Interview with Evan Ross, Principal at Dimensional Strategies, Microsoft Gold BI Partner
Evan, can you tell us about your company and how you started the business? Why did you decide to focus on BI?
Dimensional Strategies Inc. (DSI) was founded in 1998 by me and my business partner Jeremy Fitzgerald. Our goal is to help our public and private sector clients make better, timelier business decisions by enabling their key processes and improving their information access capabilities.
Our initial focus was on Business Intelligence (BI) because it was one of the few solutions that can help a business end to end. Cognos was the market leader at the time and Microsoft didn’t have a BI solution so we built our BI practice on Cognos.
Shortly after we went into business, Microsoft released SQL Server 2000. It came with an easy to use ETL tool and an OLAP server and it was the first time that a vendor included Database and BI tools together in one package. In 2001 we started to learn more about Microsoft as we developed a practice around Visual Basic and the early versions of .Net. Very quickly Analysis Services became a viable OLAP Platform, and soon after Microsoft released Reporting Services which completed the BI solution and made SQL Server an end-to-end BI platform. With SQL Server 2005, Microsoft re-architected Analysis Services to make it more scalable and more robust, rebuilt SSIS to become a true enterprise ETL solution while enhancing Reporting Services and introducing the first Report model solutions. SQL Server was becoming more and more mature and complete.
Why did you chose Microsoft BI?
When Microsoft released SQL Server 2008 and Performance Point Server with advanced Scorecarding and Dashboarding functionality, we realized that the Microsoft tool stack was as strong as or stronger than competing products. This was backed up by a Gartner report that revealed that Microsoft’s ability to execute was unmatched by other vendors.
In 2008 we decided to close our Cognos practice and focus exclusively on Microsoft BI solutions. It was easy to train our employees for one solution. In addition, Microsoft BI allowed us to deliver a solution to the entire workforce not just a group of analysts since Microsoft Office Suite, SharePoint and SQL server are used in the vast majority of companies. Most of the companies already own these products, so the cost of entry was really low which makes it much easier for customers to make a decision to deploy Microsoft BI solution. It significantly shortened a sales cycle.
Evan, can you tell us about your business performance and new projects you have been working on?
We have experienced a 20% increase in revenue this year, our profit margin has grown by 10% and we have gained 8 net new clients. We have also increased our workforce by about 20% and are continuing to expand.
We are very proud of our Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) survey results. Microsoft conducts regular customer satisfaction surveys and shares the results with its partners. This year’s survey showed that our company received a CSAT score above our peers in the BI space in Canada, and exceeded the benchmark within every category by 5-15%!
We have helped a major quick service restaurant in Canada migrate their current infrastructure from Hyperion to SQL Server Analysis Services. This project allows their business users to create reports without involving IT.
We have also just finished rolling out a major HR project for Baycrest, a geriatric hospital and seniors’ residence in Toronto. We built a solution on top of SharePoint and SQL server so that they can measure the correlation between patient care and the type of training the employees receive.
What is your success secret?
One of the things that distinguishes us from our competitors is our ability to understand a business' need. We do not implement technology for the sake of technology, but believe that there are business problems that technology can address.
We conduct a strong upfront business analysis with our clients to identify problems and implement the right solutions. Our team will go onsite with the client, pinpoint requirements and then devise and execute a solution. Our BA, PM, ETL developers and BI experts can then deliver that solution to anywhere in the world from our office in Mississauga, Ontario. Since the Microsoft stack has a number of BI tools, we want to make sure we bring the right pieces to the right place at the right time.
We ensure that every employee in the DSI office is formally trained and certified on the products they are working with. We work very closely with Microsoft teams internally and leverage our partner tech advisors to help our staff understand what’s new and coming.
We leverage a number of Microsoft programs for partners such as the Microsoft BI CIE (Customer Immersion experience) and BI Quick Start proof of concepts (POC) projects.
BI CIE is a half day hands on training session for customers where we showcase pre-developed examples so that clients can experience the BI technology, relate to the scenario and understand how it can improve their business processes. We do not impose the technology on the business but rather help the business understand that technology.
BI Quick Start is a 5 day POC project where we use customer data to build a prototype of future BI solutions. It provides customers with a better understanding of what they will be able to achieve as a result of a project.
Since Microsoft sponsors these 2 programs, we are able to approach a broader range of customers and give them an opportunity to try solutions before they invest in it. DSI has been successful with these activities in the past and we plan to deliver dozens of BI Quick Start POC’s and BI CIE this year.
What is your plan for the future?
Big Data is a hot topic these days. For us, Big Data is about 3Vs: Data Variety, Velocity and Volume, it is about value businesses can get from all the data they have.
This year we migrated 80 billion rows of data for one of our customers from an old Data Warehouse (DW) to SQL Server. As the result of this project, our client could process this huge amount of information significantly faster. For example, a report that took hours to retrieve with the previous system now takes seconds. Their DW is growing very quickly and they have to deal with new data types that are not very good for classic DW solutions. They also want to mix internal and external data to get new business insights.
Currently the customer is looking at a new Microsoft Big Data Appliance – SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse because it has two complementary technologies inside: Hadoop for unstructured data and SQL Server with Massively Parallel Processing and in-Memory for high performance data processing.
This customer is not an exception; we have also seen data explosion in other organizations. Our clients want to leverage information they did not use before and mash up external and internal data to get new business insights. We see a huge opportunity in this area, so our plan for the future is to continue helping organizations gain business insights from Big Data.
Evan, if you were starting your business today, would you decide to specialize in BI again?
I would definitely chose BI again. Due to Data Explosion, Business Analytics is even more relevant now than it was 15 years ago. BI and Data Platform is one of the fastest growing application markets in Canada and analysts predict that it will grow for years to come! When you start a new business, it is much easier to develop it on a fast growing market.
Evan, thank you for your time. We wish you continued success as you grow your business in the years ahead.
The interview was taken by Raena DeJong and Eduard Davidzhan.