Why Corporate BI and Self-Service BI Are Both Necessary

I was chatting to a friend of mine a few days ago, and the conversation turned to Microsoft’s bizarre decision to make two big BI-related announcements (about Mobile BI and GeoFlow) at the Sharepoint Partner Conference and not at PASS the week before. I’d been content to write this off as an anomaly but he put it to me that it was significant: he thought it was yet more evidence that Microsoft is abandoning ‘corporate’ BI and that it is shifting its focus to self-service BI, so that BI is positioned as a feature of Office and not of SQL Server.

My first response was that this was a ridiculous idea, and that there was no way Microsoft would do something so eye-poppingly, mind-bogglingly stupid as to abandon corporate BI – after all, there’s a massive, well-established partner and customer community based around these tools. I personally don’t think it would ever happen and I don’t see any evidence of it happening. My friend then reminded me that the Proclarity acquisition was a great example of Microsoft making an eye-poppingly, mind-bogglingly stupid BI-related decision in the past and that it was perfectly capable of making another similar mistake in the future, especially when Office BI and SQL Server BI are fighting over territory. That forced me to come up with some better arguments about why Microsoft should not, and hopefully would not, ever abandon corporate, SQL Server BI in favour of an exclusively Office-BI approach. Some of these might seem blindingly obvious, and it might seem strange that I’m taking the time to even write them down, but conversations like this make me think that the time has come when corporate BI does need to justify its continued existence.

  • From a purely technical point-of-view, while most BI Pros have been convinced that the kind of self-service BI that PowerPivot and Excel 2013 enables is important, it’s never going to be a complete replacement for corporate BI. PowerPivot might be useful in scenarios where power users want to build their own models but the vast majority of users, even very sophisticated users, are not interested in or capable of doing this. This is where BI Pros and SSAS are still needed: centralised models (whether built in SSAS Tabular or Multidimensional) give users the ability to run ad hoc queries and build their own reports without needing to know how to model the data they use.
  • Even when self-service BI tools are used it’s widely accepted (even by Rob Collie) that you’ll only get good results if you have clean, well-modelled data – and that usually means some kind of data warehouse. Building a data warehouse is something that you need BI Pros for, and BI Pros need corporate BI tools like SSIS to do this. Self-service BI isn’t about power users working in isolation, it’s really about power users working more closely with BI Pros and sharing some of their workload.
  • Despite all the excitement around data visualisation and self-service, the majority of BI work is still about running scheduled, web-based or printed reports and sending them out to a large user base who don’t have the time or know-how to query an SSAS cube via a PivotTable, let alone build a PowerPivot model. Microsoft talks about bringing BI to the masses – well, this is what the masses want for their BI most of the time, however unsexy it might seem. This is of course what SSRS is great for and this is why SSRS is by far the most widely used of Microsoft’s corporate BI tools; you just can’t do the same things with Excel and Sharepoint yet.
  • Apart from the technical arguments about why corporate BI tools are still important, there’s another reason why Microsoft needs BI Pros: we’re their sales force. One of the ways in which Microsoft is completely different from most other technology companies is that it doesn’t have a large sales force of its own, and instead relies on partners to do its selling and implementation for it. To a certain extent Microsoft software sells itself and gets implemented by internal IT departments, but in a lot of cases, especially with BI, it still needs to be actively ‘sold’ to customers. The BI Partner community have, for the last ten years or so, been making a very good living out of selling and implementing Microsoft’s corporate BI tools but I don’t think they could make a similar amount of money from purely self-service BI projects. This is because selling and installing Office in general and Sharepoint in particular is something that BI partners don’t always have expertise in (there’s a whole different partner community for that), and if self-service BI is all about letting the power users do everything themselves then where is the opportunity to sell lots of consultancy and SQL Server licenses? If partners can’t make money doing this from Microsoft software they might instead turn to other BI vendors; I’ve seen some evidence of this happening recently. And then there’ll be nobody to tell the Microsoft BI story to customers, however compelling it might be.

These are just a few of the possible reasons why corporate BI is still necessary; I know there are many others and I’d be interested to hear what you have to say on the matter by leaving a comment. As I said, I think it’s important to rehearse these arguments to counter the impression that some people clearly have about Microsoft’s direction.

To be clear, I’m not saying that it should be an either/or choice between self-service/Office BI and corporate/SQL Server BI, I’m saying that both are important and necessary and both should and will get an equal share of Microsoft’s attention. Neither am I saying that I think Microsoft is abandoning corporate BI – it isn’t, in my opinion. I’m on record as being very excited about the new developments in Office 2013 and self-service but that doesn’t mean I’m anti-corporate BI, far from it – corporate BI is where I make my living, and if SSAS died I very much doubt I could make a living from PowerPivot or Excel instead. Probably the main reason I’m excited about Office 2013 is that it finally seems like we have a front-end story that’s as good as our back-end, corporate BI story, and the front-end has been the main weakness of Microsoft BI for much too long. If Microsoft went too far in the direction of self-service we would end up with the opposite problem: a great front-end and neglected corporate BI tools. I’m sure that won’t be the case though.

62 thoughts on “Why Corporate BI and Self-Service BI Are Both Necessary

  1. Well said, but still might be too late. We were burned by the ProClarity deal. We still use it, but it goes end of life this year. I know companies are nervous enough that they’re looking for alternatives, especially open source and big data.

  2. I am also a partner that provides BI services. I have not seen much investment in Reporting Services or PerformancePoint in a few years now. Power View is promising but the Silverlight choice was a deal breaker for many of my clients that have iPads and see Silverlight dying. The ongoing lack of Microsoft native mobile BI apps has forced us to sell/migrate to other BI vendors like Tableau, QlikView, Spotfire, etc. My team has tried to stay loyal using SQL Server and Analysis Services. We rarely develop in Excel or have customers ask for Excel engagements. Most of our BI engagements start with customers wanting out of “Excel-hell”. When we reviewed Power View earlier this year it was lacking many BI features we needed like viewing detail, many popular data visualizations, no trending, bullet charts, guages, heatmaps, or sparklines, no drill downs or KPIs. I know there were other basic features missing. We didn’t feel our customers should have to make so many compromises to be 100% Microsoft BI and it wasn’t cheap even if they owned pieces. I saw some improvements in the Excel 2013 Preview but most of my customers won’t be upgrading to Office 2013 for a few years. I have some customers on Excel 2003, some on Excel 2007 and many just upgrading to Excel 2010. I don’t have a single customer on Office 365 today. Analysis Services Tabular (in-memory) also seems promising in a vNext type release with more work on getting enterprise features added to it.

    Excel, Excel, Excel. I am annoyed by the Microsoft self-service BI with Excel marketing reruns at every event, presentation and partner briefing since Excel PowerPivot (Gemini) was in preview. Come on Microsoft, really? Does Microsoft know anything about real world BI and how their BI tools are used by their customers? Excel is part of the solution, not the entire BI solution. What about the other 80-90% of the BI story? While I am on this rant, I want the partner BI resources and demos like we used to get in the partner portal to help my customers solve real world BI problems. I want to see more investment in the professional BI development tools. Where is BIDS/SSDT for Visual Studio 2012? I won’t recommend Microsoft BI front-end tools until I see something comparable to the other BI vendors that I can recommend in good faith again. The Microsoft database and data warehouse products are great. The front-end BI tools are falling way behind.

    I agree with you that self-service BI is not ever going to be a replacement for corporate BI. Maybe Microsoft just isn’t interested in the corporate BI business in the future? They may be focusing on their bread and butter, Office, to stay alive in a post-PC era. How are those Surface tablet sales going? Where do we buy them? I want to see, touch and feel the tablet – not buy something this expensive from a virtual store. Microsoft seems out of touch with reality across most of the company these days, not just BI.

  3. I’ve seen dozens of business users at dozens of companies who spent a week each month preparing that important report. It just drives me crazy since those people are the ones who understand the business better than anyone else, and they should be solving better problems. It’s rather impressive what they can weave together with vlookups, but I don’t want my business users becoming ETL experts. Let’s leave that to the BI pros who can easily automate it. Let’s leave it to the BI pros who will use source control and unit testing and auditing and logging so that users get more timely and higher quality data in reports.

    And have you ever inherited a PowerPivot model which was written for a specific purpose and you need to reuse it? Their DAX calc works great when sliced by Product, but as soon as you slice it by Geography instead, it breaks. Or their store table doesn’t relate to the enterprise store list, so you can’t put another subject area side by side without conforming the store dimension. You really need a BI pro coming up with the enterprise data model with conformed dimensions, designing fact tables that hold data at the lowest grain so they can be summarized up by multiple dimensions.

    Designing a data model using terms that business users comprehend and deploying that model in Analysis Services to enable ad-hoc reporting is really the secret sauce in my experience. That’s no easy task to get right. Self-service data modeling can only get you so far. If you really want to light up Excel and Power View, let the BI pro and business users work together on the back-end model.

    I completely agree Chris that a front-end which shows off Microsoft BI’s world-class back-end has been lacking historically. They’re making great progress on this over the last five years, and I want to see continued investment in front-end and self-service reporting and mobile. I’d just hate to see the Microsoft corvette get a revamped speedometer visualization and a new paint job without even changing the oil in the engine to keep it running.

    You obviously hit a nerve with me enough to prompt me to climb onto my soapbox. Climbing back down now…

  4. I spend a lot of time consulting in the self-service space including PowerPivot training. On almost all of the courses I have had very senior people (including CIO/CFO/Exec level) attending to understand the power and impact of PowerPivot in their organisation. The course opens with some context and differences between unmanaged and managed self-service. This includes elements of “Responsible BI” with regard to data governance (data management, data security, data quality). It also includes an overview of the “PowerPivot Family” (Excel, SSAS Tabular & SharePoint PowerPivot) and the role each plays in contributing to an enterprise BI strategy … corporate, collaborative and personal BI).

    Why mention all this? Well, the response to the content is unanimous … businesses are afraid of PowerPivot on its own. The above content is what they needed to hear to limit fears of “thermonuclear spread-mart hell”. They are in full agreement that without a self-service BI life-cycle that includes the “industrialisation” of self-service solutions (…those requiring automation), the proliferation of Excel PowerPivot models do not solve any unmanaged self-service problems. It is only through a life-cycle that lands solutions in the corporate BI space, that they are willing to consider this powerful platform.

    On some of the governance work around self-service, I have clients adopting fairly extreme measures (and I must admit that I help them do so). This invariably includes a distinction between a Private and Public models and focuses on the facilitation of incorporating self-service solutions back into the corporate BI space (again, if they are candidates for automation). This thinking does not negate any of the rationale behind the need for self-service.

    Having said this, I clearly agree with you that PowerPivot does not replace corporate BI. It in fact makes my clients take a harder look at the need for data management. Here’s where I think the consulting shift will happen for those focusing on SSAS (to echo your concern, I doubt you would be able to sustain a living from it). It does however put the focus back on data management as well as the more strategic and implementation elements of managed self-service. I also concur with Greg that user built models are lacking in terms of dimensional modelling techniques and benefits. This is another consulting growth area and in recent months I have had keen interest in assisting clients with developing models. This interests me immensely as the business benefits are so tangible and I get to learn in depth how businesses think.

    I am not yet convinced that Microsoft will make the same mistake as they did with my ex (ProClarity). I see enough investment in the data management side to convince me that they are taking the full spectrum seriously … PDW, DQS, MDS, etc. I may be wrong …

  5. Microsoft has certainly the best back-end software (Analysis Services) in the market. The lack of a client that was able to use 100% of its power in some way limited its distribution favoring other vendors, which offered a better story in the complete pipeline. On the other hand, ISVs that leveraged on SSAS created successful vertical products. And there are so many successfull implementation based on Analysis Services in so different architectures that it would be an incredible mistake stopping its development in favor of only self-service BI. So incredible that I simply cannot believe this is going to happen anytime soon.

  6. I don’t think it is possible (ok, maybe as much as mass suicide in Redmond is possible) to leave the corporate part of the Microsoft BI story behind.

    There are multiple reasons, some of which are in the post above and in the comments, but apart from the fact that it is stupid, it would also mean that Microsoft would make the mistakes companies like QlikView and Tableau make – relying on personal/team tools only and I don’t think this is a viable strategy for steady growth.

    Let’s not forget that the majority of the BI solutions out there today are server-based, corporate BI, so that’s what is making most of the money right now. And since data volumes are growing quite fast, I don’t think we’ll be able to load/process/analyse it on some sort of “personal” or “team” BI. The fusion of those types of analytics and enterprise-level BI would be the key to future success and Microsoft is more or less uniquely positioned to capitalise on it. It is not hard to see how with SharePoint, SSAS and Excel it can all be integrated in one seamless offering (yes, now the seams do show sometimes).

    As for the front-end, I’ve been showing Power View to many business users over the last year and I can say that for the first time I’m feeling like the star of the show – the question in the end is usually “when can I have it” (and I’m not all that good as a salesman).

    There are areas which need improvement, but I’m sure we can agree that so far the offering is growing strong and is slowly taking a better shape than two-three years ago and is overtaking pretty much all competitors. I can’t see someone migrating from MS BI to Cognos or BO for example. Once they have their environment set up they wouldn’t want to have their options limited by something like QlikView or Tableau. When I see solutions based on some other platform I feel like we are really ahead of them and it is a good feeling. Plus, when it comes to comparing the options which the BI vendors can provide, it seems like Microsoft’s stack covers it all now – we have our Big Data bit (Hadoop), PDW, SQL Server, SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, Excel, Power View, SharePoint, SSIS, MDS, QDS.. and only one of those is really in the “personal BI” space, while all other shape up an incredibly compelling corporate story.

    This is why I don’t feel like we’d ever lose the enterprise tools we have. But I’d agree that lately the focus has been somewhat fixed on the new cool features..apart from DAXMD of course.. 🙂

  7. Although (in theory!) I personally agree with the blogpost from Chris, I have to admit that the MS idea about selfservice BI is just adjusting to the real world out there:
    In companies where IT (IT management) never understood BI (and clearly never understood what analytical tools like SSAS are for) and therefore never being able to build a foundation, being incapable and inflexible, where data management seems to be off-world, and BI is seen as wizardry from the rest of IT, then the only chance for the end users is to built it themselves.
    Very sad, and very true.
    And very smart from MS to build it using an Excel-centric world, as all the end-user computing is there already.
    But the imminent problems about the data quality are here to stay, creating an increasing struggle for the end users, who go crazy already.

    1. I agree with you, but stopping development for Corporate BI would be crazy – there are different companies and different needs and every company might have a different mix of both. I’ve seen new companies adopting MS BI thanks to PowerPivot, but this cannot replace Corporate BI solutions in other companies or other departments of the same companies!

      1. Stopping Corporate BI would be foolish indeed: But for this insight you/the CIO/whoever need(s) to be (too) deeply involved in BI/DW/Analytics/Reporting to understand the issues that come up with pure self-service BI. And yes, to me it is obvious and I cannot agree more with what you say. On the other hand, with people thinking that “buying another tool” really solves the problem, it ain’t easy, as this does not involve technology in the first place.
        But as you say, for companies who do it right, PiverPivot can easily be the entry point into MS BI, leading to a full-blown SQL Server environment.

      2. Not again! PASS 2010 stumbles around SSAS, PASS 2011 smoke and mirrors mobile BI with RDP, PASS 2012 at least included DAXMD or I might believe it is possible. The self service BI story is getting old. Self-service is a small part of a BI solution. When will they learn from their mistakes?

    2. Agreed. I remember facing IT departments who would say OLAP was great for analytics but would not even mention the possibility of writing ad hoc MDX queries.

      As Chris puts it: “Self-service BI isn’t about power users working in isolation, it’s really about power users working more closely with BI Pros and sharing some of their workload.”

      I think this is the core of MS BI strategy.

      They recognized that, in many cases, IT departments only deliver a set of standard reports (what Chris called “Corporate BI”) that finally got mashed up in Excel by a data analyst (note that if a company has SQL Server above Standard edition, Sharepoint, a need for a corporate BI environment and NO data analyst, they are doing something wrong). If data end up in Excel anyway, they had better be delivered directly in Excel.

      To solve the famous Excel hell problem, they also developped Excel Services, PowerPivot for SharePoint, ACM Server, … (also note Access Services, since this touches on End-User Computing).

      The role of IT, in my opinion, should be ETL, basic modelling, monitoring, and assisting data analysts in modelling their data and writing their queries …

      Finally, let me note I was at first skeptical about PowerPivot’s design, which is more BI-Pro-friendly than end-user oriented: it is at odds with the very WYSIWYG/on-the-fly modelling approach of Excel and requires prior dimensional modelling. I am not certain whether this was a deliberate choice by Microsoft, but this might lead more BI Pros to develop Excel skills, resulting in data analysts finally having someone to turn to when requiring assistance. Prior to that, Excel development was a route that data analysts would have to walk alone.

  8. Great post, and comments. In the world of BI there is no “single solution” to every need, from Self Service, to Cloud, to Mobile, to Traditional Reporting, to Dashboards, to Visualization, to ETL and Data Cleansing, to Data Governance. It’s more of an a’l carte methodology, pick and choose which services you need. With the introduction of Hadoop, it seems Microsoft is playing catch up, with good strides, similar to the intial world of Reporting back in the mid 90’s when Crystal Reports was dominant. It was surprising that MS never opened up to the Open Source community, to run apps on Unix, Linux, Mac, however, with Hadoop, they may finally be ready to partner with the other platforms. It would be nice to remove the dependency on SilverLight for Mobile apps as the Mobile functionality should be built in to the BI platform. However, in the end, MS still has good roots in the world of Business Intelligence as it continues to grow and evolve with the Industry.

  9. Maybe I’m missing the point of this post. I work for Microsoft in the field in the BI space and corporate BI is just as big of a part of what I talk to customers about everyday as is self-service BI. Who told anyone Microsoft is abandoning corporate BI? I, for one, am very excited about what we have in the pipeline for corporate BI.

    1. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
      Chris Webb says:

      The point is that no-one told anyone that Microsoft is abandoning corporate BI, but some people out there have jumped to that conclusion based on the recent focus on Office 2013 and PowerPivot. I get asked about this all the time… Just telling these people that they’re wrong without giving any reasons doesn’t make any difference, because they think you’re covering up for Microsoft, which is why it’s worth coming up with substantial arguments for why Microsoft should never and would never abandon corporate BI.

  10. Anil – Kathmandu,Nepal – Highly motivated Business Intelligence Developer/Programmer having leadership abilities and team work skills as well as the ability to accomplish tasks under minimal direction and supervision. - Experience building enterprise solutions with SQL Server, SSAS, SSRS,SSIS - Excellent development and problem solving techniques in SSAS, SSRS,SSIS - Good T-SQL and database programming skills - Skill for creating great accurate and professional reports with Reporting Services - Has stable knowledge in object-oriented programming and design(C, C , Java) - Has some experience in web development by using ( 3.0,C#) - Strong desire to learn new things Specialties Designing and implementing BI solutions : Microsoft Business Intelligence, SQL Server 2005/2008, Reporting Services (SSRS), Analysis Services (SSAS), Integration Services (SSIS), MDX
    Anil Maharjan says:

    This is one of the great blog post that must be read by all of us in the field of BI and even Microsoft, I totally agree with all of you that ‘self-service BI is not ever going to be a replacement for corporate BI ‘.
    Also, It’s great to see the awesome comments from all the BI Pros and to know where the Microsoft BI heading towards in future. I think Microsoft should really need to pay attention regarding these things.

  11. Wow… way to stir the pot and get a lot of people excited, Chris! Seriously, I totally agree with your points about the equal need for both personal and corporate BI. However changing the balance of power and data governance in any organization will have sweeping impact. More technically savvy business users demand self-service BI and IT gives it to them… they make mistakes and create unusable reports and models and then go to IT to fix them. Without a functional partnership between the business and IT, all hell would break lose and chaos would prevail. The most important element that I introduce to my clients (all of whom are demanding self-service BI solutions) is that they assign ownership for every solution to both the business and to IT and then conduct scheduled reviews. Business solutions (models, reports, dashboards) must live in an isolated sandbox, separate from those created by IT and signed-off by business leaders. When the self-service solutions get screwed-up, as most will; there is a path and a process for IT to either fix them or start over and do it right.

    Self-service BI has its place but there is a reason that IT professionals go to college, attend conferences, spend their time reading and posting to blogs, read books, attend training, take exams and earn certifications. I’ve seen some IT leaders who saw self-service BI as an excuse to let the business do work that they should have been doing. Rather than stepping in and taking a leadership position, they washed their hands of problems and it was a bad situation for everyone. The IT and business unit leadership must have a strategy for self-service BI to work. Period.

    Yes, Microsoft has been behind the curve with easy-to-use visualization tools but I see them working very hard to right this situation with innovations like Power View and native BI tablet apps. Software consumers see the results of software developed 5 or more years ago and that’s their perception of the current state of the industry. It takes time for most companies to adopt the latest version of Office, SQL Server & SharePoint, etc. I think that the presence of great BI tools from several competing vendors raises the bar for everyone – including Microsoft. The challenge is to maintain a balance and to try to keep things as simple as possible by using a set of tools that both IT and the business can be trained to use, to support and solve their unique problems.

    1. Yes, cooperation between IT and business users is the key, and I am convinced that MS strategy is not about pushing tech-savvy users to develop more, but to let them do it in cooperation with their IT department, rather than under the radar (as they used to).

      Regarding the sentence “Microsoft has been behind the curve with easy-to-use visualization tools”, I am less certain about that. There is a (marketing) myth about managers using Tableau, Qlikview or Spotfire, … to analyze/visualize data on the fly. However, doing a job search around these products usually return ads aimed at traditional BI developers. Doing the same with Excel will returns very different results (data analyst, developer, recruiter, nurse, …)

  12. The BI message from Microsoft has been so mixed over the years it is funny. It used to be “one version of the truth”. Now it is “multiple versions are better”. When I first heard about PowerPivot I thought to myself “Why are they going in that direction when they still haven’t integrated ProClarity or PerformancePoint into a good front end?”. ProClarity customers were screaming for updates and new functionality. Here we are almost 8 years later, with still no robust BI client.

  13. I’m not a BI pro nor an IT Pro. I solely come from an excel and business strategy background but Powerpivot alone has been a gamechanger (in the most fantastic way possible) to my enterprise. I’m the only Analyst in my company (theatrical film distribution industry) and we needed to implement a new database solution to our local needs but we really didn’t have the money to spend on any analytics solution rather than just the stuff that comes out of the box from any other solution like plain reports. What I’m trying to say is that our budget was extremely low but we managed to get the database working and then work our reports with Powerpivot and this is, by far, the most cost effective solution that I could get in my life (I feel like I bought a Ferrari with the money that I had for my Daihatsu)

    Of course the Corporate BI tools and services are needed, after all, business people rarely have access to a data model or little do they know how the data that it’s being exposed in their reports really looks like in the actual database (labels, numbers, id’s, etc) and not to mention performance tools, administration tools, etc. But when it comes to low budget projects and no need to have a report refreshed on real time, Powerpivot and Powerview (in Excel 2013) can actually do the job quite well for the needs of a small business. Rather than seeing this as a threat, I see this as an opportunity of business for Powerpivot and Powerview (2013) as the need will arise with the new need to actually master the DAX Language to create your own formula, the ability to come up with new datafeeds that are not in the Azure market and provide those to customers who will need it. Not to mention that some people actually have the powerpivot/powerview hosting solution going on (portalfront, pivotstream, name few) and could be expanding their service/product catalog by adding services for Tabular modeling or even fixing the one that you have right now.

    There’s a whooole new business opportunity with these new tools and language that people are just waiting for the right moment to launch their ideas (probably when Excel 2013 is widely accepted) so that customers can embrace the change seamlessly.

    Great post, Chris! it really got me thinking about my future “ideas”

    1. Exactly Miguel!

      There are loads of companies that will persue self service BI. Cost of cause, is a very important reason. I see a lot of companies trying to stretch their existing IT infrastructure as far as it goes by utilizing the possibilities of self service BI.
      The need is driven by business users. With the new opportunities for visualizing data they can even drive a process for recording more valid data witin their excisting ERP-systems.

      At some point the needs of the business users may not be accomodated by self service BI and this is the time to start turning to corporate BI if the cost/value ration is attracting enough.

      What Microsoft is doing makes a lot of sense. If I were them I too would try to make the masses drive the demand.

  14. Thanks for the great post.

    With all the change in our Enterprise BI world – big data, in memory, cloud, mobile bi,…. I look to Microsoft to provide the great technical leadership they have in the past – ODBC, OLAP, MDX standard, the developer and Administrator friendliness of SQL Server, SharePoint, …I’ve made a living out of pleasing enterprise customers with information solutions built on their stack, and they led the industry to adapt to their lead in order to compete with them.

    However, as you observe, the marketing message and technical architecture does not have that past compelling clarity.

    Maybe its just interesting times. Or could it be that Microsoft is suffering from Game of Thrones product development? For example, why is Analysis Server 2012 multidimensional really only a service pack, and why is MDX a virtually deprecated, placeholder technology when it was recently a Microsoft sponsored industry standard and foundation; and why have so many senior Microsoft BI product engineers moved to other (sometimes competitor) BI vendors in the last five years?

    I get that in memory, columnar is the future of BI. Great technology. But could it be that DAX is like OLEDB and we’ll all go back to MDX a la ODBC? Why, beyond cost and product delivery cycles wasn’t MDX integrated with columnar?

    In the past I could find a technical voice inside Microsoft engineering that would brilliantly explain how these shifts enabled me to anticipate and build solutions for current and future enterprise customer requirements. Or it would be obvious. I’m not hearing these voices these days. And the best use of their technologies is not obvious. Which leaves me on the back foot with my customers when suggesting Microsoft BI solutions, especially with enterprise IT Architects that generally disregard Microsoft in any case.

    Thanks for the soapbox.

  15. Reblogged this on The Blobfarm and commented:
    Great points and even better discussion about Corporate BI and Self-service BI and the necessity of both. Thanks Chris.

  16. To get a feel for where Microsoft is going just look at their actions and jobs. PM Cloud BI in Israel “Deliver the vision of BI with Office365 and SharePoint Online, empower IWs to create department solutions, ISVs embed reports, deploy preconfigured VMs”. Clearly Office365 is the future. The ad barely mentions SQL BI in Redmond at the bottom and it is further telling that “experience with existing Microsoft BI is optional” to lead their Cloud BI program.

    Ballmer is betting big on cloud. Office365 is critical to Microsoft survival in the midst of Google, Amazon and many other cloud players. The BI reporting tools and PowerPivot (SSAS) data engine shift from SQL to Office365 already happened with the Excel 2013/Office365 Preview. They want to be a “services and devices” company. BI will probably be a service offering like the service apps in SharePoint today but with monthly cloud fees, data transfer fees, all sorts of extra fees, etc. The cloud recurring revenue stream will bring in a lot more money than the one off payment for BI software used for 5 to 7 years. I don’t see PerformancePoint going to the cloud. It gets no coverage and deprecation rumors have surrounded it for a few years now. Where does SSAS fit in the future with all the in-memory advancements? Where does SSRS fit in if reporting shifts to Excel? There has to be some sort of cloud Corporate BI for databases, big data and ETL . Several other vendors appear to be ahead of Microsoft DW, ETL and BI in the cloud. SQL DB and DW is big money Ballmer won’t abandon.

    The questions should really be what happens to the BI tools we know today and when, what does BI look like in an Office365 world, what BI conference should we attend, and good grief when will we ever get the mobile BI apps promised by Windows 8 time at 2011 PASS? There are only a few days left in 2012 if the posted roadmap is still valid. Every other BI vendor has had mobile apps for at least year. That inaction is also telling with regards to where BI stands in their priorities.

    1. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
      Chris Webb says:

      Some very good, and well-argued, points here Emily. There’s one more important question that needs to be asked too: how do MS BI Pros make a living in this future? I’m very interested in the answer to this one (as I think everyone else is who has responded to this thread), and I hope there is a good answer.

      1. Chris, I think that is the main point. Msft wants “BI Professionals” out of the picture. They “think” they can sell this as a positive to their customer base. “You don’t need a data warehouse. You don’t need one version of the truth. You don’t need a BI specialist. All you need is PowerPivot and Excel”. That strategy will work for small companies with simple requirements and small budgets. But it will not fly with major corporations with complex data and hundreds of users.

      2. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
        Chris Webb says:

        While I find Emily’s points well-argued, I’m not sure I’m completely swayed by them. I wrote this post to go over the reasons why Microsoft should not and would not abandon corporate BI, and I still don’t think they will do that – as I said, it would be crazy. The problem is that MS has introduced self-service BI tools alongside its corporate BI tools (which is a good thing, in my opinion, it gives MS the most complete BI stack in that it covers all bases) and there is a certain, inevitable tension between the two: self-service BI is often sold on the basis of the IT department failing to deliver with corporate BI tools. Given that marketing will always focus on the new stuff, which in this case is Office 2013 and the self-service story, it now seems like MS has abandoned corporate BI. It’s this perception that Microsoft really needs to do something about urgently.

      3. David, as a Microsoft employee who sells BI to corporate customers, I have to take issue with your comments. Our BI story is just as much about the corporate aspect of BI as it is the self-service aspects.

      4. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
        Chris Webb says:

        Todd, I believe you. But the fact remains that David has got a different impression of what MS is doing – exactly the impression that my friend at the conference had, and many other MS BI Pros have too. MS need to do something about this.

      5. That’s very fair Chris. Don’t get me wrong, this post (and comments) are fantastic. Perception is reality, as they say.

      6. Todd,

        If that is the case then why have there been no significant improvements to “corporate BI”? (Analysis Services multi-dimensional)

        Why has there been no significant improvements to PerformancePoint? Aren’t those the “corporate BI tools”?

        Seems like all of the development has been geared toward the “self serve” Bi products. If the Msft strategy is to sell both, then why has the majority of development efforts been on the “self serve BI” side?

      7. There is little doubt that the movement toward self-service BI is going to change the climate for some IT professional who specialize in BI – but the question is “how?” and “how much?”. I’ve been in the software and database business for well over twenty years (ooo, I never thought I’d say that) and in that time, have seen several innovations and advancements that people said were “going to change everything”. New tools, techniques and practices have threatened the livelihood of IT professionals over the past few decades but have only helped to foster adoption and push the industry forward. Anyone who has been in this industry more than a few years knows that things change every few years and our careers must evolve along with the industry. If someone wants to work in a business where things don’t change every three years, they can get a job as a woodcarver. I think that the way we work with business leaders and users will change a bit with the proliferation of these self-service tools but I also think, like most every other major industry shift we’ve witnessed over the years, this is a cycle. In cases, there will be over-adoption of do-it-yourself BI followed by problems that we will be called in to fix, trends will change and eventually there will be a balance. It’s how things work… that’s how people work.

        (reposted to my blog)

      8. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
        Chris Webb says:

        Thanks again, Paul, for some thoughtful comments. You’re right of course, but what you’ve just said makes me want to clarify some lazy statements I’ve made about ‘making a living’ in the world of self-service BI.

        There will always be work in BI I’m sure but maybe what worries BI Pros is not that we won’t be able to make a living in the world of self-service BI, but that we won’t be able to make as good a living as we used to. These may not be rational worries, but they are there in the back of a lot of people’s minds I’m sure. In the world of corporate BI, the BI Pro is highly paid and well respected; in the world of self-service, the business analyst does the same job as he/she always did but with some new skills and there is (in theory) no need for all that expensive consultancy and those long, difficult projects. That’s a good thing for the customer and the business analyst perhaps, and may be a Good Thing from an objective point of view, but it isn’t a good thing for the BI Pro because there’s less work for us, and the work will be less highly paid. Will we end up as Excel pros? How much do Excel pros get paid in comparison to BI pros? How many Excel pros are there out there, relative to what is a much bigger market? If self-service works in the way it’s meant to (and it won’t live up to the hype, but it is achieving more and more success), then we’ve been sidelined by new technology, the railway engineer in the age of the aeroplane…

      9. Chris, I’m forever the optimist but also acknowledge that sometimes over-exercised optimism can cloud judgment. You’re absolutely right that at one time, business practitioners had no options but to call in the BI professional to build entire solutions. As our colleague, Rob Collie has pointed out; this is an age where the Excel Pro has a strong future and I think there is a place for that role where there wasn’t before. No doubt that change is afoot. The big question is just how much and how soon. Time will tell.

      10. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
        Chris Webb says:

        Actually, I’m much more of an optimist than you might think from reading this blog Paul! It’s just that sometimes it’s a good idea to explore some worst-case scenarios…

      11. I am jumping way too late on the thread but I would like to add one more argument that seems to point out a major shift on focus from corporate BI to Self Service BI and maybe validate someone’s statement that Microsoft wants to reduce the need for BI Pros.

        I am a PASS chapter leader for a BI group and we are currently seeing a extremely lack of response from Microsoft in terms of support to the user groups. Several resources have shifted away from our community to the communities supporting Windows 8 product, Azure offering and Office. Have you guys checked out the events available at the Microsoft TechAffiliate program? There is nothing for SQL Server there.. Yet our user groups are only to get support if we sponsor events available through the TechAffiliate program. By support I mean funding, swag and some of the things that Microsoft traditionally has done for user groups.

        Now, this does not necessarily mean Microsoft is abandoning BI Pros. It could mean that it is just really concerned about establishing this other products but it is hard to be certain.

        Do we need to become an Azure group in order to get support? Maybe.. And maybe that is where everything is going..

        I like most of you think that there can’t be a corporate world without the BI pros (Self service BI can only get you so far) but I do thing that the space is about to shrink dramatically. I think there is a lot of writing in that wall.. Like Paul said, we have to be able to see this signs in advance and adapt.


      12. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
        Chris Webb says:

        Hi Luis,

        I’ve heard the same complaints from people who run .NET developer user groups, so I don’t think this is evidence for Microsoft abandoning SQL Server or BI Pros. I think this is just Microsoft cutting its budget for community activities and only supporting user groups that cover high-priority topics like Azure. It’s disappointing that MS is doing this though.


      13. In our company (a relatively small investment bank) the superusers would be more than capable of producing data models, views and transformations, reports and so on. Probably more so than the IT folk in our company, and there are no ‘BI’ dedicated staff here, only some more oriented on the BI stuff we do have. Up until now we’ve taken the DW approach. So far the investment in these tools means that there isn’t much motivation to change. Also not many are aware of the new Excel tools.
        However, what I see happening soon is that when we do upgrade our Office platform, the superusers will just make use of the new tools and the BI platform will become obsolete. We also have a .NET team in house and I can see the UIs and custom apps moving to the Office platform too. In this scenario, what will happen is that the “BI” staff will no longer be IT folk, but become part of the business.
        I think that the change that self service BI brings is a positive one in that the BI staff will not be seen as technologists, but as direct reports to management. While the responsibilities will be similar, the role will be different and the authority higher. In a way it helps bridge the divide between the two cultures of business and IT and pushes the information management into the business domain.

  17. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
    Chris Webb says:

    Thanks everyone for your great comments – I didn’t realise, when I wrote this post, that it would generate quite so much interest. I suppose the number of comments justifies my original motivation for writing this post, that this is an issue that MS BI Pros are thinking about a lot at the moment and that it’s something that needs to be discussed more openly by us and by Microsoft.

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the excellent Post, a very good perspective of what corporate BI and Self Service BI is. Would be really interested in knowing the future of MS BI Pros..

    1. Chris Webb – My name is Chris Webb, and I work on the Fabric CAT team at Microsoft. I blog about Power BI, Power Query, SQL Server Analysis Services, Azure Analysis Services and Excel.
      Chris Webb says:

      Thanks, Thierry! I hope I don’t hear that Tableau have been exploiting this debate to spread FUD – as you know we like to discuss things publicly in the MS BI community, but I think that’s healthy rather than a sign of weakness. I’m sure the thought never crossed your mind though 🙂

  18. Lots of great, insightful comments which are very close to my heart. Unfortunately I cannot comment myself, I can only enjoy the reading….
    (BTW, FUD is a sign of unleathly companies so you have nothing to worry about :))

  19. There will always be a need for corporate BI. It is insane to think otherwise or that Excel is the answer for everything. The CIO Summit comment was funny. I also laughed when I read it.

    Stepping back, sometimes you can be too close to something to see the bigger picture or the changes happening all around you. The in memory movement has been reducing SSAS Multidimensional footprint for a few years now. Listen to the in memory BI vendors give their pitch. Some of those in memory BI vendors have had >100% year over year sales growth the past few years. SSAS Multidimensional is practically in support only mode from Microsoft. SSAS Tabular in memory may be the future but it needs to have more basic enterprise level features soon to keep playing in the sandbox against other enterprise BI vendors. I do like what Microsoft is doing with Power View (except the Silverlight part and no iPad delivery). I fear their pursuit of “BI for the masses” may be taken too far, requiring the latest Excel version eliminates many groups from enjoying it, the SharePoint requirement for Power View was a real bummer, and as someone else said they may start ignoring the underlying enterprise engine since there is less money in the SSAS business to motivate them. Do we have a public roadmap to see where they are going? I read T.K. Anand’s after the SSAS confusion a few years ago. Has it been updated? I would like to see SSAS stay alive if for no other reason than for the semantic user friendly business layer I think only a BI Pro type SME can create effectively.

    How to make money? I developed Microsoft BI and specifically SSAS for a few years. After your infamous PASS Day 2 blog, I decided to protect myself and expand my BI skillsets to be wider across the data lifecycle and be more cross BI vendor/cross BI platform. That is a decision I do not regret. A lot of my former pure Microsoft BI peers are now developing BI with other platforms and front-end tools on top of SQL Server DWs. Our DBA peers are in a similar boat with regards to Microsoft and the cloud SQL Azure push. There will still be variations of DBA and BI jobs in the future but our jobs as we know them today may look a bit different in a few years. I keep hearing that data scientist jobs are supposed to be the next big thing but I am not sure how well those pay.

  20. Great and needed discussion. I would offer this though — why doesn’t Microsoft use some of their free cash flow (7.8B) to just buy the “solution”? I always thought that Microsoft should do a “Back to the Future” and go back to get Panorama with an offer today ala 1996. I don’t work for Panorama but their 2012 Necto “stack” is what is largely missing from the MS Corporate BI stack right now. If Microsoft is going to expect SP 2013, Cloud and Office 365 to carry the day via corporate IT departments doing a one time “port” to the Cloud, then I’d worry about MS BI Pros making a good case for that environment long term. It would be a lot easier to convince an IT department, to just keep it out of the Cloud, and then bring in something like Panorama with the BI Pros customizing it to complement missing elements from current front-end MS BI offerings. Make it the new new Corporate BI offering. HTML5 jquery data-driven charts are here and of course everyone wants that interactive “cool” look and feel right now across Corporate BI desktop and mobile.

  21. jrvidotti – Cuiabá, MT, Brasil – Tenho paixão por aprender coisas novas, o tempo todo. Resolver problemas podem se tornar uma obsessão. Apaixonado por desenvolvimento e tecnologia. Série-maníaco e cinéfilo.
    Junior Vidotti says:

    My bet is that Microsoft will evolve Excel 2013 PowerPivot and SSAS Tabular until the time that a power user made his own version of self-service BI and “share” his version through a SSAS Tabular database.

    SSAS Tabular has the same base that PowerPivot, and is natural that Tabular become the standard in corporate BI and Excel 2013 PowerPivot as the standard standalone BI.

    My actual complain in Microsoft’s strategy is the lack of a solid mobile SSAS strategy. :/

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