PASS Business Analytics Conference Keynote Speaker Announced

With the BAC just about three months away, PASS has announce that David McCandless, author of Information Is Beautiful, will be the leading keynote speaker.

Microsoft’s Kamal Hathi and Amir Netz will open the conference.  Kamal is the General Manager responsible for managing the overall strategy, design, development and delivery of SQL Server business intelligence technologies.

Amir is a Microsoft Technical Fellow, the world’s leading Business Intelligence expert, chief designer for Microsoft SQL Server and founder, inventor and architect for Microsoft’s BI technologies.


The PASS announcement today:

Information Is Beautiful Author David McCandless Keynoting at PASS Business Analytics Conference 2014

Leading an all-star speaker lineup of data experts from Intuit, Microsoft, SurveyMonkey, Wells Fargo, Yahoo! and more


CHICAGO, Illinois — February 18, 2014 — Award-winning information designer and data journalist David McCandless, author of Information Is Beautiful, will take center stage at the 2nd annual PASS Business Analytics Conference in San Jose, CA, May 7-9, leading an all-star speaker lineup from across the world of business analytics.

With his information design work appearing in over 40 publications internationally, London-based McCandless uses data visualization and infographics to explore new directions for journalism and discover new stories in data. His popular blog and book, Information Is Beautiful (HarperCollins 2009), are dedicated to visualizing ideas, issues, knowledge, and data. He’s also had pieces exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Wellcome Trust gallery in London, and the Tate Britain.

“By merging data, visual design, and storytelling, David McCandless’ work continues to instruct and inspire data professionals as we strive to translate data into meaningful information,” says PASS President Thomas LaRock. “We’re thrilled to welcome him to the PASS Business Analytics Conference as he shares his love of data and challenges us to better understand our businesses and the world around us through data.”

Microsoft’s Kamal Hathi and Amir Netz, back by popular demand, will kick off the conference on Day 1 with their lively mix of real-world demonstrations and intriguing data explorations as they tour the latest in business analytics and BI technologies that empower users to gather, analyze, and visualize data.

Bringing together business analysts, data scientists, and business intelligence and IT pros, the PASS BA Conference will feature 65+ best-practices, how-to, and strategy sessions by top BA/BI experts from Intuit, Microsoft, SurveyMonkey, Wells Fargo, Yahoo! and more. The event will also showcase thought-leading panels, the latest partner solutions, and a variety of networking opportunities designed to give attendees the contacts, tools, and expertise they need to get the most out of their organization’s data.

For more information and to register at the discounted rate by March 31, visit

About PASS
PASS is an independent, not-for-profit community organization dedicated to empowering data professionals who leverage Microsoft technologies to connect, share, and learn. With a growing membership of more than 100K, PASS enables networking, knowledge sharing, and peer-based learning through local and virtual chapters, online events, local and regional events, and international conferences such as the PASS Business Analytics Conference. For more information, visit the PASS Web site at

All brand names, product names, and trademarks belong to their respective holders.


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Book Review of Microsoft Tabular Modeling Cookbook

by Paul te Braak, from Packt Publishing
on Amazon

Good technology books usually come in one of two forms.  Some of the books on my shelves go deep technically, contain useful tidbits of code but read like the phonebook.  Just a few are interesting and insightful.  This book is a rare gem that does both.  Paul te Braak is well-known in the Business Intelligence community for his expertise and contributions and he delivers a unique guide that starts with the basics and proceeds to cover all of the essentials with depth and practical examples to solve some challenging business problems.

You might expect a book that introduces fundamental concepts to gloss-over advanced topics and avoid complex applications.  This book covers the essentials of data modeling and analysis with Excel and Power Pivot in language that is plain and easy to understand but it doesn’t stop with the basics.  It covers practical and useful applications without insulting the reader’s intelligence.  As an experienced data modeler, I found several useful techniques and new methods to use the tools and language.  Paul’s coverage of practical techniques spans the spectrum of business applications and product features.  This is a rare book that is not only a good tutorial with many hands-on examples that can be repeated by the reader but it’s also a great reference of useful techniques and code samples.

Highlights include:

  • The integration of Excel features such as ranges, tables, pivot tables and pivot charts with the additional features of Power Pivot and Power View that extend and enhance these capabilities
  • Examples and instructions are directed at Excel 2010 users and the author compares some the different features in Excel 2010 and Excel 2013.
  • Fundamentals of the DAX calculation language
  • Importing data as text, different date formats and implied data type columns
  • Beyond the basics, a schema.ini file is used to define column data types
  • Importing data from a database, working with database tables, views and queries, managing connections and challenges encountered running the table import wizard multiple times
  • Data feeds using OData and using a Reporting Services report to provide a data feed
  • Decisions a designer makes to enable the user’s experience when browsing a model.  This includes sorting values, navigating hierarchies that enable drill-down interaction. 
  • DAX “X” functions (SUMX, MINX, etc.) to perform row-level aggregation
  • Working with parent-child hierarchies using specialized DAX path functions. 
  • Advanced browsing features, adjusting pivot table options to optimize the user experience
  • Building and using KPIs and using alternate table relationships
  • Time calculations and date functions.  This chapter covers running totals and totals to date
  • Date part aggregate functions (MTD, YTD, etc.),
  • Essential data math and comparisons
  • LastYear and PriorPeriod functions, TotalYTD
  • Manufacturing calendar, working with “445” dates
  • Creating a dynamic relative time measure, using a shell dimension table
  • Using DatesBetween to show the average value for the past 10 days
  • Apply advanced modeling technique to bin, sort and rank values for reporting
  • Expand concepts introduced in chapter 3, using the DAX “X” functions to perform row iteration in advanced financial applications
  • Defining and working with many-to-many relationships.  This is often no trivial task to completely understand many-to-many relationship requirements and to apply a working solution that provides the intended results
  • Addressing inventory and stock-keeping challenges
  • Conditional aggregation at different levels
  • Budgeting and forecasting vs actuals
  • Programming Excel to enhance the users experience
  • Excel VBA event programming to respond to slicers
  • Using cube functions
  • Interacting with charts and slicers
  • Building solutions for the enterprise
  • Using the SSDS Tabular designer
  • Migrating Power Pivot models to Tabular server solutions
  • managing connections, implementing impersonation, managing security
  • Using roles and perspectives
  • Generating and using XMLA script
  • Defining and implementing role-based, dynamic row filtering
  • Performing currency conversion
  • Managing and optimizing  a Tabular solution
  • Deployment scenarios
  • Using SSDT to deploy and process models
  • Using the SSAS Deployment Wizard
  • Generating and using deployment scripts
  • Creating and managing partitions
  • Scheduling and executing processing tasks
  • Utilizing DirectQuery for real-time data results
  • Using Profiler to troubleshoot and optimizing a model
  • Querying a model using DAX
  • comparison of similar and different concepts in multidimensional and Tabular semantic models
  • Query with MDX
  • Query with DAX
  • DAX tools and debugging techniques
  • Using DAX query techniques to simulate SQL query operations
  • Column aliases, joins, filters, deriving tables
  • Samples and top ranked results
  • Using Power View to present results and visualize data
    • Essential design features
    • creating a table report
    • using a matrix to pivot results
    • time and data filters
    • advanced filters
    • creating charts
    • bar charts
    • stacked charts
    • cluster chart
    • using tiles to navigate sectioned results
    • using images
    • managing tables with default field sets
    • table behavior and cards
    • data categories and visual behaviors
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Power BI is Released

Today is the day we’ve been waiting for as Microsoft has announced the general availability of Power BI in Office 365.  Today’s announcement represents a milestone in a long road of product development and technology evolution, literally years and even decades in the making

What is Power BI?  In short, it is a complete set of integrated tools for data modeling, analytics and visualization hosted in Microsoft’s secure cloud environment.  The Power BI tools integrate with Microsoft Office 2013, mainly Excel, and can be synchronized with on-premises data.  This new offering fills a much needed gap by giving power users access to rich tools for business analysis tools.

Content is hosted in SharePoint Online and leverages mature, enterprise-scale Microsoft BI technologies in a platform that is usable by business power users.  These simple tools are based on technologies like SQL Server Analysis Services, Power Pivot, Power View and new capabilities of Power Query, Power Map and natural language Q&A.

The Power BI product team announced general availability this morning, February 10, 2014.  You can sign-up for a preview or subscribe to Power BI for about $20/month for Office users user or $40/month for new users.

The best way to appreciate the power of Power BI is to watch the demo contest videos where about 70 different members of the community demonstrated the tools in 10 minute videos.  If you’re just getting started with these tools, there is a lot to learn and a tremendous amount of value to be gain by using these tools in your business.  How do you get started?  Attend the PASS Business Analytics Conference and watch my blog for useful information and links to other resources in the community.

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Reporting Services Migration Guide Released

It’s great to see Microsoft’s ongoing support for Reporting Services.  Not long ago, a client needed some help migrating their entire arsenal of SSRS reports from report servers to a new enterprise-wide SharePoint deployment.  It wasn’t easy and there were limited options to automate the process.  That’s why I’m excited to share the announcement that the Migrating Content Between Report Servers white paper has been released.

This paper covers how to use the new Reporting Services Migration Tool which is currently in beta release. 

Using the tool, you can migrate these objects: Reports, Shared Data Sources, Shared Datasets, Folders, Subscriptions, Snapshots, Credentials stored in the data sources and subscriptions, Cache Refresh Options and Processing Options.

You can generate migration scripts that can be managed and executed with PowerShell.

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PASS Business Analytics Conference Sneak Peek

The PASS Business Analytics Conference (BAC) will be in San Jose, CA on May 7-9.  You can get a jump start on some of the most notable presentations with these recorded sessions from the 24 Hours of PASS, BAC Edition.  These include some great talks from Peter Myers, Mark Tabladillo, Mark Whitehorn, Stacia Misner, Dejan Sarka, Marco Russo, Karen Lopez, Chris Webb, Lynn Langit, Jason Thomas, Jason Strate and Carlos Bossy.

These are just the tip of the whole big iceberg that is the BAC.  I encourage you to attend.  Also, watch the streaming keynotes and selected sessions, attend your local PASS Chapter events and virtual chapters.  This information is accessible from the PASS site.

From the BAC Sessions Sneak Peak page:

Get a sneak peek at some of the Business Analytics and Business Intelligence best practices, expert tips, and demos you’ll find at the PASS Business Analytics Conference. We recently hosted an online event featuring 12 back-to-back webcasts from various BA Conference speakers. Watch the recordings now:

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End-to-End Power BI

The aim of this session is to excite you with the potential of Microsoft’s new self-service suite of BI products and collaboration platform named Power BI. You will learn about four “Power” authoring products available in Excel, and how they function to discover, acquire, transform, relate and enrich data for analysis and reporting.

Topics include Power Query, PowerPivot, Power View, and Power Map. This session has been designed to provide perspective across the Power BI story

Speaker: Peter Myers, BI Expert, Bitwise Solutions

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Predictive Analytics for Absolute Beginners

In this one-hour preview presentation, we cover the main motivation for learning something about predictive analytics. We will show some of the Microsoft technology which will be in the Pre-Conference session on May 7. We also will be answering any questions you may have. This session and the Pre-Conference session are for absolute beginners.

SPEAKERS: Mark Tabladillo, Data Mining Architect, MarkTab Consulting and Artus Krohn-Grimberghe, Assistant Professor, Analytic Information Systems and Business Intelligence

Watch Now

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Adding Valuable Techniques to your Data Science Toolbox

Data Science requires us to see and understand complex patterns in data, so we use techniques like data mining to uncover them. There are other, less well-known but equally useful techniques and methodologies that we can add to our toolbox.

I’ll be covering a range of these in the full day, Pre-Conference, session that I am giving at The PASS Business Analytics Conference and I’ll use this one hour session to introduce you to a couple of my favorites. It is worth stressing that I love these techniques, not just because they are fascinating in their own rights but because I have found them immensely useful in my work of turning masses of data into useful information.

This session will NOT include any heavy (or, indeed, light!) mathematics; it is focused on how an understanding of these techniques can be of real benefit in your day-to-day work.

SPEAKER: Mark Whitehorn, Co-Founder, Penguinsoft Consulting Ltd.

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Has Big Data Killed the EDW?

Big Data technologies have given us the ability to process massive amounts of data at a low cost, and yet the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) still plays a key role in most corporate IT shops. Is it time for EDWs to transition? Or is the future of EDW doomed because we now need to solve different problems? This session will answer your questions about the future of EDW.

SPEAKER: Stacia Misner, Principal, Data Inspirations

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Advanced Analytics in Excel 2013

Excel is “the” analytical tool in Microsoft’s suite for advanced analysts. Of course, you know that Excel 2013 includes PowerPivot and Power View add-ins out of the box. You also may have heard that you can use Big Data and Azure DataMarket data in Excel and that you can mash up data from different sources. However, you probably don’t know how to use PowerPivot data for data mining, how to combine Big Data with PowerPivot data, how to use data mining models in PowerPivot, or how to mash up data when you don’t have common identification.

This session is not about introducing the cool new features; instead it will focus on the most advanced part of Excel analytics: data mining with Excel.

SPEAKER: Dejan Sarka, Mentor, Dejan Sarka s.p.

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Introduction to Querying in DAX

The DAX (Data Analysis Expressions) language can be used to query a Tabular and PowerPivot data model. This session will introduce the syntax of DAX queries and will show several scenarios in which you can use DAX as a query language, such as Excel and Reporting Services, as well as creating a quick prototyping environment for new DAX measures in your model.

There will be many practical demos where you will learn which tools you can use to write and format the DAX formulas and queries, including SQL Server Management Studio, DAX Studio, and DAX Formatter. At the end of the session, you will have the right pointers to start writing your own DAX queries.

SPEAKER: Marco Russo, Consultant, SQLBI

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Panel: Myths, Misunderstandings, and Successes in Data Analytics

Big Data, Business Analytics, Data Analytics, NoSQL, Relational . . . do we even agree on what we mean by those terms? In this panel session, industry thought leaders will discuss and debate the most common myths, truths, and mostly-truths of new and traditional approaches for enterprise data management and analytics.

SPEAKERS: Karen Lopez, SR. Project Manager & Architect, InfoAdvisor, Stacia Misner, Principal, Data Inspirations, Joseph D’Antoni, Solutions Architect, Anexinet, Lynn Langit, Found, Lynn Langit

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Power Query: Beyond the Basics

You already know that you can accomplish a lot within the Power Query user interface. If you are a data steward, however, you may be asked to deliver complex data sets in Power Query that require some knowledge of advanced functionality, including the M language. This session will examine what these requirements might be, how to implement them, and how best to deploy them to end users.

We will cover how to create common types of calculations in M, how to best use functions, calling to web services, and OData data sources, and more. We will also discuss the best way to use Power Query with the rest of the Power BI stack, especially PowerPivot.

SPEAKER: Chris Webb, Director, Crossjoin Consulting Limited

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Small Big Data – Phase 0 – Data Hygiene

In this talk, we will talk about the starting point for every Big Data project – getting your current (data) house in order. Drawing from real-world experience, Lynn Langit will discuss patterns, tools, and techniques for improving data hygiene with SQL Server. These will include use of SSDT, 3rd party tools, such as D&B and Melissa Data, and more.

Learn how to get ready for Big Data with practical tips from this session.

SPEAKER: Lynn Langit, Founder, Lynn Langit

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DataViz You Thought You Could NOT Do with SSRS

Despite SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) being a very flexible and adaptable tool when it comes to visualization techniques, very few venture beyond its ready-made charts. Most of the time, all it takes to build a chart considered “outside the scope” of SSRS is a bit of lateral thinking. Sometimes, we need to go a little further and use custom code. Join this session as we bust popular myths around "impossible in SSRS" visualizations and construct them live in SSRS!

SPEAKER: Jason Thomas, Consultant, Mariner

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Implementation and Design on the Parallel Data Warehouse

If you need to design a data warehouse that scales for today and into the future, then you need to know about Microsoft’s Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW). In this preview session, we will review the architecture of PDW with an emphasis on what makes PDW the solution of choice for data warehouses.

We will discuss what it takes to migrate a data warehouse to PDW and what bottlenecks you could expect to see in a migration. Through live demonstrations, you will witness the power and performance of PDW and see the performance impact of PDW’s data distribution.

SPEAKER: Jason Strate, Database Architect, Pragmatic Works

Watch Now

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An Introduction to Predictive Modeling

This session will show you how to solve a real-world data mining problem by demonstrating the entire development life cycle of a predictive model. You will learn the essentials required to harness the power of a decision tree algorithm to develop and optimize a production-ready predictive model. You will also see how to iterate through the process to improve the model’s effectiveness. Then you will learn how to make the most of a predictive model by seeing how to deploy it and use in your applications and reports

SPEAKER: Carlos Bossy, Principal Consultant, Quanta Intelligence

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Creating Multi-column Labels in Reporting Services

A reader recently asked for some help creating a “4-up” sheet of labels.  She referred to one of the recipes on page 383 in our Wrox Press book Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services Recipes for Designing Expert Reports, about creating mailing labels.  The technique in the recipe used the multiple column feature of SSRS.  This made me give this a little more thought and I’ve come up with another way to get to the same result, possibly with a better outcome.  These techniques could be applied to different “Avery Style” full sheet card and label layouts that have any number of columns and rows.


The columns feature is Reporting Services is not particularly robust and hasn’t seen any improvement since the first product release in 2003.  I’ve found it to be a feature that either does what you need it to do or not and we have little control to persuade it otherwise.

There are at least two different techniques we could use to produce 4-up labels and I put together the two attached sample reports to demonstrate them with a very simple dataset.  One of these reports uses the multiple columns feature and the second uses a matrix with columns grouped on an expression that should always produce two columns.  In the matrix report, I used the MOD (modulus) operator on the dataset RowNumber to segregate even and odd numbered records.  The attached PDF file shows the output, which should be nearly identical for both reports.

Keep in mind that the report columns technique is only supported by SSRS output formats that use GDI rendering such as PDF or Image/TIFF.  If you preview the report in the designer or in a web browser, you will only see one column.  That’s just the way it works.  However, if you print the report using the Print button on the report toolbar, I would expect it to print with multiple columns.  The other option is to first render to an image or PDF file and then print it, which is not an ideal solution in most cases.  To get the columns to wrap correctly, I’ve always had to experiment with the width of the report body, the width of the report page and the margins.

Download samples:  Sold Tags reports

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Superbowl 2014

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  This one is worth at least $3,000 or the cost of two tickets to the 2014 Superbowl…

…and then in Seattle…

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