Grab Bag: Job Opps, Sold Out in Indy, and a Vibrant Power BI Discussion

August 18, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

Power BI Job Opps, Power Pivot Class Sold Out, Power BI Discussion

Four quick topics today:

  1. Mini-application for for PowerPivotPro jobs
  2. Specific job opp in Seattle area
  3. Indy class sold out
  4. Last week’s Power BI post and the (even more interesting) followup discussion

1) “Mini-Application” Form for PowerPivotPro Jobs

Back in January I mentioned that we’d be expanding the PowerPivotPro team this year.  The calendar tends to zip by under our feet rather quickly, and here we are in August, but we’ve quietly been growing the team, slowly, in the intervening months.

Now however it’s time to lay the groundwork for the next growth phase.  Microsoft is getting serious about Power BI, which is right in our wheelhouse (since it’s built on the Power Pivot and Power Query engines, and philosophically is very much “of our religion.”)  So we’ve got to be ready for the next surge in client demand.

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Are Your Official Data Tools an “Arranged Marriage?”

July 28, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

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A Recent Trip to the Hospital Highlighted the Folly of The Way Things Work

That Oh So Sneaky “Adoption Problem”

I spend a lot of time talking to software vendors. One vendor specifically of course, whose name rhymes with “Bike Row Loft.”  But all software vendors share one basic habit, which is that they’re constantly asking, “How do we get more customers to BUY our tools?”

But I also spend a lot of time talking to their customers.  And while the vendors expect their customers’ most pressing question to be “which software tools do I buy,” the reality I see is FAR different.

Buying software is just the FIRST step down a very difficult road.  You choose the software from Vendor X, announce the decision to your organization, send Vendor X a check…  and that’s the starting gun.

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Yeah, Vendor X sees that as the END of the story.  And so do their competitors, Vendor Y and Vendor Z, who slink away defeated.  But you, the purchaser of the tools, well, your story is just beginning isn’t it?

Now you have to get your PEOPLE to start USING the new tools.  And to KEEP using them.  I’ve discovered that this is by FAR a much bigger problem than choosing the tool. 

“The New Operating Room Sucks, Who Designs These Things?”

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Power BI Designer vs. Excel: What’s Microsoft Up To?

July 7, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

Power BI Designer:  A Good Thing for the Power Pivot Revolutionary in Your Life

This is Power BI Designer, a New Product from Microsoft, and It’s Relevant to ALL of Us.

Major Seismic Activity out of “Mount Redmond”

Some of you may have seen it already, but just in case you haven’t:  in recent months, Microsoft has been touting a preview of what it calls Power BI Designer.  You can download it here for free, and install it right next to all of your other tools, TODAY.

I’ve held off, a LONG time, in writing about Designer.  Because I wasn’t yet sure what to make of it.  I’ve been wary of it, critical of its existence.  It’s taken many, MANY off-the-record conversations with my former colleagues at Microsoft, and a lot of reflection, but now I am ready to talk about it, and even endorse it – with a few caveats near the very end of this post.

The Many Desktop Applications of Power BI

My Start Menu is Getting Crowded with Data Tools:
Excel 2010, Excel 2013, Power BI Designer, and Power Update

Designer is Clearly…  Familiar to Us

Once you install it, you immediately start noticing some similarities to things we know and love:

Power BI Designer Basically Contains Power Query, It's Just Not Called That

Same Basic List of Data Sources We See in Power Query

And then the ribbon has some old friends for us as well…

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No More Apologies: Excel is the World’s Best Data Tool, Period.

June 16, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

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NASA JPL is Using Modern Excel to Perform Financial Analysis On Their
Space Projects, Because Modern Excel is the Best.
(That’s me with Opportunity’s “sister” during a training engagement this Spring)

Too Hot for the Official Excel Blog!

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This Post Was Originally Written for the Official MS Excel Blog But Never Went Live
(Their PR Censors Deleted 70% of it and wanted big changes to the rest, so I’m posting here instead)

A couple months ago I was asked if I’d like to do a post for the official Excel.  Heck YES, I said.  (Duh).

And then I realized, I couldn’t let such an opportunity go to waste.  I had to Go Big with this one.  Roll the dice.  Use it as a chance to change the entire conversation around Excel – in ways that Microsoft itself SHOULD be doing, but hasn’t.

So many products now use “we’re better than Excel” as their entire marketing campaign.  I’m swarmed by these ads on Facebook.  And none of these other products are better.  In fact, none of them are even close to being AS good as Excel, much less better.

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A New Take on “Data Quality?”

June 2, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

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Bad Data DOES Lead to Bad Results.  But Good Data Can STILL Lead to Bad Results.

Garbage in, Garbage out.  We’re all familiar with this.  If you’re being given junky source data, it’s going to be hard to perform ANY meaningful analysis or reporting on said data until the quality of the inputs is addressed.

The term “Data Quality” has come to mean precisely that – the quality of your inputs.

But at my recent PASS BA presentation on the Bottom Line, I was talking at length about how we often generate poor outputs – our reports and dashboards often leave much to be desired, because we ourselves, the producers of the work, need to be better.

It’s one of my most-emphasized themes:  we’ve been given this amazing new toolset (Power Pivot and the rest of the Power BI stack).  We shouldn’t just use it to produce the same stuff we produced for decades (even though we can do so much faster and more efficiently than before).

We should strive for more meaningful metrics for instance – metrics that remove noise and produce a clearer picture than the age-old default of “raw dollars.” 

A product may be generating more dollars than last year for instance, but that could be misleading.  Is it generating more profit (it may also be more expensive for us to acquire this year)?  Is it generating more profit per store (we may have increased the number of stores that sell it)?  Per day (maybe it was introduced in May of last year, but this year it’s been available since Jan 1)? 

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Our Road Ahead

May 5, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

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If you believe in redemption
I’m calling to you from another dimension

-The Flobots

Turn the Corner, Press the Accelerator

This post will have a definite “personal” flavor to it, but also a strong professional flavor – of what you should expect from us over the coming year.  Personal and Professional are ALWAYS closely intertwined, and I’m less squeamish about blurring that line in 2015 than in 2009, when we started this journey.  Running my own business has taught me this, but really, it was always true.  I was just less aware of it when I worked at Microsoft.  Now matter how you slice it, it’s our lives.

A few days ago, I resolved a long-running personal matter.  It’s… done.  Just looking at those two words – “it’s done’’ – wow, I’m still letting the new reality settle in.  It’s going to take awhile perhaps.  But we’re going to move forward aggressively now.  A new lease on everything.  And we’re not going to waste it.

Lemony Snicket’s Series of UnFortunate Events

steering wheel

And I can’t help but ask myself
How much I let the fear
Take the wheel and steer

-Incubus

 

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Interview with Chris Finlan of Microsoft

March 3, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

A Kindred Spirit Revealed!

Rob Collie of PowerPivotPro and Chris Finlan of Microsoft

Me and Chris Last Week at the Microsoft Offices in D.C.
(Their Electronic Signs Are Awkwardly Truthful.)

For about a year I have been working closely with a Microsoft employee named Chris Finlan, the BI TSP for Microsoft’s Mid Atlantic Sales District.  Loosely translated, that means that when it comes to Business Intelligence, he’s the “go to” resource for all of the Enterprise sales teams in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

On the face of it, that may sound like “well of COURSE you two work closely together – he sells MS BI, and you teach/help people to use it.”  But there are a LOT of technologies in the MS BI stack, and we (at PowerPivotPro) are specialists in the New Wave – not just the newer technologies like Power Pivot and Power BI, but also in the way that the tools are positioned, evangelized, and sold.

Even though we’re 100% aligned with Microsoft’s direction, it takes time for habits to change – both for large companies AND the software sales teams who work with them.  Neither is particularly incented to take risks – the consequences of a failed experiment are high.  So, it’s natural that not everyone has rushed to embrace the New Wave as the total paradigm shift that it is.

The traditional Microsoft BI sales strategy can be loosely characterized as “top down” (pitch/sell the software to the people who write big checks) whereas I think Power Pivot is often better pitched bottom-up (prove its value to a single department or group of users, and the checks come later).  Neither is an “incorrect” approach of course, and they are not mutually exclusive.  In particular, I’ve long believed that “bottom-up” messaging can be an effective part of a “top-down” engagement.

But changes to the script require a LOT of confidence.  The “game” just isn’t set up to reward experimentation.  So ultimately, it often requires someone who’s wired a bit differently.

Rob's Face When he Got Chris's EmailIn my world at least, that person first “surfaced” in an email I received about a year ago.  Chris just dropped me a note and said “hey I’ve been adapting some of the messaging on your website for use with customers, and it’s been working.  Can we have a phone call at some point?”

And at that moment I scrambled for the phone.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Chris and I talk probably three times a week, cooperate on multiple customer engagements, ran classes in Philly (last year) and DC (last week), hatched Insight Center (more on this below), and generally just pester the hell out of each other all week long.

On to the Interview!

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The Only “Requirements Doc” You Will Ever Need

January 20, 2015

Post by Rob Collie

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One of Our Clients Sent This to us Before a Consult.  It is Perfection.

The Dysfunctional Myth of “Requirements Discovery”

A traditional BI project typically starts with “requirements discovery.”  This is where YOU, the business, get to spend multiple days, weeks, or even months teaching someone else (a BI consultant or internal BI pro) about your business.

There are MULTIPLE problems with this traditional methodology:

  1. YOU are the teacher (teaching about your biz), but YOU are paying.  Seems backwards yes?  Money usually flows in the opposite direction of knowledge transfer.  But not in BI.
  2. YOUR time is a MASSIVE hidden cost.  In addition to the fees you may be paying, don’t forget that YOUR time is being consumed in the process.  If we were going to put an “honest” cost on a BI project, the time consumed by Business personnel should be included.  (And that’s a lot more than your salaries – there’s opportunity cost to the business as well since you aren’t doing OTHER things).
  3. When the dust settles on “discovery,” the BI Pro STILL does not understand.  Oh, everyone PRETENDS that “discovery” is over, but really, it’s just begun.  In a few weeks, when the first “results” come in from the BI Pro, you will then, ahem, discover that there were tremendous misunderstandings.

This dysfunction is the root of BI failure.  Projects that never end.  Projects that end, but under-deliver.  And also…  projects that never even start.  If you’ve ever said “we can’t afford BI,” you were both simultaneously correct AND unknowingly reacting to this dynamic.

This dysfunction is NOT your fault, NOR is it the BI Pro’s fault.  You see, we’re terribly ineffective at communication, us humans – both on the “send” side AND the “receive” side.  No exceptions.

Requirements Discovery Works MUCH Better on Planet VulcanThe people involved are FINE.  It’s the methodology that’s broken.  I don’t have a single critical word for the PEOPLE involved in such projects.  We’d need to be Vulcans, equipped with the Mind Meld power, to make this approach work well.

So WHY did a bad methodology gain acceptance in the first place?  Because the software vendors did this TO the world.  Perpetrated it ON the world.  They built software that REQUIRED this sort of methodology.  All of the big players share historical blame here – Microsoft, IBM, Cognos, Business Objects, Microstrategy.  All of them.  Let’s shine a light on them.

Our Villain:  The Ivory Tower “Arrogance” of Past BI Software

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Power BI as Google Docs Antidote

January 13, 2015

 
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“Help ME (Power BI)…  Help YOU (Office).”

Reviving the “Open Letter to MS” Tradition

In the past, I’ve written some things aimed at my former Microsoft colleagues.  Places where I think their strategy could benefit from adjustment.  Generally speaking, those posts have been about how the “BI teams” at MS should better leverage their Excel advantage.  Given recent developments, I think those messages are more important than ever.

But today, I am reversing that lens, and talking instead about how the Power BI suite of tools is a tremendous gift to the Office team.  Aha!  Bet you didn’t expect THIS dramatic turning of the tables from Rob “Excel is Everything” Collie, DID YOU??  Gotta stay on your toes around here.

You Don’t Have “Users.”  You Have “Producers” and “Consumers!”

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I think the word “user” is responsible for a lot of strategic damage.  It lumps everyone into one big, convenient bucket – hiding some crucial, underlying dynamics.

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Black/White Decisions in a Greyscale World

December 2, 2014

Post by Rob Collie

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     JACK RYAN:  “…with them in the same place, the odds of coincidence are
     dropping fast. Still, there’s no way I can be… absolutely certain.”

     ADMIRAL GREER:  “Excuse me, Jack.  Tell me one thing in life that IS
     absolutely certain.  What I need to hear is your best guess, and I think
     I’ve heard it.  Haven’t I?”

Belatedly Reviving a Thanksgiving Tradition

In past years I occasionally took Thanksgiving Week as an opportunity to write some more “thoughtful” things, such as The Cult of the Right Thing.

This year, I would like to share something more “on topic” than any of the previous ones, while still very much fitting the theme of thoughtful/reflective.

An Exchange in “Patriot Games” Captures It

The conversation pictured above, between Jack Ryan and Admiral Greer, was pretty much lost on me the first time I saw Patriot Games in 1992.  It’s a relatively “bland” exchange.  No emotion, no drama, no action.

But in subsequent viewings, that brief little clip etched itself in my brain.  It captures something CRUCIAL about being a human being, regardless of what you do for a living.  But for those of us in data-driven professions, I think it’s even MORE relevant.

WHY is it so crucial?  Well, let’s start with Left Brain and Right Brain…

Left and Right Brain:  A Powerful Alliance

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Visualization Layers in Perspective: The Last Mile

November 18, 2014

Post by Rob Collie

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The Models We Build in Power Pivot are the Prime Movers.  Visualization is “Just” Where the Information (Output of the Model) Meets the Humans.

A Comment Plucked Straight from My Brain!

Avi’s post last week was deliberately thought-provoking (and to some, perhaps outright provoking, heh heh).  It drew a lot of views, shares, tweets, and comments.

My favorite comment, by far, was this one by Andrew.  Here’s a slightly condensed version of it:

“Five years from now, I envision a time when awesome visualization tools and incredible and beautiful charts are common and very cheap. Everyone will have those and they will be easy to make. What will still be rare is what Power Pivot does and the role that it plays along with Power Query. The real action is in prepping data and turning it into information that can be visualized… not the actual visualizations. Unfortunately, so many get lost amid a sea of pretty bars on maps and dynamic spider webs…

It’s the model stupid! It’s the ease of crunching numbers and aggregating millions of rows on the fly! It’s the simplicity of turning trash data into sparkling clean information and not having to go through red tape clogged and extremely expensive departments to do it – do it yourself!…

Hear hear, Andrew!  Salute!  We park our cars in the same garage, as the movie producer said to Christian Slater in True Romance.  As I’ve said before, even the phrase “let’s look at the data” sets us up for failure.

Visualization:  NOT Unimportant.  Just Easier to Replace!

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Just Like Light Bulbs:  Crucial, But MUCH Easier to Replace than the Wiring.

In short, my observations today come down to these three things:

  1. RVOE:  Replacement Value Over Excel.  Excel is essentially free, and is incredibly under-rated as a viz tool.  If you measure any Viz tool’s true value through this lens, it’s much harder to justify the price of most of them.
  2. It’s Relatively Easy for Software Firms to Build a Viz Tool.  Compared to modeling and calc engines like Power Pivot, at least.  And Power Pivot is the best such engine on the market.  So, I think it’s sensible to start with Power Pivot as your core “commitment,” and then pick your viz layer – there are many available, and many more to come as time goes on.
  3. Don’t buy a “full stack” Analytics Tool Just Because of its Viz capabilities.  This is kinda the corrolary to #2, but it also helps us understand why certain “Viz” tools are so stinking expensive.
  4. My parting thoughts on the ways in which Viz tools ARE important. 

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Power BI and Tableau: Best Friends Forever

November 13, 2014

By Avichal Singh [Twitter]

Yes, you heard me right. I hear a lot of talk about “Power BI versus Tableau” – some discussion even makes it sound like the next fight airing on pay per view. But I believe they go great together.
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A dream you have, will come true

(courtesy Fortune Cookie MessageSmile).

Sooner or later there are going to be legions of Power Pivot developers – yes I call them developers; these are our Excel Superheroes charged up on Power Pivot. No longer creating workbooks, these are BI applications in all respects. The pace is hard to predict, but revolution is coming. Already in my short stint at PowerPivotPro I have been heartened to work with folks from California to Germany who are discovering Power Pivot and it’s amazing powers (Can we make this a drinking game, every time I use the word ‘power’, everyone downs a shotSmile). If you are still sitting on the Excel fence, sign up for our next Webinar and Cross the Gap from Excel to Power Pivot.

Back to Tableau…

Power BI can power Tableau

Tableau is a great tool. I can only claim a 101 level familiarity, but I have seen enough to know that it is a very promising tool. At it’s heart Tableau is and will be a data visualization company. Which is terrific, it is better to do one thing and do it well (Sigh! MicrosoftDisappointed smile)

Although at one point Tableau had filled gaps in data collection, modeling and shaping; by now Power BI toolset (Power Pivot and Power Query specifically) have done that and more! The biggest overlap still, is with Power View (and it’s upcoming cousin Power BI Dashboard).

But I say, if Office can play well with Dropbox, in spite of Onedrive…
Power Pivot and Power Query can play great with Tableau, in spite of Power View.

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