Even more Excel BI stuff

After my last post earlier today, I came across a whole heap of new links I thought I should share. First of all, here’s the press release on new Office BI functionality, which includes a few screenshots:
Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the LiveMeeting recording that it links to. Here’s more reaction:
Most important of all, though, the video of the PDC presentation on Excel BI is now available to download at
Look for the following presentation:
OFF323: Building Business Intelligence Solutions Using “Excel 12” and SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services
I’ve just watched it and wow, it really looks like Excel 12 lives up to the hype. In fact there’s nothing that it’s doing that plenty of other tools haven’t done for ages, but this is EXCEL. And there are many pleasing touches such as the date filtering and all of the new formatting functionality that Excel 12 gives you. Now all Microsoft need to do is buy Tableau and incorporate their visualisation capabilities into Excel and you will have the killer BI app.
And continuing the train of thought about Excel Services (as I should be calling Excel server) and AS, it also struck me that there’s a certain overlap between it and Reporting Services too, at least as far as intranet reporting goes. Why go to the trouble of creating an RS report when you can simply push your spreadsheet up to Sharepoint and see it in the Excel Services thin client? Obviously you can’t do this for all the scenarios you need to use RS for, but hmm, I wonder if you can build a custom data extension so you can point RS at an instance of Excel Services and grab data from a spreadsheet for your RS reports…

Scorecards Pricing and Excel Server

An interesting article here on the pricing scheme for "Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005" which lets out a few more details on the new Excel server functionality:
Despite the fact that Excel 12 will have much better AS integration (the Excel blog promises more details ‘in a few weeks’ in this recent posting, so I’m keeping my eyes peeled), as I and several other people have remarked, an Excel server will end up treading on the toes of AS in a few scenarios. Smaller apps, yes, when all the data can be put in the spreadsheet (and you can now put more on a sheet, as this post on the Excel blog notes) and also financial apps where you are most likely to have a group of power users who prefer to build things themselves without IT involvement. Take, for instance, this comment about the Excel server from the Information Week article:
"The main goal here is to ensure workgroups are seeing and working with the same numbers"
Which is, let’s face it, another variation on the theme of ‘one version of the truth’ that BI vendors have been playing for years.
In the short/medium term having an Excel server is a development to be welcomed but in the long-term is there going to be pressure to improve the scaleability/performance of the Excel server so it can handle larger and larger apps? (Isn’t this how Essbase started out as a product?) Microsoft are going to have to be careful to position AS and Excel server appropriately. And also it strikes me that another undesireable effect that this will have is that users will want to do more and more of their calculations in Excel, where they can define them themselves, and only take the raw figures from AS – so that formulae end up being replicated all over the place with many subtle variations creeping in, taking us away from that ‘one version of the truth’ goal.

Reviewing BI Suites

It looks like the normally-reliable Business Intelligence Pipeline site has bitten off more than it can chew with its recent attempt to review the leading BI platforms. Not only have readers got upset about certain products being missing from the review – the result of a ‘no-review’ policy on the part of the vendors – but a quick look at the review of Analysis Services/Reporting Services reveals a number of very basic mistakes/misunderstandings. For example: "Chart generation, prevalent among other participants in our evaluation, was not an option with Reporting Services". Eh? Is this meant to mean you can’t have charts in RS reports? Of course you can. And even more worryingly: "Microsoft SQL Analysis Services is an extension to SQL Server 2000, with client access provided through its Enterprise Manager"; several other comments made me think that the literal interpretation of this sentence is in fact what the reviewer meant. Enterprise Manager as a client tool? What does this mean for the quality of the other reviews? Why, while we’re at it, did they review AS+RS and not AS plus Proclarity/Panorama, which is surely a more sensible combination?
To be fair, any attempt to try to review such a vast area such as BI platforms with all the different architectures, functionality etc on offer, is doomed to failure. Certainly all the Gartner reports on this subject – which people pay substantial amounts of money for – seem to be pretty useless and provide less information than would be revealed by spending a few hours Googling. The only worthwhile BI reviews I’ve ever seen are on the OLAP Report website, and even there Nigel Pendse focuses on OLAP engines and the odd front-end, and not BI platforms as a whole.

Who reads my blog?

Sorry, this is completely off-topic, but I’ve got a little tired of the poor information that MSN Spaces provide on blog visitors and I’m curious to find out who is reading. So I’m going to run a little experiment with Site Meter – just click on the link below to see some detailed stats about visits to this blog:

Site Meter

Pity there’s no way of putting this permanently on my front page that I can see.