Introducing Microsoft Business Intelligence

9/4/2010 5:14:48 PM

I was once on a consulting team for a large telecommunications company's BI project, using advanced BI software tools from some of the top names in the field. Our client company had a massive data store with a ton of data. We tried to build some very simple reports — but couldn't transform the data into what we needed. Getting that job done would take more than a year of bureaucracy and requests. We were stuck and desperate.

We met with a manager who was already turning out the kinds of reports we needed. He had a computer under his desk running a trial version of SQL Server — and was using that product's BI features to pull data from the database, transform it, and report on it. It was an eye-opening experience for me: This guy, with a free trial version of one Microsoft product, put together an impressive result while our team of professionals — highly paid, highly trained, using some of the best software on the market — struggled. The world just didn't seem right! From that day on, I vowed to figure out what Microsoft BI was all about; in this book, I share with you what I found out.

1. Knowing the components of Microsoft BI

Microsoft BI combines BI concepts with the built-in features of SQL Server, SharePoint, and Office products and makes those concepts happen. As Microsoft technology advances, the company has taken a head-on approach improving business intelligence — working relentlessly to make its products understandable and easy to use. The three mainstays of Microsoft BI are these primary components (illustrated in Figure 1):

  • A core set of data tools and reporting features that are part of Microsoft SQL Server.

  • The Microsoft Office products and SharePoint technology.

  • A set of development tools that developers can use to customize and enhance Microsoft BI capabilities.

Figure 1. The three primary components of Microsoft BI technology.


Many organizations have already paid for the licensing that enables them to use SQL Server, SharePoint, and many of the Microsoft Office products. Before you worry about a large cash outlay for licensing, check with your company's IT department to find out if you already have the technology you need for BI!

2. Tracing the terminology

Having worked in consulting for many years, I constantly walk into new situations and corporate cultures where I'm bombarded with acronyms and terms that make little sense to me (at first, anyway). I've noticed that when a group of people work closely together and have a common goal, they can easily create what sounds like an alien language. Okay, I'm just as guilty as the next person. Working with a new client, before long I find myself shortening the names of systems and processes to acronyms and then shortened again to, um, utterances (they're not exactly "words" most of us would use in a conversation). Rattling off these sounds can baffle an outsider: "You should use SSIS to ETL into a data warehouse so you can use SSRS and SSAS to surface data to MOSS." Say what?! Hint: "Surface" is a verb here. The rest is in Martian. (Kidding. But just barely.)

Here's a partial translation with some good news. Microsoft terminology often describes its products in terms of their specific features — until those features start to seem like separate products. So, for example, you may hear a lot about SQL Server Reporting Services (often shortened to SSRS, SRS, or even RS) and wonder whether you have to buy a separate license for it. Good news: You don't. SSRS is part of Microsoft SQL Server; if you own SQL Server, you already own this data-reporting capability. At the technical level, SSRS can send queries to gather data from other Microsoft products, as well as many different data sources that include such database products as Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL, TERADATA, SAP, and IBM DB2, just to name a few.

Microsoft has been sharpening its approach to business intelligence, consolidating products into an overall roadmap that simplifies the adoption and management of BI for its customers. For example, the company discontinued a former stand-alone product called PerformancePoint Server and added it to the latest release of Microsoft SharePoint. The term SharePoint is also often misunderstood. SharePoint will be covered in Chapter 10 but you should be aware that SharePoint includes many different features that often sound like their own products (and sometimes were their own products in a past life as is the case with PerformancePoint).

So, if you check with your IT gurus and find that your organization already owns Microsoft Business Intelligence technology, the next step is implementation — that is, getting it to do real work for you in your specific situation. All you need is an understanding of Microsoft BI concepts and functions — along with the technical skills to make them work for you — and the next section gets you started in that direction.

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