As part of a self-proclaimed effort to "democratise" business intelligence, Microsoft will add XML tools to its Visual Studio .Net product that make it easier to create Web services with access to information in data warehouses based on SQL Server databases.
The company's bid to bring BI to more desktops (and in the process turn BI into a more Microsoft-compatible discipline) will be outlined tomorrow at Gartner Group's Business Intelligence Europe conference in Amsterdam by Bill Baker, Microsoft's general manager SQL server business intelligence.
The new XML tools will be part of the Visual Studio to be launched on 13 February and will be available on the Web. "Users will be able to build very quick Web services around stored procedures in the database, for example to show the most common customer problems, and expose these on a Web page," said Baker. He envisages groups setting up their own such pages to be used by staff working directly with customers.
Staff further down the scale may not make such strategic decisions, but the total of their decisions is important enough to justify giving them access to BI, said Baker. "Most BI vendors target those with the word 'analyst' in their job function. It tends to be an easier proposition selling these tools upstream. The reality is that a senior executive makes relatively few decisions, but they are big ones. If you go to the other end of the spectrum, people like hotel clerks make many more decisions. If the data and the tools are important, why only make them available to 2 percent of the population."
Hotel clerks might already have access to conventional customer relationship management (CRM) systems, telling them whether a particular customer has complained before. BI would give them information about the supply of product, the competition's activities and predictions -- helping the clerk decide whether to make a special offer.
The strategy is based around using Microsoft's mass desktop tools rather than specialised products: "What good is bringing BI to the masses, if you have to train hundreds of thousands of people in an esoteric tool?" asked Baker. "Why can't they use Excel or a Web page?"
Microsoft is scarcely considered as a leader in BI, but Baker reckons that BI makes up about half the company's SQL Server business. Though Microsoft does not publish separate results for products, SQL server is the company's fourth largest product and IDC reckoned it made about a billion dollars in 2000, so we can assume about half a billion a year on BI (though based on a fairly loose definition).
Getting BI used more widely is, unusually, an entirely altruistic effort on Microsoft's part. "It is important for this technology to be used broadly in corporations," Baker said, earnestly. "The quality of a company is only as good as the quality of its decisions."
"We have done more than most other companies in terms of trying to make this a mass market," he said. "Our Microsoft genetics come into play here. We run people's businesses - that is what keeps us awake at night. We came in (to the BI market) with a dream, and that is what keeps us moving."