Earlier this year I wrote about Microsoft's PowerPivot, a new business intelligence tool that allows users to bypass IT by using Excel as a front end for data. Taking IT out of the BI loop that way could seemingly create a governance nightmare, although Microsoft contends PowerPivot will win fans in IT by reducing the need for members of the IT team to build reports and freeing them for more strategic tasks.
So I was interested to see BI guru Howard Dresner's take on PowerPivot. After attending a recent Microsoft conference, Dresner opines PowerPivot is one of the latest examples of Microsoft making a once-fringe technology -- in this case in-memory, columnar data structures -- more mainstream. He also sees PowerPivot as a "bottoms up" BI solution, one driven by users rather than IT.
Is that a good thing? Dresner isn't so sure. Microsoft also offers SQL Server and SharePoint Server, "top down" BI solutions designed more from an IT rather than an end user perspective. He wrote:
They are robust yet complex products, requiring IT technical skills for design, implementation and support. They further the IT Department's mission to standardize models and enforce policy surrounding user access and interactions. In this scenario, dashboards and scorecards are designed and built using PerformancePoint and Analysis Services and are delivered broadly (and consistently) to management and users across an enterprise via SharePoint Services.
This is dramatically different than PowerPivot, which puts end users and not IT in the driver's seat. Dresner suggests Microsoft should figure out who its customer is, business users or IT, and then present a more cohesive BI marketing pitch.
Interestingly, IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle earlier this year made the same point, writing that Microsoft's desire to appeal to all constituencies, including end users and IT, results in "products that are not really focused on any one of these groups, largely incomplete or counter-strategic from the perspective of any of them, and that generally underperform their market potential." The question Microsoft needs to answer, he said: Who is your primary customer?