Category: Books

I’m speaking in January about data visualization

I am excited to have two opportunities to speak in January. The first is the Kansas City SQL Server User Group. I will be speaking at the monthly KCSSUG meeting on January 16th at 2:30pm CST. You can RSVP for the event here. Next I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #271 in Albuquerque. At both events, I will be presenting on The Accidental Report Designer: Data Visualization Best Practices in SSRS.

This presentation is geared towards data professionals who may not see report design as one of their main responsibilities, but who occasionally have to deliver information through reports, dashboards. I think most people have to do this from time to time in their jobs, so anyone could benefit from this information. I am passionate about the content in this presentation because it changed the way I work and has positively impacted my career path. My interest in data visualization started when I read Stephen Few’s book Information Dashboard Design while working on a marketing dashboard at a previous job. I strongly believe that the way you display information to the end user can enhance or render useless any great data model/ETL you have created. The end user of your report is probably missing the point if you aren’t providing useful information in a consumable format.  Poor report design, in addition to being ineffective, can actually mislead your audience. As a data professional, this should concern you.

As an example, let’s look at some crime data for my neighborhood that I pulled from I want to know: what was the most common crime committed in my neighborhood in 2013?
First, take a look at this graph:

crimes donut chartThis is a 3-D exploded donut chart that shows the number of crimes committed by type.

Now let’s try to answer the question with this graph: crimes bar chartThis is a bar chart that shows the types of crimes committed as a percent of total crimes. I think you will agree that you immediately see from this graph that non-aggravated assault is the most common crime, followed closely by stealing from an automobile.  I can easily see the percent of total incidents that each type represents and how each type compares to other types.

Even if your data isn’t saving any lives, you can still learn to make professional data visualizations that effectively communicate information while being visually appealing, which can impress and earn trust from your management, clients, and other audiences. If you would like to learn more, I would love for you to attend my session in KC or Albuquerque. If you can’t make it, feel free to check out the slides on the Presentation page.

The One Book

I tend to get some variation of the following question as I present at SQL Saturdays and work with clients:

What is the one book I should read to gain a good understanding of this topic?

There are many great books out there on business intelligence, data warehousing, and the Microsoft BI stack.  Here is my list of those that had a significant impact on my learning and career or that I consider the current defining book on the subject.

Data Warehousing/Dimensional Modeling –  The Data Warehouse Toolkit by Ralph Kimball and Margy Ross (link is to the newest edition of the book) defines dimensional modeling, walks through many common data scenarios and explains recommended data modeling and ETL practices. If you are designing, building, or enhancing a dimensional data warehouse, please read this book.

Master Data ManagementMaster Data Management by David Loshin thoroughly explains the resources required, helps clarify goals, and discusses the challenges of implementing a master data management program in your organization. The book also discusses architecture options and provides a roadmap that you can adapt to your project. I actually did an independent study class based upon this book as part of my MBA. I would recommend it to anyone just getting into MDM as a great platform agnostic view of MDM.

Agile Data WarehousingAgile Data Warehousing Project Management: Business Intelligence Systems Using Scrum by Ralph Hughes is an enlightening read about applying the agile process to data warehousing by someone who understands both.  Use this book to help set expectations at the beginning of projects, estimate effort, decide what should be included in an iteration, and provide value early in your project.  It addresses DW enhancements as well as new DW projects.

SSISProfessional Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services contains great information whether you are just learning SSIS or you just need to understand the new features in 2012. It covers each task and data flow component, offers tips for performance tuning, and provides great examples.  If you haven’t moved up to SQL Server 2012 yet, you will want to learn about the project deployment model, environment variables, and project-level connection managers, which are all covered in this book.

SSAS TabularMicrosoft SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services: The BISM Tabular Model by Marco Russo, Alberto Ferrari, and Chris Webb
There aren’t that many books available on SSAS tabular models since it is fairly new. This one got me through a couple of projects as I learned tabular cubes and DAX.  You will read almost every page while building your first tabular cube.  Then you will return to find helpful tips on writing DAX calculations.

Data Visualization –  Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few (link is to the newest edition of the book)
This book is what got me interested in data visualization.  The way I design reports and dashboards changed after I read it. I was torn whether to go with this book or Show Me the Numbers, but I think Information Dashboard Design covers the main points of Show Me the Numbers that I most want people to understand (it was also the first of Few’s books that I read). Today’s technology enables us to make reports that are high on shiny and low on actionable information. I see two troubling trends: reports that are just wide tables with several hundred lines that no one can read at one time, and really shiny dashboards with lots of bells and whistles that make them look really cool. This book will tell you there is an appropriate time and place for tables and dashboards.  And while visual appeal is good, it should not be at the expense of effectively communicating the intended message of the information.

Up Next

I just picked up some books that look very promising and may cause me to update my list above:


Happy reading!