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5/9/2007
02:49 PM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Microsoft and Business Intelligence for Everyone

If a user conference is a barometer for market leadership, then Microsoft's first ever BI conference clearly shows they are in the top tier. More than 2,500 attendees have gathered here in Seattle to learn and share tips on Microsoft BI as a data warehouse platform, provider of BI front-end tools, and soon, performance management (due late summer)… Microsoft most differs from other BI vendors on two points…

If a user conference is a barometer for market leadership, then Microsoft's first ever BI conference clearly shows they are in the top tier. More than 2,500 attendees have gathered here in Seattle to learn and share tips on Microsoft BI as a data warehouse platform, provider of BI front-end tools, and soon, performance management (due late summer).

Microsoft's rallying cry is "BI for Everyone." While "BI for the masses" borders on cliché (and I'm glad they wordsmithed their mantra), Microsoft most differs from other BI vendors on two points. First, is removing price as a barrier for wider adoption. As a case in point, the price of once independent ProClarity has been slashed from $800 to $200 per user under Microsoft's ownership. Even with price cuts, Microsoft says revenues for this product line has increased.The other key difference is in how much Excel plays a roll in bringing BI to everyone. As I've written in the free BIScorecard report on spreadsheet integration, Excel has historically undermined much of BI in that disconnected, unmanaged spreadsheets have led to data chaos. What's changed with Excel 2007 (and with newest add-ins from many BI vendors), is that BI data can now be accessed and analyzed within the familiar interface of Excel, while the data remains safely stored in the central data warehouse. Users can refresh queries directly from Excel--it's not a one-time, static export. The analysis and data mining capabilities in Excel 2007 are excellent. However, it has been optimized to access only OLAP data stored in MS Analysis Services and not relational data, a point downplayed in Microsoft demos and one where BI competitors are better. As a way of shoring up their relational capabilities and further leveraging the Office interface, Microsoft announced the acquisition of technology from SoftArtisans. SoftArtisans' OfficeWriter product allows users to access and design Reporting Services reports (so relational data) from within Word and Excel. (Tip: if you're an Oracle user, take a look at BI Publisher).

While all of this bodes well for Microsoft's success in the BI space, what I did not hear was a clear understanding of another key barrier to broad BI adoption: simplicity. Front-line workers and middle managers express exasperation at the state of many BI tools. Can't someone make it look like Google? Or iPod? Give me a gadget on my Blackberry? On these points, Microsoft has a longer way to go than its competitors, and yet, owning the whole stack from operating system, database, to BI front ends makes them a formidable force to change the BI landscape for both competitors and users.

Sincerely,

Cindi Howson Founder, BIScorecard product evaluationsIf a user conference is a barometer for market leadership, then Microsoft's first ever BI conference clearly shows they are in the top tier. More than 2,500 attendees have gathered here in Seattle to learn and share tips on Microsoft BI as a data warehouse platform, provider of BI front-end tools, and soon, performance management (due late summer)… Microsoft most differs from other BI vendors on two points…

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