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William McKnight

Hello and welcome to my blog!

I will periodically be sharing my thoughts and observations on information management here in the blog. I am passionate about the effective creation, management and distribution of information for the benefit of company goals, and I'm thrilled to be a part of my clients' growth plans and connect what the industry provides to those goals. I have played many roles, but the perspective I come from is benefit to the end client. I hope the entries can be of some modest benefit to that goal. Please share your thoughts and input to the topics.

About the author >

William is the president of McKnight Consulting Group, a firm focused on delivering business value and solving business challenges utilizing proven, streamlined approaches in data warehousing, master data management and business intelligence, all with a focus on data quality and scalable architectures. William functions as strategist, information architect and program manager for complex, high-volume, full life-cycle implementations worldwide. William is a Southwest Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, a frequent best-practices judge, has authored hundreds of articles and white papers, and given hundreds of international keynotes and public seminars. His team's implementations from both IT and consultant positions have won Best Practices awards. He is a former IT Vice President of a Fortune company, a former software engineer, and holds an MBA. William is author of the book 90 Days to Success in Consulting. Contact William at

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in William's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

December 2009 Archives

There are several new features that will be in SQL Server 2008 R2, which is due to be GA in May.  As someone who implements on multiple platforms, I'm constantly comparing platform capabilities and consequently have a hard time getting too excited about releases, but R2 is giving me some reason to be excited.

Like many of SQL Server's R2 releases, it builds on its corresponding R1.  SQL Server 2008 been commercially available since mid 2008.  From a data warehousing perspective, SQL Server has long been a choice for data marts, regardless of the data warehouse platform.  It has also been a data warehouse platform for the midmarket and occasionally a Fortune 100 company.  Some of the scalability concerns that have limited SQL Server's reach may be being answered in R2 with the added support for 256 processors.  This is quite a move up from 64 processors.  Also improving scalability will be the acquired DataAllegro technology, rebranded Parallel Data Warehouse, Microsoft's data warehouse appliance.

What I am most interested in and excited about is Master Data Services, Microsoft's entry into the crowding master data management market.  Microsoft is the first to make it a part of the DBMS package.  They are clearly targeting the Microsoft shops that are having master data issues.  I've had the CTP for some time (this is a worked over form of the product from Stratature, which Microsoft acquired in 2007) and have been able to exercise it and even see it implemented at a client.  While its capabilities are limited compared to its more mature competition, it has a lot of potential. Microsoft will be putting strong development effort behind Master Data Services.  Even today, it can certainly, with some effort, play the technical role in a MDM program.

And then there's Gemini or PowerPivot for Excel. Gemini is the new generation of Analysis Services.  Those who chagrin at the notion that Microsoft Excel is the #1 business intelligence tool (it is) will have a lot more concern now.  Bye-bye ProClarity interface.  We must embrace Excel.  I'm increasingly crafting procedures for IT's role with Excel and this need will only increase as Gemini will cause an even more fluid spreadsheet environment in shops.  Data security strategies are imperative. 

Gemini will also be a collaborative environment.  Everyone in a workgroup can cooperate in managing Excel.  Excel is certainly already mission critical and R2 will create even more possibilities to depend on Excel.  The Gemini server is SharePoint, another element gaining traction in the SQL Server family.

I am also completely impressed with the addition of the columnar, in-memory storage option for this downloaded data, called VeriPaq.  Some data just belongs in columnar, though most would not want to put all their data in this structure.  It's great for data where a lot of columnar functions will be done to it, as well as generally for those queries that don't return a lot of columns.  It's also great for compressing data.  I have a seminar on columnar and expect to be helping more clients effectively tier their data to this format now that SQL Server will be utilizing the option.

So, are you ready?  Are you on SQL Server 2008?  Are you ready to upgrade to Office 2010 to take advantage of Gemini?  SQL Server 2008 R2 will be one of the big BI stories of 2010.

Posted December 28, 2009 8:55 AM
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If a little bit of something is good, more must be better.  This is true of some things - exercise, community service, patience, etc.  Well, it's true to a degree.  What about business intelligence?  Almost all businesses have the proverbial business intelligence user community now.  Though sometimes fragmented and informal, the IT organizations supporting these communities are planning to expand their reach and their community.  In most cases, this is completely warranted.  Most organizations are not at the point of diminishing returns with their user community rollout.

Remember the first Inmon definition of data warehousing? "a subject-oriented, integrated, non-volatile, time-variant collection of data, organized to support management needs."  It's a solid definition that has stood the test of time.  I know it's for data warehousing, not business intelligence, but you can see the mentality of the management user there and no mention of the rest of the organization.  Of course, BI has all kinds of users - people and systems - now.  And organizations are better off for it.

However, the so-called Pervasive BI movement goes beyond any of this.  It's "BI for everyone."  Unlike my thoughts on self-service BI, I am less optimistic about pervasive BI in the short term.  I'm all for smarter organizations, but not many workforces are structured such that everyone, or even most, employees have impressive key business decisions to make that incorporate the need for interaction with data well beyond their immediate environment.  I can think of a few exceptions - financial research firms, pharmaceutical research, etc. 

Probably the key thing to find palatable ground here is to define user.  Everyone in an organization can be the beneficiary of BI in the organization.  However, the tiered nature of the user community will remain true for the next decade.  Some will:

1.       Mine the data

2.       Interact with the data

3.       Consume and interact with reports

4.       Consume reports for decision making

5.       Make tactical decisions for others based on information seen in a report

6.       Make small adjustments to their team's workdays based on information seen in a report

7.       Make tactical decisions based on information seen in a report

8.       Make small adjustments to their workday based on information seen in a report

At some point in this hierarchy, the need for actual BI tools stop.  So, if you have a project that will entail a large number of new BI users - and they're going to productively benefit the business through the knowledge they gain from being a user - that is great.  If you are displaying corporate KPIs throughout the organization, I can see that.  If the culture that arises from this sharing, and possibly decomposing the KPIs to multiple levels, is empowering everyone to do their best job, that too is great.  But that's not BI for everyone.

Let your organization benefit from BI.  However, a project to blanket the business with BI tools in an untargeted fashion because it is thought that [pervasive BI is good, it means everyone needs BI and BI means tools] is not the best use of resources.

Posted December 1, 2009 8:14 PM
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