One of the continuing knocks against business intelligence is that it remains too darned difficult for all but BI specialists.
Back in April, for instance, I blogged about Ace Hardware's decision to swap out an overly complex BI system for a simpler reporting tool from Information Builders. Interestingly, one of the key reasons Ace opted for the tool was its ease of integration with Microsoft's Excel.
Though spreadsheets have typically (and often justifiably) gotten a bad rap, they are such a fixture in the corporate world that, like kudzu and cockroaches, they will never be eradicated. Some BI vendors have given up on trying to fight spreadsheets and instead are creating ways to use their products with Excel. Writes IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson:
While most vendors -- and many IT departments -- struggle to convert the spreadsheet-addicted, Microsoft and a few other BI vendors have accepted the Excel problem as a business reality and given up converting the business users, according to the State of Business Intelligence report. Instead, they're developing ways for their BI tools to work with the spreadsheet-addicted.
It's no surprise, then, that Microsoft is pitching seamless integration with Excel as a key selling point for its PerformancePoint Server 2007. That emphasis may pay off, based on the comments of folks in this Enterprise Systems article. According to the article, many companies use PerformancePoint Server 2007 as a complement to Excel and Excel-centric business processes, rather than a replacement for them.
John Workman, senior manager of performance management for Microsoft partner RedPrairie, which created its newest application for SQL Server 2005 and PerformancePoint Server 2007, says that his company's clients have cheered the Excel integration capabilities. He says:
It is amazing how many companies out there run their business on Excel. The ability for a non-geek employee to build ad-hoc reports in Excel while connecting to OLAP cubes with a live connection has really made an impact on our clients.
This Redmondmag.com article includes lots of details about PerformancePoint Server 2007, including a rundown of the product features. One of the primary strengths of the product, according to the article, is the fact that, unlike many other Microsoft products, it is built from scratch. Thus, it includes no inherited weaknesses or known flaws, and Microsoft can more easily address problems during development.
While the article is largely complimentary, it does question whether most companies will get enough BI bang for their $20,000 bucks (cost of a single server license).
This InfoWorld blog offers more positive feedback. In the blog, IT pro Ron Barrett lauds PerformancePoint Server 2007's ease of set-up and configuration and, like others, notes that even non-specialists should be able to use their existing Excel knowledge to create reports. The product is "a solid effort," concludes the blog.