Give BI to the Masses

In today’s business intelligence (BI) industry—despite the search for better, more suitable, and more advanced technology for BI applications—there is a special interest in finding the “true usability” of BI applications. This is to say, users want BI to be not only faster and better, but also easier. And finally, they want its use to be extended to a wide number of people: the search is on for a real mass use.

To find the true usability of BI could mean combining BI technology with common applications; integrating BI applications with existing business and office systems (such as Microsoft Office, or an enterprise resource planning [ERP] or customer relationship management [CRM] system); easily deploying BI as a new desktop application; or offering BI with business models such as open source or other types of licensing method.

Regarding the mass use of BI tools for all kinds of companies, some progress might be emerging not from the BI establishment, but from the very software vendors whose products are already deeply involved in operations. Microsoft and MicroStrategy are two examples of the different approaches toward the mass use and better integration of BI applications—and, of course, a bigger market. Another option could be the use of an open source solution, such as Jaspersoft.

Recently, Microsoft launched a strategy to bring BI to the masses: Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007. All the analytic tools delivered within (scorecards, dashboards, etc.) will be integrated into the next version of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. The company will call these capabilities “PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint.” (For more information, see the Microsoft PressPass article.)

Also, Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 Service Pack 3 (SP3), as a Microsoft Partner Program site  details, “will include updates for the current product’s planning module.” Microsoft will discontinue the stand-alone version of Office PerformancePoint Server 2007. So, in an effort to extend BI easily and affordably to all users, Microsoft will continue, under SharePoint Server, all development of the monitoring and analytic capabilities previously delivered under PerformancePoint Services.

Using a different strategy, MicroStrategy recently released a free reporting software designed for BI applications. This MicroStrategy Reporting Suite can be downloaded at no cost, so that companies can develop and install premium and Web-based reporting applications. Up to 100 named licenses are included for the MicroStrategy Reporting Suite. (For more information on user licenses, see the MicroStrategy Press Release.) It also enables e-mail support, online support, online training, and online video guides. The free suite offers capabilities such as drilling, graphs, slice-and-dice analysis, and formatting, though it still doesn’t offer all dashboard features. With this solution, MicroStrategy plans to attract small and midsize organizations and broaden the BI experience.

Although BI technology is clearly acquiring more importance every day, and has become a vital part of business processes, not all companies are able to access to BI technology as easily as other companies, nor do they have the means to integrate it with other applications and systems. In most cases, it is a problem of budget, especially for midsize companies that don’t have enough resources. Open source-based BI technology has evolved, and, for SMBs, could be a legitimate alternative to many commercial BI tools.

Recently, Jaspersoft released version 3.5 of its Business Intelligence Suite, an open source technology that has the robustness to meet some requirements for companies that require a BI solution, but that are working under a limited budget. The company now offers an enterprise suite and licenses, along with some interesting capabilities like data integration.

And even though the market for stand-alone BI products is well consolidated, the possibilities for BI systems are still growing. Nowadays, BI system technologies are widespread throughout all types of industries, so developers and analysts will always need more technology options that can enable them to combine and integrate BI technology in almost all of their regular business applications. BI professionals and consultants can have also the option of open source BI providers like Jaspersoft and its open source competitors such as Pentaho, Spago, and the BIRT project that supports Actuate. These are the most likely alternative options of this sort.

In conclusion, it seems that market demand is forcing the need for sophisticated BI tools down into all sorts of organizations, even small and midsized companies. But it is also leading some companies to search for better integration with other business and office applications, when even today one of the most common functionalities of every BI solution system is the ability to export data to spreadsheets and PDFs.
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