Microsoft BI Review

Microsoft BI vs. SAP Business Objects

A quick look at the whole idea on another weblogs gives you a sense that all of them just talked about very brief things like report refresh feature in BO or cube feature in MS Analysis Service. I choose MS BI and I want to share my reasons and opinions on why I choose it and give you another quick but a little deeper compare on these two Business Intelligence platforms.

As we all know both Business Objects and Microsoft are big companies who are working on BI solutions and both have their own advantages. It’s not true to compare them in term of which one is better, we have to check what is our requirements and then depend on requirements take the decision whether MS or BO. A vision like this could help us relief from religious decisions against a software or technology.

In a BI architect first of all we have the data store level, I mean the storage of the raw data not the stage or olap cubes or universe data source, I mean the first place of our data. This is important to know that where your raw data is and what is the type of storage used to store them. Whether file system or Access or Fox database or a complex database solution like oracle, sqlserver or a web service can made our place of raw data. We have to check our tools against them; check to see which one gives us a smooth way to transfer them among ETL process to destination. So take a look at what Business Objects gives us.

There is a Data Integration platform in Business objects but the problem is that you have to buy that separately because it is not shipped with the BI system. In Microsoft sqlserver enterprise you have all the services and features needed for this part of the game. SSIS is the service that sqlserver deliver for data extract, integration and load. Both product gives you the ability to enhance the data quality and data cleansing portion of your integration phase, but when we down to details things change a little to the Microsoft side, because of the ability of using your Dot.Net knowledge to write complex parts of ETL process you have more room to think and do whatever you want in your process, and in BO side it is always look simple and it’s really not easy to take complex situation into it. There are advantages and disadvantages on this. First you can do many things with the ability of code but it could give you complexity in your development so you have to decide on your situation, if things looking normal both could fit your need, but if the situation is not stable and you have to make yourself ready for the changes in future it’s better to get the power of SSIS and spend a little more time development today to create a powerful and easily changeable mechanism that could help you in future. You can also do that with Business Objects Data Integration but you have to spend more bucks for the development and changes of ETL processes because development cost in Business Objects solutions is always a nightmare for a project.

At this point we have a brief understanding of differences in ETL process between two vendors, so it’s good time to take a look back to the source database. Here is a very quick answer, if you use mostly MS products to store your transactional data then take your decision and move to MS for a robust and compatible BI platform. Business Objects don’t have a database system and it always used other database solutions to store data for its universe.

So guess what happen ! from an administrator perspective performance tuning is somehow problematic ! since we should use other database systems we should use different technics for each database systems. And this is one of the areas that MS wins the competition because when you use Microsoft platforms there lots of joint mechanism for performance considerations.

Before the SQL Server 2012 we have SSAS with its famous aggregated cubes, because of the nature of SSAS in previous versions we couldn’t call it a semantic layer, here is a little why. A semantic layer provides translation between underlying data store and business-level language(Business semantic that business users familiar with). There was no actual translation in previous release of SSAS. Perhaps we had some difficulties over SSAS to understand for a business user. So Microsoft change its approach in SSAS 2012 from delivering a complex understandable solution to end users to a true semantic layer like what we has in Business Objects that called Universe. So from now MS BI users can use a powerful toolset like Microsoft Excel and use their existing knowledge to interact with semantic layer. What Microsoft do in backyard is to create aggregations in memory so the performance of this approach is really high ! I don’t want to deep dive into what Microsoft do in backyard in this post but it would be one of my next topics. (sounds like advertisement

I talked about aggregations so know that in BO there are no facility for aggregation tables, so you have to deal with DBAs to create aggregation tables manually and integrate them into the Universe.

One of the important aspects of a BI system is the learning curve of the solution, it was always the slogan of the Business Object that learning curve is very low ! yes for end users it is not hard to interact with Universe. BUT ! the thing that I say here is the problem of every BI platform from Microsoft to BO or Cognos that deliver Semantic layer, it is very easy for a user to get the wrong answer, because everything is behind the Universe or Semantic Model and know that tracking from report back to the base data is a Non-trivial task. So be aware about letting users create whatever they want with their own knowledge. There should always an IT professional observing the whole process. So never think about a fully out of the box solution, because you will shortly find it on Mars ! or your users may have the chance to take decisions based on wrong calculations and find their way to Mars again

Another important aspect of a BI systems is the cost of it, about the Business Objects we can definitely say that it is expensive and for sure Microsoft could be expensive ! but how can we decide ' the answer is to compare the detail parts, there are 4 main parts Database, ETL, Semantic Layer and Reporting or user interaction layer. If you choose to go over BO you have to find heads for your data warehouse, database solution and Java skills or tomcat or other J2EE platform professionals for ETL and development phase and BO specific heads for Universe Modeling, Design, Implementation, perhaps you need security administration and if you want to integrate your Active Directory with this platform it is problematic and integrating with other LDAP platforms is a nightmare ! so be aware of these costs. The point of Microsoft solution is that we can use our in house knowledge like Dot.Net and SqlServer, SharePoint, Windows Server and these knowledge are transferable to other skills. But with BO we need headcount dedicated to BO (Universe Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Security) since BO skills are not transferable to other skills, those extra heads blow the project’s budget ! Microsoft BI platform is a more manageable, more secure and less expensive solution, I see the BO as a consultant dream, as an endless font of billable hours


I decide to go over Microsoft BI platform but I would not suggest anyone at first place to choose Microsoft. This is really depend on the nature and scale of the project and what you did and what technologies you have used in past but a quick look gives an idea that Microsoft’s platform is looking more robust and coherent in different parts so it can be a very good and convenient choice and perhaps after the release of SQL Server 2012 and its BI Semantic layer the answer is more easier and acceptable than before.

I also would like to hear about your experience on either of these solutions.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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ITCS user

author avatarit_user1068 (Tech Support Staff at a tech company with 1,001-5,000 employees)

It is indeed true that a business should find a suitable BI product or any other type depending on their individual requirements. However, it is possible to find more than one suitable product by different brands. When this happens, it becomes imperative to compare the appropriate products in terms of which one is better than the other so that the ultimate choice is the best. What do you say?

author avatarit_user88641 (Consultant at a tech consulting company)

I would have to disagree with some of points you have made. For small to medium companies Microsoft is the best value for money, but is not a user friendly tool to MI users, where as Cognos and BO are designed with end users in mind. Microsoft's integration with excel could be a benefit to some and be a curse to others as this allows for easy manipulation of data and loss of control, so with companies who need tight control over data, exporting to excel isn't always the answer. I have had experience of working with companies who use both MS SQL Server as their backend database/warehouse and reporting layer of Cognos and Business Objects. Where these two products excel is visualisation and the ability for adhoc queries. When a users wants to find the answer to a question or dig into the data these tools support the user doing it by themselves, where as MS requires a techy to create the data for you. Most business users want wizzy dashboards they can take and show business partners etc BO and Cognos supply this in bucket loads. MS in my opinion is still lagging - but not too far behind. Yes each product has its weak points, but if you can afford to combine then this may be the best solution. Tableau is another product with a good visualation. Being able to read and understand data is the key to making the best decisions.

author avatarit_user4008 (CEO with 1,001-5,000 employees)
Top 20Consultant

Is the goal reporting or is it analysis? And if it is analysis is the tool in the hands of the business user? If time to benefit is important what are the implications of implementation? If the goal is to have actionable visual intelligence why consider providers of what are legacy BI solutions?

author avatarit_user82776 (Chief Executive Officer at a tech services company with 1,001-5,000 employees)
Top 20Consultant

BBI solutions are made to fit the requirements of any business. The tools here are the human user plus the BI solution, getting both of them to synchronous together is a winning solution. At the end of the day we would like to see better services being served up for businesses and customers.

author avatarit_user160056 (Director)

In my experience one area that can get left behind is the distribution of reports. I've yet to find an instance where a company doesn't need to share information with an external party. Having an environment where distribution mechanisms are managed in one place only reduces risk. Here again we find that the MS stack can place more restrictions on end users.