Friday, 25 April 2008

The blog is back

There has been a considerable period of time since the last post, for which I apologise. I have been very busy working on an Ab Initio based project and I have had little time to progress this MS BI project.

However I have recently given a presentation on OLAP and am investigating several data quality best practices using Microsoft tools. Expect a couple of new posts on those topics in the near future.

Until then one of my colleagues Jennifer has written an interesting article on TechNet which you can read here

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Performance Point 2007

I've been watching/reading some of the material that came out of the UK Microsoft BI Partner Community Day and there are some interesting snipits of information about PerformancePoint:
  • BSM 2005 becomes PerformancePoint Monitor
  • ProClarity becomes PerformancePoint Analysis
  • There is a new planning functionality (previously know as BizSharp) now called PerformancePoint Planning
I'm booked to go on a course soon so I'll get to have a proper play in the next month or so...

I liked some of the Microsoft tag lines for product areas that I have seen:
  • Trust your data
  • Trust your In-Sights
  • Trust your Decisions
The first point about your data is absolutely key and is certainly stressed by other data processing vendors like Ab Initio too. Microsoft really is playing catchup in this market place, but when you see the tight integration with Excel, I am more and more convinced that they are on to a winner.


Sunday, 30 September 2007

The difference between Business Intelligence and Performance Management

Where does business intelligence stop and performance management start? In fact what is the difference between the two? Isn't business intelligence an umbrella term that includes the concept of performance management?

There is an interesting Cap Gemini article posted on the Microsoft BI site which talks about PM and BI.

Gartner in 2001 described "corporate performance management" as:
All of the processes, methodologies, metrics and systems needed to measure and manage the performance of an organization.
From reading up on the subject the "confusion" or should I say "debate" about CPM and BI seems to quite widespread. Vendors of BI/PM software certainly don't help clarify the distinction. BI is often seen more as the enabling technology and CPM is more the implementation of that knowledge in a business context.

I've found a couple of interesting blogs that discuss the difference:
I particularly like the article on the "Manage by walking around" blog that comments on a distinction between scorecards and dashboards. Much of the difference is just semantic, however it's suggested that dashboards have more of tactical use and scorecards are more strategic, the latter being more goal focused. The example used is to think about the type of information provided by a golf scorecard as opposed to a car dashboard. This seems to be a key distinction, that CPM is more implementation and goal focused whilst BI is more tactical and monitoring focused.

I disagree that business intelligence is just enabling technology; both BI and CPM are processes. BI focused on data preparation, data presentation and data discovery whilst CPM uses the BI foundation to affect business change.

All this discussion brings me on to Microsoft PerformancePoint: BI or CPM software? I think that is is both, the analysis capability more of a BI flavour and the planning capability more CPM. Microsoft breaks the functionality down like this:
PerformancePoint Monitoring - Define and use scorecards, dashboards, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to drive accountability and alignment across your organization.
PerformancePoint Analysis - Easily analyze and identify trends, opportunities, and threats in your data. Capture and share that information using the intuitive and collaborative environment of the 2007 Microsoft Office system.
PerformancePoint Planning - Simplify the process of business planning, budgeting, and forecasting—all through the familiar and easy-to-use environment of the 2007 Microsoft Office system.
I guess the debate will continue, but at least I now have a better understanding of the arguments!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Microsoft BI - An Introduction

FeedBurner tells me that I have some subscribers already (thanks!), so I had better start focusing on the Microsoft BI offering.

So what makes up the Microsoft BI stack? in fact why is it called a stack in the first place? Well as you can see from the graphics, the product set is made up of layers based on a foundation of SQLServer 2005 (soon to be SQLServer 2008)

The stack includes:
  • Scorecards, analytics and planning functionality
  • Collaboration and content
  • Analysis with Excel
  • Integration, analysis and reporting capability based on the database foundation
This is a pretty complete product set and is quite similar to what other vendors such as Business Objects offer (although BO has some more bells and whistles). The difference is that Microsoft also provide the database platform.

A real trick to mastering a new technology is understanding the product heritage, as you can see on the left a previous version of the MS BI stack included two additional products:
  • Business Scorecard Manager
  • ProClarity
Both of these have been consumed into the new Perfomance Point Server 2007 that was launched in the US this week.

The History of Microsoft BI Product Set
There is a long history of acquisition and development behind the current product set:
  • SQLServer's heritage is comes from the Sybase database platform, it has come through several notable versions since Microsoft parted ways in 1993 (SQL Server v4.2 to v7.0, 2000, 2005 and SQL Sever 2008 code named "Katmai ").
  • Integration Services started life as DTS (Data Transformation Services) part of SQLServer 7.0 in 1999 and was upgraded as part of SQL 2000. It's was renamed to SSIS and bundled with SQL2005 to provide .NET compatibility (and much more)
  • Reporting Services is a more recent addition with the first version in bundled with SQL2000 and the addition of report builder in the SQL2005 release
  • Analysis Services also has a long history. Microsoft originally aquired their first OLAP technology in 1996 through the acquisition of Panorama Software. Analysis Services was orginally released with SQLServer 7.0, but has only really reached maturity with the release of SQLServer 2005
  • Sharepoint Server version history is somewhat more complex as Microsoft have changed what the term "SharePoint" refers to in each version following it's initial release in 2001. SharePoint has had 3 major releases. In 2001 there was Sharepoint Team Services and Sharepoint Portal Server. 2003 saw the release of Windows SharePoint services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server. The current release MOSS 2007 (Microsiot Office SharePoint server) is a huge product and uses version 3.0 of Windows SharePoint Services.
  • Business Scorecard Manager was released in Autumn 2005 and has now been incorporated into Performance Point server
  • ProClarity was acquired by Microsoft in April 2006 and is being integrated into Performance Point Server
  • Performance Point Server is to be launched in the UK on October 16th 2007

Thursday, 27 September 2007

What is Business Intelligence Anyway?

When I am asked what I do for a living and I say I work as a Business Intelligence consultant, I often (in fact almost always) get blank looks. The term "Business Intelligence" does have a slightly exciting connotation, maybe as people really don't know what it is.

When you search the web (I like the Google define: option) the definitions that stand out to me are:
Business intelligence (BI) is a broad category of application programs and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help enterprise users make better business decisions. BI applications include the activities of decision support, query and reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), statistical analysis, forecasting, and data mining.

Business intelligence (BI) is the process of gathering information in the field of business. It can be described as the process of enhancing data into information and then into knowledge.Business intelligence is carried out to gain sustainable competitive advantage, and is a valuable core competence in some instances.

Wikipedia provides the definition or analogy that I like and have used before when explaining the concept, that BI can be likened to an evolution of data to knowledge. "Decision Support" is also a good simple explanation.

The first definition although accurate, does seem to open up a can of worms as it defines BI in other obscure and perhaps ambiguous terms, for example what is "Data Mining"? (this returns 23 separate entries!).

A very good introductory book I have read also defines BI in terms of data to knowledge evolution. The book "Business Intelligence The Savvy Manager's Guide" It goes on to mention that BI is more than just a toolset, but requires the correct processes and people. The more most important statement however is that "the value of BI is realised in the context of profitable business action". This is crucial and the book goes on to labour this point, that if you cant use the information/knowledge that a BI system provides it is worthless.

This is the primary facet that should be held when producing a BI System and really forms the basis of the mission statement for any BI solution.

Welcome to the MS BI Blog

This is a new blog that will track by experiences as I learn more about Microsoft BI. I'll be aiming at various different levels from the technical to the product overview level.

Who am I?
I am a lead consultant an a consultancy specialising in business Intelligence and data management solutions. I have a background in CRM analytics and data warehousing, I have experience of using wide range of business intelligence packages from Alterian in the customer and marketing analytics space to Ab Initio in the data processing arena. I have been working in this industry for about 6 years now.

Why am I doing this?
Initially I wanted to start this blog as my own resource, a place that I can record my own thoughts and findings, hopefully if I gain sufficient readers this blog can become a useful resource with contributions from other people. My current experience is restricted to SQLServer and the exprience I have writing custom MSCRM reports in reporting services.

Welcome onboard my journey with MS-BI!

Thanks for visiting!