Jeff Pries

Business Intelligence, SQL Server, and other assorted IT miscellany

Category: BI (page 1 of 2)

Fun Local User Group Presentations – 2017

Going through my notes, I thought I’d highlight some of the most fun or innovative local user group presentations I’ve been to so far this year.

Atlanta is fortunate to have many user groups, two specifically which I attend are the “Atlanta MDF” user group which usually meets the 2nd Monday of each month, and is typically focused more on the core SQL Server technologies and the “Atlanta BI” user group which usually meets the last Monday of each month and is focused on BI-specific topics.  There are a number of other user groups, such as .NET and Excel, but its hard to find time to visit them all on a regular basis.

It is common for each user group meeting to have a main event, which is usually a speaker speaking on a topic for 1 – 1.5 hours or so.  While it is great whenever anyone wants to volunteer their time to teach others, there have been a couple this year that really stood out to me, either for their creativity, content, or “fun” factor.

In March, a couple of the guys from Slalom, Dave Tangren and Nelson Davis, gave a talk on the benefits of Power BI vs. Tableau at the Atlanta BI meeting.  This is interesting in of itself since these two products are direct competitors which are in an active battle, but what made this presentation really fun was that they modeled it as a political debate, with each product being a candidate.  They had a moderator who would ask questions and then each candidate would give his answer.  A really creative way to present this information!

Dave Tangren and Nelson Davis presenting “Comparing Power BI to Tableau” at the Atlanta BI March Meeting.

In April, Mike Bruce and Alex Higgins from Acuity Brands presented “Using Power BI to Track Software Development Performance,” in which they talked about their experiences using Power BI to connect to Visual Studio Online’s TFS repository to track their Agile projects.  This was very interesting for a number of reasons — the integration between these sources of data, what they were trying to accomplish (and the road they’d traveled so far to get there) and their projects in general.  Completely unrelated to Power BI, the store of how Acuity had transitioned from a manufacturing company (manufacturing lighting) to a software company (developing highly intelligent lighting technology, including lights which interface with retail store apps to locate a person in a store) was very interesting.

 

In August,  Rob Collie presented “Ten Things Power BI Can Do For You” at the Atlanta MDF August Meeting.  In this talk, Rob gave a history of Power Pivot (Project Gemini) from his time at Microsoft as well as his experiences in transitioning to a consulting organization specializing in Power Pivot.  The entire presentation was non-technical and talked about the benefits of using Power Pivot (and DAX) with or without Power BI.  A very interesting topic and Rob was a very good speaker, not afraid to call things as they are.  I got a bit of an Office Space vibe from the style (in a good way!)  I highly recommend you check out one of Rob’s presentations if he ever presents again in the area!

 

Rob Collie presenting “Ten Things Power BI Can Do For You” at the Atlanta MDF August Meeting.

 

Those are a few of the presentations from local user groups which have  really stood out to me so far this year.  Here’s to hoping for many more excellent presentations to come!

SQL Saturday Roundup: #624 – Chattanooga, TN

On Saturday, June 24th, I attended SQL Saturday #624 in Chattanooga, TN.  I’m a bit behind in posting this writeup, so I’ll keep it short.  This was my second time attending an event in Chattanooga (and I believe their 3rd overall).  The event went very smoothly and had a very well selected schedule of speakers and topics.  As with other Chattanooga SQL Saturdays, nobody leaves without being offered Moon Pies, which is a great and fun touch!

 

I attended a number of excellent sessions and really enjoyed my day in Chattanooga.  With my crazy summer schedule, this looked to be the only summer event I’d be able to attend, so I’m glad it was a good one.  Looking forward to visiting Chattanooga again some time in the future!  See below for a few of my pictures from the event:

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #578 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

Saturday, December 10th marked the 2nd annual SQL Saturday Atlanta BI Edition.  Atlanta is known for its massive SQL Saturday held every spring / summer, so I’m happy to see the smaller, more BI-focused winter event continuing on.  With such a large number of SQL Server professionals in the area, there is definitely room for multiple events.

As with last year’s event, this one was a well-run event with no flaws that I was aware of.  This year seemed to be a bit of a “back to basics” theme.  Many of the extras that are frequently seen at SQL Saturday events — lots of sponsors, attendee bags and printed materials, speaker shirts, paper session evaluations, and other extras weren’t present.  Instead, the focus was purely on providing a full day of content across multiple tracks, and you know what, that’s just fine.  (Many) free donuts were provided for breakfast and boxed lunches were purchased, and everything was adequate.  The core idea behind SQL Saturday is free training and networking, and the event delivered!  I particularly thought the session lineup for this event was a great mix of topics.

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #477 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

SQL Saturday Roundup: #477 – Atlanta, GA (BI Edition)

This past Saturday marked a great landmark for Atlanta — the first “BI Edition” SQL Saturday, and, for many of us, our first SQL Saturday of 2016!  Atlanta has been hosting a regular SQL Saturday event for many years now, always with tremendous attendance.  Based on the amount of interest in the regular SQL Saturday (usually around May of each year), it was great to see a BI focused edition launched.

With the regular event in the Spring, having this event in January was a great way to space out the two Atlanta events probably about as equally as they could be.  And, for a first event, it seemed to be a tremendous success with a registration wait list and around 300 in attendance.

The event was held at the local Microsoft facility in Alpharetta, GA, where the monthly Atlanta MDF user group meetings are held.  All told, the facility was a pretty good choice of venue (and definitely a convenient location), but suffered from some overcrowding.  The facility had about half the sessions in roughly classroom sized rooms and half the sessions in much smaller conference room sized rooms.  While these smaller rooms made for an interesting and more intimate setting, they ultimately filled up very quickly.

Unlike many SQL Saturdays, the event kicked off with an opening keynote and presentation in the large room (multiple rooms joined together technically).  I enjoy it when a SQL Saturday begins with some sort of all-attendee opening remarks, it provides nice symmetry to the event (which always has a final closing remarks session), so hopefully more events will adopt this.

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Dandy Weyn presenting the opening remarks at SQL Saturday Atlanta 2016, BI Edition.

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The Button

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The Button.  Originally an April Fools Day joke / prank / experiment / curiosity, this simple and strange creation has become an internet phenomenon with countless resources being invested in it.  On 4/1/2015, Reddit announced a new feature, The Button.  The concept is very simple.  There is a button.  It controls a shared timer which is counts down from 60 seconds.  Pressing the button resets the timer back to 60 seconds (for everyone) and it restarts the countdown.  Anybody with a free Reddit account created before 4/1/2015 is allowed to press the button, but only once, ever.  That’s it.

And that is all there is to it.  A pretty simple concept.  Something that probably should’ve lasted a couple of minutes, maybe an hour or two, and then been gone, right?  Nope!  Instead it’s turned into a phenomenon which has been running perpetually for over two straight weeks with over 750,000 button presses thus far and no end in sight.

The is one additional twist to the button.  When you press the button your one and only time, your account is branded with the time, and a color, indicating what time you pressed it.  And others can see this.  This little twist has allowed for the possibility of an incredible amount of interesting data visualizations surrounding the enigma that is, The Button.

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The circumstances above make The Button a really interesting data source.  It produces a constant stream of data (making real-time analytics valuable) and that data is time stamped and color coded based on how much time was remaining at the time of the press making for some very interesting visualizations.

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What is Business Intelligence (and Business Analytics)?

bar_chart_sketchThis is a question that seems to come up in one way or another quite frequently. And it makes sense. Being fairly new (on the main stage), these terms are not well defined in the public consciousness (or sometimes even in the heads of those in the field) and so there can be a lot of confusion. There are some out there that think that both are simply creating pretty charts somehow relating to data in some way and there are others that know that the rabbit hole goes far, far deeper…

Business Intelligence and Business Analtyics are both disciplines inside of a wider field of being a Data Professional.  Both Business Intelligence and Business Analytics deal with deriving meaning from data.  The differences between the two tend to stem from the types of questions each attempts to answer and the tools and processes used to answer those questions.

 

Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence is the infrastructure.  Business Intelligence includes the gathering, storing, and summarizing of data as well as making it available in the forms of reports, dashboards, KPIs, raw queries, and other visualizations to answer questions about the past and present which are commonly used in decision making.  Some of these questions might be:  What happened?  When did it happen?  What did it happen to?  How much did it happen?  Business Intelligence catalogs the past and makes it available for future insight.

 

Business Analytics

Business Analtyics is the crystal ball.  Business Analytics makes use of existing infrastructure (such as data gathered in Business Intelligence) and aims for deeper insight into the data, frequently dealing with predictive analytics about the future.  Why did it happen?  Will it happen again?  What will happen if we make a change?  What trends can be expected for the future?  Business Analytics makes use of data to provide predictive capabilities.

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Custom Dashboard Development – Part 3: SignalR Design

Microsoft_.NET_Framework_v4.5_logoIn my previous posts, here and here, I discussed my objective to create a custom dashboard solution in order to meet a number of requirements as well as a method for creating that solution using a traditional Web Services approach.  In this approach, the client is wholly responsible for requesting all of its updates from the server whenever it needs them (typically on a set timer).  In this post, I’ll create the same dashboard but use a different technology, SignalR, for performing the data communications.  Much of the solution will be the same or similar to the previous solution, however the back-end is fundamentally different.

With the SignalR approach, rather than the client being responsible for requesting data updates from the server, the server maintains a connection with the client and pushes them to the client on an “as needed” basis.  This basis can be timed (such as sending an update once every 5 minutes) or it can be triggered (such as sending an update whenever data changes.)  In this example, we’ll be using the timed approach for parity with the previous solution.  As an extra benefit to the SignalR solution, when multiple clients are connected to the same dashboard, they will all display the exact same data and refresh at the exact same time (as they are not maintaining their own individual update timers.  The following diagram gives a quick illustration of the data communications between the clients, web server, and database server:

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Custom Dashboard Development – Part 2: Web Services Design

Microsoft_.NET_Framework_v4.5_logoIn my previous post, I discussed my objective to create a custom dashboard solution in order to meet a number of requirements.  In the process of researching how I would create the solution, I made multiple choices pertaining to the technology and design which would be used to create the dashboard.  I chose to implement both a traditional communications model utilizing web services where the client is responsible for requesting data refreshes as well as the SignalR communications model where the server pushes updates to the client.

To recap, I made the following design decisions for the application:

  • Use a custom developed application instead of an off-the-shelf product
  • Use web-based technologies within the Microsoft ecosystem
  • Use ASP.NET MVC5 with C# and HTML/JavaScript
  • HTML/JavaScript based chart control library — jChartFX

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Custom Dashboard Development – Part 1: Introduction

Microsoft_.NET_Framework_v4.5_logoI just recently finished a series of custom development projects which required me to revisit the programming world from which I once came.  Programming is something I started doing when I was very young and have always enjoyed.  While I’ve done plenty of scripting, Powershell, and T-SQL in recent years, my current job roles have had little need for true programming skills until recently.  And wow, things have changed!  In this series of posts, I’ll be going through my process for choosing a technology and developing a custom dashboard solution as well as some of the lessons I learned along the way.  Here in Part 1, I plan to cover my goals for the dashboard as well as how I chose the platform I did.  In Part 2, I’ll cover the more traditional of the two methods I explored and in Part 3, I’ll cover a SignalR solution.

Whenever learning or refreshing skills, it always helps to have a goal.  In this case, my objective was to create a dashboard solution with the following objectives:

  • Display near real-time data from a OLTP SQL Server data source
  • Be aesthetically pleasing as it will be viewed on multiple large screen displays 24/7
  • Refresh gracefully with no user interaction or display interruption while refreshing

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SQL Saturday Roundup: #237 – Charlotte, NC

SQL Saturday Roundup: #237 – Charlotte, NC

Following the incredible PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, the Charlotte BI Group was gracious to host another edition of SQL Saturday – BI Edition.

As I was already in Charlotte for Summit (and would’ve drive to Charlotte for this event anyway if I hadn’t been at Summit) I took advantage of the opportunity to keep the week of connecting, learning, and sharing with the community for one last day.

This is the second year that CBIG has hosted a SQL Saturday BI Edition and it actually marks the first SQL Saturday that I’ve attended twice in a row (as I really started getting into SQL Saturday last year with Columbus, GA).

As the first SQL Saturday that I’ve attended two years in a row, I thought the event went very well.  There seemed to be a good number of attendees and a lot of big name speakers.  Many of the speakers from Summit stayed the extra day to present at SQL Saturday, though I was surprised that it didn’t seem there were as many attendees from Summit at SQL Saturday that I would have thought.  There were some though and it was fun to identify each other.  Lunch was an excellent BBQ with a number of sides and various lunch time presentations.  I’ve had a lot of BBQ these past couple days, but it was still great!

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