BI + Analytics Conference 2017: Picks from my agenda

Thanks for listening to the July 13th webcast ‘Meet Customer Speakers for BI + A Conference’ with myself and Jennifer Cofer! To get the session picks started, I’m going to start with some blatant self promotion with Jennifer and my sessions.

I will be adding picks from the webcast to this post several times before the conference starts and will announce the updates on Twitter. Feel free to subscribe to be automatically updated, too. See you at BI + Analytics 2017 in Nashville!

Day 1: Monday, August 7

  • 2:45pm: Pushing Web Intelligence to the Limit: Real World Implementation (Jeff Young, University of Utah Healthcare)
  • 3:40pm: Creating a COE the Efficient and Effective Way (Me)

Day 2: Tuesday, August 8

AM

  • 11:20am: Usable Tips for Making Your Web Intelligence Reports Sing (Bret Holmes, University of Washington)
  • 12:15pm: Beautiful & Usable Analytics for Better User Experiences (Eric Vallo, EV Technologies)

OR

  • 11:20am: SAP Predictive Analytics for the Analytics Power User (Debraj Roy, SAP; Dallas Marks & Greg Myers, EV Technologies) [2 Session Hands-on]

PM:

  • 2:10pm: Providing IoT Analytics with SAP BusinessObjects (Charles Reeves, Graphic Packaging International)
  • 3:30pm: DIY-BI: Data Analytics & Dashboarding with SAP Lumira at Mead Johnson Nutrition (Jai Prakash, Mead Johnson Nutrition)

Day 3: Wednesday, August 9

AM:

  • 10:45am: What’s Happening at the City of Mesa? Creating Interactive Dashboards in Web Intelligence (Jared Hansen & Melissa Jones, City of Mesa, AZ)
  • 11:40am: How to Become a Visualization Guru: Tips & Tricks on SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence Charts (Jennifer Cofer, Providence Health & Pascal Gualin, SAP)
  • BONUS 11:40am SESSION: Increasing Adoption & Engagement with Lumira & Design Studio SDK (Mike Howles, International Paper)

PM

  • 1:30pm: Driving User Adoption of Self-Serve BI+Analytics (Jim Cull, Zurich Insurance)
  • 2:25pm: Healthcare BI Management & Related EHR Upgrades: How Beaumont Health Prevails through the Highs and Lows (Jeffrey Morrison, Beaumont Health)

MacBook Pro 13 w/Touch Bar: First Impressions

Noticeable things coming from using a MacBook Air 11:

  • Keep hitting the ESC key, as that’s where my pinky would normally sit.
  • I need to get used to the MUCH larger trackpad.  Definitely had to change typing position of my wrists.
  • Add getting used to Force Touch to the list.  Still trying to get used to moving things around without engaging Force Touch.
  • Add getting used to Force Touch to the list.  Still trying to get used to moving things around without engaging Force Touch.
  • Bigger screen makes a LOT of difference with seeing things a lot more clearly!
  • It’s taking me a bit more time to deal with the ‘butterfly’ keyboard than the standard MBA/silver MBP keyboard.
    • Definitely something that needs time to get used to, especially the reach between the palm rest and keys and the key travel times.
      • One month later: still getting used to it.  I don’t think it’s as easy for touch typists, in my opinion.  But I am getting used to it.  Hopefully I’ll be ready by ASUG Annual Conference/Sapphire 2017.  I am definitely going to need to be on my ‘A’ game, typing-wise.

New things with the MacBook Pro that are leaving an impression:

  • All USB-C  ports requires dongles… and it’s just as annoying as you would think.
    • One month in and I have had to buy:
      • USB-C Cable ($10)
      • USB-C to USB 3.0 Adapters (3) ($30)
      • USB-C to Micro USB Adapter (2) ($7)
      • USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($15)
      • USB-C to VGA Adapter ($15)
    • Luckily I already had a USB-C  hub, so that’s money staying in my pocket. But I need to have it to use my CAT-5 network adapter or pay $20 for a USB-C version.
  • The 8 GB RAM/256 GB SSD is very snappy coming from 4 GB/128 GB SSD in the MBA 11.
  • Retina screen is definitely a nice upgrade from the MBA 11!
    • Still need to figure out the resolution vs text size settings to find the most comfortable viewing size.
    • I keep swapping back from full-size to zoomed-in since I’m trying trying to balance resolution and app sizes with comfortable text sizing.  Although to be fair, this only really seems to be an issue when I’m tired.  Maybe I’m just getting old!!

Touch Bar Impressions:

  • Where there is app support, it’s a ‘nice to have’.  Microsoft Office has really jumped out in front, especially Outlook.  OneNote is a bit lacking in Touch Bar support, though.
  • Still playing with the default setup.  I like the application specific icons (when available), but wish I could have a few more options in the ‘default’ expandable bar.
  • I really wish that instead of the Touch Bar, Apple would’ve gone with a Touch Screen.  I’ve used the one on the Dell XPS 13 and really appreciated the touch screen for my workflow, as opposed to the Touch Bar.

Portability Notes:

  • I really got used to the super-light MBA 11, but the MBP is only slightly taller and thicker than the MBA 11 when closed.  At the end of the day, I don’t mind the slightly heftier MBP 13 (3.48 lbs vs 2.38 lbs on the MNBA 11) to gain the screen real estate.
  • ASUG Annual Conference/Sapphire is on the docket for May and will look to see how it compares to the MBA 11 in a real-world, ‘carry it around all day’ scenario.

Price thoughts:

  • I am still trying to decide on the cost-benefit ratio, to be honest. If I wasn’t already big into the Apple ecosystem, I was strongly considering the Dell XPS 13.  Comparing  Apple Refurb to Dell Outlet prices, the XPS 13 was a much better deal.
  • If you’re locked into a particular ecosystem, that’s one thing.  But if you’re a free agent and self-sufficient in not downloading random stuff or clicking squishy links in your email; Windows 10 and the Dell XPS 13 may have a better cost/benefit ratio for web-surfing and office documents.  You’ll need to weigh your personal preferences in applications and workflow versus cost and specifications.

Final conclusion to be submitted after May’s conference travels.

Brave New World? My Chromebook first impressions

After a whole lot of research and investigation, I finally decided to recommend a Chromebook for my mother’s next computer.  All she really does is browse the internet.  Video chatting?  By the time her old Celeron powered Microsoft Vista ‘laptop’ booted up, no one really wanted to video chat anymore.  So I wanted to find a cheaper way of accomplishing what she needs and a Chromebook seemed to be a good option.

Getting up and running was easy and the Acer C720 I purchased was quite snappy.  So when my father in law wanted help with a new computer, I suggested the larger HP 14 Chromebook.  He travels for work, but other than helping him the first time he had to connect to the internet, he hasn’t called with an issue in months.

So…I figured if I was going to support them- I was going to need one myself.  (Well, that and I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket.)  One click later and on the way was a matching Acer C720 like my mom’s.  I wanted something lighter and portable and was willing to trade the better IPS screen of the HP 11 Chromebook for the C720’s more powerful Haswell processor (even if it’s a Celeron).

Setup

After a warm up from being left outside (winter delivery FTW), the C720 booted right up, asked to pick a wireless network and downloaded the latest updates.  Once I signed in (with my primary Google account, since I have several), I was greeted with the home screen.  First order of business- put it into ‘Developer Mode’.  Once that was done and the Chromebook ‘powerwashed’ itself, I signed back in, fired up a command shell and installed Crouton.  XFCE Linux allowed me to install Firefox.  Some command line changes in XFCE and I now had a working Citrix Receiver.  This allowed me to connect to my Win 7 Virtual Machines.  Now I really could use my Chromebook on the run.

Franken-Chromebook
My Acer 720 running a Win7 VM in XFCE inside a Crouton shell on ChromeOS.

 

Travelling with the Chromebook

So, I was scheduled to head to Vancouver, Canada for SAP dCode Inside at the BusinessObjects ‘mothership’ and decided to bring my Chromebook as my main PC, along with my iPad Mini.  (My work laptop was along for the ride, in case of a serious issue.. This ‘job insurance’ added 5 pounds to my carry-on bag- UGH!)  In order to maximize my carry-on, I used my normal computer backpack (Samsonite Tectonic M) rather than my ‘go bag’ (Mountainsmith Small Messenger).

One problem appeared when I got to Canada.  No power cord!!  I thought I was being slick- since the Acer and HP both shared the same cord (from the power brick to the outlet), I’d bring one for both.  I was in for a bit of a surprise when I was unpacking and saw no power cord.  This changed my plan a bit, so I powered off the Chromebook to save the battery.  I used one of my 12 free GoGo Inflght credits on the way, so the battery was down to around 90%.  Since I needed to get a full day out of it on Tuesday,off it went.

When I booted up at 9am Tuesday morning, the battery was still around 85-90%.  I decided to go all in and spin up Linux and connect to a VM for email and Lync, switching back and forth to the Chromebook to keep my notes in Google Docs.  I do like the seamless switching that Crouton gives you…very nice!  By the end of the day, a full 8 hours later- the battery meter was at 15%.  With the exception of an hour for lunch, the Acer was running and connected to Wifi.  I can’t complain about the battery!  And lucky for me, I didn’t forget a charger and cable for my iPad Mini, so I had entertainment on the plane ride home.

Conclusion

Are there things missing from the Chromebook?  Yup.  Unless you have a Google Cloud compatible printer or a computer connected to a printer with Chrome running, you’re out of luck printing.  And yes, if you’re not connected to the internet you really can’t do anything.  But if you’re reading this and thinking about a Chromebook, you already knew that.

Do I like the Chromebook?  Yup, I do. It’s been a great ‘second screen’ while watching TV.  It also is portable and quiet.  It’s also light enough that I’ve been grabbing it to head out to Starbucks to write, instead of my iPad 2 with keyboard.

What do I wish the Chromebook had?  To be honest, I’m missing some tools that I would love as ‘Chrome Apps’ (apps that work offline).  If Evernote or Microsoft OneNote would come up with one, I would be totally psyched.  GDocs is good but the image inserting doesn’t really seem to keep pace with Evernote/OneNote for my blog writing style.

Would I recommend the Chromebook?  Yes, with conditions.  I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary machine to anyone outside my parents age bracket.  Most folks still have a need for some applications that aren’t Chrome Apps or some form of offline app.  Would I use the Chromebook to replace my Windows or Mac machines?  Not as a daily driver.  But as a ‘second screen’ or light ‘companion’ machine, you really can’t do any better than a Chromebook.  Especially for less than 200 bucks!

Home Cloud Providers…My take

My friend John Appleby penned a post on his blog (People, Process & Technology), waxing poetic about the different cloud providers he was using at home and his thoughts on how they were working out.  I started to write a pretty lengthy comment with my opinion, but it ended up being WAY too long for a blog comment.  But short enough for a blog entry!  Here we go…my take on personal cloud providers.

Music- iTunes Match & Amazon Music

I signed up for iTunes Match and it seems to work fine.  With a tween daughter, I am mainly buying music via the iTunes store because it makes managing music on her iPhone easy to manage.  Since I am an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Music makes pretty good sense since the 20GB Cloud Drive storage comes with Prime and music does NOT count against that limit.  I end up using Amazon Music as my ‘backup’ for iTunes.  Since my iTunes library lives on an iMac, I usually run the Amazon MP3 sync application once a month or so to upload/match everything to the cloud.  It also allows me to get to my library from my Win7 laptop (small SSD, so minimal music stored locally) and my Kindle Fire HD.  Frankly, I use Pandora One much more than my local iTunes library.  Then again, my iTunes Recent Purchases playlist looks like a Tween girl’s: OneDirection, Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift.  

File Storage: Many!

Ah..this is the doozy.  I have an account for all of the main players: Dropbox, Amazon Cloud, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive.  Dropbox is my main vehicle of choice, mainly for the super-swift syncing.  I have rarely had an issue with Dropbox syncing anything.  But I am almost out of room for the free plan and I am going to need to think about what to do.  Believe it or not, I am considering switching to Microsoft SkyDrive.  I have 45GB of free space there, (additional is thanks to my Office365 subscription) and I am currently using SkyDrive to backup my Dropbox.  The setup is kinda like ‘Inception’ for cloud storage providers: I installed Dropbox on one PC, then installed SkyDrive.  Next, I moved my Dropbox to inside my SkyDrive folder.  This works pretty well, but since I have it on my notebook, it’s not an ‘always on’ sort of arrangement. I may move it to my iMac at some future point.  The Windows client for SkyDrive has been pretty solid, but I need to test it out on the Mac to be sure if I want to a full switch.  Otherwise, I might just have to pony up and buy a larger Dropbox.

Photos: iPhoto, Flickr, Picasa

This is where John and I depart a bit.  I am not even an ‘amateur’ photographer.  So iPhoto, Flickr and Picasa work perfectly fine for me.  I use iPhoto on my iMac for the pictures, where I then upload them to either Flickr or Picasa Web Albums.  Picasa is usually the web albums of choice, as Staci and I can use apps on our mobile devices to see the pictures.  This just means that I have to actually download the pictures off the camera and upload it.  I just wish that there was an ‘official’ plug-in for iPhoto and Picasa anymore.  I don’t like using the actual Picasa app on the Mac.

Email: Gmail

Easy- Gmail wins.  My domain emails are Google App based, and I have a bunch of other Gmail accounts that get used.  On my iMac, Mail.app works alright.  On Windows, Postbox is the best $10 bucks I ever spent for email.  I have Outlook 2013, but I haven’t attached any accounts, as Postbox works so well with Gmail!  The only downside to Gmail is that the Gmail App is sluggish on my iPad2 and I don’t like that there’s not push available for Gmail on iOS anymore.  This is one of the reasons I’m actually considering going Android for my next phone. (But that’s a separate post that I’m working on!)

OK…perhaps I’m not using the cloud stuff as much as John.  And I’m OK with that.  I’ve got lots of local backups going on, but am worried about physical drive failure.  That’s why I’m adding another bucket here- backup.

Backup

While my iMac is using Time Machine and has been pretty solid, I’ve had to move a lot of my media (movies, photos, large download storage) to external hard drives.  I do worry about physical drive failures for those, so I’ve started to research online backup.  I’ve narrowed it down to two providers: JungleDisk and CrashPlan.  The geek in my like JungleDisk, as I can access my backed up files via Amazon S3 storage.  But there’s a cost to that access.  Do I really want to pay that extra to access files in the cloud that I can get to already via other cloud solutions (Dropbox/SkyDrive, LogMeIn)?  

The cost-benefit analysis lead me to CrashPlan.  CrashPlan+ Unlimited is only $4 a month for one PC, compared to almost double for JungleDisk+S3 (but with multi-computer access).  All of the drives I will be backing up are connected to one computer (the iMac), so the single PC charge is OK.  (I am installing DropBox on Abby’s Macbook to backup her files, since outside of schoolwork, she doesn’t have anything that doesn’t reside on the iMac.  I will fully worry about her situation when she gets to high school.)  

CrashPlan seems to get high marks, so I’ll be making use of it post haste.

Well, that about does it for this blog comment blog.  Stay tuned for a quick review of CrashPlan, as well as a post where I try to figure out whether to go iOS or Android for my new phone. 

Network of Truth? One Version of the Truth? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

The gents over at the Diversified Semantic Layer (Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald and Eric Vallo) podcast had themselves a spirited discussion around SAP Analytics latest mantra, ‘The Network of Truth’. Make sure to check out the show notes over on SCN for a good laugh and handy reference guide, too. The discussion was always cordial, but got animated when discussing Greg’s theory that perhaps the ‘Network of Truth’ may have some legs to it.  I left this comment on Eric’s Show Notes blog: “I’m going to lean towards Greg’s side of the rumble. I agree with a lot of what he’s saying, plus it’ll be a fair fight now.”  I figured I’d expand that thought a little bit outside the SCN comment box.

I see where Greg is going with his line of thinking.  The whole ‘Network of Truth’ theory (and not the SAP marketing end of it- take the tools out of the equation and think in broader terms) is something along the lines of the evolution of how people utilize data. My take? As data access becomes faster and faster, conventional relational data warehouses become a commodity. Some businesses will require a data warehouse structure in order to aggregate disparate sources, group it together and make it logical.  But it won’t need to live in a slower relational data warehouse.  If the analytics tools that access that data don’t adapt, they’ll be left behind.

To Jamie’s point, ad hoc and ‘green bar’ reporting won’t be going away anytime soon, either.  Folks are going to want formatted reports, ad hoc report access and the like for years to come.  The question should be: How do we manage the needs and expectations of those ‘classic’ users with the changes and new methodology that newer analytics tools are seeming to bring?  Think about it- just a few years ago, BI teams were just getting their hands around analytics for mobile devices!  What will the landscape look like in the next 5 years?  A common semantic layer, perhaps?  Jamie and I are agreement about what we think the benedits of a unified semantic layer could be. (Heck, we’ve both blogged about it before.)

But like a fully implemented ‘Network of Truth’, a common semantic layer (likely based on HANA) is some time in the future.  Then again, so are Greg’s musings from the podcast. It’s going to take transformational changes in how we consume and utilize data to see where the ‘next big thing’ is coming from…and leading us to.

Windows 8 Impressions…and why I went back to Windows 7

I have been slowly connecting all of my Windows 8 notes for a few months now and was getting ready to put together a whole long detailed ‘Impressions’ blog.  I even hinted at it when I left a comment on my buddy Dallas Marks’ Windows 8 blog entry.  And then it happened.  I finally lost all patience with Windows 8 and spent 3 hours formatting and reinstalling Windows 7 back on my laptop.   Was it just an angry overreaction?  Perhaps.  Was it that my laptop wasn’t 100% compatible with Windows 8 and it was a bad idea to install?  Perhaps.  Am I glad that it’s gone and back to Windows 7?  Yup.

Here’s the hardware we’re dealing with today:

We’re playing with a Dell Inspiron 1121, also known as a Dell 11z.  The specs are:

  • Intel Core i3 ULV
  • 64 bit Capable
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128 GB Samsung 470 SSD (90GB free space)
    • (Upgraded RAM and SSD)
  • 11″ Screen w/a built-in Sprint WiMAX 4G card

For those who know me, this is the laptop you see me with at conferences and such.  Pretty light, easily transported and with the upgraded SSD and RAM, fairly snappy for what I need it to do:

  • Email (trying Postbox right now, since 99% of my email accounts are Gmail based)
  • Internet Stuff (Social Media, Reddit, etc…)
  • Blogging/Note taking (Evernote, Windows LiveWriter)
  • Light BI Development, mainly web based or via RDC.  But with local installs of SAP Visual Intelligence & SAP Dashboard Designer.
  • Content Creation (Presentations, PDFs, MS Office, etc…)

That’s about it.  A light to medium duty notebook, mainly for internet-ing and making stuff.  In no way is it meant to be a hard-core development machine.  So, I thought that this PC would be a natural candidate for a Windows 8 upgrade.  The majority of my content is stored in Dropbox, so a quick backup and I was off to upgrade.  I documented my upgrade process, as well as the Windows 8 ‘impression’ notes I made along the way. You can find these notes on Page 2 of this blog.

I won’t bore you with the list of differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8- countless blogs and articles are out there for your reading pleasure.  I have three main reasons for going back:

  1. Desktop/Metro app switching.  Chrome- some features only work in desktop mode.
  2. Wireless connectivity.  Or lack of consistency.
  3. Sleep mode.  Lack of consistency.  Sensing a theme?

Ok, maybe you can chalk up #1 to a lack of familiarity with Windows 8. But after a solid three months of use, I never could get used to the whole Metro vs Desktop setup.  I also wasn’t a fan of having two apps installed for the same thing.  Evernote is a great example- at launch, the Metro app wasn’t a full featured client.  You needed to use the Desktop version to do real rich text formatting and features. A Metro app finally came, but it still wasn’t as fully featured.  GMail? When you opened Metro Chrome, you would get a popup that Voice calling was only supported in the Desktop.  And I never got to really use IE10, as the ‘cool’ Metro version only was available if you chose IE as your default browser.

Reasons #2 and #3 seemed to broach a theme.  Like any new OS, there will be times where behaviors aren’t fully consistent. And maybe since I wasn’t using a PC that was ‘certified’ for Windows 8, I shouldn’t have expected it to play nice all the time. But when the OS is set to go to sleep when you close the lid and you close the lid, it should sleep.  Not Windows 8. Even after updates, it would work ONCE and then I had to always press the power button.  This got old, REALLY quickly.  Same for the Wifi.  It would disconnect instantly at sleep and take FOREVER (scientifically proven, of course) to reconnect when woken up.

There were also the little things that drove me crazy: Having to use my Hotmail address as my login token.  (The only reason I still have a working Hotmail account is that I use it for Xbox Live!) The ‘Messaging’ app that like to announce that I had a Facebook message come in, but then wouldn’t load any more of the conversation if I took focus off it.  The fact that in Metro, I had to CTRL-C to see the time, as the clock was only on the Desktop side of the house.  And the fact that my Desktop picture was only on the Desktop and not the Metro side.

At the end of the day, Windows 8 wasn’t worth the frustration and learning curve.  If I had to buy a new Ultrabook, I would make sure that it had a touchscreen.  I kept feeling like I should just touch the Live Tiles.  As touchscreens become more prevelent and apps all become Metro native, I think Windows 8 will find its place.  But right now, it’s just not the right OS for my needs.

<Geeky installation & application notes follow on Page 2>

When worlds collide- Enterprise Technology & FPS Gaming

I found the two videos below on the ‘Montage Parodies’ subreddit (section of Reddit.com) and tweeted out the links for laughs.  I received some funny responses and retweets, but most people didn’t quite understand what was so funny.  So, I figured I’d take a minute to explain why these made me laugh and want to share.

The background for these clips revolve around video games, specifically first person shooters like the Call of Duty series. Gamers would take their ‘favorite’ moments, add some catchy music and post their montage online.  Naturally, montages became a competition in themselves, with more people adding complex transitions and special effects. And with that kind of competition occurring, parody was soon to follow. The parodies usually included mixing gaming clips (good and bad moments), techno or dubstep music, random gamer shouting and of course, silly pictures flashed in. Usually things like snack foods and energy drinks popular with gamers were included in the parodies. The more ridiculous, the better.  A Train simulator montage? Sure- Go for it. (Caution: if you’re susceptible to flash induced seizures, I would steer away.  Plus, it is REALLY LOUD and has some PG-13 language.)    

Now, these particular parodies are obviously geared towards SAP professionals who are also gamers (like myself).  That’s why I found them an fun way to mix work and play. And definitely shareable.  Plus, what SAP-er wouldn’t love a video with a flash of Bill McDermott’s awesomeness! 

SAPVisi Hard Mode

Spreadsheets: Minimal Scopes

If you’re a gamer (casual or serious) or just want a good laugh- take a second to check out these videos. (Remember to wear headphones if you’re in the office!)  To the person responsible- thanks for the laughs!  I enjoyed the funnies about SAPVisi and ‘spreadsheets’.  It’s nice to take swipe at our day jobs sometimes!