Microsoft As The New Enterprise BI Powerhouse – Someone Pinch Me!
As someone who has lived and breathed BI over the last two decades, my attendance at this Monday's SQL Server 2008 R2 Launch Event in Toronto was fueled by a mix of healthy skepticism and desire to better understand where Microsoft was on its quest to become a top tier BI vendor.   For the last several years I have been deeply involved in the Cognos BI & SAP ecosystems, and back in 2003-2004 when I performed vendor comparisons across the prevalent BI Enterprise Offerings, Microsoft's SQL Server Reporting & Analysis Service offerings were quite limited and functionally immature.  So what has changed in the last 5 or so years? Well, just about everything when it comes to Microsoft and competency around BI.  As Shane Schick wrote earlier this week in Business Intelligence that keeps on trucking, Microsoft isn't the name that comes front to mind when the topic of Enterprise Business Intelligence toolsets come up.
Though I need to perform some deeper analysis and test drive some of their tools for myself, at first blush what I saw in yesterday's show conjured the perception of a highly robust and and tightly integrated suite of BI tools that addresses many of the shortcomings amongst the offers from traditional vendors like Oracle and IBM.  Microsoft has appeared to have leveraged their strengths in the Office and Sharepoint spaces and, absent from the burden of having to worry about maintaining backward compatibility with legacy offerings,  successfully leap frogged ahead of their slower moving, larger BI behemoths.     
In fact, in the 2010 Gartner's Magic Quadrant For BI Platforms roundup, Microsoft and Oracle were actually overall winners, securing positions in the much coveted leaders quadrant!  IBM (which owns Cognos) and SAP (who owns Business Objects) now lag far behind in a market that, by all rights, they should lead.  Both vendors struggle to battle integration challenges in an attempt to deliver a cohesive BI solution to its customers – but both are losing the battle badly.  Customers are increasingly dissatisfied with their product offerings that have become increasingly more complicated (read: expensive) to licence, maintain and deliver BI solutions to the enterprise.  In the past 12 months in particular, Microsoft has gained significant mind-share (if not market share as well) thanks to the ubiquity of its toolset offering – Excel, SQL Server and SharePoint server are a strong and compelling triad of tools, each of which play a critical role in the Microsoft BI ecosystem.  With the launch of SQL Server 2008 R2 Releational Database, the final piece of the unified BI offering puzzle appears to be in place. 
        2010 Gartner Magic Quadrant For BI Platforms 
BI has consistently ranked high on priority lists for CIO's & Technology leaders over that time and a Gartner survey shows that in 2010, Business Intelligence is still on that list, coming in at fifth place as a key technology enabler for the business.  This is good news for anyone involved in the Business Intelligence area – as I stated in an article I wrote last year called Paging Any BI Professionals – Please Come To The Service Desk – STAT!, demand for BI professionals should continue to grow, as Forrester Research has also recently ranked Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing top technology priorities for CIO's. Being able to extract, integrate, analyze and gain insight from business information in a timely manner is in many cases further out of reach today than it was 10 years ago – a rather troubling statement given BI is a vital capability for all organizations.  For those who lead the pack, it can often become a true competitive advantage.  
In large part the blame for a lack of “acceptable BI” can be placed squarely on the organizational behaviours of the last decade – where priorities such as growth through acquisition, integration of heterogenous systems and the implementation of monstrously complex ERP environments often took a front seat to the less sexy priorities of Master Data Management & establishing Business Intelligence centers of excellence.  I can think back to the AS/400 midrange environments that were more prevalent in the 90's, at which time the synergy of Cognos Powerplay with environments where you knew exactly where your data was, what the operational definitions were meant a true realization of “a single version of the truth”.  I don't recall hearing so much dissatisfaction with “reporting” back then.  Heck, even the prevalent programming language on the AS/400 was called RPG – Report Program Generator — because that's where many developers spent their time – creating screens and reports for users.
But I digress. Back to present day Business Intelligence – according to Gartner, the recession has definitely had an impact on BI platform growth.  Back in 2008, growth was pegged at 20% while since 2009 and through to 2013, the BI platform's market compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to be 6.3%.  This is actually quite a healthy number when you consider that most organizations have already made significant investments in licences and infrastructure to support not just operational systems but reporting environments as well.  Much of the growth and spending will be put towards projects and initiatives to capitalize on the information and efficiencies that remain trapped in business processes across the enterprise. 
As I build out my virtualized environment in the Cardoso data centre (read: unfinished basement) and start putting my Microsoft Technet Subscription to good use, I will be providing some deeper dives into the world of Microsoft Business Intelligence.  Thinking of doing some head-to-head comparisons between Cognos 8.4 and Microsoft BI…that should be fun…stay tuned.
Have a great day and keep Making IT Work!

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