Microsoft Data Insights Summit: Trip Report

I finally returned home last night after a two week “walkabout” from Wisconsin to Seattle and back.  Visiting family along the way, camping on Puget Sound and in the mountains of Wyoming & Montana.  The excuse for the trip was the Microsoft Data Insights Summit in Bellevue on March 22-23.

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This was the first year for this conference.  Excel is back into the spotlight as a serious player in the enterprise — a platform for data analysis, integration, presentation. The focus was PowerBI…and Excel.  But mostly PowerBI.  And most of the presenters were Microsoft employees.

The keynote was a whirlwind of new features.  PowerBI.com is constantly evolving.  I’m not sure whether its a smarter move to dive in now or wait for things to settle down.  Some of the whizbang stuff is cool, but we’ve got a lot of unsexy plumbing to rig up before we can implement the razzle dazzle of Sand Dance and Apple Watch dashboards.  Most Excel users, SQL DBAs and software developers won’t realize how big this change is going to be until Office 365 and PowerBI are more widely adopted.

If you haven’t seen PowerBI tools in Excel, Leif Brenne (Excel Sr. Program Mgr at Microsoft) does an intro for Excel users.

Rob Collie not only knows the tech, but he understands the reality of implementation and had a lot to say about why enterprise should embrace what he calls “Modern Excel”.  Beyond just technical walk throughs, we need more of this kind of wisdom born of experience.

Alberto Ferrari‘s DAX sessions were so popular he had to add more to the schedule.  DAX is the language of Power Pivot & SQL Server Analysis Services.  You don’t need to learn DAX to use Power Pivot to “join” tables and build a simple data model in Excel, but if you want to understand what’s happening behind the scenes and implement some customized tricks you’ll want to learn DAX. Two sessions on video here:  DAX 101 and Advanced DAX.

Tuesday I participated in a focus group with Microsoft. We signed non-disclosure agreements, got a free pen and sat down to have our brains picked by some sharp & friendly MS folks.  But, honestly, it was like a group therapy session.  I learned a lot from the other attendees at the table. Everyone had different challenges but a lot in common too.  Fascinating and stimulating to hear their ideas and workarounds. Customers like Johnson Controls, Archer Daniels Midland, Metro Bank & the Republican National Committee share their stories, videos here.

At the hotel lounge, I met a software developer who was building a product to automatically refresh Power Query using MS Task Scheduler. Which interested me because I’d just tackled the problem a different way (VM + batch file + VBA).  Any minute now Microsoft may add a “schedule refresh” feature to Power Query and make all our DIY solutions obsolete.  That’s how fast things are changing lately. (PowerBI.com has automatic refresh and it’s working great for me on a nightly basis.)

More later…I have a pile up of work to catch up on.

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