Microsoft Business Intelligence is one of the latest Microsoft battle fronts.
A multi billion dollar software company established in the seventies, it has built a formidable reputation as an operating system and home office software vendor. Two of it’s most popular products have been Windows XP and Microsoft Office. It has in recent years been turning it’s attention to the Business Intelligence software market.
Based on it’s Microsoft SQL Server database platform, Microsoft has developed or acquired technology which has allowed it to offer it’s clients a full and comprehensive product suite.
We start with Microsoft SQL Server, sometimes referred to as SQL Server Business Intelligence. This is the core of the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack. A mature database platform, whose main competitor is Oracle, it is now used extensively in hundreds if not thousands of large scale high volume implementations.
To complement it’s SQL Server product, Microsoft has developed an ETL tool called SQL Server Integration Services, often referred to as SSIS. This has recently
replaced it’s DTS (Data Transformation Services) product.
As with many Microsoft products, SSIS offers a wizard to rapidly create an ETL package moving data from a single data source to a destination with no transformations.
For more comprehensive workflows, packages can be developed using the SQL Server Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS). By using the GUI drag and drop interface developers can create and maintain complete workflows and packages.
SQL Server provides the developer the functionality to develop OLAP cubes using SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS).
Supporting MOLAP, ROLAP and HOLAP architectures, SSAS provides a simple to use GUI for development of cubes. These can be built on the fly or scheduled to be refreshed at a more suitable time.
More recent releases of SSAS have included data mining functionality, allowing users to create models based on one of the following data mining algorithms; Decision Trees, Linear Regression, Naive Bayes, Neural Networks, Logistic Regression, Clustering, Sequence Clustering, Association Rules, Time
The Microsoft Business Intelligence software stack provides a number of options for reporting and dashboards.
The first of these is SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). This integrates closely with the SSAS and SSIS components and is accessed via the SQL Server Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS). A web based product, it can deliver interactive report functionality as well as display refreshed reports. The web interface also allows users to subscribe, view and manage their reports.
The Microsoft Business Intelligence stack was further enhanced when it acquired ProClarity Corporation. ProClarity developed reporting functionality based on OLAP cubes developed by SSAS. Using a graphical front end, ProClarity delivers drag and drop functionality to users, allowing the to easily create a wide array of tables, graphs and charts including decomposition trees and heat maps. These are then saved to a server as ‘workbooks’.
These workbooks can then be integrated ‘live’ into Microsoft Office applications, allowing live drill down into data during a presentation.
Along with its Business Scorecard Manager product, the ProClarity software has been integrated into a new application called Microsoft Performance Point Server. This brings together Microsofts BI expertise, together with that of ProClarity, to deliver a seamless Business Intelligence reporting suite.
Microsoft is beginning to make an impact on the Business Intelligence market. With much of it’s core BI functionality already available in many organisations that use Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Office, it offers companies a far cheaper route into Business Intelligence than that of it’s competitors.
While not as mature as the competition, Microsoft does have the brand, commitment and financial muscle to become one of the largest players in this market. With many R&D dollars being spent on it’s SQL Server and Performance Point Server product suites, a very attractive price point, its extensive partner network and world class support, Microsoft offers a very compelling proposition.