Andy Kim, Business Intelligence Consultant at Key2 Consulting

By: Andy Kim

 

Introduction

It was a beautiful fall morning as I drove towards the Microsoft office in Alpharetta, GA. I was on my way to attend the annual 2018 SQL Saturday Atlanta – BI Edition. When I arrived, there was a nicely furnished office with great views of the popular Avalon community. The sponsors (including – I’m proud to say – my company, Key2 Consulting) kindly provided refreshments and snacks… lots of refreshments and snacks. Good thing, as the event garnered 300 attendees!

I have to say I’m excited to do more of this in the future, because PASS is a great organization. If you don’t know, PASS is a not-for-profit organization that’s run by the community and is focused on “supporting data professionals throughout the world who use the Microsoft data platform.”

Anyways, besides sharing my excitement for being a part of this event and seeing my company’s logo on all the TV screens and materials, I wanted to share some of my favorite takeaways from the event.
 

Takeaways

  1. PowerBI is gaining momentum, as evidenced through my conversations at the event and by the high percentage of event sessions based on it. At least 12 of the 34 sessions were on (or related to) PowerBI. I believe the momentum is being spurred by its low price point and its ever-evolving functionality. You can tell that Microsoft is definitely investing some resources into this product, and they are being very attentive to their customers’ needs. For example, check out this link to see a slew of major updates that were announced back in July.
     
    Although PowerBI can be a standalone application, it is more recently being integrated into ecosystems like Microsoft Business Applications Platform and Microsoft Power Platform – together with technologies such as Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Flow.

    In one session that I attended, I saw an example of a PowerApps custom visualization integrated into a PowerBI report. Whenever a specific record was selected in the report, the PowerApps custom visualization displayed the record in a more user-friendly way (think something that resembles a modern Windows form), and it could even write back updates to the databases if the user modified the values. This is just one small example of the big changes being made to create a more complete toolset.

    PowerApps is supposed to be a way to develop apps “without coding,” and it is targeted towards power users rather than developers in the IT department. Microsoft Flow is a tool that automates workflows and integrates with Office 365 and Dynamics 365. At the foundation of this ecosystem is Azure and the Common Data Model. Here’s a couple of links if you want to learn more:
     

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  3. Microsoft is quickly evolving and improving their Azure cloud services. Specifically, it seems like the new versions of the Azure products boast significant improvements over their predecessors. Although the latest versions might be slightly old news, not everyone knows about them due to the fast-paced nature of the cloud world.
     
    For example, there is “Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2,” which takes core components of Gen1 and integrates them with Azure Blob Storage. This brings both increased functionality and money savings. For more information, please see the link below.

     
    Another example is “Azure Data Factory v2,” where many new features, including a “lift and shift” SSIS implementation to the cloud, are possible. I attended a session which ran through the process of doing the “lift and shift” deployment, and it seemed straightforward (although there will be some adjusting to new concepts like “Activities” and “Integration Runtimes”). Below are some great links that explain more about ADF v2.
     

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  5. Cool projects are being made accessible on a larger scale by Azure AI and Machine Learning. I also was able to attend a session where the speaker used a PowerPoint Add-In called “Presentation Translator.” She was speaking into the microphone while presenting her PowerPoint, and the subtitles were perfectly accurate at translating her speech in real-time. The cool part was that with the AI, the speaker could customize how her speech was interpreted. This becomes necessary when you are speaking in technical terms, acronyms, products, places, and names. These are typically the Achilles heels for the more traditional translators. There were also interesting features sprinkled in – like the ability to translate (with text and voice) in real-time to another language by scanning a QR code with your smartphone. Here are some links to more details about this particular Add-In.
     

     
    In yet another session, the speakers demonstrated audience sentiment analysis using Microsoft Visual API, a Raspberry Pi, and cameras reading the audience’s facial expressions. The results were analyzed using PowerBI. Although these types of projects seem cool now, they may later impact the world in significant ways. It’s such an exciting time to be alive!

 

Professional Insider Tip

I would like to close out by leaving you with an insider tip. These days, more and more people are asking the question, “Where can I learn more about SQL?” Most people mention sites like W3schools, racking up certifications, etc. Rarely do I hear people consider going to events like SQL Saturday. If you don’t currently attend these types of events, I highly recommend that you check one out. They are free to attend, and you really do learn a lot. Personally, I find it’s the best way – and my favorite way – to stay up-to-date.
 

Share Your Story

Have you already been using any of these cool technologies I’ve mentioned? If so, please comment and share what kind of projects you did and which tools you used. I’d love to hear about them!
 

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Key2 Consulting is a data warehousing and business intelligence company located in Atlanta, Georgia. We create and deliver custom data warehouse solutions, business intelligence solutions, and custom applications. 

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