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PASS Summit - I'll Order Superman

No, I’m not talking about Paul Randal

The other day I was telling a co-worker how excited I was to be going to PASS Summit 2010 and told him it was like being a kid again at the counter of the ice cream parlor looking at looking at all the flavors and not knowing which to pick. Here’s what PASS looks like to me.

Ice Cream

I Can't Decide

You have no idea how hard it was to narrow the list down to just 8 selections to fit the picture. After all, one of the biggest draws for me to attend the Pass Summit this year is the chance to meet and talk to the best and brightest in SQL Server, people I’ve watched, read, and followed for years. In fact, I flew in first thing Sunday morning for just this purpose.

What’s Superman Ice Cream?

That was basically the question my coworker asked me. I thought everyone had heard of Superman Ice Cream. Apparently it’s a “Michigan Thing” like so many other things from my childhood. Basically, someone took several different ice creams, with distinctive colors, and mixed them into one swirl.

Yummy!

So, at last we meet for the first time for the last time!

(Well, hopefully not the last time)

The line is at 1:30 of the video.

I’m not going to take the time to list everyone because the list is ridiculously long, and I will forget to list someone important anyway. Suffice it to say that I’m going to be ridiculously busy picking people’s brains all week.

Basically, it’s like when I was a kid. When you can’t choose, try to get a little of everything. Yep, I’m going to be scarfing down Superman.

Using PowerPivot with Problem Databases (Like M2M) Part 1

In my presentation at Consona Connect 2010, I showed users the wonders of Excel connections through ODBC, and what you could do with PowerPivot. However, I repeatedly mentioned to that group that I was glossing over lots of things in order to fit the presentation into an hour. This is part one of the series further detailing the process.

The problems… are not with PowerPivot.

First, if you haven’t already done so, please read the article which details these problems and how they motivated me to form Project M-Data Analytics in the first place.

The most difficult problem to deal with is the lack of primary and foreign keys. A primary key is a column or combination of them which represent a unique record in a table. Database tables are not required to have a primary key (obviously), but nearly all should, and a table cannot have more than one primary key.

For example, the Sales Order Master table (SOMAST), if M2M had been properly designed, would have one primary key, the sales order number (fsono). This helps to insure data integrity by preventing duplicate sales order master records from being created as well as protecting against null (or unknown) sales order number values as well.

Conversely, a foreign key is a column, or a combination of them, which refer to another table’s primary key column(s). The long and short of it is, records cannot exist in the child table that do not have corresponding records in the parent. In the Sales example, the Sales Order Item table (SOITEM) should have a primary key consisting of the sales order number and item number. The foreign key would be sales order number which corresponds to the identically named field in the Sales Order Master table. Obviously from my orphaned records post, M2M lacks this mechanism.

Suffice it to say that when you watch demonstrations involving the importation of data using Excel, PowerPivot, etc. and everything looks easy, the presenter is typically using a properly designed database with primary and foreign keys. A natural by-product of having these keys is automatic linking of the tables.

If you open a sample data warehouse database (similar to M-Data Analytics), select a sales table, and then click the following:

you’ll be rewarded with this:

… and there’s peace in the valley.

Incidentally, you can view an excellent video produced by Brian Knight on PowerPivot as part of the 24 Hours of Pass. You may need to register as a member of PASS, but it’s completely free and you should be a member by now anyway. 🙂 At about the 10 minute mark you’ll notice Brian say, “Now I don’t have to pick a data warehouse, I’m just choosing that in my case. So, I’m just doing that to make things much simpler on myself…” Now in this video, he actually selects the tables manually, but also indicates that PowerPivot would pull the relationships out for him automatically as I’ve shown above. Please don’t misunderstand me, I have a huge amount of respect for Brian Knight and I wouldn’t choose a database like M2M to demonstrate with either unless I had to.

Any idea what happens when you do this with Made2Manage? It’s about as effective as Paris Hilton on Celebrity Jeopardy. That is to say that Excel has no answer, because M2M lacks primary and foreign keys.

Further, because M2M uses those cryptic, and often misleading, field names you must replace those with readable English alias names each time. Otherwise, your executives are reading reports with fsono and finumber all over them.

It’s important to note that these are some of the reasons I founded M-Data Analytics and you will not have these problems when you use it.

However, using the normal M2M Database, these problems can be partially negated using relatively simple techniques such as database Views, which I’ll discuss in the next article.

Why I'm Paying my Own Way to PASS Summit 2010 and You Should Too.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about how thrilled I was to be going to PASS this year. Some of you may have gotten the impression from that article that I was given a Golden Ticket. I should have been more clear that I had bought a golden ticket, and not just for the price of a Wonka Bar. The trip is likely to cost me around $2,500 including conference registration, flight, hotel, etc. I am still excited to go, regardless of the price and you should be too.

Shouldn’t My Employer Pay for it?

Many of the top SQL Server bloggers have written that companies should invest in their people by sending themto the PASS Summit including Brent Ozar, Steve Jones, and most recently Thomas LaRock.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I respect these guys a great deal, and I certainly wish my employer would have been willing to pay for the conference. However they, like many employers have reasons for not doing so.

Let’s face it the economy is awful. Most companies are getting by on relatively thin margins. In general, they are not investing in new hardware and technologies in these lean times.

How long does the average IT Professional stay with the same company anyway? Three or four years? If you look at it from the employer’s standpoint, what exactly are they investing in?

From the employer’s view, it’s best to keep you in your little sandbox, using their current software and assets. If they’re not spending money on upgrading to latest and greatest that Microsoft has to offer then why would they want you to be trained in it? It’s not difficult to see why they don’t want you to take a week “off” from work, network with some of the most brilliant minds in SQL Server, and learn all about new toys which your employer doesn’t own. Besides, why should your company be willing to invest in your education if you aren’t?

If perks like going to PASS are important to you, then make sure to negotiate for them when you accept a new position or make sure your new salary will cover the cost of it. I’m not trying to suggest that employers are evil, they just people like us. This article isn’t really about them anyway. It’s about you.

Why Should I Pay to go to PASS?

While I understand that going to PASS will make you a better DBA, your employer may not. In the long run, nobody is going to improve your career but you, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

I can’t tell you specifically why you should go, I can only tell you why I’m going.

  • To be exposed to amazing things, get inspired to try something new. This kind of format is perfect to get exposure to topics outside of your area of focus. BI guys may want to look at Administration sessions and vice versa.
  • To be exposed to amazing people. I can’t wait to expose myself to several people. Wait, that didn’t come out right! Where else are you going to find the best and brightest all in one place?
  • Make new friends, possibly even Super Friends. I’ve already a few occasions where contacts I’ve made at SQL events have pulled my bacon out of the fire.
  • Meet the folks who develop SQL Server. I have quite a few questions for folks on the SSRS and SSIS teams. Suggest product improvements.
  • Recharge your batteries. Every time I go to a SQL event I leave in a great mood. It’s like natural Prozac.

And those are just some of the reasons I’m going. If you’re a member of the community, and you certainly should be, then you’re lucky, there’s free information and education everywhere. You can and should attend SQL Saturdays, User Group Meetings, and take advantage of all the free content given away on blogs.

However, if you want the best training, networking, and experience; you must go is the PASS Summit. If you want to be one of the best, you need to go and be with the best.

To paraphrase an old joke about getting a divorce, “Why is the PASS Summit so expensive?…. because it’s worth it.”

SQL Saturday Dallas #56 Re-Cap

Dave Ryan Vic

Ryan, Vic, and yours truly.

SQL Saturday #56 BI Edition went off without a hitch last Saturday. Those who read this blog, probably remember the awesome experience I had at my first SQL Saturday.

Once again, everything went wonderfully. Our event was scaled back this time which translated into fewer hassles. Microsoft and Artis Consulting were our only sponsors. Microsoft provided the building, took care of security, check in, and all of those little things that need to be handled the day of the event, while Artis provided food for breakfast and lunch. This left many of us on the planning committee with more time to enjoy the day with fewer things to worry about.

Me

Leading people astray....

I was asked to present two topics this time:

  • Creating Interactive Dashboards with PowerPivot. Slicing Your Way to Data Nirvana
  • Who, What, Where. The Power of SSRS Parameters

My presentations went very well, and were well received. My evaluations were great, but I do know that I need more practice. That shouldn’t be too hard to get as I thoroughly enjoy it anyway.

I wanted to take a moment to thank a few people. I want to thank the folks on the volunteer committee and NTSSUG board. Folks like Sri Sridharan, Sean and Jen McCown, Tim Mitchell, Vic Prabhu, Ryan Adams, and Ganesh Gopal. I’d also like to thank Rakesh Kanjani (Rocky) for taking pictures for the event and Andy Eggers who works harder on event day than any other three people I know.

Let me let you in on a little tip. Go to the after party. They’re not crowded, though they should be. Yes, I know you’re tired after a full day of learning and networking, but go anyway. The best conversations, both technical and non-technical, can be had there. People are ready to relax, open up, and the atmosphere is great for networking.

A note to those who attended my sessions at SQL Saturday, and the week prior at Consona Connect 2010: I haven’t forgotten that I owe both groups a few blog posts going into more detail on the topics I presented. I promise to have those out by the end of next week.

I’ll also be blogging about M-Data Analytics as well as a posts regarding PASS Summit which I’ll be attending for the first time this year.

I’m so thrilled to be going, and you should go too. Tomorrow, I’m going to tell you why.

Stay Tuned!

Presenting Epiphanies

teaching

I Love Teaching

As I mentioned earlier this week, I really enjoyed Consona Connect 2010. I had two very important epiphanies while presenting at this event.

I know a LOT more about SQL Server than I did 3 years ago.

Don Rudo introduced me as a SQL server expert, and actually said, “Dave probably knows more about SQL Server than I do.” For those of you who don’t know Don, he’s the “old master” of SQL Server for Made2Manage, and I have yet to think of myself as an expert in anything SQL Server related. However, as the class went on, around 10 hours of SQL Server training, I realized just how much I actually knew. People had questions, and I found that I knew almost all of the answers from memory. Wow, I’m used to going to SQL events and feeling like the dumbest guy in the room.

Why didn’t I realize how much my skills with the Force (SQL) had grown? As I’ve been learning and volunteering, I’ve been comparing my skills with masters like Brent Ozar, Sean McCown, Brian Knight, Tim Mitchell, and Mike Hotek. These guys have vast experience and to a man are brilliant so compared to them I’m a Padawan learner. However, this was a wake up call for me, that yes my skills are getting much more formidable.

I was born to teach.

I have been a teacher for most of my adult life. I taught high school before moving into computers. I taught Aikido for nearly a decade and have always been successful with it.

The feedback I received on my Consona Connect presentations was that I did a very good job. I was funny, informative, and completely at ease in front of the groups some of which were quite large. Several people came up to me and asked, “How come you don’t get nervous?”

Well dear friends, let me tell you what was really happening inside me…. The nervousness that hits me before I begin… the worry that I haven’t prepared well enough… how could that PowerPivot file die on me? Ugh. I’m tingling in my arms and legs… the feeling like I have no weight and could bounce around like a pinball… (well maybe that was the caffeine)

Waiting for the session to start… greeting some old M2M friends trying to pass the time before I begin… trying to breathe… checking the computer for the thousandth time to make sure everything is ready…

Suddenly everyone stops talking and looks at me expectantly… it’s time… I pause and hold my breath for a moment and steady myself before I begin… as I begin my voice catches in my throat for a moment… makes me afraid that I’m about to blow the whole thing because I’m afraid my voice won’t work…

Hoping to God that I won’t forget the presentation… having notes at hand just in case I do… Starting with a famous quote by Stephen Few… Hoping that it sounds dramatic rather than rehearsed and silly….

Finishing the introduction with what we’re going to talk about… introducing myself… telling my embarrassing Vegas story… hoping they’ll laugh and not lose all respect for me… the story takes a few minutes to tell and makes me relax… I think its much better when I tell it rather than write it… at one point in the story I pause… to make sure they’re still with me… not knowing what I’ll do if all I hear is crickets chirping… the room is silent for what seems like forever…

And They Laugh…. Relief floods my body, yes this IS going to work… those old feelings take hold of me again at Consona Connect… I am back in my element… for this short time this is my class… my little world for them to enjoy and learn in…

I stop thinking about eye contact… making sure I don’t pace… paying attention to my volume… whether they have any questions…

I give up the stress… the nerves… the worry… simply let go… I flow naturally… let things happen…

It’s at this moment that I’ve reached some form of transcendence… and I feel like I can do anything…

I hope all of that made sense to you, it does to me. I urge every one of you to try it, see if presenting and teaching is right for you. I was reminded again, that it was one of the things I was meant to do.

Anyway, somebody from my company actually asked me at lunch after my presentation, “Dave, that was great, but how can you tell that embarrassing story in public?” I stopped, and looked at him and asked:

  • Did it get your attention?
  • Did you enjoy it?
  • Did you learn something?

He answered yes to all three. Then I answered, “Does anything else matter?”

I’ll be Presenting at SQL Saturday Dallas BI Edition

I’ll be presenting two topics on Saturday at this event.

  • Creating Interactive Dashboards with PowerPivot. Slicing Your Way to Data Nirvana
  • Who, What, Where. The Power of SSRS Parameters

Let’s just hope that everything goes well and I have the same warm glow Saturday night.

Wish me luck!

Announcing Project M-Data Analytics

Presenting M-Data Analytics at Consona Connect 2010

Presenting M-Data Analytics at Consona Connect 2010

What is M-Data Analytics and how is it going to change the way you use data?

M-Data Analytics is a Data Warehouse. A Data Warehouse is a database that is specially designed for reporting and data analysis. M2M Data is extracted, checked, cleaned, and transformed to a format which is optimized for reporting. M-Data Analytics is being designed to make reporting simple enough that nearly anyone can effectively pull data from it. How is it going to fix all the problems I mentioned yesterday?

Characteristics of M-Data Analytics – A Quality Reporting System

Comprehensive

There will be several phases to the project. In Phase 1, the team transforms most of the modules in M2M into their corresponding structures in M-Data Analytics. Included Modules are Quotes, Orders, Accounts Receivable, and Accounts Payable, Purchasing, Receiving, Shipping, Inventory and Cycle Counting, Labor and Costing, etc.

Easy to Use

M-Data Analytics is easy enough so that everyone will want to use it. The fields and tables have descriptive names which everyone can understand. Any links between tables should be automatic for most modern reporting programs. The system will support not only database views, but also cubes and Report Models (more on these in a later article) to make reporting that much easier.

Accurate and Consistent

The core modules of M-Data Analytics are going to match your Made2Manage system and can be relied upon to be accurate. If you compared invoicing data in M2M for a specific invoice, M-Data Analytics would match that exactly because the same data is there, only packaged in a more useful way. Further, the information will be as complete as possible. Country values will be added where possible even when not available in the M2M Database. State designations will be consistent at either two characters (TX) or full names (Texas), etc.

Performant and Safe to Use

You will be able to run M-Data Analytics on decent hardware without experiencing performance problems. Depending on your needs, you can run M-Data Analytics on it’s own server or on your current Made2Manage server. M-Data Analytics will not require you to violate your user agreement with Consona and is be designed in such as way as to have little to no impact at all on regular M2M operations. Toward that goal, M-Data Analytics will not update the M2M database directly. M-Data Analytics will notify a designated employee at your company when the M2M program has entered records that are likely invalid.

Completely Flexible

M-Data Analytics will support nearly any reporting tool available such as SQL Server Reporting Services, Crystal Reports, Excel; or even any of Consona’s add on options such as Advanced Reporter and Executive Dashboards. You’re not locked in to some proprietary or ancient technology like Visual FoxPro.

Keep Historical Data

In Phase 2, M-Data Analytics will enable you to keep historical data at periods you specify and makes it easy to spot trends. Wouldn’t you like to track information such as Sales Order Backlog, Inventory Valuation, and Work In Process?

Cost

Oh, did I mention that M-Data Analytics is FREE? M-Data Analytics is an open source project that all are free to work on and use. You’re not required to pay anything to use it. It is being developed using Microsoft Business Intelligence Tools which are included with every licensed version of SQL Server. It’s important to note that as of this point, the project is being written in SQL Server 2008. There may be an effort to port that to SQL Server 2005 in the future. However, I still consider that “free” because we will all need to buy SQL 2008 eventually anyway.

Community Driven

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been working on this project a long time and realized early on that it should be a community driven project. It will be developed and maintained by the Made2Manage community. Also, since everyone’s Data Warehouse will look nearly identical, it will be easy for users of M-Data Analytics to share their reports which benefits everyone.

Now I know that what I’ve told you seems like a lot of theory and a very high level overview. This was intentional because I want everyone, from CEO’s to database administrators, to understand it and why M-Data Analytics will be a game changer for M2M companies.

Sales Report Example Revisited

Remember the “simple” sales report I discussed in the previous article? Well, this is how it will look in M-Data Analytics.

Incoming Orders in the Data Warehouse

If you compare that to yesterday’s pictures you’ll immediately notice:

  1. The number of tables is less.
  2. Table and Field Names are easily understood.
  3. The join lines are blue because the database uses Foreign Keys so that nearly any program will automatically join them. In fact, in Excel, you would click on the Orders table and the “Add Related Tables” button and the query would write itself.
  4. The added calendar table makes reporting by years, quarters, months or weeks easy.
  5. The important calculations are already made for you. You don’t have to know how to calculate the shipped quantity or calculate order quantity by unit price to get extended price.
  6. The descriptions for codes such as Product Class will always be available so you won’t have to memorize them anymore.

In this article I am only hitting the high points. In future articles, I’ll explain how it works, which steps the team is currently working on, and publish educational articles regarding Microsoft Integration, Analysis, and Reporting Services.

So, who’s with me?

Super Secret Project - The Problem

The Problem

I’ve been working with the Made2Manage product for well over a decade and the single biggest complaint I hear about it is that customers can’t get data out of it. The most common complaints I hear are:

  1. The included reports are too limiting and inadequate for most companies.
  2. The database is a Visual FoxPro/SQL hybrid and the supported reporting method is VFP which is an abomination before God.
  3. The database has confusing table and field names. The field names are inconsistent between tables; fpartrev, fcpartrev, frev all represent the same value. Some field names are blatantly wrong, ARITEM.fshipqty is actually the quantity invoiced, not shipped.
  4. The same data is duplicated in many tables and it’s difficult to know which field you should select.
  5. M2M report exports (Excel) are difficult to use. The field names are exported directly from the database so you must replace them with English each time (fsono with Sales Order Number). Also, because of the way the Visual FoxPro code is written, many fields from reports will NOT export, so you are stuck editing the VFP code to add them.
  6. The database lacks primary and foreign keys so reporting systems have no idea how to link the tables. Most often the wizard will link them on the identity_column fields in all tables and this is incorrect.
  7. The systems that M2M has in place to assist users with writing report code, namely the Data Dictionary and CTRL-F1 field help, are confusing, incomplete, and inaccurate.
  8. M2M lacks any supported way of archiving your Sales Order Backlog, Inventory Evaluation, or Work In Progress data just to name a few. Therefore, you are stuck in Excel Hell with manual periodic exports if you want to perform any kind of historical analysis.
  9. Consona offers additional add-on products to facilitate reporting, but they are expensive and are still not easy enough for most users to use.
  10. If you own FastForms, another add-on product, none of the currently available report options automatically account for that data. This can cause you a ridiculous amount of work adding them to each and every VFP report.

A Simple Example

Let’s consider a basic sales report. To create a Sales Report, you most likely need information from the following tables (based on M2M 5.6).

Keep in mind that I’ve only included a few fields in each table to keep things simple. However, the average user’s eyes glass over when you show them even this simple example. Now, let’s add some possible links to the diagram.

Some issues immediately come to mind.

  1. Do you know why UTTerms is in red? It’s a Visual FoxPro table and beyond most users’ ability to retrieve, or they hard code the descriptions in the SQL script.
  2. Can you remember the difference between fenumber and finumber? Think your accountant can? Dream on.
  3. Is Fsoldby the same field as fsalespn? If so, should you pull it from somast or slcdpm?
  4. What about Product Class and Group Code? Should you pull them from inmast or soitem? What’s with the inprod table? Many don’t use it and people simply have to memorize the 2 character product class codes instead.

The Bottom Line

What does all this add up to? Money. Companies must either hire a sql server/reporting expert, pay for additional reporting software, suffer without critical information, or endure Excel Hell.

Sure, you can use SQL Server Reporting Services for free (if you are on SQL 2005+), but without someone who knows how to write SQL code and understands the specifics of the M2M database, what good is it? It’s the same problem using ODBC connections with Excel or PowerPivot. If you can’t write the code to import the data correctly, you’re out of luck.

The Solution

What is the solution to this problem? Well, I’ve been working on this project for almost two years. The project will address all of the issues listed above and more. And no, contrary to rumors it does not involve simply adding cubes or views on top of the normal M2M Database.

I’ve received tons of questions. What is it? Is it a new reporting product? What operating/SQL systems will it require? How will users access it? Will it support all M2M versions? What will it cost?

I promise to finally answer all of these questions tomorrow.

Stay Tuned!

Consona Connect 2010 Thoughts and Impressions

Teaching PowerPivot

Using Excel/PowerPivot with M2M Presentation.


First, I want to take a moment to thank everyone at Consona for putting on a great convention this year. Having worked on SQL Saturday Events, I have an idea of how much work goes into it. I’d especially like to thank Devon Everage, who was largely responsible for planning the conference and made my role as a presenter as easy as possible.

Changes in Attitudes

I’ve been working with the M2M product for nearly 13 years, and in the past several years Consona seems to have made an effort to listen to their users with more of an open mind. That was never more apparent than at this conference. Consona employees seem more open to listening to problems and more willing to try to fix them.

At one of the networking events, I was “cornered” by three of Consona’s top project managers asking me for my opinions of the product and issues with it’s database. I was very blunt about the problems the product has. They were exceptionally open to my suggestions (criticisms) even when I said things like:

  • You know that the security model is awful, right?
  • What were you guys thinking when you…..
  • Why on earth didn’t you implement referential integrity?

At no point did they get flustered, defensive, or angry while I discussed problems with their system. In fact, one of the Consona big wigs actually went and got me a drink so the technical conversation wouldn’t get interrupted. To me, this indicates a change in their mindset regarding the quality of the Made2Manage product.

Presenting at the conference was a great experience. I’d like to thank Don Rudo for being so gracious during our presentations. He’s been presenting the SQL Administration classes solo for as long as I can remember and he adapted to co-presenting exceptionally well. It almost seemed as if he and I had been working together for years.

Don had already done the heavy lifting for our presentation, created PowerPoints, determined the scope and such. He’s a real pro so I was just there for color commentary. He accepted every comment I made in stride, even when I disagreed with him about certain SQL administration practices.

One cardinal rule I broke and had to re-learn was that you should never change your presentation at the last minute. I decided to edit something small the night before to improve my PowerPivot presentation. Well, of course something got hosed up and I spent that morning in a corner feverishly creating a new PowerPivot dashboard before I was scheduled to present. Never again.

Improvement Suggestions

Although the event went exceptionally well, I want to offer the following suggestions.

More Targeted Networking. One of the biggest benefits to these events is networking. Consona has made strides to facilitate networking by giving users of each product different color badges so you can look for others with your color badge. However, what I’d like to see are general employee types designated on the badge and at tables at lunch. Ideally, I’d like to know if you’re in Accounting, Operations, Sales, or IT by glancing at your badge. It’s just too difficult to do that by looking for a person’s job title in a relatively small font. I suspect most people would like to network with others who do share their general position and responsibilities.

Lunch time presentations need to change. Once again, I feel that networking at these events is paramount so having a speaker, no matter what the topic, speak through lunch isn’t a productive use of time. Most people seemed to whisper at their tables, or eat their lunch in silence while checking their phones, or leave the room to network. I took the last option.

Also, it is nearly impossible to find a speaker that appeals to all of the attendees. You have every imaginable type of employee there as well as every category of manufacturing company as well. I know it would create logistic problems but if you want to have lunch presentations, then divide the room and have several so people can choose what they want to see.

More sessions covering topics you cannot learn from the Made2Manage University. While Consona Educators are very good at their jobs, I did not fly to Vegas to see one present on a topic I can stream free over the internet. Also, I prefer that most topics (if not all) be included with the base conference registration. The Advanced SQL Server Administration classes were well attended, but I met lots of people who wanted to, but couldn’t attend them because their company wouldn’t fork out the additional cost for that track. These classes are important for all IT people and would reduce calls to M2M Support so they are good for everyone.

Change the Advanced Workshop sessions. I think these were a great idea and I applaud whoever came up with it. However, most people did not bring their own problems to our SQL workshops, and I heard that the VBA Workshops had a similar problem. Luckily Don was prepared to carry the entire sessions with his own content, that man could lecture about SQL Server for weeks, so we were covered. I suspect many of the people there did not have the resources to bring a laptop that was set up to demonstrate their problems. Perhaps there are better ways to get customer participation and encourage them to ask questions in these types of sessions. Once again, great idea but it didn’t seem to work.

More presentations should span several Consona products. The topics I presented, SQL Administration and Excel/PowerPivot use, are not specific to Made2Manage. Any of the companies using other products that Consona sells which use SQL Server would have benefited from those classes. Also, PowerPivot will connect to almost anything. A lot of the people at the conference missed out because they never knew about them because they don’t use M2M.

Non supported customers should be encouraged to attend. I never knew that customers who are no longer on support/maintenance are not invited to the conference. I suspect the reason is that many of those customers are disgruntled and Consona does not want negative attitudes to ruin the positive air of the conference. Well, as someone who learned M2M on his own because his employer was NOT on support, I encourage Consona to change this practice for a couple of reasons.

First, how do you expect to re-gain customers if they aren’t invited to events like these? Consona Connect conferences, where so many of Consona’s successful customers gather to network and learn new ways to improve, is the perfect venue to lure customers back into the fold.

Second, the conference ends up costing a company at least two thousand dollars per employee to attend when you consider flight, hotel, conference fee, and additional meals and expenses. Is it likely that a truly disgruntled company is going to spend all that money simply to ruin conference sessions? I really don’t think so. Also, I’ve been critical of M2M at times over the years and I’ve found their employees to be resilient and enthusiastic in defense of their product. These people can handle some criticism.

Allow independent consultants who represent customers to attend on the customer’s behalf. I know almost all of the independent consultants and I noticed a conspicuous lack of them at the event. While I understand that Consona does not want independents to hawk their wares at the event, stipulations to that effect can be made and enforced. Also, if you’re a small customer who relies on an independent person to write your reports, administer your SQL Server, etc why shouldn’t you be allowed to send who you want to the conference? I appreciate the fact that Consona can and should exclude certain independent consultants who have caused M2M disasters, but responsible folks (many of whom are ex-Consona employees to begin with) should be allowed and encouraged to attend.

If it sounds like I’m complaining a lot, I’m not. Overall, it was a great event and I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to attending them in the future.

Super Secret Project Announcement

I announced the super secret project at the event in front of 70 or so people at our Consona Connect user group meeting. It’s a difficult concept for non-technical people to grasp, but those who understood had already started clapping before I had finished. I’ll follow up with the official announcement on the blog in a day or two.

What do you think? If you attended, what did you like or dislike? If not, what would need to be done for you to want to attend next year?

Why do I go to the Consona Connects?

justice league

Justice League - Looking for More Members

I received an e-mail from a reader recently regarding Consona Connect. She and I have met at a few of these events and she asked me the following question.

Every time I attend a Consona Connect I see you there. You always seem to know what is being presented already, often better than the person who is presenting.

So, why do you go if it is not to learn?

Learning

I haven’t attended every single Consona Connect, but have attended the majority of them. There are a couple of reasons I attend.

I have always learned something. Now it’s true that I don’t learn as much as a your typical beginner does at one of these events, but I’ve always taken a few nuggets of information away from every one of them. Often the learning hasn’t happened in a class, but rather at the networking events or even in the hallway between sessions. I’ll “corner” a Made2Manage employee or another customer and pick their brains for tips and tricks I do not know. Nobody knows everything.

Looking for Super Friends

However, the primary reason I have attended has been to network. Well before I had a blog I would attend these events and participate in presentations by asking questions and assisting the presenter with specific aspects of certain issues where appropriate.

At past Consona Connects the presentations were made primarily by their educators. While those folks do their best to stay informed, they can’t really know the product as well as someone who works with it every day. They don’t know the subtle gotchas of working with VBA, FastForms, etc.

Why did I take this active role? Well, I was looking for Super Friends. I envisioned in a funny way that Made2Manage was the Legion of Doom, and I was looking for other people who were advanced in certain aspects of M2M that I could call on for help. I knew that my employer wouldn’t fork out a high consulting rate for M2M’s help, and nobody was blogging and sharing about M2M on the internet. So, I would take an active role in these classes and Super Friends would find me.

This has invariably worked over the years and I have people on whom I rely for VBA, FastForms, and Visual FoxPro help. In turn, they are welcome to contact me for help with those items as well as SQL Server, reporting, etc.

Want to Join? Capes are Optional

This year, I am working on a new project which will be a huge benefit for M2M customers as well as for those technical people who participate in it. I’m hoping to attract people who want to get involved and become better administrators in the process.

Also, as I mentioned before, I am presenting this year and that is always loads of fun.

So, if you see me walking around, stop me and say hello. I’m always looking for new (super) friends.

Come See Me Present at Consona Connect 2010 Next Week


In recent articles, I’ve apologized because my blogging has become sporadic and mentioned that there were reasons for it which would be revealed soon. Well, one of them is that Consona (Made2Manage) has foolishly graciously asked me to present at their national conference in Vegas next week and I’m all kinds of geeked about it.

I’ll be co-presenting the SQL Server Administration sessions with the great Don Rudo. He gives a great presentation and has so much experience that I’ll most likely just be adding color commentary here and there. Maybe I’ll break out my John Madden impression and spout obvious things like, “Backups are important.”

On Friday I’ll present “Using MS Word and Excel with M2M” in which I’ll explain the ins and outs of Excel integration. I’ll explain the benefits that you can gain from Excel while avoiding the pitfalls in the process.

Oh, and would you like to learn how to create FREE interactive dashboards as well? I’ll be showing the wonders of PowerPivot.

Anyway, I fly in Saturday morning and will spend a couple days in Vegas relaxing, and most likely rehearsing my presentations. I certainly hope Consona has someone available as backup for my presentation, you only need to read about history with Vegas conferences to understand why. Let’s hope I live long enough to actually present on Friday.

If any of my readers are going, grab me and we’ll do dinner or maybe just have a drink. I’d be happy to spend time with both of you. 🙂

As for the second reason why I’ve been so occupied lately… the super secret project I’ve eluded to….

Well, I plan on announcing that in the coming days.

Stay Tuned!

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