The first step in effective decision making is to set specific, measurable goals. Once these goals have been set, the objective is to get accurate, useful information to the appropriate decision makers to serve as a foundation for the decision and as feedback on the effectiveness of that decision. Having the foundation and feedback information available at the appropriate time is extremely important. The question becomes, How does an organization go about obtaining and distributing this information? As the title of this book suggests, the answer is, Through the use of business intelligence. In fact, this objective serves as our definition of business intelligence.
Business intelligence is the delivery of accurate, useful information to the appropriate decision makers within the necessary timeframe to support effective decision making.
Business intelligence is not simply facts and figures on a printed report or a computer screen. Rows upon rows of numbers showing detailed sales figures or production numbers may be extremely accurate, but they are not business intelligence until they are put in a format that can be easily understood by a decision maker who needs to use them. Concise summaries of customer satisfaction or assembly-line efficiency may be easily understood, but they are not business intelligence until they can be delivered in time to meaningfully affect daily decision making.
We also discovered earlier in this chapter that effective decision making is important at all organizational levels. Timely foundation and feedback information is needed as part of that effective decision making. Therefore, we need to make business intelligence available throughout our organizations.
Fortunately, Microsoft SQL Server 2005 provides tools to support all aspects of business intelligence. Integration Services, known as Data Transformation Services (DTS) in earlier versions of SQL Server, enables us to create automated processes to cleanse data and move it into a business intelligence warehouse, when necessary, to insure we have accurate information available in a timely manner. Numerous online analytical processing (OLAP) features such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI), multidimensional expression (MDX) queries and scripts, and the Unified Dimensional Model (UDM) enable us to slice, dice, and summarize information, so it can be presented in a meaningful manner. Data mining permits us to find and present patterns and behavior predictors, which might not otherwise be found in the data. Finally, Reporting Services and Microsoft Office Business Intelligence Accelerators facilitate the delivery of this information to decision makers throughout the entire organization.
In Chapter 2 of this book, we learn more about the concepts used when creating and delivering business intelligence. We see the types of questions business intelligence can help us answer. We also examine the kinds of information and the timeliness of that information required at various levels within an organization.
Finally, we become acquainted with Maximum Miniatures, Incorporated, the sample company we use throughout the remainder of the book. To make the business intelligence features of SQL Server 2005 easier to understand, we perform several hands-on exercises to create business intelligence solutions. Rather than looking at code snippets without any business context, we use the business needs of Maximum Miniatures. The goal of this book is not to enable you to use this or that feature of SQL Server 2005, but to help you understand how to use those features to meet business needs.