Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Microsoft Self-Service Business Intelligence (BI) Explained (and taught!)


by Jeff Cate

Last fall, my employees came to me and complained that they could not get the answers to their business questions from our data.  We have TONS of data.  We are a small company, but are highly automated and have data in ERP, CRM, Marketing Automation, Google Analytics, various Cloud services, Excel spreadsheets, etc.

Of course, all of our business systems have some degree of built-in tools for reporting and data analysis.  But, even so, there are still problems such as:

  • Only certain people have access to the reporting interface of certain business systems.  Even though we are OK with everyone having access to most of the data contained in each of the systems, we couldn't always give everyone access to the reporting tool for each system.
  • The user interfaces and functionality of the different reporting tools are vastly different.  Let's say you want to run a report on CRM data using Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  The tool that you use is vastly different than running a report on web traffic data using Google Analytics.
  • It is virtually impossible to combine and correlate data from multiple data sources.  Take the Dynamics CRM\Google Analytics example.  Neither product gives a means for importing data from the other to do analysis on the combined data to try to identify some correlations.
  • We don't have dedicated IT "BI Pros" on staff, so custom-developed SSRS reports or data warehouses or SSAS cubes are out of the question.
This internal business problem led me to spend a great deal of time in October and November researching and learning about what has become known as the "Microsoft Self-Service BI platform":
  • SharePoint 2010 Enterprise (or 2013)
  • PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint
  • SQL Reporting Services Power View
  • SQL Reporting Services Report Builder 3.0
It took a good bit of initial technical work to get our SharePoint Intranet farm configured to support the Self-Service BI approach.  I did that work myself and may write another blog post in the future on that experience.

Once I had the platform up and running, I put together an internal training class to teach my employees how to use the platform.   I brought seven of them into our training center and spent four days training them on the tools, how we would govern self-service BI (very important topic - might do a future blog post on it too), and then worked on creating some initial reports and data analysis to get some practice.

(Small self-promotion: I have also created a public training class on the subject and will be teaching it every month this year Live Online and at our physical training facilities in Nashville, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, DC.  Go here to get more details.  Hope I get to see you in class!)

I am happy to report that this project has been successful!  We are up and running on the Microsoft Self-Service BI platform, and our business professionals are quickly overcoming the problems that they had with analyzing their data before the Self-Service BI adoption.

I have started to record a series of YouTube videos on Microsoft Self-Service BI.  The first one answers the question: "What is the Microsoft Self-Service BI Toolset?"  You can watch it below, or go here. It's 11 minutes.