Some thoughts on what Office 2013 means for Microsoft BI

You may have seen the news late last week that Office 2013 has RTMed, which in itself isn’t that significant – it’s not going to be until mid-November that the likes of you or I can download it. But it’s a milestone and therefore a good time to think about what Office 2013 means for Microsoft BI as a whole.

Let me start by saying that I’ve spent a lot of time playing with Office 2013, especially Excel 2013, over the last few months and I’ve been very impressed with it. I think it’s a great product and also that it represents a significant turning point for Microsoft BI. I won’t summarise everything I’ve said in previous blog posts about new functionality (you can read those yourself!), but here are what I consider some of the important points to consider when assessing its impact:

  • Number 1 on the list of new features for BI has to be the way PowerPivot has been integrated into Excel. Indeed, although PowerPivot still exists as a separate addin, I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful to think of PowerPivot and DAX as something distinct from Excel any more – we should think of them as the native Excel functionality that they are. Maybe we shouldn’t even use the names PowerPivot and DAX at all any more? And of course, now that users will get it by default, it will open the way to much, much wider adoption. I’m working on a PowerPivot/Excel 2010 project at the moment where the customer’s desktops are locked down and it took several weeks to get PowerPivot installed on even a few desktops; with Excel 2013 those problems won’t occur.
  • The integration of Power View into Excel comes a close second in terms of significant new functionality. Like a lot of people I was impressed by the technology when I saw first saw the Power View in Sharepoint last year, but frankly the Sharepoint dependency meant none of my customers were even vaguely interested in using it and I thought it was stillborn. Putting Power View into Excel changes all this – it’s effectively giving it away to all corporate customers and, as with PowerPivot, this will remove a lot of barriers to adoption. It might not be as good at data visualisation as something like Tableau, but it doesn’t need to be – you’re going to get it anyway, it will do most of what these other tools do, so why bother looking at anything else?
  • The way PivotTables and Power View reports now work so well in the browser with Excel Services and the Excel Web app means that Excel should now be considered the premier web reporting and dashboarding solution in the Microsoft BI stack, and not just as something for the desktop. I’ve never been fond of PerformancePoint (and again I never saw significant uptake amongst my customers – indeed, over the years, I’ve seen it used only very rarely) and I see less and less reason to use it now when Power View does something similar. SSRS still has its own niche but even it will start to decline slowly because it will be so much easier for BI pros and end-users to build reports in Excel. This in turn will make the whole Microsoft BI stack much more comprehensible to customers and a much easier sell – Excel will be the answer to every question about reporting, data analysis, data visualisation and dashboards. 
  • Office 365 will help overcome the problems customers have with the Sharepoint dependency in the Microsoft BI stack. I discussed this problem at length here; having now used Office 365 on the Office Preview myself, I’m a convert to it. I’ve had Sharepoint installed on various VMs for years but it’s only now with Office 365 and freedom from the pain of installation and maintenance that I can start to appreciate the benefits of Sharepoint. For small companies it’s the only way Sharepoint can be feasible. More important than anything else, though, is the subscription pricing that has just been announced: Office 365 is a no-brainer from a cost point of view.  I saw recently that Toyota Motor Sales in the US have just decided to go to Office 365 and I wouldn’t be surprised if other, larger enterprises to do the same; this isn’t just something for SMEs.
  • The ability to stream Excel 2013 to desktops means that yet more barriers to deployment will be removed.
  • We’re still waiting for Microsoft’s mobile BI solution, of course. I hope it’s coming soon! Whatever form it takes, I would expect it to be very closely linked to Office 2013.

What do you think, though? I’m interested in hearing your comments – have I drunk too much Microsoft Kool-Aid?

21 responses

  1. I have been on the opposite end of the spectrum from you with PerformancePoint – I’ve been implementing it since 2007, and have (probably) upwards of 100k users working on the dashboards we’ve built – but the extension of Excel as the primary tool is a good thing for the MS platform, and what has come through in 2013 is truly the first time I’d call Excel a real BI tool as opposed to a spreadsheet that does some BI

  2. So can you publish Power View visualizations in a dashboard similar to a one page PerformancePoint dashboard of various parts?

    The value of PerformancePoint to me is the ability to have multiple parts on a page with a common filter and have that available in SharePoint. I thought Power View only allowed you to put reports into a library.

  3. Chris. I’ve always found your posts to be insightful and again thank you for being a reliable voice in the BI community. You’re assessment is quite complete. The Excel-centered BI story is exciting and the prospect for mobile solutions based on this platform is very promising. I’ve been putting a lot of energy into working with PowerPivot & Power View in the Excel 2013 preview and I think it’s going to be a big game changer.

  4. I know you can publish a Power View report to a SharePoint library. Can you create a SharePoint dashboard page with a filter to multiple Power View reports (similar to PerformancePoint)? The capability of putting multiple parts on a web page and control them with a filter is a must have capability for end users. This is where PerformancePoint shines (but it isn’t an end user tool).

    Is there a basic publishing in SharePoint with a way to consolidate multiple items on a page for Power View? Putting Power View reports in a library only doesn’t work well for us.

    • Sorry, I think I haven’t been clear in distinguishing between Power View standalone and Power View in Excel. With the latter (which is what I had in mind when I was writing), when you create a Power View worksheet, it can be published to Excel Services/the Excel Web App like any other worksheet and viewed as a web page – it’s not just a document in a library. In Power View you can certainly have multiple charts and tables etc all connected to the same filter; you can’t connect to multiple data sources though, all the data needs to be integrated into SSAS Tabular or PowerPivot.

  5. Chris, great post. Your first point may also be the biggest hinderence to corporate adoption. I have the same challenges regarding installation and the biggest fear is data governance. I include content on responsible BI and that “with great PowerPivot comes great responsibility”. Most of these clients will avoid Excel 2013 unless they can disable PowerPivot (reminds me I need to check this). I often remind them that (assuming the same data is being used) that their existing tools are no less “dangerous”.

    Agreed Paul, it is a game changer. As a SSAS!

    • Thanks Toufiq – you make a very important point, and one I’d completely forgotten about. A while ago I had a customer where the CFO(!) wanted to ban Excel from everyone’s desktops because he thought it caused so many problems; I wonder whether we’ll see more companies taking this line in the future?

      • If we consider the four functions of self-service BI i.e. “ETL”, Model, Analyze and Present as full self-service BI, then Analyze and Present would constitute a “lite” self-service user. “Lite” users can build Power View reports and perform ad hoc analysis using Excel or Excel Services i.e. “lite” users consume models created by “full” self-service users. In most organizations, the lite users constitute the majority of self-service users, whose key requirement is to put their own lens over the data. Excel 2013 (IMHO) should make this distinction between lite and full self-service with its BI functionality, or it may end up being less pervasive in future.

  6. I’m also very impressed with the BI features of Excel 2013. I’ve been experimenting with Office 365 too and I agree it does remove a lot of the issues around SharePoint deployment. I still have some concerns about Office 365 as a BI platform though, firstly around managing fresh data in PowerPivot/Power View models and secondly as I understand it there is currently a 10mb limit rendering limit for Excel workbooks in the Office 365 web app.

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  8. Too much Kool-Aid… I like the integration with Excel but it does me no good since most of my customers are still on Office 2007 and rarely update due to dependencies with other vendor Excel integration. O365 has no VBA support and no migration tools for many of the Excel dashboards that are everywhere. Power View is a step in the right direction but the SharePoint dependency for Power View is a show stopper for many of my customers. Power View does not support parameter calls in SharePoint like SSRS. Excel slicers do but it is not at all intuitive or practical to implement a multi-select parameter. I am seeing more groups shopping around for a new BI vendor due to a lack of mobile apps, ongoing silence, changes in direction, and unclear direction for enterprise BI and app dev shops. Excel 2013 and O365 may be great for small businesses but I am not convinced Microsoft is serious about BI lately.

  9. Very interesting take on these changes. Having designed SSRS reports in the past, I’m very curious to see a detailed comparison of Excel reports versus SSRS. Have you see anything similar?

    • No, I haven’t, and I don’t think Excel would come out well in a feature-by-feature comparison. Notice that I said SSRS would die off ‘slowly’! But focussing on features is a bad habit of IT Pros – the business users just see reports, and if they can get something like what they want with Excel, even if it isn’t exactly what they want, they will prefer Excel over SSRS simply because it’s so familiar and easy to use.

      • Good point about self service report creation. One key to Microsoft’s success with all of their products is continued broadening of the range of the products. Why hire a SSRS specialist when the business can accomplish what they need to get done? That makes SQL Server more powerful.
        Still, I would like to see a report in Excel that looks similar to what people have asked for in the past from SSRS. Maybe some visual comparisons would be better than feature comparisons? Anyway I can drill a little deeper without having to install both would be interesting to me.

      • Arguably, with Power View you can create something that looks just as good if not better than SSRS, although you will miss the ability to get pixel-perfect layout, rendering to multiple formats and lots more.

      • These are some very interesting thoughts about the differences in capabilities between SSRS and Power View. As Microsoft continues to introduce more choices, I think that people generally want to use one or fewer tools to do more things – which causes us to think about tools like Power View replacing other tools like SSRS. I’ve been in a lot of discussions with members of the Reporting Services product team about the future of both SSRS (RDL or “professional reports”) and Power View. First of all, it’s noteworthy that Power View is developed by the SSRS development team and they see it as part of the total SSRS offering. There is no intention for Power View to replace professional reports. However, we are likely to see some features introduce to the advanced tool that might make it behave more like the self-service tool. I can’t speak on behalf of Microsoft but, like Chris, I do have some insight into what’s coming and I think we can expect to see three tools: A simple, self-service analysis tool for the desktop user (Power View), a mobile BI tool that runs on tablet devices, similar in some ways to Power View (recently announced at the SharePoint conference); and professional reports that support the kinds of advanced design techniques IT pros use in SSRS today.

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