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Turning Data into Smart Decisions
Why Business Intelligence is Imperative for Enterprises

Sponsored by: Microsoft Corporation


The Business Forum recently organized
a Business Forum Luncheon discussion
with Microsoft Corporation at the Benson
Hotel, in Portland, Oregon.

 

Those responding to our invitation included:

Purchasing Manager - A-Dec Inc. * Director of Information Systems - American Steel Corporation * Vice President Corporate Affairs - Bank of America * Director of Human Resources - Brattain International Trucks * Engineering Manager - Cardinal Aluminum Inc. * Senior Development Materials Engineer Freightliner LLC; Daimler Chrysler * Vice President Quality Assurance - Flir System Inc. Information Specialist – IDC-CH2M Hill Companies, Ltd. * Manager New Technologies & Development IDC-CH2M Hill Companies, Ltd. * Relationship Manager - KeyBank * Administrator - State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality * Business Systems Development Manager - State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality * Accounting Analyst - Department of Administration Services - State of Oregon Controller's Division * Maintenance Leader - Owens Corning * Technical Leader - Owens Corning * Principal - PAE Consulting Engineers, Inc. * Human Resources Manager - Providence Health System * Manager Information Technology - RadiSys Corporation * Northwest Territory Manager SolidWorks Corporation * Senior Component Engineer – Tektronix Corporation

For the benefit of those of our members and supporters who could not
attend the meeting we present the following white paper, with contacts


Business Intelligence Within Reach

Contributed by Microsoft Corporation

At no time in the past have organizations had the capability to gather and store such vast amounts of data: customer information and operational data from multiple sources flow into the enterprise with ever-increasing volume and speed. More than ever, organizations are turning to business intelligence as the means to derive value from the incredible volumes of data now collected and warehoused in enterprise systems.

Business intelligence (BI) is the means by which organizations interpret this sea of data to derive insights that are critical to competing in the new economy: a deeper understanding of customer and partner relationships, key performance indicators, and a consistent view of the organization from the executive level to the front lines. By translating these insights into action, companies can increase profits, respond more quickly to changing market demands, and improve accountability by giving every employee an accurate view of the organization.

Traditionally, BI systems have been associated with high costs of entry: BI requires significant investment in hardware and software, as well as expensive skills training. Unfortunately, these costs have kept BI—and its benefits—out of reach for many organizations. Nevertheless, the question facing many businesses is not whether to invest in BI, but how to derive maximum value from their investment in these systems.

Even with BI solutions in place, many organizations discover that because of the sophistication of the applications, tools, and technologies for reporting, querying and analysis, BI remains out of reach of the greatest segment of users: the information workers on the front lines of the company. Yet it is these workers who are increasingly called upon to make fast, accurate decisions, and who can benefit most from access to BI.

Today, a new generation of solutions built on the Microsoft® Business Intelligence platform puts BI within reach of both organizations and information workers within those organizations. For organizations, including small- to medium enterprise, cost-effective solutions that leverage existing applications and IT infrastructure eliminate many of the barriers to entry, such as the initial investment and the administrative costs associated with these systems. And through ease of use and integration with a broad range of desktop productivity and intranet applications, solutions built on the Microsoft BI Platform make BI available to a wider base of users within the organization, empowering the millions of information workers now called on to make fast, informed business decisions as part of their daily routine.

This paper introduces the Microsoft BI Platform and demonstrates how solutions that extend BI to all levels of the organization deliver a higher return on the investment in data management and analysis systems as well as increased competitive advantage through faster, more informed decision making.

Business Intelligence for Everyone

Traditionally, analysis and reporting on enterprise business data has been the realm of dedicated analysts. Now, with increasing pressure to shorten the decision cycle and decrease expenses, these tasks are becoming a part of the daily routine for information workers in every facet of the organization.

BI solutions that are tailored to the meet specific business needs help these employees remain productive, allowing them to remain focused on their line of business rather than learning or implementing new technologies and tasks. The Microsoft BI platform includes the building blocks for flexible solutions designed to meet the specific needs of a company or of a subset of users within that company. These tailored solutions deliver intuitive tools that enable information workers to incorporate advanced decision-making processes into their daily routines. For example:

  • A solution that aggregates service, support, and purchasing history can help customer service representatives anticipate individual customers’ needs and issues and interact knowledgably with each customer.  Account information and purchase history can also inform up-sell or cross-sell opportunities. As a result, the solution improves customer service and maximizes the profit potential of every customer.

  • A solution that analyzes production and performance data can enables operations managers to quickly assess the efficiency of production processes—identifying bottlenecks as soon as they occur, or making modifications and improvements where they can have the greatest impact on productivity.

  • A solution geared toward marketing intelligence can be used to identify trends in product performance and response to marketing campaigns. Given this information, marketing managers can respond immediately to patterns in customer behavior, modifying campaigns in near real-time to maximize their effectiveness.

The following sections discuss the ways solutions built on the Microsoft platform overcome the challenges traditionally associated with BI, to make sophisticated analytical solutions accessible to more companies and more users within those companies.

Lower Acquisition Costs

In the past, organizations had to purchase specialized hardware and software to create a BI solution. Unfortunately, for many small- to mid-sized organizations, high costs alone kept BI solutions out of reach.

Microsoft helps businesses obtain BI cost-effectively by leveraging existing applications and IT infrastructure to dramatically reduce the initial investment and the administrative costs associated with these systems. The Microsoft approach to BI incorporates familiar tools—many of which may already be deployed within the organization. By integrating BI capabilities with a broad range of desktop productivity, database server and intranet applications, solutions built on the Microsoft platform make BI available to a wider base of users.

Reduced End-User Training

BI tools have traditionally been among the most complex. They typically required special training, which increased costs and/or forced the organization to offer the tools only to select users. The need for specialized training also created barriers for the information workers who needed casual access to BI data but who did not have the necessary training. As a result, only a fraction of the organization could benefit from these BI tools.

In contrast, Microsoft BI solutions include familiar, easy-to-use desktop productivity tools, which enable any end user in the organization to quickly analyze business data. This minimizes training costs and reduces the learning curve for new users. Using familiar desktop applications also makes BI accessible to more users—especially important now that analysis is a common part of the daily routine for increasing numbers of workers.

Integration

Organizations researching BI initiatives frequently encounter two drawbacks. On the enterprise level, many BI systems require modifications to existing operational systems or databases, or worse, require that data be migrated to the new platform. On the desktop these same systems may require that users understand and perform sophisticated tasks in order to access these new line-of-business systems.

The Microsoft BI platform overcomes these shortcomings by enabling BI solutions that integrate seamlessly with the existing computing environment. Whether data is stored in several distributed systems or in a centralized data warehouse, the Microsoft BI platform allows companies to access the data and deliver it to the enterprise for analysis. To avoid inefficient, piecemeal implementations that can drive up the cost of ownership without delivering all of the expected benefits, Microsoft BI systems offer a complete, comprehensive integrated package with a common look and feel.

Interactive Analysis

Most companies may already use some form of BI—for example, monthly reports on key performance indicators. But in the most common scenarios, the intelligence takes the form of static reports, which offer limited usefulness. In addition, preparing these reports typically requires the assistance of an IT professional or data analyst. If that person is swamped with requests, or if reports take a while to run, there can be a delay between the request and the report. Those minutes or hours can be crucial in today’s fast-paced competitive environment.

Microsoft BI solutions overcome the limitations of the static reporting model by enabling information workers to interact directly with data stored in company systems. Instead of waiting minutes or hours for someone else to run a query and report results, these users can explore data at will and receive results “at the speed of thought.” BI applications that enable users across the organization to conduct their own queries and reports against the Microsoft BI Platform help organizations promote BI from a simple reporting function to a mission-critical solution. Implementing flexible, end-to-end solutions that enhance every aspect of the business helps more people make better decisions faster and achieve and maintain competitive advantage.

Integrated Collaboration

Shared knowledge has become crucial to success, as companies strive to work collaboratively to remain competitive. Working together successfully begins with shared knowledge and insight. Unfortunately, traditional BI systems typically do not provide a way to easily share critical business insights across departments or entire organizations. In particular, the static reporting model described above limits the ease or extent to which insights can be published or shared throughout the organization.  

By allowing users to easily publish and share their insights with their peers, Microsoft BI solutions ensure that everyone in a company shares a common view of key metrics, performance indicators, and other business information. Powerful, easy-to-use information portals and digital cockpits aggregate and deliver BI, making it easy for employees to rapidly search and retrieve information as well as organize and share knowledge efficiently. Using these technologies, knowledge workers can also find experts among their peers and subscribe to key business information.

Closed-Loop Analysis

Unlike BI systems that end with reporting, Microsoft BI solutions give your company a competitive advantage by enabling employees to act immediately on their insights. These solutions ensure that decisions are not only better informed; they are implemented faster than ever before.

Microsoft BI solutions streamline every stage of the decision cycle by providing unprecedented speed and ease-of-access to the critical data needed for each type of analysis as well as a means for integrating real-time transactional data into decision-making processes at both the strategic and tactical level. Rich features such as SQL Server Analysis Services Actions enable decision makers to “close the loop” from decision to action by linking analytical tasks with business processes. The result is an automated, finely-tuned feedback loop that can help your business respond with once-unimaginable speed and accuracy to fast-changing business conditions.

The Microsoft Business Intelligence Platform

The Microsoft BI platform provides the foundation for end-to-end solutions that provide both sophisticated data management and easy-to-use analysis and reporting tools. As shown in Figure 1, the platform centers on Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 with Analysis Services and Microsoft Office XP, and integrates data sources such as project management, ERP, CRM, SCM, and e-commerce with familiar desktop applications for analysis and reporting.

 

Figure 1. 
The Microsoft Business Intelligence Platform centers on SQL Server 2000 and Office XP.

The technologies that comprise the Microsoft BI Platform provide the building blocks for cost-effective solutions, which eliminate the need for highly specialized software and highly specialized skills. Solutions can be rapidly tailored to the unique needs of a particular industry, line of business, and even specific user segments. Through a variety of front-end tools, including Office XP and Data Analyzer, Microsoft BI solutions enable all users—regardless of technical expertise—to dig into corporate data and unlock the value that lies hidden within.

SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server Analysis Services

Built on SQL Server 2000 platform, Microsoft BI solutions include a relational database for storing data from across the enterprise; tools to extract, transform, and load data from the organization’s existing systems; SQL Server Analysis Services, an OLAP engine for doing fast, ad-hoc analysis; data mining capabilities for surfacing trends and patterns; graphical administration interfaces to easily chart and monitor information; and support for a wide range of front-end client tools—in short, a complete, end-to-end platform for analysis.

SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services provides fast access to business data by creating multidimensional cubes from information in the data warehouse. Analysis Services offers sophisticated analytical capabilities and can work on large volumes of data in the most demanding environments. Together with SQL Server, Analysis Services offers everything needed to build analytical applications at lower total cost of ownership by simplifying creation and maintenance, and by linking analytical tasks to business processes.  Analysis Services also contributes to agility, enabling users to act immediately on analytical insights, and enabling the business to respond extremely quickly to dynamic conditions.

Analysis Services works with a broad range of front-end client applications, including Office XP, browser-based applications, and mobile devices via an intranet, the Internet, or even while offline. This enables organizations to quickly deploy BI portals and custom analytical applications that deliver the full power of BI to every desktop in the company.

Components of SQL Server that support business intelligence include:

  • Analysis Services. The measure of any business intelligence solution is in its ability to derive knowledge from data—digging through large volumes of information to identify patterns, trends, rules and relationships that are beyond simple human analysis. SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services provides a set of integrated, Web-enabled analysis services that include Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) and sophisticated data-mining features.

  • Data Transformation Services. SQL Server 2000 Data Transformation Services (DTS) provides the tools to consolidate data from diverse operational systems and databases into the data warehouse or data marts that support analysis and decision making. Using DTS, your organization can automate extraction, transformation, and loading among and between disparate sources. DTS can run these tasks at scheduled intervals or in response to specified events, enabling you to create data movement solutions that meet the specialized needs of your organization.

  • Data access standards: OLE DB and XML. Open standards ensure the flexibility and longevity of your BI system by providing forward and backward compatibility with other data sources and facilitating integration of third-party applications and components. These standards expand access to BI by increasing the flexibility for developers to incorporate analytical data within applications that reside on the Internet or that are hosted by another company. Users can achieve a new level of pervasive data analysis because they have access to data from any client, ranging from a PDA to an Internet-enabled phone, laptop computer or PC.

  • Metadata Services. An enterprise standard for “metadata”—data about data—is critical to unifying distributed, multiple data marts into a global data warehouse. SQL Server 2000 Metadata Services helps businesses build, maintain, and manage their data warehouses by providing a shared facility for expressing the inter-relationships among the various parts of the application.

Office XP for Business Intelligence

Tight integration between SQL Server Analysis Services and Office XP puts the power of BI in the hands of more people than ever, enabling sophisticated analysis of large datasets using familiar tools. Through built-in support for SQL Server Analysis Services, Office XP provides easy access to enterprise data from the desktop. With the analytical capabilities of Microsoft Excel and data visualization tools including MapPoint™ and Data Analyzer, Office XP extends the capabilities of SQL Server Analysis Services, allowing users to drill down through detail, slice and dice to view different dimensions, and view and analyze data relationships graphically. Using the analysis and presentation capabilities of Office XP, virtually any user can analyze data stored in SQL Server Analysis Services data, and easily share intelligence with colleagues and peers throughout the organization.

Office XP offers the following:

  • Analysis of SQL Server Analysis Services data. Excel enables all information workers—whether they are business analysts or other professionals—to access, process, analyze, share, and display enterprise data in a familiar, powerful desktop setting. The powerful Excel analytical engine, Excel PivotTable® and PivotChart® reports can also be built into custom applications and portals using the Office Web Components.

  • Visualization tools. Office XP also includes applications specifically designed for data visualization and geospatial analysis, which enable users to explore data sets graphically and conduct ad hoc analysis in a simple, yet powerful interface.

    Microsoft Data Analyzer extends the BI capabilities of Office XP by adding rich visualization and graphical views that enable users to rapidly identify opportunities and trends, find business anomalies, and review multiple sets of data.  

    Microsoft MapPoint provides a cost-effective way for organizations to include geographic and demographic dimensions in their BI. MapPoint solves many of the ease-of-use, compatibility, and cost problems inherent in large-scale geographic information systems while enabling users to track business metrics by area and analyze business data alongside demographic information.

  • Support for custom analytical solutions. The Microsoft BI platform also supports solutions for specific markets or business areas, such as e-commerce, project intelligence or retail analytics. The new SQL Server Accelerator for BI reduces the time it takes to build and deploy a customized BI solution by putting existing best practices to work. With the SQL Server Accelerator for BI, a BI solution can be quickly customized to meet the unique needs of an organization and its users.

  • Rich publishing and collaboration tools. Because Office XP applications include powerful features that enable collaboration among teams and organizations, users of BI solutions built on Office XP can collaborate on analysis and subsequently share the resulting intelligence with their peers. Office XP solutions enable the organization to deliver BI functionality within and alongside world-class reporting, document creation, and presentation tools. These tools enable users to share intelligence and act upon it immediately.

In conjunction with SQL Server Analysis Services, Office XP technologies such as SharePoint™ Portal Server and the Office Web components allow organizations to aggregate BI from across the enterprise into a searchable portal, providing all employees with rapid access to information as well as the tools to organize and share knowledge efficiently. BI portals provide workgroups and teams with a common view of metrics, key performance indicators, and other business information, and users can publish BI from Office XP applications directly to a portal.

Conclusion

The Microsoft BI Platform provides the building blocks for complete, end-to-end BI solutions. Seamless integration between world-class database management, sophisticated analysis services, enterprise servers, and exceptionally flexible, easy-to-use front-end applications make the power of BI accessible to users at all levels of the organization. As a result, businesses realize benefits in these key areas:

  • Lower Cost of Ownership. The world’s leading productivity suite, Office XP is a familiar fixture in business today. By incorporating Office XP applications and technologies into a BI solution, organizations benefit from employees’ familiarity with the tools as well as the unparalleled support and ease of use. Familiarity with Office XP can dramatically reduce training and support costs for a new BI solution.

  • Increased Return on Investment. By integrating a BI solution with the existing desktop environment, organizations make BI tools available to a larger segment of users, and increase the number of employees who can make informed, BI-based decisions and share their knowledge and best practices with other employees.

  • Business Agility. Providing broader access to BI across the organization ultimately makes the organization more agile and more competitive by empowering all employees to make faster, better decisions based on common understanding of your markets, your customers, and the data that shapes your business.


White Paper - Published: November 2002

For the latest information, please see http://www.microsoft.com/bi


Contact

Marcy Larsen

503-452-6436

[email protected]


The information contained in this document represents the current view of Microsoft Corporation on the issues discussed as of the date of publication. Because Microsoft must respond to changing market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Microsoft, and Microsoft cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication.

This white paper is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS DOCUMENT.

Complying with all applicable copyright laws is the responsibility of the user. Without limiting the rights under copyright, no part of this document may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), or for any purpose, without the express written permission of Microsoft Corporation.

Microsoft may have patents, patent applications, trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property rights covering subject matter in this document. Except as expressly provided in any written license agreement from Microsoft, the furnishing of this document does not give you any license to these patents, trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property.

© 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft, MapPoint, SharePoint, PivotChart, PivotTable, and the Office XP logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries 


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