I knew nothing about business intelligence (BI) until I sat through a session about a new feature tentatively called the d-cube (for data cube) during the developer's conference several years ago for the beta version of SQL Server 7.0 (code-named Sphinx). The d-cube feature appeared in SQL Server 7.0 as OLAP Services, which evolved into Analysis Services in SQL Server 2000. At the time, I was sure that OLAP Services would immediately revolutionize the database world. In a nutshell, Microsoft's BI tools are all about letting the right people ask the right questions at the right time, then applying the answers to achieve competitive advantage. You'd think everyone would be using OLAP by now, but most organizations haven't yet applied modern OLAP techniques to their decision making. In fact, many still have no idea what OLAP is. The adoption of BI as a mainstream approach to problem solving has been much slower than I originally anticipated. However, I believe that the adoption rate is beginning to pick up and that more companies will embrace BI for competitive advantage. After all, who doesn't want to make better decisions?
I firmly believe that Analysis Services is an opportunity-packed specialty for SQL Server professionals, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm not going to let my core skills in SQL Server development rust away, but I do plan to spend most of my R&D time this year focusing on becoming a hard-core Analysis Services expert. Implementing successful OLAP solutions can have a tremendous impact on your client's bottom line, which is fulfilling for a database professional. But most important, I think the demand for skilled Analysis Services engineers will far exceed the supply, which is great for my wallet.
I've found that learning the basics of Analysis Services is relatively simple. The hardest tasks to master are
- modeling data multidimensionally—you'll need to forget many of the database-normalization lessons you've learned over the years
- using MDX to query the data—MDX is a rich query language, but it's much harder to learn and master than SQL
You'll need to start somewhere if you're intent on becoming an Analysis Services pro. I suggest you start by attempting to master MDX. Russ Whitney's Mastering Analysis column is a great resource for MDX techniques and analysis concepts. As the market for Analysis Services experts grows, the demand for your skills is sure to follow.