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Microsoft BI Conference 2007

By Steve Jones,

This is the first annual Microsoft BI Conference, being held in Seattle and I have to say that after one day I'm impressed. This is a smaller Microsoft conference, not the scale of a TechEd or a PDC, but it's done well and so far I have to say I've learned a lot.

I came up here with the idea that this was a new event for Microsoft and to see if they could convince me that the BI market is truly growing, maybe even taking off, and that it's a set of technologies worth learning. To be open about it, a "believer" at Microsoft invited me up here on a press pass and arranged for the conference admission. Red Gate has covered my travel and expenses, so I'm truly a guest up there.

That being said, I've never been a big believer that BI will be more than a niche or truly catch on, but I was open to being proven wrong, so I decided to make the trip up here. I'll say that it's sunny for one of the few times that I've been in Seattle, which goes a long way towards putting me in a good mood. I'll try to break down the conference in a few ways for those of you that are wondering if you should try to attend next year.

Content

The conference is broken down into a few different tracks. There's a series of "Chalk Talks" going on constantly, which are like the "Cabana" sessions that I've seen at TechEd or other events. They're sessions without Powerpoint: a short introduction from the moderators and then a discussion or a Q&A on a technology. Today I attended one with Len Wyatt and Dave Wickert on lessons learned from Project Real. It was mostly focused on Analysis Services and after 10 minutes of Dave and Len explaining some of the background and what they learned, the audience asked a lot of SSAS questions. I didn't completely understand, but people seemed pleased with answers and the session was packed.

There are also tracks on Business Value, Client Applications, the BI Platform from an IT perspective, Partner training, and Customer Experiences. The sessions seem fairly well matched to the tracks and there's a good spread. My one complaint is the same as other conferences, there are often good sessions that are going on at the same time, but there's no good way around that.

Today I sat in on a promotion from HP, which was half a session on Premier Bankcard's implementation of BI and half HP talking about BI. To their credit, it was mostly a BI presentation about some of the things you need to do for a successful project and not too much marketing. I also sat in on a moderated panel by Bill Baker with three CTOs that talked about their ROI and projects and what has worked. There was a non-profit, a county government, and a corporation. Bill does a great job of presenting and this one was very interesting. Some more comments on this next week.

I also sat in on a customer presentation, Clalit Health care from Israel and that was very interesting. They've been doing BI for 12 years and I hope to get more information from them over the next couple months on things they've learned and done.

The last session I attended was a hands on, tips and tricks for SSAS by Robert Zare. It was packed with demos and code and moved quickly. I didn't understand most of what was presented, but I could see people were thrilled, it moved at a good pace and Robert did a great job presenting.

Keynote

The first keynote this morning was from Jeff Raikes. It was a fairly typical Microsoft keynote, where the products fit, why MS is great, a couple demos showing off how easy it is to develop, and then 3 CTOs talking about how they are selling BI solutions to their clients. It started out ok, but there was way too much marketing in the talk.

The second keynote, yes there was a second, was Michael Treacy, of Treacy and company. A former MIT professor, book author, and speaker. He was great, talking about how businesses can grow and be more successful. I didn't agree with everything, but I thought he was a great speaker and made some great points. I would recommend hearing him if you get the chance.

Amenities

This was not quite the spread that I see at TechEd, but it was nice. Food and beverages were nice with adult beverages available in the evening. Overall I thought the setup was nice, there was always water and coffee available and plenty of food during breaks.

The rooms all had good speakers and AV capabilities and things ran smoothly. Supposedly we'll get a DVD later of all the sessions.

Attendees

This is a large conference. It feels larger than the PASS Summit and it supposedly has like 2000 people here, including MS attendees. It's a much different crowd of people and vendors than I've seen at PASS. People are more dressed up, there are more managers and business people than at most other events. I'd guess it's between 50-70% geeks rather than the 90% I see at the other SQL conferences. Overall it has a more formal feel than PASS. Not too formal, but definitely more of a business crowd.

There are also quite a few non-US attendees, more it seems, than at other events. Overall there are many smart people here and I hear lots of interesting questions from people, mostly on SSAS topics. I'm not sure it means BI is exploding, but at least for these few thousand, it's a way of life.

Conclusion

Overall I'm impressed. I was expecting a small event, a few hundred people, and that's not it. This is a full fledged event and everyone seems to be enjoying it. I'm not sold on BI, but I've learned some things and I'll be bringing more information over the next week or so.

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