Microsoft BI Review

Does Microsoft Have Too Many BI Products?

I am quite excited about the launch of SQL2012 and in particular PowerView, or Crescent as some of you may know it as. I am pleased that Microsoft are sharpening their In-Memory BI story and they have a drag and drop user interface that can compete with the likes of Qlik-View et al. Blimey, this has started off like a techy post – didn’t mean to. I’ll write more about our use of PowerView on a really interesting project, next time. Let me get to the point.

Microsoft now has Excel, ProClarity, PerformancePoint, PowerView, PowerPivot, Reporting Services, Visio and BingMaps interfacing with its dimensional model (Analysis Services) and now its BISM (BI Semantic Model) which seems to have replaced the Report Model. I am confused and so are my customers. This is also an issue that Gartner picked up on when they did the last magic quadrant review. In fact I remember being at a presentation on SQL 2012 (Denali as was) last year and a poor guy from Microsoft was mullered by the audience of technical guys who berated him for the lack of coherence in Microsoft’s BI message.

I wasn’t that worried actually because, as a partner, it’s my job to take the platform Microsoft gives me and manipulate it to meet my customers’ needs and vice versa – in fact, probably more vice versa.

In my mind I have this sorted out. This is what I do.

Firstly, I talk about the health and social care BI portal as a gateway to all the knowledge assets the organisation holds and my customers shout out things like EDRM / Collaboration / Search / BI / Unstructured Content / nice-looking web-site. We don’t really talk SharePoint. I don’t talk about the different platforms and their naming conventions. For example, trying to explain the evolution of Performance Point only distracts from the need it serves. The need it serves is to provide people who live in a one –five mouse-click world to go from a macro to micro view of organisational performance using a scorecard / dashboard. I think about Public Health Maps, organisational strategy maps and caseload reports (Reporting Services) in the same way – how many clicks does it take to get the information need and how can I, as an end-user be best connected with my data.

I would then think about Excel meeting the needs of analysts by providing direct access to data and I would tell the story of in-memory BI using PowerPivot.

Then I have to think about PowerView. That’s okay – in my first sentence I articulated the value to people who sit between Excel Pivot-table Gods and people who consume data via dashboards. So individually I can map each sort of user profile to a solution and to an underlying Microsoft technology. The problem comes when you step back and think about this strategically. I don’t mean as a programme of work because things like the UI are very similar and so the training overhead isn’t a problem. I think more about the coherence and I go back to that very hot room and the hot talk that made my mate at Microsoft sweat.

I don’t think that has been figured out. Maybe in the next iteration of SharePoint all the BI will be brought together and made into a seamless application so the alignment of function to “user need” doesn’t jar but emphasises the richness of the platform. Let’s see. Microsoft friends if you are reading, what do you think?

For now, I’ll keep on telling my tale – looking into the eyes of each of the different users that I pitch to and pointing out which application is exactly for them and emphasising how we, at Ascribe, understand that this can appear confusing but actually isn’t. So does it matter that when we step back it looks a little messy, when we are actually meeting the needs of our people. I don’t think it does, yet, but I think it will as the BI becomes more embedded.

Because that is the point of BI – to a large extent. You want people to come together to look at information and make sense of it and use it – we may be victims of our own success if we solve the “one version of the truth” issue (so they are all looking at the same data) but we create confusion through the range of tools we offer.

This one will run and run.

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

author avatarit_user4014 (Developer at a tech consulting company with 51-200 employees)

Hi Paul !

Nice article, and this question has been asked to us by various of our clients and by ourselves as well. Why Microsoft offering so many BI tools, for front end dashboard / reporting. Each of the tool you have mentioned above has their own limitations and advantages.

Most commonly used is SSRS which has been around for quite few years but it lacks the ability to build interactive dashboard.

With SSRS, we as a developer can still build strong report with complex grouping requirements but when it comes to interactive dashboard, options like drill up / drill drown move to any hierarchy from your report it doesn't give much of an option rather to introduce Sub Reports which will lead to more redundant development.

So here comes the Performance Point, it is really powerful when it comes to interactive dashboard, you can still use your SSRS reports inside Performance Point. The most my clients like about Performance Point is the feature called "De-composite Tree" which gives the end user ability to basically break the particular Measure and inspect it with other Dimensions, how the value of that particular Measure is composed of. Lot of goods about the Performance Point but it doesn't provide customizable schemes / themes, because many clients are interested in seeing specific colors represent specific Measure(s). Since it doesn't offer the option to choose or specify the specific color themes i feel there is still some improvement to be made in this area. Another thing that i faced recently is, Performance Point not handled the Time Dimension very well, specifically when you like to have Parallel Period comparisons it is a bit rigid. But you can still have Parallel Period comparisons with PPS Dashboard / Charts by adjusting your Time Dimension.

Tool like Power View, since it has launched its support for Multidimensional Model as well, became more demanding and clients wants to take advantages of its Data Exploration features.

As mentioned above, each tool has their own set of advantages, the problem we face during our demos, is when we told our client that for Performance Point & Power View you need to have Share Point.

As a BI Consultant, I feel BI should be independent of Share Point, like SSAS is. BI front end tools should be available as a separate component, like SSRS [it has its own Report Manager] something like that would be easier for end user and as a developer Point of View as well.

I still feel there is a need for a BI tool which incorporates the entire powerful feature from SSRS, Performance Point & Power View into one single component and Microsoft should launch it as a separate component not a Share Point Service.

Also, one more thing to add has anyone yet see Power BI as a replacement for all these above mentioned tools as a single component.

Hasham Niaz

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

Thank you for the great information you have shared. However, I got a simple question. If Microsoft indeed has several BI products, does that give them any competitive advantage over their competitors? And, does that make their products any better in terms of functionality?