Introducing the 2014 BI Immersion Experience

January 30, 2014
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In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be in Tampa, FL to launch the new BI Immersion experience. I’ve been teaching this class for several years, adding in elements relevant to the latest releases of SQL Server and Office that relate to BI along the way. Students have always been able to follow along with demos and I’ve even had students drive the demos in front of class as I talk them through the steps. But I thought it was time to shake things up a bit and add in another component for some added hands-on experience.

The addition of a hands-on portion of the class means some of the topics we used to cover in class are gone – like installation and configuration of BI components. I used the feedback from prior classes to determine what should go and what should stay. The result is still a great comprehensive class that teaches you everything you need to know about working with the Microsoft BI stack.

And of course, if you have questions about the things I left out, all you have to do is ask! Another benefit of attending BI Immersion is that we get to hang out and talk over lunch and during some of the evening networking activities.

What’s in the class?

A lot. Your brain will be full by the end of the week. I promise.

We start with an overview of relational data warehousing and then move into using Integration Services to populate a staging environment and a data warehouse. We’ll talk about maintaining and tuning packages. Then we build a cube using Analysis Services to consume that data warehouse and learn how to tune the performance of cubes, for both processing and querying. We’ll also review the differences between multidimensional and tabular models in Analysis Services and learn the basics about the languages that each model uses, MDX and DAX. We wrap up the week with a review of presentation layer tools: Reporting Services, Excel, and Power BI.

You can find the complete agenda HERE.

Why should you go?

You will learn a lot of things about Microsoft BI. Not just features and functions, but how to get started on a new project, how to pick the right technology for your solution, and how to avoid the perils and pitfalls that certain approaches can create. I’ve been working with Microsoft BI for a very long time (since 2000) and have helped clients in all kinds of industries build BI solutions that work. I haven’t learned how to perform the Vulcan Mind Meld yet, but this class is the next best thing!

But that’s just my opinion. What have past students said about the class?

  • Relational Data Warehousing/SSIS

I’ve been in and out of BI since 1999 and a surprising amount of this seemed new.

Loved the interactive modeling exercise!

Relational Data Warehousing/SSIS

  • SSAS

It finally made sense to me.

  • MDX

This was all new and gave me a great starting point. Thx!

I had basic understanding of MDX before going to this class. The light bulb came on after Stacia explained the key of MDX.

  • SSRS / Excel / PowerPivot

Great coverage of BI presentation layer at an understandable level.

  • Overall Class

A lot of info to hold in my brain.

Best class so far on BI. I learned so much more here than [from a competitor].

Great tips and tricks. Like the pragmatic/common sense/non-marketing approach.

Very informative and relative to the real world.

BI is a huge topic and Stacia does an excellent job hitting every major area…I would highly recommend this class. The first training session I’ve attended that took full advantage of my time away from the office. This was money well spent.

Any presenter can teach someone how to use a tool, but how best to use that tool to interact with the business in order to have a successful implementation that you’re confident business can adopt is what set this apart.

How can you sign up?

There’s still time to sign up for the Tampa class which runs Monday to Friday, February 10-14. All you have to do is click HERE.

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From Reporting Services Rookie to Rockstar

October 7, 2013
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One week from today, I will be conducting a pre-conference workshop at PASS Summit 2013, “From Reporting Services Rookie to Rockstar.”

The official abstract provides a brief description of the workshop:

Join this introduction to SQL Server Reporting Services, designed specifically for report developers who have no prior experience with the product, and learn how to use the development tools effectively, how to present and enhance data in a report, and how to create dynamic reports. Even if you have some experience with Reporting Services, this session will explore aspects that aren’t intuitive or well-documented, helping you expand your skills and make the most of this powerful reporting tool.

In a jam-packed day of discussions and demonstrations focused on SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services and later, you’ll learn:

• How to approach the report development process
• How to manage key components of a report project: data sources, datasets, report items, and data regions
• How to use a tablix effectively to design the layout of data with creative groupings
• How to use expressions to display data or change the appearance and behavior of a report in practical ways
• How to use report parameters with and without query parameters
• How to use data visualization features to enhance the communication of information
• How to add interactivity to reports
• How to work with pagination and rendering features to manage page layout
• And more!

Want to know more specifically what topics we’ll be covering? Here’s a breakdown of the workshop:

Report Planning
Knowing Your Audience
Reviewing Report Options
Developing Standards

Basic Report Development
Data Sources
Datasets
Report Items
Data Regions

Tablix Concepts
Tablix Data Regions
Tablix Cell Content
Cell Scope
Grouping on Rows and Columns
Static Columns
Adjacent Groups
Expressions
Expression Usage
Placeholders
Global Collections
Expression Editor
Expression Examples
Built-in Fields
Aggregate Functions
Variables

Parameters
Report Parameter Usage
Report Parameter Properties
Report Parameter Filters
Linked Reports
Subreports and Drillthrough Reports
Parameters in Expressions
Query Parameters
Cascading Parameters

Data Visualization
Charts
Data Bars
Sparklines
Gauges
Indicators
Spatial Data Types
Points, Lines, and Polygons
Map Wizard

Interactivity
Report Layout

  • Interactive Sort
  • Fixed Headers
  • Tooltips
  • Visibility

Navigation Aids

  • Document Map
  • Actions
  • Embedded HTML

Pagination
Rendering
Page Structure
Page Breaks

I hope this additional information helps you decide whether this workshop is right for you. If so, I look forward to seeing you in Charlotte next week!

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On Reaching the Summit – PASS Summit 2013 That Is

August 27, 2013
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[Note: This is repost from May 22, 2013, due to technical issues on this blog.]

Each year I participate in a variety of public events, including conferences, user groups, SQL Saturdays, and webinars of all kinds. (This year, indeed next week, I’m going to an event that is part of a cruise – SQLCruise!) Through these events, I am able to meet and interact with people from all over the world and I feel very privileged to have these opportunities. The one event that started it all for me was PASS Summit, an annual gathering of SQL Server professionals from all over the world. My first year of attendance was 2002, I believe, and I knew no one. Well, maybe one person…who heckled me at my one and only presentation there. Some friend… :) Fast forward to the present, I can hardly walk 50 feet without running into someone I know. It’s gone from just another event to a family reunion…A SQLFamily reunion!

In fact, last year, I had a reunion with Scott Cameron, author of SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services Step by Step. He and I built our first data warehouse together, back in 1999. We’ve come a long way since then, working together at two other companies meanwhile, before we eventually parting company when I started Data Inspirations back in 2006. But fortunately our paths cross from time to time.

Summit 2012

In most years, “Summit” (as my peers commonly refer to it) is held in Seattle to facilitate the inclusion of Microsoft personnel, but from time to time Summit strays from the homebase. This year, PASS Summit 2013 will be held in Charlotte, NC. I was delighted to receive an email last week that announced not only had I been selected to speak, but that I would presenting a preconference session, a spotlight session, and a regular session!

Two out of the three of these sessions focus on Reporting Services. In case, you missed it – I totally revamped my prior Reporting Services books with a new release available May 1, 2013, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services (catchy name, eh?) and have encapsulated key topics from that book into workshop and presentation formats.

SSRS2012

My third session – the spotlight – focuses on some techniques I developed and applied during a recent client engagement. There are a few frameworks out there for developing packages and Analysis Services databases that we explored, and wound up adapting to better suit the needs of the project. Furthermore, the challenge of the project was to efficiently reproduce the results for a multi-tenant business intelligence solution. And thus began my journey into BIML. This session is about possibilities and lessons learned that I am so looking forward to sharing!

Something (or Two or Three Things…) to Talk About at PASS Summit 2013

For the curious, here’s an overview of my Summit 2013 sessions.

From Reporting Services Rookie to Rockstar – Full Day Preconference Session

Join this introduction to SQL Server Reporting Services, designed specifically for report developers who have no prior experience with the product, and learn how to use the development tools effectively, how to present and enhance data in a report, and how to create dynamic reports. Even if you have some experience with Reporting Services, this session will explore aspects that aren’t intuitive or well-documented, helping you expand your skills and make the most of this powerful reporting tool. In a jam-packed day of discussions and demonstrations focused on SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services and later, you’ll learn:

  • How to approach the report development process
  • How to manage key components of a report project: data sources, datasets, report items, and data regions
  • How to use a tablix effectively to design the layout of data with creative groupings
  • How to use expressions to display data or change the appearance and behavior of a report in practical ways
  • How to use report parameters with and without query parameters
  • How to use data visualization features to enhance the communication of information
  • How to add interactivity to reports
  • How to work with pagination and rendering features to manage page layout
  • And more!

Planning Your Report Design – Regular Session

SQL Server Reporting Services provides a lot of flexibility in report design, which can be overwhelming at first. You can spend a lot of time trying out different approaches to report design before you discover that a feature that users need most conflicts with the features you’ve been implementing. With some advance planning, you can decide which features are most important for your current project and be more productive throughout the report development process. In this session, you’ll learn how to approach the report design process, including assessing your audience, reviewing your layout options, and implementing standards.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Automating Your BI Framework – Spotlight Session

Quite frankly, some aspects of building out a business intelligence solution are tedious. As you cycle through iterations of your star schema, you’ll find that even a simple data type change in the data warehouse requires you to make corresponding changes to staging tables, SSIS packages, and SSAS multidimensional or tabular models that take a considerable amount of time to implement. But there’s a better, faster way! In this session, we’ll explore lessons from a project that required implementation of a framework to easily generate BI objects based on reusable patterns. We’ll walk through the decision points in the framework design, review the implementation steps, and see demonstrations of how easily you can make iterative changes to your BI solution’s design by using reusable design patterns. Whether you simply want to accelerate change management or reproduce objects in bulk on demand, this session will give you practical tips for automating these processes.

Come Join Me!

Summit is always an experience to remember, and it just keeps getting better! I hope you can make it, and if you do, I really hope you stop me in the hallway, in the lunch line, at an afterparty, anywhere – and say hi!

 

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One Database to Rule Them All? Not Yet…

May 13, 2013
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The holy grail these days seems to be to get all the data into a unifying database – with relational and NoSQL camps each trying to come out the winner. Meanwhile, you’ve got data to gather, manage, and analyze, and that typically means you’ve got to use different types of storage. To get the most of the presentation layer tools in the Microsoft BI stack when data sources include cubes, PowerPivot workbooks, and data mining models, you can’t rely solely on your T-SQL skills. To produce high-performing reports and analytical tools, you’ll need to use other query languages like MDX, DAX, or DMX.

It can be a bit daunting to get started with these other languages, especially when your T-SQL mindset keeps getting in the way. Never fear. I’m here to help! There’s still time to register for my SQLSaturday #220 Preconference Workshop, Languages of BI, this week in Atlanta on Friday, May 17.

In my workshop, you’ll learn which languages each presentation layer tool supports and the basic syntax used by each language. You’ll also learn how take advantage of query builder tools to help you produce queries until you’ve developed the proficiency to create more complex queries on your own. In addition, you’ll learn how to work with expressions to add calculations to cubes and PowerPivot workbook, and how to use expressions to customize the appearance of reports, scorecards, and dashboards.

And if you come out to the workshop, you might as well stay for SQLSaturday, too. This will be my second year for this event in Atlanta, and I’m looking forward to seeing longtime friends in the SQL community and making some new ones. There are a whopping 11 tracks on the schedule, with 3 devoted to BI topics. I’ll be presenting Troubleshooting MDX Query Performance, which is a nice complement to the Friday workshop. Hope to see you there!

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Big Data: Hype, Hyperbole, or Hyperopia?

March 22, 2013
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Big Data. Surely you’ve heard or read something about it by now. Maybe you even have an opinion. Some people I know think it’s much ado about nothing. Nothing more than hype, which dictionary.com defines as “exaggerated publicity” at one end of the spectrum or “a swindle, deception, or trick” at the other. Others think it’s hyperbole, defined as “an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.”

Although I think there are certainly some claims made out there about Big Data that fall into these categories, I lean towards describing the current rising interest in the topic as hyperopia, a form of farsightedness that our data management industry is experiencing. In this sense, hyperopia refers to temporal rather than spatial distance. I think we can see something happening with Big Data now but it’s rather fuzzy still, whereas the future implications are more clear.

Put another way (if the vision analogy doesn’t work for you), Big Data is no longer in its infancy. But it’s not fully mature yet either. Toddler? Preteen? Teen? I’m not sure where it is in this cycle, except certainly not at the teen stage. Of course, we can expect each stage in this maturity cycle to have its ups and downs. It’s a normal part of the process of technological change. Let’s not expect too much where it’s not appropriate and give it full support where and when it’s ready.

As I mentioned in my New Year’s musings, I felt this was the year to start paying more attention to Big Data. Accordingly, I have begun working with some of the technologies in the Big Data ecosystem and started speaking about it. Of course, I’ve been reading as much as I can, too. As a regular conference speaker, I highly value the educational and networking opportunities unique to conference attendance, so was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend GigaOM’s Structure:Data 2013 in New York City this week.

The Structure:Data conference used a different format than I’ve ever seen at a conference. Each session lasted 15 minutes with the attendees primarily positioned in one spot for the day. The speakers were rotated on and off the stage throughout the day with an emcee making introductions to the next session. The session styles varied also, from moderated panel to a speaker at a podium with slides to a speaker center stage without slides. I recall only one demo and even that was pre recorded.

The frequency with which speakers and formats changed meant that I didn’t get too antsy sitting in one spot for an extended period. There were also longer 45-60 minute workshops that allowed us a) to get up and move to a different place for a while, and b) to get exposed to a topic in a bit more depth than the main stage topics. Overall, I liked the format for its ability to introduce me to a lot of ideas in a compressed timeframe. The irony did not escape me though….Big Data in small bites.

Hands down, my favorite session was The CIA’s “grand challenge” with big data delivered by Ira “Gus” Hunt, CTO for the Central Intelligence Agency. His talk (online here) was fascinating and even a bit scary. Did you know your smartphone can identify you by your gait? That’s just one of many tidbits Hunt shared. Others that struck me most in this session:

  • Big Data allows us to grow the haystack and magnify the needles.
  • information no longer flows from the few to the many, but from the many to the many, thereby generating more and more data. Sure, there’s a lot of noise there, but there’s also a signal to be discovered lying within.
  • Sensors in everything results in explosive growth in data volumes. It’s not just Big, but Really Big. Sensors monitor location, health and even identity (through gait, for example).
  • Through analysis of sensor data, the inanimate can become sentient. (Oh, dear…)
The title of the session mentioned challenges, so here are a few that Hunt explored:
  • We don’t know the future value of data.
  • We cannot connect the dots that we don’t have.
  • Traditional requirements analysis don’t work in the world of Big Data.

Of particular interest to me, and a theme I heard many times over at the conference, was Hunt’s contention that the power of Big Data can be achieved only when the end user can interact it. We cannot expect users to be data scientists, nor can we expect them to be dependent on data scientists either. Yet, he says, analytical tools for Big Data are hard to use. (I stopped at some vendor booths to see what they had to show, but in fairness to all need more time to digest their offerings before I can comment.) He cited Wikipedia’s definition of data science, and in particular the following quote, “There is probably no living person who is an expert in all of these disciplines – if so they would be extremely rare.”

So are our academic institutions going to miraculously churn out hordes of data scientists to place in every business? I don’t think so. I don’t have anything against data scientists in general, but I think the mission of accomplishing Big Things with Big Data is better served if their skills are used to develop the next generation(s) of software that empower the business user, rather than having them become yet another barrier between regular people and data just because the data gets “bigger.” Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

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