By Steph Locke
SQL Relay is an annual conference around SQL Server and related tech. It hits six to ten cities in the space of a fortnight, touring the country offering free and awesome training on SQL Server, Business Intelligence and this year Analytics. Mango very kindly supported my endeavours at SQL Relay achieving Supporter status by enabling me to present at all six events. At this point, you might be wondering why an R-focused data science consultancy cares about SQL Server enough to send their consultant to not one but six days of SQL Server conferences.
Microsoft are major partners within the R Consortium and having bought Revolution Analytics are busy integrating R into their technology. Microsoft SQL Server is the leader amongst operational databases according to Gartner. In short, Microsoft are getting into R in a big way and there’s a whole group of people who know R is coming but don’t know where to start.
With Mango’s support, I was able to go to Nottingham, Reading, London, Bristol, Cardiff, and Birmingham to help teach people about R. The great thing is that I wasn’t alone! Throughout the six conferences, we had some fantastic R sessions:
• Amy Nicholson ran workshops on their Azure Machine Learning platform
• Revolution Analytics gave us a preview of the coming R integration into SQL Server
• Mark Wilcock gave a crash course in business risk management
• Richard Conway gave an excellent intro to time series analysis
• Paul Brennan did an introduction to data visualisation in R, and all the scripts on his great blog
As well as teaching people and giving away cuddly copies of Mango, I had fantastic opportunities to talk to people. There were a number of common themes that I was hearing like struggles integrating a proliferation of tools and software and getting access to training for areas that are moving really fast like Azure and R.
Perhaps the biggest challenge people were facing is that they’re getting diminishing returns on their efforts in Business Intelligence. People have integrated a good quantity of their businesses data and they’ve put a raft of reports over the top of it. These have been used to make lots of business decisions but now the quick wins are gone and increasing profits is becoming more difficult. Getting equipped to do exploratory analysis, experimentation, and real-time processes is an uphill battle for many organisations.
What’s great is that R and Microsoft are becoming increasingly good bed-fellows that can help. R is becoming more accessible, especially for the small to medium businesses with low numbers of IT people (let alone data scientists) that Microsoft have previously focused on. Azure ML gives access to R and to analytical web services with a low coding-knowledge barrier, integration in SQL Server means DBAs and BI Analysts can start writing code in-database, and platforms like DeployR can make it easier for companies to integrate R into their existing infrastructure.
Of course, people still need to learn about these things plus the whole plethora of R topics specific to their industries so it’s great that Mango will continue supporting us consultants to get out there and share knowledge at SQL Relay, EARL and beyond.