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SQL Saturday Cambridge 2017

The latest SQL and SharePoint Saturday Cambridge took place on 9th September 2017, organised by Mark Broadbent. It was a huge success with a good turnout of very engaged delegates and interesting and entertaining speakers in a great venue. We were delighted to support the event as a sponsor and I was honoured to be invited to provide the SQL part of the keynote. Here's an extract from my presentation.

Mark promoted the event as a Civil War between the SQL Server professionals and the SharePoint professionals and there was plenty of friendly banter as he started the event. I was amused (and relieved - hoping that I was protected) that most of the SQL Server professionals were at the front of the room with the SharePoint pros at the back. I took the protection from the SQL Server guys whilst reminding everyone that I'm a developer by background!

I'd been asked to make some predictions about the future of data and analytics and thought that I would share my thoughts here for anyone that wanted a reminder of my presentation and those that missed it.

I started my session reminiscing on when I first became a Development and QA manager in 2004. It was exciting times, we were creating an awesome product that was changing the way that many in our industry were working. From a personal perspective I also gained prestige with my first ever company mobile phone. It was a Nokia and cutting edge with a colour screen so I could play Snakes in colour! In the same year Microsoft released SQL Server Reporting Services as an add-on for SQL Server 2000. As a development team we were super excited that we could be retiring our Business Objects and Crystal Reports solutions and create engaging reports for our users. Fast-forwarding through to 2017 and everyone has moved on from those Nokia feature phones, even my mother has an iPhone now. So my first challenge to the audience was - why are we still delivering enterprise reporting with legacy reporting platforms?

Coincidentally, Equifax hit the news headlines that morning because of a massive data breach affecting 143 million customer records, demonstrating exactly why data governance is so important. We are also going through some of the most progressive data protection legislation change in many years with the GDPR legislation coming into force in May 2018. We are not yet sure exactly what the implications of this legislation will be, because we will need some test cases to understand the full set of implications, but the general principle is clear, the ICO will have legislation with more teeth and it will become imperative that organisations implement the regulation requirements in full to be compliant. Data security is also becoming a popular topic in the mainstream press - the Equifax incident was splashed across all of the broadsheet newspapers and most of the online news outlets. This increased coverage brings brand reputational damage caused by data breaches as well as operational issues, and makes it even more important to put in good data governance to protect yourselves from negative publicity.

Microsoft's Power BI is now a mature product that is cutting the manual labour and latency involved getting rich interactive personal data analysis into the hands of the decision makers on any internet connected device that they use (even a Nokia!). It is a complete reporting and analytics data presentation platform - I've already seen it used both to create discrete reporting solutions and being integrated into custom applications and my prediction for the future is that Microsoft, or a Microsoft partner, will extend the platform so that it integrates with Microsoft HoloLens. This will give users a deeply engaging data analysis experience that is both shared and interactive, where they engage with data and make insights and decisions in ways that are inconcievable to us today.  Not only that, but it aids data governance by reducing the amount of disconnected data (often downloaded into spreadsheets) being consumed by users that is then at higher risk of being compromised.

My next predictions come around AI. In 1957 the NS&I built a computer called the ERNIE Mark 1 that had a single purpose; to generate the numbers of premium bonds winners. The computer filled a whole building, took years to build and was extremely complex to maintain. By 1996, IBM had built a computer that filled just a couple of racks that was capable of defeating the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in game one of a six game match. This was essentially a research project and a single computer was created but the computing power and the programming techniques had moved on far enough to allow a computer to win the match. Fast forward to November 2014 and Amazon launched the Alexa, bringing voice recognition and simple event processing and automation into people's homes in a mass-market device. This product leverages Amazon's AWS platform, but Microsoft have also been building a platform for AI - this has democratised AI and made it accessible to companies big and small whereas previously this functionality was only available to multi-nationals and those with multi-million pound research budgets. The Microsoft Cloud has services that allow you to collect IoT data, store it in a Data Lake and run AI models over the top using Cognitive Services, Azure ML and R libraries. However, while this platform has made the technology accessible to all, the skills required to bring this technology to life are still hard to find.

Enter one of our Coeo Super Heroes, Emma. By day, she is a DBA in our Dedicated Support team, by night she is an on-call DBA and she is also a mother. She became Coeo's first Data Scientist having completed a Masters in Data Science at the University of Dundee in her spare time (!). This is an amazing commitment and achievement and we are all very proud of her - Emma is now also working on models so that our customers can take advantage of AI technology. You can step towards data science with a little less commitment, if this interests you - you can get started with self-paced training such as the Microsoft Professional Program for Data Science (that Emma also holds!) and if you find self led study hard, Coeo offer a mentored service where you get support from one of our Super Heroes to help guide you through the programme. Community events such as SQL Saturday are also great sources of knowledge and I encourage everyone to make the most of future events - Coeo will next be in attendance at the SQL Relay event in October which will be held in cities across the country.

My prediction for AI starts with the obvious, self driving cars. This is where the most public efforts with AI are being made, but I'm actually more interested in where AI is being used quietly in plain sight to improve everyone's experience interacting with computers. I'm not gifted with a graphical eye, but Microsoft have also quietly incorporated AI into PowerPoint, you'll notice the Design Ideas button has been introduced into PowerPoint 2017 which uses AI models to make visual design recommendations, making PowerPoint decks more attractive and impactful. Microsoft are introducing AI into all of their productivity tools and these are built on top of the same AI platform that is available to all of us. I'm most excited about how AI will transform mundane line of business apps making us all more productive thanks to the talents of people like Emma in all our organisations.

I closed the keynote with a quote by Richard Foster, Yale University. "The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 has decreased from 67 years in the 1920's to 15 years today" This means that where people in the 1920s - 1990s had the rightful expectation that they would have a job for life this is not the new reality. The lifespan of companies in the S&P 500 today means that you may have one or two jobs or even more in your career. So for my last prediction, the differentiator between the companies that wither and die (in possibly less than 15 years) and those that thrive will be data, apps and analytics. That means that while it is a fun idea to imagine that the SharePoint guys and the SQL guys are at war, we should remember that if we work in the same organisation we should be at war with our competitors and not our colleagues. The existential threat to our organisations is more than the platform or how it is configured, so we need to unite to create apps and insights that will differentiate us from our competitors in order to survive and thrive.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event, the speakers that gave us all inspiration and knowledge, the helpers who efficiently got us to and from the sessions and to Mark for organising another great event bringing SharePoint professionals and data professionals together.

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