Conferences have 4 parts:
- The attendees
- The material
- The speakers
- The organization
Problem 1: PASS Doesn’t Have Enough Analytics Speakers or Content.
PASS tried running a couple of business analytics (BA) conferences and got feedback from the attendees that the material wasn’t quite right. That’s because PASS’s traditional SQL-Server-focused membership doesn’t have enough presenters who can talk about real-world experience with cutting-edge analytics technologies.
As a result, PASS has decided to skip the community call for speakers and instead just approach BA speakers with money. Read the PASS Board meeting minutes (PDF) for more details, including juicy details about free hands-on labs for the BA conference attendees.
There’s nothing wrong with paying speakers – if your attendees are clamoring for content that you don’t have, sometimes you have to buy that content from others.
Problem 2: PASS Doesn’t Reach Enough Analytics Users.
The BA Conference targets different attendees than the PASS Summit, PASS’s annual international gathering of
SQL Server data professionals:
PASS hasn’t even been successful at defining what BA means, or comparing BA to BI. That screenshot above? It’s the 2014 conference attendee goal, and as PASS prepares to put on the 2015 version, they’re going to try yet again to mansplain what BA is supposed to mean. This time, “data scientists” are out, and some other buzzword will be in.
PASS does have some members who line up with those demographics, but not many. As a result, they’re going to have to pay out of pocket to reach analytics users wherever they’re at – buying advertising space and mailing lists from strangers. That’s one heck of an expensive way to start building a conference – and your Summit attendance registration fees are helping to pay for this.
Problem 3: PASS Isn’t the Right Organization to Run the BA Conference.
When you add up problems 1 and 2, that means PASS simply doesn’t have anything that a BA conference would need in order to be successful: the speakers, the content, or the attendees. It’s case closed, right? To drive the point home, read Chris Webb’s blog post about why PASS had to take SQL Server out of its name just to run a BA conference:
“The BA community is not, however, interested in being swallowed up by an organisation that identifies itself purely with the IT department. It is interested in joining an organisation that has IT focused people as a major component but which also recognises the importance of collaboration between IT and the business to work with data. This is why the PASS name change, and especially a separate BA conference, is important.”
You read that right – PASS had to change its name just to run this new conference.
UPDATE 23/9/2014 – In the comments, Chris Webb notes that he believes PASS has to change its name to “prove its good faith here and will help make the conference even more successful.” He does believe that the Professional Association for SQL Server could run a successful BA Conference without the name change, though. </update>
I’m not denying there’s a market for business analytics – but I firmly believe PASS has no business hosting that conference. It doesn’t have any assets that make a BA Conference work – but it won’t matter.
Why the BA Conference Will Happen, No Matter What
So why is PASS the organization to take on this seemingly unrelated BA/BI conference? Just take a look at the people who make the PASS decisions:
I’ll save you a few clicks:
- Adam Jorgensen – BI/BA consultant at Pragmatic Works
- Amy Lewis – BI/BA consultant at Catapult
- James Rowland-Jones – BI/BA consultant at The Big Bang Data Company
- Jen Stirrup – BI/BA consultant at Copper Blue
- Sri Sridharan – started the first BI SQLSaturday, and his PASS application says he wants to build more BA events
- Wendy Pastrick – consultant at Pragmatic Works (a BI-focused company)
If we had elected a group of developers, they’d have told us databases are dead, and we need to focus PASS on ORMs and NoSQL solutions. If we’d elected a group of systems administrators, they’d have told us physical servers are dead, and we need to focus PASS on virtualization.
When a group of BI/BA consultants get elected to run a SQL Server organization, rather than lowering Summit registration fees or paying PASS volunteer travel expenses, take SQL Server out of the group name, and plow your money into a new BA conference. They don’t see it as wrong because you sent them to the Board of Directors.
If you wanted a Professional Association for SQL Server, you should have thought of that before you elected an entire slate of BI/BA consultants to the Board.
Update 2016/07/28: Yep, as predicted, it failed, and it’s dead.