As I mentioned yesterday, I'm attending the inaugural Microsoft BI Conference at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle. There are over 2600 people in attendance. In addition to the "canned" presentations, there are a number of chalk-talks (no PowerPoint allowed!) and Partner sessions which are very interesting.
After an uneventful trip downtown on the Sound Transit 545 bus, today's sessions started out with keynotes from Jeff Raikes and Michael Treacy, the well-known expert on corporate dynamics. Jeff discussed the product set (and announced that the next release of SQL Server, codenamed Katmai, will be released in 2008). Mr. Treacy engaged in a far-reaching discussion about the methods that smart companies are using to become more efficient in their operations and more responsive to their customers; in his view, when used properly the new wave of BI tools has the potential to significantly impact an organization's bottom line.
I then attended a session offered by Bill Hostmann of Gartner called Building a Plan for Success and Avoiding the Five Fatal Flaws of Business Intelligence. Bill classifies organizations on two axes: is the information analysis culture more controlled and qualified or uncontrolled and unqualified? Is the decision-making process more structured or more autonomous? He then places an organization in a quadrant based on its characteristics. This session introduced what I expect to become a recurring theme through the conference: the primary challenges in getting BI up and running at an organization are less on the technical side, and more in the cultural and political realms.
After a more-than-passable lunch of long-grain rice and only moderately rubberized chicken, I went to my next session, Harnessing the Power of Information -- Creating the Intelligent Enterprise, by Ron Tolido of CapGemini. This was a discussion of how the "Mashup Corporation" is increasingly the template for a 21st century leading business. In Ron's mind, this situation creates both a challenge and an opportunity, and the capabilities the MS BI program stack brings to the table in terms of managing rampant heterogeneity are key. Indeed, the entire emerging "web-part" programming paradigm strikes him as a beneficial technical Mashup, paralleling recent developments in business and even entertainment.
The next session I attended was a CXO Discussion Panel moderated by Bill Baker. The panelists included Randy Benz (CIO, Energizer Holdings), Chris Festog (CIO, Virginia Farm Bureau), and Stephen Wetzel (CIO, Maricopa County, Arizona). This was a very informative talk which again highlighted the fact that cultural and political factors weigh at least as heavily as technical competence in the success of a BI project (surprise! some people in an organization might not consider the free flow of accurate information to be in their best interests). I thought one of the panelists stated it quite marvelously: every year, as the technology improves, it's getting harder and harder to make a technical mistake.
My final session for the day (I'm skipping the last session so I can catch the bus and get home at a decent hour) was Practical Design Techniques for Modeling Common Business Scenarios in SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, presented by Robert Zare. This is the first nuts-and-bolts session I've attended today, and after a day of high concept presentations the transition was a bit jarring. That wasn't Robert's fault, though; the information he presented was excellent. As an added bonus, I ran into Lance Larsen, a former colleague, at this session, and we arranged to get together for breakfast tomorrow.