Microsoft continues its onslaught on the business intelligence market

Microsoft says it wants to take business intelligence out of the senior executive suite and spread it across the enterprise.

“Business intelligence is really becoming a CIO priority,” said Dave McJannet, senior product manager for SQL Server with Microsoft Canada at a press briefing Wednesday. “With the digital expanse of data and increasing global competitiveness, empowering your employees and their work makes a significant business difference.”

According to Joel Martin, a research analyst with IDC Canada, business intelligence usage is growing at a rate of 10 per cent per year.

McJannet said that, historically, business intelligence has been stuck in dashboards and reporting functions and are “contained to the executives’ suite,” rather than being used to “empower autonomous workers.”

He spoke about the company’s continued push for “pervasive business intelligence,” a buzzword making the rounds in the industry. McJannet said that business intelligence hasn’t realized its potential, as it’s been compartmentalized. “It hasn’t proliferated throughout the organization,” said McJannet, citing customized and costly toolsets that employees found daunting.

While the challenge of user adoption remains, it is imperative to filter it down throughout the entire organization to achieve success, said Martin. “It’s the longtail of business intelligence,” he said. “How do you formalize data that you do your daily tasks with?”

But getting them to use business intelligence tools is key, according to both McJannet and Martin, who said that the business intelligence strategy needs to change from a strategic play implemented among the upper echelon of a company to a company-wide rollout on an operational level. Companies that continue to peddle business intelligence solely at the strategic level will suffer, Martin said.

This is a key part of Microsoft’s strategy, said McJannet. He said that the company is angling its product as a complete offering, since its core business intelligence platform comes baked right into SQL Server. Said McJannet: “We have the tightest integration with the back end, with SQL Server, and it plugs right in to SharePoint, Excel, ProClarity, and Business Scorecard Manager… You can go from Office to SQL Server with one click.”

Microsoft has a significant advantage over other more established business intelligence companies, said Martin, as Microsoft’s business intelligence applications plug right in to Microsoft products-which most people use.

“People want us to consolidate business intelligence into their business productivity applications that they already use. They shouldn’t have to jump from one to the other,” said McJannet. (In keeping with the ongoing demand in the business intelligence industry for Excel plug-ins, for instance, Microsoft has ensured that Excel 2007 connects right into SQL Analysis Services, allowing for collaborative activities.)

This could also be where the IT professional could come into the equation. McJannet said that IT staff could be an important part of the business intelligence set-up: “They would have to make sure the infrastructure was more self-serve, so that it could empower users to slice and dice the information as they see fit.”

These trends are encapsulated in the experience of the Microsoft customer Challenger Motor Freight, the Cambridge, Ontario-based third-party freight logistics provider and warehouser, and supply chain management company.

The company runs on a lot of disparate systems, including iSeries, Unix, and SQL servers, and business intelligence suffered from the “siloed information” problem. “Reporting was a nightmare — you just printed up these detailed reports that told you nothing and each department put their own spin on them,” said Eveline Gaede, Challenger Motor Freight’s director of information technology.

In 2002, Challenger decided to go with Microsoft’s ProClarity program, as it ran on SQL Server, was easy to use, and integrated well with the Excel spreadsheets that employees are used to working with.

Switching from the strategic level to an operational one was a challenge at first. “We had pretty slow user adoption at first, as a lot of people didn’t know how to use analytic reporting,” she said. “We set an initial view as a starting point (with information they needed to do their jobs) and then encouraged them to expand that. That wasn’t as scary for them as a program you open with a wide-open space to do whatever… Once they got their mind-set around it…they were really enthusiastic.”

Martin said that this type of role-tailored deployment is a good way to improve user adoption and is becoming more and more common in the enterprise.


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