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James Luetkehoelter

Nearly any SQL topic presented at times in a slightly eclectic manner.

An open letter to Microsoft: Listen to the real world please

Before I start, I want to say I have a lot of respect for the MS development people, and many of those in MSC. But Microsoft, you have a fundamental disconnect with what is real and what you're moving towards.

After hearing of the layoffs and the the end of Performance Point:Planning (I'm not entirely pleased with Performance Point as an end-user multi-dimensional data consumption tool), I started thinking more about the product and features MS is marketing. I've also been recalling encounters with MCS people brought in to provide an optimal "solution" or fix an issue with something with SQL Server or Sharepoint or Biztalk (the areas that I know). In almost every instance (almost), I see MS marketing, product development and consulting very out of touch with what people really need. Initially when Bill et alia started MS, no one knew what to do with computers, so they needed to very much steer the technology to show how it can drive business. I believe we've reached the turning point with technology and business. I understand that when MS comes in to a company, they're focused on their product and their product alone. What needs to change - look at the business.

So what does a buiness really need (and we'll stick with databases since this is SQLBlog):

  • A business usually needs dire help organizing, managing and understanding its own data: One truism that most of us know is what a business asks for and what they really need are often two very, very different things. This entails not simply performing tasks but asking questions like "Why do you need this data? What questions are you trying to answer or what are you hoping to learn?" Then the true need often reveals itself.
  • A business needs people that truly understand their data: I'm not talking just about the data structure of the database, but the business meaning of the data, and what I usually refer to as the "application" meaning - how is this used or exposed in an application? This starts us down the road of Master Data Management, which MS is far, far behind in facilitating tools for this. Yes, there is something they acquired, but it is slow in coming and looks to me to be "cookie-cutter". Right now my best tool would be Excel or another SQL database...
  • Instead of buying a really generic tool like Sharepoint or Biztalk (or SQL and all it entails), a business needs to understand how these tools can be used to improve their business: I don't know how many times I've run into a SQL BI implementation with no thought into how it can really help the business - the assumption is the business knows. The same goes for Sharepoint (an information nightmare if not organized consistently) or Biztalk (usually overkill). Seldom does anyone selling or installing the product take the time to discover what might be useful for the business.
  • A business needs a way to quickly consume their data: I'm sorry PerformancePoint (and Proclarity) - you aren't cutting it. PerformancePoint is basically Proclarity rehashed - I believe if Proclarity was still in business they would have a had a new, more intuitive, useful version of the product. And things look now that PerformancePoint is close to the chopping block. Excel? Excell services? Um, no. If anyone has used some other data visualization products, you can see what is really possible from multi-dimensional data.

What's the common theme here? Business understanding is necessary for a successful product. It's time MS starts thinking this way and stop trying to assume a business process with any of their products, or assume a business understands how to use their own information (or even what it means). Does that mean MS needs to have a business consulting wing? Maybe. But the days of "here's our product, buy it and all will be well" are long, long gone.

Anyone disagree? Am I drunk or insane?

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2009 11:47 AM by James Luetkehoelter



Chris Webb said:

No, I agree 100%.

January 28, 2009 5:55 AM

John said:

I think it depends on the team within Microsoft.  I believe the Visual Studio\.Net teams are really doing a good job with community feedback. ASP.Net MVC team has been amazing.  I'm not so sure the data teams are as good.  Hence the Entity Framework.

January 28, 2009 12:39 PM

IgorM said:

This is why we have a lot of consulting companies and business integrators. MS follows the old advertising model - make it so flexible that will fit to everyone. As you can see that the "crowd" buys this and it becomes a common pitfall - buy the generic MS product, spend zillion of hours learning it, modifying it and fine tuning it to your needs. So after ALL this complexity - you loose the sight of your final problem.

I agree that there should be a business focus on the products, but, I disagree that a single company can provide this focus for so many business needs. I see here a great niche for small companies.

January 28, 2009 2:24 PM

James Luetkehoelter said:

John, Igor:

Interesting comments, and I think you're both right. I would no way expect MS to have products catered to each vertical or horizontal line of business. However, they do *market* products as being the solution for your business problems, including Visual Studio. Somehow having a better development environment and tools and features at your fingertips is going to improve your business.

Also, when listening to the customer base - hey, it's us - isn't it? The .NET/VS side listens to developers, SQL listens to SQL people, etc. But MS is marketing generic products as business solutions (they aren't the only ones - remember the IBM fairy dust commercials?). To me that is fundamentally wrong. They sell the tool before understanding the business problem, and then clients get upset with MS (I see this day in day out).

Yes, it's a great niche market for integrators and consultants. But marketing (again, I'm not so much talking about MS development teams or necessarly MCS, but how the overall company market's the products) has to partner first with those integrators to help understand the problem, then make the product sale. Clients would be more happy, consultants would be less frustrated, and MS would end up selling more products.

A tool doesn't solve a problem, you have to solve the problem and find a tool that helps you implement the solution.



January 29, 2009 2:46 PM

steve dassin said:

James said:

"here's our product, buy it and all will be well"

This is the idea of selling a vat into which any and everything can be dumped, the cloud vat. BI is the strainer that everything is dumped thru. But it's a golden strainer. Because it's more than capable of finding fools gold. This is selling pure expediency to the naive that would actually buy into such illogical hype. And here's a public statement of such a policy:

'Dave Campbell on SQL Server 2008, Cloud Services, and More'

What he thinks about the latest SQL Server release, Kilimanjaro, Madison, and Azure

February 2009 edition of SQL Server Magazine

"Just think about it--we’re in a world where you can collect vast amounts of data and process it. If you can detect correlations between things, in order to exploit them for business value, you don’t even have to understand causality; you just know that

there’s a correlation... More and more I see businesses that can capitalize on that."

The promise to find a high number. Regardless of how stupid it is. History teaches it's never a great idea to be all in with the best and brightest:)

The great myth that data is a companys most precious asset. Nonsense. What should be the most prized is the brains of the people working it. For proof just look at the state of the worlds current economy. It seems from the MS standpoint, their just selling

less is more. And mature people are supposed to get excited about this? But perhaps MS thinks technology has anaesthetized business acumen. Lets hope they're wrong.

A good and mature post. Thank you.

January 30, 2009 7:56 PM

zahmed said:

I agree with you

February 2, 2009 12:16 AM

Kevin Mao said:

The same goes for Sharepoint (an information nightmare if not organized consistently) - I total agree that

Sharepoint is a tool need to be customized to meet business needs, but cost too much to customize it and keep using it in a consistent way.

February 2, 2009 4:45 PM
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About James Luetkehoelter

I am passionate about what I do - which is DBA, development, IT and IT business consulting. If you don't know me, haven't met me or have never heard me speak, I'm a little on the eccentric side. One attendee recently described me as being "over the top". Yup, that about says it - because I only speak on topics that I'm passionate about.
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