Bohemian Grove a la BI

The Bohemian Grove of the BI industry convenes for the fifteenth time in just three weeks. Naturally, you ask the obvious question: Are you serious? The Grove? A summit?

The answer begins with a fond recollection of the Grove. If you’ve never attended the Bohemian Grove yourself — I haven’t, though I live in the same metropolitan area — you may know of it as that century-old, mid-July pow-wow of leaders from big-iron industry, national politics, and old-time movie-making. Ronald Reagan slept there.

They ate, and they told stories, and they all went back to work a little more satisfied with the world as it was. Or not. Something in the stories coming through that fine Cuban cigar smoke might have stirred their hearts.

Like the original Grove, the venue at the Pacific Northwest BI Summit is verdant and historic — Clark Gable mourned for Carole Lombard there — and the food, venue, and entertainment are all first rate. Roughly the same people show up to schmooze and refresh year after year. This will be my fifth time.

True, the Pacific Northwest BI Summit is shorter, just three days. And it’s smaller, just two dozen people, but they are among the industry’s brightest lights. Like the Grove, The Summit is by invitation.

Among the Summit’s two dozen attendees — experts, vendor representatives, and press — are a few stars: Gartner analyst Merv Adrian, the SAS vice president of best practices Jill Dyché, the industry icon Claudia Imhoff, the Qlik innovator Donald Farmer, and the well-connected Shawn Rogers. This year for the first time, The Summit has also attracted Mike Ferguson, managing director of Intelligent Business Strategies Limited.

Official program

The Grove has ritual bonfires and a catchy motto, “Weaving spiders come not here.” The Summit has, instead, four educational sessions every year. Here are this year’s:

  • Jill Dyché, author, executive advisor, and SAS vice president of best practices, talks about applying big data in “Big Data, One Dog at a Time.” She puts lots of time into dog rescue at one of the country’s largest dog shelter systems, and she’ll tell how she transformed its systems.
  • Mike Ferguson, an always interesting analyst and thought leader, questions the data-lake strategy. “They say just have everyone drink from the same well, and let them filter of flavor as needed,” the session description reads. “But others fear that the lake could become a swamp.”
  • Merv Adrian, the esteemed Gartner analyst, dives into the this year’s Hadoop chaos and then looks up to see what’s coming next.
  • Claudia Imhoff, longtime BI industry icon, observes that we have “data virtualization, data integration, data preparation — even data replication and data quality processing…[But] no one seems to know where one technology ends and another begins.” She hopes to clarify some boundaries and definitions.

The other roughly two dozen attendees — an assortment of vendor representatives, analysts, researchers, and thought leaders of other varieties — sit around a big table, listen, and discuss. In an outer circle, three ostensibly docile reporters take notes in hopes of fertile content: Steve Swoyer of TDWI, Craig Stedman of TechTarget, and me of Datadoodle and TDWI.

Justifying “summit”

To justify “summit,” you have to think about what a summit really is. It’s more than a mere offering of expertise, a ritual cigar, a few nights in another hotel room, and then back home. It’s what comes around the edges that makes those dry moments become human.

And having become human, and learning a little about each other and what makes hearts beat and sweat gather as topics arise and fall away, simple animal trust grows. What people find in those seemingly trival moments makes the hard stuff easier, better understood, more deeply felt. This is, I think, where the best learning and insight occurs.

That is, there’s more to lunch than food. That’s where, little by little, you get to see beneath underneath the business personas. “Those things don’t happen in formal settings,” says Summit regular Rich Ghiossi, president and COO of the Business Analytics Collaborative. “They happen informally. They happen when you’ve built a relationship with that person.”

Watch for tweets bearing the #BISUM hashtag from Thursday, July 21 through Sunday.

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