Joshua Fennessy

Breaking into BI: Where to begin?

This morning, I received some interesting news. A good friend of mine, who has been in IT for years mostly in the operations and technical documentation side, had signed up for the first test along the Microsoft BI MCSE path. How proud I was, you probably can never imagine. It also got me thinking: where do you begin nowadays?

8(ish) years ago, when I was just learning the Microsoft BI Stack, the starting point was pretty well defined: start with learning Kimball style star schema, then ETL with SSIS, OLAP with SSAS, and finally reporting with SSRS, Excel and maybe Performance Point M&A.

Now, where to begin? There are so many more options now, getting ramped up makes my head spin. Power BI, Cloud vs. On-Premise, Big Data, In-Memory. There are so many more way to “do BI” in the Microsoft world now than there were even just 10 years it’s staggering.

I think, for someone just starting out, building that understanding of Kimball Methodology is still really important. As much as we want to believe that PowerPivot and free-form designed models are going to rule the BI world, the fact of the matter is that the EDW is here to stay; It’s not dead.

What’s changed, however, is that someone starting out probably doesn’t need IMMERSION into the EDW world to break to Analytics like before. Knowing the difference between a Fact Table and Dimension Table will be a pretty good start to being able to develop a beginning Power Pivot model. However, Power BI simplifies the model development, deployment, and reporting path.

The above being said, I can’t imagine being able to really get a handle of the BI world without understanding star-schema design, so I think at some point within the first few months of train, immersion into star-schema design WILL be necessary.

So where to begin? I’ve been thinking about this for only a few hours at this point, and I want to open this post up to discussion. Here’s my thought of a plan to begin learning:

• Introduction to Analytics Section
o Intro to Kimball based Star Schema
o Basic Data Modeling with Power Pivot
o Analytic reporting with Excel and Power View
• Intermediate Analytic and Reporting
o Designing a full Kimball Data Mart
o Intro to data integration with SSIS
o Modeling star schema with SSAS Tabular
o Deployment of Analytics through Power BI and SharePoint 2013
• Expert Analytics
o Advanced Dimensional modeling topics (SCD, inferred members, etc)
o Analytics models with SSAS Multidimensional
o Designing an enterprise reporting environment (Excel, SSRS, PPS)

Of course, there are lots of other topics to consider in this list as well (that maybe didn’t exist before): Big Data (Hadoop, HDInsight), Mobile BI, Self-service model creation, cloud deployment, data mining, predictive analytics, etc…I think those topics are very important, however, I think if the goal is to become a Microsoft BI Expert, a foundation in the SQL Server BI Stack is key before jumping over to more advanced techniques.

Right now is an amazing time to be involved with Microsoft BI – it can seem like a pretty daunting task to jump in a start learning from square one, but the rewards are pretty great.

2 thoughts on “Breaking into BI: Where to begin?”

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