Companies are focusing significant development resources toward BI

The latest information management buzzword, business intelligence (BI), is a concept that many companies are focusing significant development resources toward. When Microsoft released SQL Server 7.0 and OLAP Services, it did more than redevelop a popular product to include the capabilities and performance of mainstream database servers. Microsoft also restructured how SQL Server developers implement designs and visions.

In the early days of data warehousing, project managers and their teams faced significant challenges. The project manager's first challenge was, and still is, defining the needs and potential benefits of a data warehouse. Data warehouses were once costly to design, develop, and implement. Getting the system to the point where the first business analyst could query the data often exceeded the projected implementation time and budget.

The second challenge of managing a data warehouse involved maintenance and management costs of these complex systems. But as business analysts' knowledge and experience with data warehouses expand, so do the requirements of the data warehouse. Analysts might need to create new tables, indexes, data sources, views, stored procedures, and other objects. Although DBA skill sets are always at a premium, a great deal of a DBA's time was previously spent on the mundane, repetitive tasks of system maintenance and routine database modifications.

Another challenge the project manager faced is time. In the old world of information management systems (IMS), implemented systems were rigid and not easily changed. Changes to the business processes were rare and took many months of development to integrate into existing or new IMSs. In the rapidly changing world of business, any company's core processes might change practically overnight.

BI is the enabling decision-support technology that lets analysts change, enhance, and evolve their business-support practices at the speed of their industry's change and growth. SQL Server 7.0 and its OLAP Services answer these challenges well. Although you still need to justify and support data warehouses through project ownership, you can easily justify the resources required because SQL Server 7.0 has so much built-in capability for the system manager and DBA. SQL Server 7.0 reduces routine maintenance, freeing up DBAs, project managers, and business analysts for more creative development endeavors and better user involvement and interaction.

Data marts and BI really find their places in the time-saving area. With BI, a data warehouse can now serve as the storage place of all data and data marts. Within these data marts, you can create and manipulate OLAP cubes in a variety of ways to help analysts look at data in ways they haven't considered, or weren't able to before now. Where writing a new query for a data warehouse once took days or weeks, you can now put new ideas and thoughts to the test and implement them much faster. A what-if scenario becomes simply a new permutation of an OLAP cube, a new dimension, or a new way of asking for the data based on an English question. (See Web Dev, "The Amazing English Query Tool," April 1999, for information on English query.)

Ease of implementation, strong partnerships and expertise, and significantly lower total cost of ownership will propel SQL Server 7.0 and BI forward as a core component of many IS departments as they strive to meet their business' ongoing demands.