Today was the third and last day of the first ever (as Alex
Payne likes to say it..) Microsoft Business Intelligence conference.
It’s been quite an interesting week and an eye-opener
for me, as I discover the features and possibilities of PerformancePoint Server
2007. Last night I downloaded the CTP2 of PPS and started playing with it. I
was afraid that the learning path would be quite high, but in the end, it
turned out to be more approachable than I thought. I yet have to play with the
budgeting and planning side of it, which I anticipate will be a little harder to grasp.
I encourage people interested in dashboards and scorecards to really have a
look at PPS Monitoring & Analytics, it is worth the time it took to
Anyway, back to the conference. Steve Ballmer, CEO of
Microsoft, was on stage to talk about the place of BI in the software industry
and emphasize two messages:
- Microsoft is very serious about entering this market
- Microsoft’s goal is “BI for the masses”.
Democratizing BI with high-power, yet easy-to-use software components.
I liked his idea of presenting the world of personal
productivity and the world of IT systems, with most of the improvements being
done in between. The role of BI, as Microsoft sees it, it to make it easier for
users to use their tools of personal productivity (world where they are
comfortable) to navigate and analyze information extracted from IT systems. He
also mentioned BI applications used internally at Microsoft, and frankly, I
would have loved to see a demo of one of these systems.
He then outlined what he sees as the future for BI:
- Self-service, transparent
- Embedded BI
- Guided analytics (to bubble up exceptions, outliers,
- New BI models to help drive business
His formal talk was only 30 minutes, and I wished it had
been a little longer. I love Steve’s style, he is energetic and
passionate about what he’s talking about. But today was probably not one
of his best speeches, although the little he had to say, I found it interesting.
The rest of his time was spent on Q&A with Chris
Caren, General Manager in the Office Business Applications division. I did
not write down all the questions, but here are a few of them:
Q: Role of Microsoft Office in the future?
A: Office needs to migrate to a software+services world. We
have the ribbon, but we need to make the UI even more approachable. Office
needs to be more integrated with business and server offerings.
Q: Relationship with SAP?
A: Microsoft will continue to invest with SAP as a duet.
There will be Microsoft solutions, SAP solutions and duets with combined
Microsoft/SAP solutions. Microsoft will continue on making platforms
Q: Changes in the industry and consolidation. Is this a good
thing for customers/partners?
A: It’s the natural evolution of the business. There
are three tiers of companies (pillars, large and small) and it’s a
natural evolution to have consolidation between tiers.
Q: BI to create new service offerings?
A: BI is a huge opportunity in that space (example given in
the financial services world, where a company can offer BI services to its
Q: What about BI as a service?
A: There are lots of things going on at Microsoft in the
collaboration/communication area. BI as a service is also a huge opportunity
for smaller businesses to get their hands on forecasting, budgeting and
After Steve Ballmer’s keynote session, I headed to Donald
Farmer’s talk on “Data Mining: A Platform for Intelligent
Applications”. I was surprised to see that many people at a talk on data
mining (hall 6E was 80% full). It may have to do with a more restricted
selection of talks to choose from, but more likely, I think the subject has
started to take off and resonate with customers. In my consulting engagements
over the last year, I have picked more and more requests for data mining
Donald’s presentation was great and the demos he chose
were right on the spot.
He first started by reminding the audience that data mining
is not a single product offering from Microsoft, but rather a platform on which
people can build intelligent applications, which are, according to his
definition, applications that learn from the past and can respond to new
It was interesting to see the show of hands when he asked
how many people in the audience were pure data miners. Only one person raised
his hand. The rest of the audience was primarily composed of BI developers.
This speaks volumts about the untapped potential that we have with this data
After talking about the CRISP-DM process model (Cross
Industry Standard Process for Data Mining) and showing how the Microsoft DM
technology can be mapped to the various steps in the model, he moved on to show
his first demo: Build a model to predict if someone could be a home owner,
based on # of children, # of cars owned and yearly income. Somewhat the
canonical demo for DM, but interesting though. The nice part was the
introduction to DMX (the DM query language) to create, train and use data
mining models (this is where I discovered natural prediction JOINs).
The next demo was a form entry validation demo, where the
entries in a form are passed to a data mining algorithm for validation. This
one was an interesting use of data mining. We often associate DM with
prediction and some kind of magic algorithm, but this data validation demo
provided a strong case for use of DM in existing customer environments. I
showed very appropriately the use of prediction probability, not only to
determine whether an entry is wrong, but also how wrong we think it is. I’ll
definitely have to build that demo on my laptop…
To finish this very short half-day of the conference, I sat
in the “Building BI solutions with Microsoft Excel 2007 and Microsoft
Analysis Services 2005” session. T.K. Anand, Program Manager in the
AS2005 team and Allan Folting, PM in Excel co-hosted this session. As a
consultant on Microsoft BI technologies, the subject of this talk fell right
into the heart of my current skills. Therefore, I did not learn anything, but nevertheless found the
talk well articulated and fun to watch. T.K. and Allan perfectly played their
parts and it turned out quite entertaining, as any well-rehearsed presentation
should be. The talk was mostly a big huge demo that they kept building on,
showing most personalization features of AS2005. Among the topics covered were:
- Pivot table styles
- Server-side filtering
- Display of member properties
- Contextual filters
- Date filters
- Translation of data and metadata
- Set creation
- Actions and Drillthrough
- Server side formatting and guided analysis
- OLAP tools and Intellisense on cube formulas
This is just on top of my head as I did not take notes
towards the end of the session, but I encourage people to watch the demo on the
conference DVD. It pretty much covers all personalization features of AS2005
that can be exposed in Excel 2007 and makes a compelling argument for tying the
client piece (Excel 2007) with the server piece (AS2005). To all who are
thinking of using Excel 2003 as the analytic client, have a look at what Excel
2007 has to offer!
This session concluded the Microsoft Business Intelligence
conference. For a 1st
shot, I think it was pretty good. Of course,
there are tons of things that can be improved to reach the level of
established conferences like TechEd or DevDays, but the few discussions
had on the floor with customers seem to show a great momentum for the
BI platform and I am sure the organizers will take the time to digest
and bring us something breath taking for next year! I am really looking
forward to receiving the conference DVD in a couple of weeks, so that I
can watch the sessions I couldn't go to (like "Diagnosing AS2005 MDX
query performance bottlenecks" or "Behind the scenes with
PerformancePoint Business Planner Calculations" or "Real-world
Microsoft BI implementations: Lessons learned the hard way" to mention
only a few of them..)
I now have a couple of hours before flying back to Paris
then I’m taking a week off, so take care and have a safe trip back if you’re
also flying home!