Although late, Microsoft is keeping up with its promises in the Business Intelligence (BI) space, says Gartner, with new products and capabilities that will appeal mostly to the traditional application developer community and departmental IT customers.
According to a recent Gartner report (client reg. req.), Microsoft has been steadily disclosing more details about its BI vision and commitment in conjunction with the release of its next generation of data management platform and application development tools; Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005, SQL Server 2005, and next year’s Excel 12 as part of Office 12.
“The typical Microsoft pricing and packaging models have the potential to change the BI market economics and provide broader user access to common BI functionality, such as reporting and scorecards, ” says the report.
The ubiquity of Microsoft's SQL Server and Office products are key leverage points for the software maker, but as Gartner points out, Microsoft is still behind competitors who can provide better support for more-heterogeneous IT environments. For instance, according to Gartner, Microsoft will not have online analytical processing (OLAP) front-end capabilities until the release of Excel 12 and must therefore rely on partnerships with competitors like Panorama Software and ProClarity. The analyst also warns that Microsoft has not been effective selling to and supporting business users as have competing BI vendors.
Still, the release of the long-awaited SQL Server 2005 comes with enhancements that make it easier to build BI applications on SQL Server. Here are the new capabilities as listed in the Gartner report:
- A new drag-and-drop report development tool called Report Builder with new enhanced drill-down capabilities
- A new unified dimensional model (UDM)
- SQL server 2005 Business Intelligence Development Studio, which unifies developer functionality that previously had to be accessed from multiple tools
- Enhanced data-mining algorithms and toolsets, which include naive bayes, neural networks, enhanced clustering and association rules, and incorporate the new text-mining capabilities of integration services
- New Integration Services, which replaces Data Transformation Services (DTS). This is perhaps one of the most fundamental new additions/improvements to SQL server 2005
Finally, the report ends with this key advice for those evaluating BI solutions:
It is often tempting when a vendor such as Microsoft can demonstrate that its product may be used to quickly build and deploy a scorecard. However, a best practice is to look beyond the dashboard/scorecard capabilities and evaluate the overall BI platform, including its ad hoc query, OLAP analysis and end-user reporting capabilities. This combination of capabilities is required so that different users and analysts can drill down into the cause-and-effect relationships to collaborate and identify the root causes of issues highlighted in a scorecard or KPI.