I recently received an eye-opener about the value of business intelligence (BI) for the enterprise. At this spring's Microsoft Tech Ed 2002 conference, I served as a judge for the SQL Server Magazine and Windows & .NET Magazine Best of Show awards. The quality of the finalists' products in the SQL Server category was exemplary, making it a tight competition for the best SQL Server product at the show. However, a clear winner emerged as we applied the top two criteria for the award: the product's ability to provide strategic value to the enterprise and to provide competitive advantage.

An essential characteristic of a strategic product is that it has potential to increase a company's profitability. And in determining a product's competitive advantage, you assess both its potential to provide a company significant advantage over companies that don't implement the technology as well as its merits in relation to competing products. In light of these two criteria, the BI-centric ProClarity Analytics Platform topped the SQL Server category in the Best of Show awards.

Although I've long recognized the value of BI, going through the awards evaluation process reinforced my belief in just how vital this technology can be for businesses. BI--and the OLAP and data-mining technologies that comprise it--are aimed squarely at delivering strategic business advantage. These technologies provide insight into your company's line-of-business applications and expose data relationships that can lead to more intelligent decision making. Through a better understanding of business processes and information, you can see trends in your data and adjust to changing business conditions, achieving higher profitability and a competitive advantage.

As SQL Server users, we're in a particularly good position to take advantage of BI within our organizations. SQL Server 7.0 users have OLAP Services at their disposal, while SQL Server 2000 users have Analysis Services, the updated and renamed version of OLAP Services that features a data-mining component. We can't complain that we don't have ready access to these technologies. The next step is to gain the technical skills to put these technologies to work.

If you aren't using SQL Server's BI tools, it's time you start. Not only can they save your company money, but BI technologies can give business leaders the information they need to make your company money. And while your company improves its competitive position, you can be improving yours by beefing up your skill set with practical knowledge about a vital database-oriented technology that's only going to grow more important.