Excel.
Multi-source access
Yes
Yes
Yes
Multi-table access
Yes
Yes
Yes
Extracted data storage
Optional (proprietary)
Proprietary
Data remains where it is.
Maximum capacity
Unlimited
Billions of rows
In-memory engine
Desktop or Server
Desktop or Server
Tableau reads SSAS and PowerPivot Cubes, but not very well. Tableau and QlikView want to suck the data into their own data models; Microsoft keeps the data where it is, where it is easily accessible by Microsoft and other vendors.
Modeling, Analytics
Below Average
Below Average
Data mining and other capabilities
Microsoft is the winner here for providing a range of modelling and analytics tools such as Tabular model, SSAS. Again, the organisation has experience in these tools so you are leveraging in-house skill sets.
Data Mining
Limited
Limited
Yes
By ‘Data Mining’, I mean true data mining e.g. building neural nets with thought put into it about avoiding jitter, bootstrapping and so on. This is not ‘what if’ scenarios but data science.
Multidimensional
Very Good
Limited
Excellent
Microsoft is the winner for multidimensional modelling
xVelocity Support
Good
None
Excellent
Microsoft is a pioneer in xVelocity support
PowerPivot Support
Good
None
Excellent
Microsoft is a pioneer in xVelocity support
API
Excellent
yes, documentation over at the QlikView Community site.
Excellent
Microsoft open their software up and have APIs available.

The detail is below, but the take-away summary of my thoughts are below:


From conversations with customers, they often want the simplest solution possible. Office365 has previously been pooh-poohed by organisations looking at BI because it introduced a lot of gubbins that people did not want or need i.e. Lync, Exchange and so on. This created a concern amongst the technical people and you can almost read their minds: if the bosses just want a reporting solution, why are they buying something with Exchange? Am I going to be out of a job? This meant that the technical folks were against it, and this reduced the likelihood of adoption or even getting Office365 solutions in the door. Plus, as a guiding principle, people do not buy stuff that they do not need. Fact. With the advent of PivotStream – who simply offer Microsoft BI in the cloud – the antagonism over some of the Office365 story went away.


What will happen to PivotStream now that Power BI in the Cloud is in the offing? I think that they will be fine because they offer one thing which is often key: control over your own cloud deployment. If your PivotStream sharepoint site goes down, then you can wade in yourself and fix it. That might be good for some but not so good for others. For me, that’s the USP.

What about Tableau? I’ve been a Tableau fan for years. It’s a little known fact that spoke at their Tableau European Conference in Amsterdam in 2011, and even had a Heineken with Stephen Few and some of the Tableau team and dataviz gurus (if you haven’t already, read Stephen’s blog. Now. ). Where I think Tableau succeed is that they are superb at what they do: data visualisation. For me, they are the hallmark and the touchstone of where dataviz wants to be, and they are constantly breaking boundaries. However, what they succeed at is something that many organisations aren’t quite ready for; breath-taking visualisations. For some, getting data in and out of Excel is a nightmare and they are simply not ready for it. For these people, Office365 or PivotStream are perfect.

What about QlikView? They are beloved of financial departments but I am not sure that they talk so well to IT departments. For me, the fact that there is scripting involved is an issue. If it is self-service Business Intelligence, it should be as easy as possible. In my opinion, they are a bit Marmite as we say in the UK; you either love them or you don’t. There is no half-way house. From my perspective, I hear both sides but I don’t really see QlikView fanboys the way that we see Tableau fanboys.
To summarise, sorting out user requirements is key. There is no wrong choice, if it is the right choice for your organisation. However, any technology is a bad choice if it isn’t the right choice for your organisation. Look past the flash, and see what is really right for you.
 /*** Late Breaking News ***/
My apologies: I put Tableau API as None but that isn’t correct.
I’ve fixed the table, and here is a pointer to the Tableau documentation on the JavaScript API. Thanks to Andy Cotgreave for the spot!
By way of apology, here is the Tableau API in action, done with the panache and fun you’d expect from a Tableau video.

/** Even Later breaking news *//

Sorry QlikView team! My humblest apologies. Apparently QlikView *DO* offer an API and you can find information on it here.  Quote from the site (I’m not repeating a sales pitch or commentary here, this is just straight from the community site)
The QlikView Software Development Kit is the home of the QlikView Software Integration toolbox. It includes sample code and the Application Programming Interfaces  (APIs).

Note: More content will be added in an ongoing basis.
In my defence, the comments at the foot the QlikView community page are riddled with comments from people who can’t find this or that, or don’t know the status of stuff, and then get supplied by links from other people. I’m guessing that I am not the only one who doesn’t find the information very easy to find on the community site then.
So here is the link http://community.qlikview.com/docs/DOC-2639 and I have updated the table.