Monday, March 07, 2011

MS BI Technical Evaluation against Gartner's BI capabilities requirement list

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Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence platforms is one such reports, that almost every serious BI professional should read in detail to get a summarized report of the winds of change in the BI industry. The latest version of the report, that has been published as of 27-Jan-2011, can be read from here.

A section of this report states that BI platform is a software platform that should deliver 13 capabilities, classified in 3 categories of functionality: Integration, Information Delivery and Functionality. Below are my views for Microsoft BI platform against these 13 capabilities. Before reading the below, it would be beneficial to go through the details of these capabilities from the original report.


BI Infrastructure - Microsoft has tight integration between it's development platforms like .NET, Sharepoint, SQL Server, Biztalk and others. Appliance solutions like Parallel Data Warehouse, brings MS BI in competition to IBM for appliance based solutions too.

Metadata management - MS BI still struggles in this area, and metadata management has been the major ask from customers and practitioners from SQL Server.

Development tools - In terms of development tools, it's often termed that Microsoft BI is more friendly to developers / IT than to users, such is the extent of efficiency and variety in this area.

Collaboration - Sharepoint is the highest selling server technology of Microsoft, and probably Microsoft is the only BI player to provide BI integration with it's collaboration platform.

Information Delivery:

Reporting - My personal opinion is that this is the weakest corner of MS BI. Reporting can be seen as a strong supplement in the MS BI Stack, but still it needs to evolve a lot. Developer tools are limited and professionals still need to depend upon tools like Fiddler and frameworks like SCRUBS. Report access from smart devices is far from even imagination. Players like QlikTech are sweeping this market.

Dashboards - Microsoft has been comparatively weaker in the area of innovative visualizations. With the license acquired from Dundas, SSRS has received a healthy boost in this area. But PPS is still quite immature and needs to attain the same level that Proclarity used to have. After dissolving Performancepoint Server and integrating it with Sharepoint has been the only progress. Visualization like performance maps are still missing, and MS BI can see seen to be doing just okay in this area.

Ad-hoc Query - This means self-service BI. Powerpivot is a strong candidate in this area, and with the news of BISM, MS BI can be seen as doing great in this area. Technology / Component like PivotLabs adds a thrust to this area.

Microsoft Office Integration - MS Office is one of world's most successful softwares ever built, in my views. MS Office, especially Excel, has evolved so powerfully, that it can no longer be seen just as a spreadsheet. It's a thick client that is integrated with almost every MS server technology. Office Webapps takes collaboration to a new level.

Search-based BI - Microsoft's candidate in this category is FAST Search. Two indexors available with FAST deployed on Sharepoint, are the providers of search on it's collaboration platform. Sharepoint is equipped with BI capabilities in terms of reporting and collaboration facilitation. I do not have much experience in this area to comment confidently, but I feel this is still not such a strong area. Metadata search is still weak in MS BI parlance.


OLAP - SSAS and OLAP are the most successful adopted areas of MS BI. Columnar databases and in-memory analysis are used as weapons of creating great hypes, but customers still bank on SSAS as the technology for their DW needs.

Interactive visualization - This area has always been weaker with MS BI. To measure this, compare visualizations available in PPS and SSRS, and compare it with vendors like Tableau, QlikTech. You would get the reason for my such viewpoint.

Predictive modeling and data mining - MS BI stack has it's offering of data mining, but this area has not been that successful in terms of adoption by the industry. There are dedicated players in this area, who are considered as standards. I am even of the opinion that Microsoft might just slice out this section from MS BI stack and come out with a new product in itself to cater this area.

Scorecards - MS BI still facilitates scorecard creation using traditional grid like UI and indicators / trends. Visio comes in as a backup force to create strategy maps and associate KPIs with interactive visualizations. But still it's not as good as what BeGraphic provides.

These are my unbiased viewpoints on what MS BI delivers in these 13 capabilities. I am of the strong opinion that, if you are a serious BI professional, you should definitely read Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platform, and enlighten your maturity about BI industry.

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