Amid Monday’s widely reported news of Microsoft’s Office 2013 productivity suite release is a lift for Microsoft’s business intelligence capabilities, which have been alternately praised and decried as supplemental or gap filling tools for the hands of Excel spreadsheet power users.
That is still the case, and despite slights from advanced BI and analytic vendor/providers - and pleas from IT to curb the proliferation of uncontrolled and shared spreadsheet reporting – Microsoft, not for the first time is content to say, ‘let’s have more of a good thing.’
The phenomenon of decentralized business intelligence user access through informal as well as approved channels isn’t confined to Microsoft; user friendly analytic visualization tools from Tableau, QlikTech and Tibco Spotfire have earned a welcome home next to more expensive and more complete suites of software from Oracle, SAP Business Objects and IBM’s Cognos.
Likewise, open source software and cloud-hosted products and services have pockets of cultural or economic appeal that is now more agreed to be enterprise ready – especially among its proponents. A growing number of observers agree that simpler, accessible (and mobile ready) BI software needs a prominent place in organizations.
But it can be a religious war, especially within IT, over existing software and its owners. Across the Microsoft base, the effect is the same but greatly amplified because of the ubiquity of Office in the corporate workplace.
The newest Microsoft stack includes SQL Server 2012, which comes in three editions with cloud ready software to support reporting, loading and analyzing data. A new ad hoc reporting tool called Power View has an improved graphic user interface, Silverlight browser graphics support and works with SharePoint to collaboratively display data from PowerPivot.
“From the BI point of view it's all about ‘why not Excel for BI?’” says Forrester Research VP and Senior Analyst Boris Evelson. “PowerPivot and Power Viewer have made it more difficult to answer that question negatively.”
Now, with the release of Office 2013, PowerPivot and Power Viewer are part of Excel. “So Excel indeed becomes an even more powerful and fully functional BI tool,” the analyst says.
Evelson has made a case for surrendering to the need for self-service and decentralizing many of the business intelligence capabilities that some information technology managers have sought to fence in. Not only have ad hoc reporting requests been burdensome for IT; business users have come to look at software and reporting development lifecycles as too slow and unfit for changing needs.
The entrenchment of Office and SQL Server in many organizations makes some of this inevitable. Microsoft partners and hosting providers are already touting new features that include AlwaysOn recovery and failover. Microsoft SQL Server 2012 also has an updated version of its Master Data Services that was introduced with the 2008 release. It allows for the creation of a master data hub, importing and exporting data models, and includes security, transaction logging and versioning for updated materials and changes made.
That will be more welcome news to data management programs that can use more basic tools and services, but the end user now has a firm place on the podium.
The greater trend in business intelligence is to serve the new, needful or uninitiated; mobile, remote (and especially distracted executive) users, and may well ramp as fast as anything currently prioritized in information management.