Microsoft BI Conference – Day 1 – 6th October 2008

So, although later than the trail blazers, I thought I’d write up a brief note about day one of the Microsoft BI Conference.  The ‘Kilimanjaro’ announcements have been done to death although I’ve noticed a couple of crossed wires.  Kilimanjaro is NOT the next version of SQL Server – it sounds more like an interim release, whether that comes as part of a service pack or a new type of feature pack delivery method I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  However it arrives, we have to wait until the first half of calendar year 2010.

With regard to ‘Gemini’ I’m hoping they make the in-memory (column based storage?) engine part of the SQL Server engine proper, as this can then benefit PPS and any SQL Server dependent app, not just the ‘Gemini’ framework.  Imagine PPS-P data entry/reporting running in memory !  It’s certainly a game-changer and it will be interesting to see where and how it’s positioned.  I can’t help thinking that it’s verging on promoting data silos and ‘multiple versions of the truth’ and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s misused by some customers.  “We don’t need a data-warehouse, we’ll just use Gemini”.. Although Tim did quiz the team on this.   Having said all that, it’s pretty damn exciting and will change the face of BI for both customers and BI implementers.

The first breakout session I attended was a Chalk and Talk by the engaging Peter Bull on moving from the spreadsheet world to PerformancePoint Planning.  He outlined a suggested method for converting existing excel based ‘business applications’ into PerformancePoint models, he was open and honest about some of the shortcomings of the product but also brought our attention to the the built-in features that aid design and productivity.

The following tips were core to the session:

– Don’t replicate the current Excel ‘models’.

– Use filters to reduce scope and size of input matrices.

– Limit definition rules (Don’t build cell by cell calculations)

– Don’t use flat hierarchies.

– Don’t assume all calculations need to be real time.

– Performance test by cut and pasting MDX.

Another Chalk and Talk followed, held by Michael Bower and Scott Sebelsky on using PPS-P for Financial Consolidation.  They discussed the consolidation functionality available in PPS-P and using a two model site application, walked us through the implementation using US GAAP (Corporate Model Site) and IFRS (EMEA Model Site).

The demo, supporting white-paper, and a new planning demo will be available shortly and was shown off in the hands on labs at the conference.  I’ll shortly be able to post more information on these new demos…

My third session of the day effectively covered some elements, mainly Report Builder 2.0, of the SQL 2008 feature pack that is out later this month.  One of the features demonstrated Component Based Report building from a self-service perspective and did look quite slick.  The session was presented by the SSRS PM team and they had a clever way of obtaining feedback from the audience on what features they would like to see the most.  They handed out a crib sheet of features and asked us to allocate a $100 budget to each feature – they collected in the sheets and will use this as a basis on what features to focus on.  In addition to Component based self-service reporting, features such as Office Integration using the acquired Software Artisans technology, Notify Me, Interactive Reports and Rich Presentation were shown off to good effect.

Steve Hoberecht and Srini Nallapareddy were next on my list, taking us through Advanced PPS Planning rules and calculations.  There was some good stuff – I always thought the fact the ALLOCATE statement appended data was a bug, but now I know why it does what it does and warrants a separate post.  Some other tips, particularly for definition rules, some new some old, were also presented:

– Reduce Scope

– Avoid Hard-coded member labels to avoid security restriction errors

– Consider automatic rules/ scheduled assignments.

– Rule order is important / Avoid infinite loops

– Consider moving calcs to Excel

– Consider input/Reporting models

– Locate bad performing rules by commenting out the rules in BIDS and introducing the rules on by one (from within BIDS) rather than setting the active flag from within PBM as that is more tedious.

The day was rounded off by a great steak, with the other UK BI partners at Ruths and Chris Steakhouse.