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BI Conference 2008 Review

Posted by Alan on October 16, 2008

So after being gone for a week at the BI Conference and then trying to get caught back up at work, I now have time to post my thoughts about the 2008 Microsoft BI Conference.

So overall how would I rate the event?  I would give it a 7 out of 10.   This is the second year for the BI Conference with the last one being 18 months ago.   I think the organization was great (especially considering 3000 attended), but I get the feeling that what Microsoft wants this conference to be is still evolving.  I do give them tons of credit for what they did accomplish, especially considering how difficult it is to come up with content that meets the needs of both Microsoft partners and end customers and has to cover both the technical and business/finance aspects of BI.   And that may be part of the problem and why I don’t rate it higher is that the conference is trying to be too many things to too many people.   Also the complete lack of any discussion relating to a Microsoft BI/PerformancePoint future directions roadmap really bothered me.   But all that being said, I do firmly believe we got great value for the money it cost us to attend this event.

I know a lot of people are talking about “Gemini” but for me the coolest thing I saw was when they showed Virtual Earth maps overlaid with  business intelligence data and served it all up on a Microsoft Surface device which could be manipulated in real time by touch.   It was nirvana for the geek side of me.   I wish they were selling Surface retail — I would buy one in a heartbeat.

So what was good and what did I learn:

  • BI is all around us and in our daily lives (even if you don’t make a living off of BI).  If you don’t believe me, go look at Halo 3.   Every time you play a game you are given feedback on statistics about number of wins and your kill and got killed ratios.
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  • Project “Gemini” is going to be hot.  If you don’t know what it is, do some blog searches as others have covered it.  But think of it this way, take a Microsoft Excel pivot table and put it on steroids.  Then take the juiced up pivot table and have it drink a case of Red Bull.
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  • The SQL Server group has ended up doing doing an ETL data load of 1 TB of data into SQL Server 2008 in under 30 minutes.   There is also a client out there with a single Analysis Services cube that is over 450 GB in size.  Both of those stats are impressive.
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  • One of the sessions discussed business rules and in their rule they used some VBA syntax.   So with this I got the great idea (great in my mind anyway) that this concept could be extended to create random entries into the cells which would be excellent for creating sample data for testing.
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  • The same session discussed the concept of separating input models from report models and using rules to move data from the input model to the reporting model.  The more I think about this the more I like the concept.
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  • Microsoft is developing a new tool to be released with MOSS 14, specifically for dealing with master data management.   No guarantees how well this product will integrate with PPS with the initial release.
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  • Slalom Consulting did a session about some Planning tips and tricks.  Couple of good take aways include the concepts that one business process should equate to one model and for better performance use member views for dimensions with large number of members rather than hierarchies.
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  • Mosha Pasumanskyhas developed a pretty cool MDX development utility that I intend to use.  Check it out.
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  • MOSS 14 will include new functionality called Visio Services.  Basically Excel Services for Visio.

So what could have been improved:

  • The “chalk talks” are great and extremely popular.  They need more of them and need to repeat the sessions.  I couldn’t get into a couple I wanted to because they filled up too fast.  The quick fix solution was to move them to bigger rooms, but the whole concept of a “chalk talk” is open discussion and with too many people you loose a lot of value.   Also, in those rooms, using 32″ monitors just doesn’t cut it.  If you are in the 3rd row you can’t see a thing.
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  • At the first BI Conference, a lot of sessions tried to cover both the technical and business aspects of the selected topic.  This year was much better, but a couple sessions I attended still tried to cover both and I think focusing on either technical or business is a better way to go.
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  • The focus of PerformancePoint whether in discussions or main stage demos always seems to be focused on Monitoring & Analytics like 85% of the time.  I think when Microsoft does this they end up dropping the ball on having an excellent opportunity to promote Planning.
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  • I mentioned it above, but the lack of any coverage of Microsoft BI future directions/roadmap was very bothering.   Especially considering how many prospects were in the audience.

So all in all, a thumbs up for the conference and I look forward to the 2009 edition.

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