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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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 todayâ€™s fast-paced competitive environment.
Microsoft BI solutions overcome the limitations of the static reporting model by enabling information workers tointeract 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 organizationâ€™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:
Data Transformation Services.
Data access standards:
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:
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.
Rich publishing and collaboration tools.
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.
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:
Increased Return on Investment.
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.
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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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