Bringing Business Intelligence to the Masses

Michael Vizard

One issue that regularly confounds supporters of business intelligence (BI) software has been the general lack of adoption. BI software clearly adds value, but end users have been loath to give up their spreadsheets in favor of richer BI applications that are often difficult to master. To solve this issue, some have argued that what was really needed was a less expensive approach to deploying BI applications using open source or software-as-a-service applications.

But what if the real problem is that users want the functionality of a BI application embedded inside the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet they already know how to use? When you take a good look at what Microsoft is really up to in Excel 2010, it becomes pretty apparent that the equivalent of a data mart is being baked into the application using OLAP database technology that Microsoft bought from Panorama Software. That means that rather than exporting data from Excel to another business intelligence application, Microsoft is positioning Excel as the underlying "database" that BI applications will be layered on using technology that is now marketed under the name SQL Server Analysis Services.

While this approach may not scale to meet the requirements of the most demanding BI applications, it will probably meet the need of the vast majority of end users. BI application partners such as Panorama will then invoke Microsoft's MDX language to access data in the underlying Excel database, which is a new fact of BI life that even Oracle concedes is going to be a practical necessity.

Panorama also plans to make its NovaView software available in-memory for on-premise applications using Microsoft's PowerPivot in-memory database. Eventually, the company will make the same technology available for its software-as-a-service implementation, which ironically can be also integrated with Google Apps. Once that's available, performance of Panorama applications on top of an Excel framework should be a non-issue, say Panorama executives.

The real goal is to make BI applications one click away from the most popular analytic tools in use today, which happen to be spreadsheets from Microsoft and Google. So rather than trying to reinvent the BI wheel, maybe all we need to do is make the existing wheel a little bit bigger.

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Dec 14, 2009 1:21 PM tom tom  says:

There's a good discussion on Power Pivot in today's SQLServerCentral email, and some lively conversation about it from a DBA point-of-view in the Forums.  For my money, no matter how you dress it up or what you wrap it into, Excel will always represent an unsolvable conundrum in Business Intelligence. 

Two of Excel's greatest strengths-flexibility and share-ability-are also the two most important reasons its analytic integrity will always be suspect.  There simply is not and never will be an effective way to impose sufficient discipline on this desktop tool to make it appropriate for really critical reporting functions.  The lack of processing power is merely inconvenient; the persistent possibility, indeed the almost certain probability, of making important decisions based on bad data is an apparently insurmountable and fatal structural flaw.

So Finance will always wonder 'is the data really reliable?' And Operations will keep asking 'has all the data been included?'  And Management will never be sure 'if all our EMA units did the calculations the same way?'

No one can argue that Excel is not a great tool, but that doesn't mean it's always used the right way.  It is the ideal environment to develop hypotheses and models; think of it as a 'test' platform.   But, it is a terrible 'production' environment for decision making.  It is too easy for data to get compromised at too many points: dropped data at export/import, source data getting stale over time, copy/paste errors within the same file, broken links and formula inconsistencies in files shared between users, etc., etc., etc.  And yeah, every once in a while you really do need to look at all 100 million rows to be sure.

Ultimately, the success of BI will lie in bridging spreadsheet flexibility and the rigorous standards of DBA management practices.  Many of the current BI apps are simply too expensive, too rigidly configured and require too much training/support.  That, of course, is what really drives business users to the familiar comfort of Excel.  But while Excel shores-up Microsoft hegemony on the desk top, it does precious little to enhance the credibility of BI practitioners or inspire much confidence that the business is actually moving forward the right way.

Dec 17, 2009 5:11 PM Luis Laura Luis Laura  says: in response to tom

Excel is BI then years ago to masses

Now innovation to masses is actual task ... major productividad in extraction of data, usability, frendly (user, pure lick), integrability (i.e. with TIC) ... and clearing cost (better with progrmation 0) in implementations because all is maked

i'm expert in Qlikview & also know others as Visokio & LogiXML, also know ERP as People Soft, SAP, Mapics, but is pass.

The hi marks of BI must go to down, while QV go to up ... is real today

Now the future is to BPM, but with equal philosofy than QV, this is a advance step

good luck

Dec 21, 2009 10:46 AM Pedro Pedro  says: in response to Luis Laura

Take a look at new version of excel...


Excel will always be the future and the best BI tool... because all people know it and know what it does... Who dont use Excel?



Dec 22, 2009 6:45 PM Derek Comingore Derek Comingore  says: in response to Pedro


First, for those interested in learning more about the upcoming PowerPivot you can go to www.PowerPivot.com.

There are three models of Business Intelligence (BI): Corporate (Traditional), Team, and Personal. PowerPivot is squarely aimed at the Personal BI model. PowerPivot is probably not the best platform (nor any Personal BI toolset) to make traditional BI-based decisions. Personal BI is a market that is designed for the quick, ad-hoc reporting and transparency requirements.

There are two keys aspects that self-service BI platforms do not provide in light of non-Microsoft companies sometimes marketing their products as such:

1. Skills

2. Standards

Warm Regards,

Derek Comingore

Microsoft MVP

Jul 9, 2010 1:36 PM Felix Felix  says: in response to Derek Comingore

Hello Derek,

I will be more than happy if you could cite your reference regarding that model.


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