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Insights from SQLBits 2017

One of the ways we stay ahead of the curve at C5 Alliance and Altius CI is by attending conferences like SQLBits 2017. This gives us the opportunity to discover new tech, learn different approaches to tackling problems and talk to our peers in a format that’s both fun and educational.

The four-day conference offered our consultants a chance to train and attend sessions, from showcases of innovative technologies and solutions to deep dives into very specific areas of tech that require a lot of high-level knowledge. Each year has a theme, and this year’s was Disco – so we even got a chance to practice our roller-skating skills!

Here are some reflections.

I’m often busy working with clients, so having the chance to discover new tech that I haven’t had a chance to play with yet, while gaining the initial knowledge I need to get started in new areas of expertise, makes attending conferences like SQLBits extremely worthwhile!

Azure DocumentDB

I’ve only used Azure DocumentDB a little, so I was excited to attend a full day session on it to learn more. C5 developed Jersey’s Bus Tracker, and after hearing Andrew Hoh from Microsoft’s overview of when and where to utilise it, I think DocumentDB would be a great addition, allowing the solution to function on a larger scale. I have no doubt DocumentDB will play a large role in many of C5’s future Internet of Things solutions.

SQL Graph

The ability to create Graphs in SQL Server is coming in SQL Server vNext. This will allow us to solve complex relation problems with relative ease, and I can see this benefitting the Channel Islands, particularly in the finance industry. It’s currently in private preview, but I’m told it may be available in the next Microsoft CTP.

Cortana Intelligence Suite

I was a little confused about what Cortana Intelligence Suite was, aside from Microsoft marketing, however, the presentation by Melissa Coates AKA, SQL Chick, provided a nice overview.

Paraphrasing the quote from Chris Testa O’Neill of Microsoft’s Machine Learning and Data Science Team, which Melissa referenced, I feel the following describes Cortana Intelligence Suite in a nutshell:

“Cortana Intelligence Suite is the Azure Service offering that provides the platform and processes to conduct advanced analytics.”

At C5, we’ve built various on-premise SQL Server Data Warehouses that are used across our customers’ businesses. Azure and Cortina Intelligence Suite has extended the Data Warehouse concept to a full Data Platform with interoperable components, including Data Warehouse.

With your data in Azure, you could easily create proof of concepts and solutions to utilise your data.

Cloud technologies like Azure have transformed from just a ‘cost saving’ value proposition into an ‘opportunity cost saving’ value proposition. If you don’t reap the benefits, how much additional business are you throwing away?

Imagine gaining insight from your data to acquire an additional 10% of new customers each year. Imagine accurately predicting a customer’s exit before it happens, and being able to do something about it, resulting in 15% better customer retention. Imagine giving your customers a more tailored experience, resulting in an uplift of 20% existing customer growth – I could go on!

Now, imagine if your competitors have the foresight to move to Cortana Intelligence Suite!

Ben Symonds, Consultant at C5 Alliance

I had heard great things about SQLBits from my colleagues, so I was eager to attend for the first time this year to find out if the event would live up to its great reputation.

My aim was to gain insight into two main areas: new cutting-edge or future reporting tools to see the direction of the Business Intelligence market and, secondly, to attend project showcases to enhance my understanding of existing tech.

I came away from SQLBits learning a lot more theory and practical knowledge than I anticipated. Immersing myself in this creative and collaborative learning environment also allowed me to reflect and develop my own ideas and approaches, which will ultimately help me to deliver client projects.

DAX

I attended the 0-Dax session with the famous Alberto Ferrari, Founder of SQLBI. I knew of DAX but had limited knowledge of its capabilities, how to use it and how the DAX engine works. Thankfully, the day-long course started at the very beginning, before working its way up to high-level methods and hints on the inner workings of the engine.

DAX is fully supported in Power BI, PowerPivot and SSAS Modelling. I would recommend learning the theory of DAX by checking out Ferrari’s books or courses before diving into using DAX. Going in blind with this language won’t work!

Microsoft Reporting (Power BI, Mobile Reports, KPIs, SSRS, Excel, PowerPivot)

Microsoft now has an overwhelming array of reporting products available, so I chose to attend the ‘Power BI and SSRS – Better Together’ seminar. The seminar explained Microsoft’s vision for future reporting and cleared up many of the questions I had encountered around the offerings and how they fit together. There is no exact science to which tool to use and when, however, a best-fit matrix can be used as a starting point when designing reporting architecture.

  • Microsoft sees the new 2016 SSRS reports homepage as a central hub for enterprise reporting. This can host content or links to all forms of report (SSRS, Power BI, Excel, Mobile Reports and KPIs)
  • Many clients are still not comfortable with keeping data in the cloud, meaning utilising Power BI is out of their reach. However, Microsoft recently released a technical preview of an enhanced SSRS that can host Power BI on-premise. However, fully functional Power BI on-premise won’t be available until the new SQL release, vNext. It’s still not clear whether this will also be pushed to SQL 2016, but with SSRS becoming a standalone installer, I remain hopeful!
  • Below is a handy matrix that can help when deciding which reporting tool is most appropriate for a task. You should also consider your own business context and requirements when deciding which is the best fit. There is some crossover between tools, but each has its main strengths.

Conclusions

This year’s SQLBits conference was as interesting as it was fun, and we’d encourage IT professionals to immerse themselves in the latest thoughts and trends in the world of technology by attending the event next year.

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