I remember working with Microsoft SQL Server, DTS and SSRS about 15 years ago. SQL Server was a solid engine back then as long as the data volumes weren’t too large, but DTS and SSRS weren’t exactly setting the world on fire. If customers chose SQL Server as the platform, they generally chose a separate data management/ ETL platform and BI product from other vendors and glued them together. It created a lot of needless complexity in the architecture of the solution, not to mention around procurement. At the time, Microsoft were not seriously investing in BI and players like BusinessObjects (later purchased by SAP) and Cognos (later purchased by IBM) were really winning the game.
Over the last few years in particular, the investment Microsoft has made into Power BI and the broader Data intelligence platform has been phenomenal and it has really paid off. Power BI has grown from being something you might have in your kitbag or might have used at some stage to being something that everyone is talking about. Customer adoption of Power BI has been growing exponentially and, with the latest Magic Quadrant for BI from Gartner, this is only the beginning.
Microsoft has been in the top right of the Magic Quadrant for BI for a number of years, competing head to head with players like IBM, Tableau, Qlik, Oracle and the like. For those of you who don’t know, Gartner independently measure the capability of these products according to their ‘ability to execute’ and their ‘completeness of vision’. Those who score well in the set criteria for both appear in the top right quadrant – that’s where everyone wants to be. Getting there is one thing, but staying in the top quadrant is another thing entirely. Lots of vendors had BI software at some stage in the top right quadrant and have fallen down into lesser quadrants (e.g. IBM and SAP) and some have even fallen out of the Magic Quadrant for BI altogether (e.g. Oracle). Microsoft have consistently improved their position year on year and are now the clear leaders, with only Tableau being even close.
Power BI provides a large array of visualisation components, including geo-spatial, while using Excel-like functions that make it easy for business users to adopt it. If users have been using Excel for data manipulation and reporting, they generally fall in love with Power BI. Some of the other advantages of using Power BI include:
- Microsoft Investment in BI: Microsoft have publically announced the importance that they have placed on their BI suite and are investing significantly in this space. For example, each month they have committed to releasing new versions of Power BI. The dramatic speed at which this product is growing in functionality and user experience gives Microsoft customers confidence about investing.
- Cost: Power BI costs significantly lower than other BI software products and the business case for Power BI stands up easily against the competition. Licences are only USD10/ month! Try comparing that to, say, Tableau.
- SaaS: Power BI can be purchased as a service and organisations can buy subscription licences for their staff. If they grow or contract in numbers, it is easy and cheap to reduce or increase licences accordingly.
- Integration: Microsoft natively integrates with other Microsoft Azure platforms uch as Dynamics CRM, AX and NAV. Other products may say they integrate, but they only have ‘connectors’ that just access data. Microsoft integration is native and the user experience is compelling. Power BI, for example, is on the same data centre as CRM and the integration and performance benefits are huge.
- Security: Security in Microsoft is centrally managed. Applications have single sign-on and are accessed centrally through the Office 365 portal.
In my experience, one of the big reasons that BI programs can fail to drive the value as promised in the business case is often because of user experience. If it’s too hard to use, too different from what they already know and love or if using a new BI tool doesn’t quickly give them the value they need well… they just don’t use it. If you really twist their arms under the guide of ‘corporate IT policy’, they use but just not effectively. Either way, user adoption can be poor and the value the organisation gets from their investment is questionable.
The fantastic thing about Power BI, apart from the fact that it is the best and probably the cheapest, is that it kind-of looks like Excel. Let’s face it, Excel is the world’s most popular BI tool and has been for a very long time. Lots of the functionality used in Power BI to create rules, formulae, charts and tables looks the same as Excel. Users like it because it has a familiar look and feel and that, in itself, substantially reduces the risks around user adoption and Return on Investment. Oragnisations love it because they don’t need to invest significantly in upskilling their users and have armies of expensive and hard to find specialists supporting the toolsets.
Lastly, Power BI plugs right into other Microsoft platforms and particularly the Data Intelligence platform. Whether you are looking at data from your core CRM, ERP system or Data Warehouse or whether you are looking at data from FaceBook and Twitter, Power BI is the right tool for the job. You can also use Power BI alongside other tools in the Data Intelligence platform like IoT, HDInsight (Microsoft’s Big Data platform), SQL Server and Azure Machine Learning for advanced data analytics such as data mining, hypothesis testing and prediction. Put simply, you can do some seriously cool things with this tool and you can do it faster than you probably think.
Transforming data into information and unlocking the value of data that is trapped in your core systems has never been easier and cheaper to do. Well done Microsoft on investing in this space and truly getting it right. I feel sorry for the competition.
Posted by: Ben Johnson, National Business Manager, Data Insights | 27 February 2017
Tags: Business Intelligence, Power BI, Data Analytics
Rate this post: