Is BI Agnosticism Always Best?

Why is everyone so "platform-agnostic" when talking about business intelligence (BI)? I think the lion's share of BI content out there is far too noncommittal regarding BI platforms and tools. People want best practices and prescriptive guidance about how to execute those practices. This lack of commitment goes beyond print media; I often find myself in discussions about BI that smell a lot like political correctness: Everyone talks generally about best practices but never gets down to platform specifics for fear of offending someone.

A lot of this fear might stem from professional services. Service companies are often afraid to specialize. No one wants to lose business because they only know a certain technology. You can see the same thing in some IT shops; they want to use a little bit of everything. Perhaps these shops follow the same concept as an investor's diversified portfolio, which is designed to weather both an energy crisis and an economic slowdown. But in the case of Microsoft, it isn't likely that the company will go belly-up tomorrow, stranding IT departments around the world.

Historically, services companies and their customers haven't standardized on a specific set of tools and the skills they require, and by neglecting to do so, they've pushed the publishing industry to cover broader topics. Generally, publishers won't commit too much coverage to one technology, so that everyone is a potential reader and every vendor is a potential advertiser.

The good news is that BI is now mainstream and mission-critical, and the IT market is shifting. IT departments are standardizing (many by using Microsoft products), services companies are specializing, and the publishing industry is scrambling to keep up.

You might argue that vendors can provide the content about their products and services, but I disagree. There has to be independent coverage. If Microsoft was the main source on its products, who would tell you when you should or shouldn't use the slowly changing dimension wizard in SQL Server Integration Services? And who would tell you that although you can build a SQL Server Analysis Services cube on a normalized transactional database, you really shouldn't? Probably not Microsoft.

I love SQL Server Magazine for its specialization and depth, but now Microsoft BI is forcing our staff to reach outside of our namesake to cover a growing number of non-SQL Server topics such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and PerformancePoint. With the growth of Microsoft's BI platform, adequately covering all these topics is a big task. So I need your feedback about what kind of BI content you want to see. What's missing from the general platform-agnostic BI and technical articles currently available from MSDN, TechNet, and SQL Server Magazine? Also, I encourage you to hone your skills and influence your employer to invest more resources into those skill areas. Unless you're presently interviewing for a CIO position, it's usually better to know a lot about a few things than to know only a little about everything.

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