Q&A with Brian Knight
Delivering Value with Agile Data Warehouse Development
SQL Server MVP, author, and all-around expert Brian Knight likes results—and so do organizations that embark on data warehousing projects.
PASS Summit Unite 2009 pre-conference seminar, “Building a Microsoft Data Warehousing Platform,” Brian will walk attendees through building an effective data warehousing solution from start to finish. In this interview, he shares one of his secrets to data warehousing success: agile development.
Q: A few years ago, it seemed like only large companies or ones in certain industries were using data warehousing. Has that changed today? Can companies of almost any size and type gain value from implementing a data warehouse?
A: The total cost of ownership of a data warehouse and the time to develop one are decreasing so rapidly that we’re now seeing companies of any size implementing them. In addition, a key way to increase the productivity of sales, marketing, and technical departments when we have economic pressures like we do today is to increase the odds of those departments making good decisions through data warehouses and business intelligence solutions.
Q: What roadblocks—real or perceived—keep organizations from implementing data warehousing today?
A: The largest roadblock is the data quality of the source systems. Data quality will constantly bite a project in the ETL phase and comes back when you go to build the cube unless you address it at an early stage.
Q: Your seminar walks through building a data warehouse from beginning to end using the Microsoft data warehousing platform. What are your favorite features of the Microsoft platform?
A: Nothing beats the look in users’ eyes when they see the data presented by SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) in a spreadsheet. It really empowers executives and staff to make quicker and better decisions. My favorite feature, though, is data mining because the ROI is so clear and it positions IT to be a profit center instead of a cost center. For example, a data mining solution can be directly responsible for reducing fraud or the primary reason marketing mails out half the brochures but receives 90% of the results.
Q: What’s your approach to teaching about data warehousing?
A: The goal of my pre-conference workshop is to get attendees to the spot where they can go back to work the next week and develop a prototype application by themselves. I do a very demo-centered presentation and encourage attendees to bring their laptop and work along with the examples. We start by talking about design patterns in data warehousing. Then, we use SQL Server Integration Services to load the warehouse, build a cube with SSAS, and develop a simple dashboard report with SQL Server Reporting Services. We also cover some basic MDX to help users get past the nasty learning curve of this language. And we do all this in an entertaining way and make the day move fast.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes that you see in data warehouse implementations? Is there a key to success?
A: The largest mistakes I see organizations make are starting with too large of a project and not having a strong business stakeholder. The key to the methodology that I follow is to deliver results in an agile technique. Each month, you should deliver a new area of the warehouse to the business so that you can show the executives and users what you’re accomplishing. Also be careful how many new data sources you introduce in each iteration. It’s too easy for warehouse projects to fail if you’re not constantly delivering value and proving your value.
Hear more from Brian and other SQL Server and BI experts at PASS Summit Unite 2009 in Seattle, WA. See the lineup of pre/post-conference seminars, review the full conference agenda, and register today.
SQL Server MVP Brian Knight, a principal consultant and owner of Pragmatic Works, is the co-founder of SQLServerCentral.com and JumpstartTV.com. A regular speaker at top SQL Server events and a prolific writer, Brian is the author of nine SQL Server books, including Admin911: SQL Server (Osborne/McGraw-Hill Publishing), and co-author of Professional SQL Server DTS, Professional SQL Server 2008 (and 2005) Administration, and Professional SQL Server 2008 (2005) Integration Services (Wrox Press).