SQL Server's business intelligence (BI) features are part of what sets it apart from its competitors. BI is definitely not just Microsoft hype. The value in BI technologies is how they help businesses obtain more information from their data.

Knowing such things as who your customers are, their habits and tastes, what they've bought in the past, and how often they buy can give you a competitive advantage. But if you don't have this kind of information, you don't know what you're missing. Even though BI support has been an integral part of SQL Server for almost 10 years, the adoption of BI is still far from pervasive. In many cases, organizations and database professionals don't see the value in BI and think they get along fine without it.

Results from SQL Server Magazine Instant Polls and research from Windows IT Pro's Information Technology Customer Research (ITCR) panel show that the adoption of BI technologies is still—at best—a future goal for many organizations. Only 22.2 percent of our ITCR panel respondents reported that they were currently using BI technologies. Another 21.6 percent reported that they might use BI technologies in some future project. However, the majority—39.7 percent—reported that they haven't used BI and have no plans to. Another 16.6 percent reported that they have no need for BI technologies.

An Instant Poll, conducted on the SQL Server Magazine Web site (http://www.sqlmag.com—where you'd assume most visitors are familiar and knowledgeable about SQL Server), showed similar results. Thirty-two percent of the respondents reported that they use BI regularly and another 32 percent reported that they were just beginning to get started with BI. However, 36 percent of respondents either said they didn't know what BI was or they didn't even know where to get started using BI.

Moving to BI is difficult for SQL Server organizations steeped in relational technologies. Database professionals are often so busy dealing with current projects that they aren't ready or able to tackle new technologies. BI and data-warehousing technologies are quite different from traditional relational database technologies. This doesn't mean that you won't use the same skills and tools you use as a DBA; you'll definitely build on the skills you have. But the database design concepts used by BI fact and dimension tables are very different from the third normal form that relational database designers strive for. The MDX language used to query cubes is also quite different from good, old T-SQL. These basic differences make it difficult for developers and DBAs to jump to BI. It might be the same database server, but there's a whole new and different set of skills to master.

Fortunately, there are many resources that are designed to help database professionals get started with BI. One of the best ways to learn about BI is with Microsoft's new BI videos at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/solutions/bi/videos.mspx and Webcasts from the Kimball group at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/solutions/bi/kimballwebcasts.mspx. In addition, in future issues of SQL Server Magazine, look for upcoming Solutions by Design articles about designing for BI and data warehousing by Michelle A. Poolet. Michelle will cover a variety of BI design topics to help boost you over those initial BI barriers.