I don’t exactly have many conferences to compare this one (PASS Business Analytics) to. Also, I’m not sure it is proper to end a sentence with the word “to”. But this was basically my first conference. It was basically fantastic.
Come on! Do we look crazy happy or what!? An amazing set of dudes here – Chandoo, Rob Collie, Matt Allington, myself, and Ken Puls. The “networking” was super fun, and the chance to chat for a few with Marco Russo, Mr Excel, Jen Stirrup, Jen Underwood, Chris Webb, Miguel Lopez, Thomas LaRock, Kasper de Jonge, the freaks in the photo, several of my awesome clients/partners and other Excel lovers that I forgot to mention… it was just amazing. A. Maze. Zing.
My actual sessions were a mixed bag. I certainly didn’t love them all… and a few, I disliked enough to feel guilty that I didn’t prepare something more awesome to present myself. Maybe next year.
My favorite presentations:
- Marco’s talks on… well, who cares. Somebody said during one of his talks “It’s like he is the Rain Man of DAX!” While a few heads might have exploded, it was a true joy for me to watch the master at work.
- Chris Webb’s talk on Power Query. @Technitrain did an amazing job preparing his talk. It was just super clean in its prep – flipping back and forth between the scenarios he wanted to show with ease. He also made me feel guilty for every cheap piece of Power Query I have written – he really showed how to put your big boy pants on and write Power Query that is resilient to errors and changes – great stuff.
- Kasper de Jonge’s demo of the latest Power BI Designer. Which caused numerous spontaneous outburst applause… and some discussion in the next section…
Note, I didn’t attend some other well reviewed sessions – so, don’t feel bad and stuff if I didn’t mention your excellent talk 🙂 I have no doubt stuff sessions from Ken, Rob, Avi and Matt were great (oh, and I really enjoyed my session with the generous Jen Stirrup!). But back to that Designer thing…
Power BI Designer
I mean, hmm… well, … it’s potentially the greatest thing EVAAARR… except for… you know… one epic flaw.
Power Pivot, Power Query and Power View (on steroids) in a single integrated product, that is freely available and being iterated on at a rapid pace? I mean, that is like y own personal HEAVEN. The demo included some fun new DAX functions, some cool visualizations and … OH EM GEE… the DAX Code Completion.
It was like… eye poppingly awesomely fantasticly badass. There were some jokes made throughout the weekend about the current power pivot editor… which is an abomination. Seriously, it has hurt me FAAARRRR more times than it has helped me. But the new editor? Fancy colors, slick completion suggestions, you can save incomplete measures, nice parenthesis matching,… heck it even added a paren to the end if you forgot one! And commenting! It was beautiful.
Jury is still out a bit on bi-directional relationships, but… it’s at least an interesting idea and a nice item on some checklist for comparing to traditional cubes. Kasper’s demo was great… the crowd ate it up. I ate it up. It it exactly what I want – easy to get, easy to use, and iterating towards further awesome sauce.
There is just that one problem: It’s not Excel.
Sue me… I like simple pivot tables and conditional formatting. And I like cube formulas. And … I don’t like have incompatible versions of Power Pivot. And I enjoy the huge feature set and clever workarounds available to the very mature Excel. I want the billion excel users to continue living in the tool they know and love. I have customers with complex models right now in Excel, that… I’m not sure what to tell when it comes to Designer, and that is a bummer.
I don’t think anybody really knows if/when/how these two trains will merge back together (or, you know… crash into each other, or just travel in opposite directions), but I don’t think anybody really feels good about it. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Though, I should say… I get it. Excel works on loooong time lines and these folks want to move fast. I get that; I applaud that. Go kick some Tableau booty! And having a product separate from Excel lets us rock the 64 bit world… without messing up those pesky 32-bit Excel addins. That’s hot. Just… you know, be cool to my Excel. We are pals!
Future of PASS BA?
I, for one, certainly hope it has a future. I know there is some grumblings from the “traditional” PASS folks (DBA’s and such) and attendance to this conference wasn’t huge. But here is the thing… it should be huge. There are a billion Excel users, many of them doing horrible grunt work of VLOOKUPs and brutal to modify reports… that would benefit SOOOO much from Power Pivot. Microsoft has done the worst job humanly possible of getting that message out. This conference should be overflowing. Clearly there are way way more Excel users than DBA’s.
I also met folks that were “accidental report builders”… people that came in as DBA, but ending up having to own report building. And (apologies for whoever pointed this out in their blog, and I forgot their name), but there could absolutely be sessions on effectively working with IT Departments. I think folks are still feeling their way through the traditional IT vs Agile BI relationships and there is a ton of good discussion to be had there.
So, I think there is a “need” for the conference to continue (and grow). I suppose I could accept an argument of “is that the job of PASS?” but there is a lot of bleed-over between these folks and encouraging more and better collaboration between these folks would be a good thing. PASS already has the teams and infrastructure in place to continue driving these conferences… so I hope they do.
If not, I’m sure somebody will pick up the reins to fill the void…