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SQLBI - Marco Russo

SQLBI is a blog dedicated to building Business Intelligence solutions with SQL Server.
You can follow me on Twitter: @marcorus

Microsoft doesn't play the (traditional) BI client game

I know, the title is provocative. It's intentional. I'd like to get feedback about my opinion.

My point is simple (but not so short!). PowerPivot (which, you know, I like) and self-service BI are the new buzzwords for BI in Redmond. However, there are mature and solid technologies out there (read Analysis Services) which simply don't have a correspondent client technology provided by Microsoft that takes advantage of all the SSAS capabilities. I know, I'm not talking about BI for the masses, I'm talking about a more "traditional" BI, that can be still a barrier to Microsoft technologies penetration in some companies. In fact, who has a solution based on another technology might be unlikely to migrate everything just to deliver some report to more users. Right or not, this is what happens in the real world.

Now, if only I had know that MS didn't had plan to write the "final" BI client in 2004... You know, the day MS presented WPF (it was called Avalon at that time) it was clear that the new generation BI client tool had to be written using that technology. And to me it was obvious that someone were writing that killer application. Five, six years later, nothing happened. Microsoft bought ProClarity in the worst move ever. They scared potential investor in the BI client tool and they failed in producing a client tool which was independent from the Office product line. If only I had know that... yes, I would've looked for VC to produce that killer app. Today, it would be a game over.

Instead, nothing really important happened. Yes, if you have Office 2010 you can use Excel 2010 that fixed some bugs of Excel 2007 and it has cool new features and can be published with SharePoint 2010. Amazing. But, I know a lot of companies where delivering SharePoint 2010 just for BI is something that nobody will consider. Finally, Microsoft provides a complete set of technologies to those companies who want to provide BI for the masses. But our advanced users doesn't have very much. PowerPivot is very cool for all these databases they don't have in an OLAP cube. But if they already have a cube, they lack of an advanced client tool.

To tell the true, several new tools emerged in the last few years, and I've seen very very good piece of software. But, no killer app, sorry - no WPF-Silverlight powerful-animated-fast client tool out there (if someone wrote it, please ring the bell!). Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the market is too small for "traditional BI". I don't know.

But I know that Microsoft is not playing the BI client game out of Office. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense that Jamie McLennan left Microsoft for a newco (founded just two months ago with VC investments) that will work in the Data Mining field using Microsoft techologies. What else if not a "client tool" for Data Mining?

Today I'm much less worried than some years ago suggesting alternative (to Excel) client tools for BI, created by third parties (that usually are Microsoft partners, anyway). In fact, I still don't see the killer app. Today, we have the technology foundation for building Minority Report style BI tools. But, where is the product? I still don't see it, and I really don't believe (at this point) that I will see it from Microsoft.

Published Tuesday, January 05, 2010 1:31 AM by Marco Russo (SQLBI)

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Rod Colledge said:

I share your frustrations Marco. Using Excel just doesn't seem right (despite its amazing capabilities), and installing SharePoint just for BI is a big ask. I remember Data Analyzer coming out years ago and thinking that was the future :-)

January 4, 2010 8:13 PM
 

Paul te Braak said:

Frustrating to say the least!  MSAS is so powerful with only (what data access and some kpi & actions) available through excel.  

I think that the lack of a good client tool is something that is a real draw back when compared a product like COGNOS.  Mind you im not a fan of COGNOS but  I see a lot of clients saying something along the lines ‘Show me how your (client) does this … ‘ which a suggests a turnkey solution.

January 5, 2010 3:27 AM
 

ebaiwa said:

I've been waiting for this killer app for quite a few years as well... (I actually thought that Proclarity was going to play that role)

When talking to Microsoft folks it seems like they really think that Excel is the way to go with SSAS... I have to admit that most of the time Excel will be the place where an analysis will end-up (it's been like that since my cognos days 8 years ago) but i still wish we could provide our customers with a proper and standard front-end tool.

January 5, 2010 11:02 AM
 

Davide Mauri said:

IMHO the problem with MS is that they don't think in terms of "solutios" but just in terms of products. Other copetitors like Oracle, QlikView, Cognos, BO and so on offers to the customer a complete set of "stadard" reports and solutions. MS offers tools and then let the customers build their own solution. Of course, this is what a customer really needs because no business is like another, but the customer appreciate a lot when Oracle comes and say "here is our standard solution for BI, you just have to put inside your data, and the all reports and everything is already done". Now, we all knows that "putting the data inside" is 80% of the effeort, but the customer just understand that "everything is already done". With MS he understand that he will buy beautiful, high-performance, self-tuning hammers, nails and screwturns and he will create its own solution. With beautiful tools but with the feeling of "reinventing the weel" every time.

As long as MS won't understand this, I fear we will never move a little further.

So I'm not waiting for "the killer application" but for the "killer solution (framework I would add)".

Don't you share my same feelings?

January 5, 2010 11:47 AM
 

Marco Russo (SQLBI) said:

Thank you for so many comments!

@Rod: I still remember Data Analyzer - it was a so nice promise!

@ptebraak: I know, there is a lack of functionalities in MS tools, but in 2010 I'd expect a killer app for both functionalities, user experience and fancy graphics and animations

@ebaiwa: Excel is good for 80-90% of users in a company. The problem are the remaining 10-20% which build reports for the others and that really are able to navigate data - they need more, and Excel is not the right tool

@Davide: sorry, I don't agree. I know a lot of companies who bought a solution and failed, because it required a lot of work and was less flexible than Microsoft approach. My rant is just about tools. Microsoft don't have a single tool which is able to query SSAS at 99% of its capabilities. At its best, Excel is at 50%, if not less. And I don't think competitors are much better. Remember, we are in 2010 and I don't see much evolution since 2000 in the client tool field, which is something I cannot develop tailored for each custoer. Again, SSAS is the best MOLAP engine in the market (my personal opinion after I saw other engines), but it doesn't have a client tool good enough.

January 5, 2010 2:39 PM
 

Terry Blanck (Accelare) said:

I've been waiting and using visualization work-arounds for so many years, I've kinda given up on MS.  Why don't they just go ahead and buy Dundas and fix/enhance the Chart for OLAP Services?

Problem solved.

January 6, 2010 10:14 AM
 

Marco Russo (SQLBI) said:

January 6, 2010 10:35 AM
 

Kory said:

I very much agree with Marco.  I started used OLAP Services in SQL 7 and saw the promise.  Back then a company called Knosys created a product called "ProClarity" that tapped into this power.  Over the years we saw OLAP Services evolve into Analysis Services and Office include OWC for developers.  But the big question mark was why Microsoft didn't provide a capable tool that leveraged ALL features of AS. A ray of hope came when they purchased Data Analyzer, but that fizzled.  Then they started to enhance Excel (with add-ins), but only about 25%).  Then they acquired Proclarity and a new product called PerformancePoint was born, but alas that fell short as well.  Excel continues to improve, but not quite there yet.  

My point is that this has been a long time since OLAP Services and 3rd party clients have come and gone- some good, some not, but none really became the killer app and Microsoft seems like the obvious creator of this killer app... so where is it??

January 6, 2010 12:57 PM
 

Marco Russo (SQLBI) said:

Kory, you're right, we don't see the killer app and, what is worst, nobody knows that it is at least in development somewhere.

Guys, this is a suggestion for free to any VC interested in a good investment: build a client tool for SSAS in WPF/Silverlight which has 90% of the features of ProClarity (creating the user interface that does the same things of ProClarity today in WPF is much more simple than 10 years ago), get consultancy from some guys expert in MDX and performance optimization (so MDX query will be written well) hire Stephen Few for graphics and dashboard design, provide the rights wizard and templates, put animation, do the viewer in Silverlight. Done. Come in... you wasted millions in useless and dead social networking apps... this one is real business! :)

January 6, 2010 1:56 PM
 

Matt Quinn said:

Have you looked at BOARD 7?

A stand alone BI and CPM product, it now also has the ability to report, dashboard, plan etc directly against AS cubes and revived a great response at SQL bits in Newport late last year.

Inline with your desire for a modern interface, BOARD utilises entirely .NET 3.5 platform to it's best:

WPF, WCF, WWF and can be delivered at the front end via thick .NET client or over the web as a Silverlight client.

We're a UK partner of BOARD and I'd be happy to discuss in more detail.  

January 7, 2010 3:49 PM
 

Marco Russo (SQLBI) said:

Matt, I knew Board but I didn't knew they moved to WPF!

Nice news. It would be good trying a demo version, unfortunately there is no downloadable demo.

In case you want to contact me, write to marco.russo (at) sqlbi (dot) com

January 7, 2010 5:20 PM
 

Stian said:

We have done a client in Silverlight, not intended for ad-hoc analysis however.

http://demo.profitbase.com:82/InFront/Main/MainStart.aspx?MenuID=STANDARD_INFOPAGE

January 11, 2010 9:31 AM
 

Eric Halverson said:

Take a look at Strategy Companion's Analyzer. Quoting Douglas McDowell, contributing editor, SQL Server Magazine in the December 2009 issue - "Filling the gaping hole left by Microsoft's absorption of ProClarity, Strategy Companion's Analyzer is the best solution to complete the Microsoft platform. For analysts, power users, and general report consumers, Analyzer supports the full range of SQL Server Analysis Services features. It has a zero-footprint client interface, making it simple to deploy and manage, with delivery options for SharePoint, Excel, and IE. Analyzer offers a powerful and intuitive set of analysis tools and visualizations that let business users make more confident decions."

January 11, 2010 1:17 PM
 

info@entsoftsol.com said:

Ring, Ring… Here are some links that may be of interest:

a)      Silverlight SSAS/BI (SBIC) (http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/silverlightbic/">http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/silverlightbic/ )  - SSAS Cube browser: this is a client-side ONLY solution; highly-scalable with NO middle tier; no-bottlenecks; support for sessionless SSAS load-balancing – each new client is more hardware to the solution! Just point the endpoint to any XMLA SSAS message pumps and you are ready to go (don’t forget the crossdomain policy file).   It uses XMLA WS direct calls; allows for both NT and Custom/Forms based security!  The tool uses the SSAS metadata for rendering the UI elements (for example: the icons in the tree are based on the Hierarchy types).  Filtering restrictions are also based on SSAS settings (i.e. if an attribute is marked “FilterRequired”, the user needs to filter it first before placing it on the grid).  Interactive Charts and Interactive Maps (500+) are integrated into the product.  The tool also has a unique MDX debugging and analysis capabilities (based on Mosha’s work and under his license). It can export girds, charts, and maps to JPG or PNG. The grid has context menu for quick analysis functions(i.e. YTD, PP, moving averages, %, etc.). The user can customize the charting (dual X, colors, multiple chart types).  The maps support multi-series data.   Other features: all actions are supported, drillthrus, native support for images, KPIs, ,member-properties display, on-demand data downloading, perspectives support, bandwidth optimized (gzip), SSRS integrated, Export to Excel (both data and connecting strings), out-of-browser installation, full-screen, cross-browser, pagination, lots of options, and more. Upcoming features: GIS integration is coming in the next month (here is the prototype: http://sql2008.entsoftsol.com/gismaps/  ).  Decomposition Trees is another feature coming up (here is the prototype: http://sql2008.entsoftsol.com/silverlight/decomtree.htm">http://sql2008.entsoftsol.com/silverlight/decomtree.htm  ).

b)      BI Companion (BIC) (http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/BICompanion/">http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/BICompanion/ )  - SSAS cube browser: HTML/AJAX client-ONLY solution; same architecture as SBIC. Perhaps, one of the most advanced HTML/JS apps out there. Self-contained, query-string-controlled for embedding in third party apps (i.e. Sharepoint). Some advance features: Virtualized Grid (only render what it’s visible; try 100,000cells);  on-demand only data downloading; bandwidth optimized (gzip); writebacks, interactive charts and maps; custom mdx;  UI based on SSAS metadata; filter restrictions based SSAS settings, and more

c)       DM Companion (DMC) ( http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/DMCompanion/">http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/DMCompanion/ ) – Data Mining client: HTML/AJAX client-only solution; same architecture as SBIC.  Supports: Model viewing, Lift Charts, predictions, data visualization, and more.

d)      RS Companion (RSC) (http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/RSCompanion/">http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/RSCompanion/ ) – Report Server client: HTML/AJAX client-only solution; same architecture as SBIC but uses SSRS WS endpoint.  The RSC allows for on-line report creation and publishing, using unique one-of-kind technology (i.e. NO direct access to the datasource is REQUIRE!).  It’s a replacement form Report Manager and VS Report designer.  The tool allows for report administration, report migration between servers with drag-n-drop, security setting, on-click report creation and publishing with unique “Quick-Procs” feature (drag a stored proc and it auto creates the report with all parameters!), report data source fixing, integration with BIC for MDX-to-SSRS auto-conversion, and a lot of other features using the mouse drag-n-drop.  It has similar functionality as Sharepoint; it allows uploading of any files into SSRS and administering them. The uploaded items then can be used create dashboards with drag and drop.

e)      Silverlight SSRS 2005/2008 (http://sql2008.entsoftsol.com/silverlight/  ) – SSRS report browser with XAML SSRS Rendering Extension. This is a client –ONY solution; it uses the SSRS WS endpoint APIs; same architecture as  SBIC.   It allows native rendering of SSRS reports in Silverlight/WPF; it’s a replacement for MS Report Viewer.  Supports:  SSRS 2005/2008, drillthru actions, URL links, sorting, exporting, printing, and more.

Let us know if we are missing anything from the BI stack or its features, and we’ll be glad to add it. Thanks.

Main Demo Page with all links: http://demoserver.entsoftsol.com/bisuite/

January 11, 2010 2:00 PM
 

Marco Russo (SQLBI) said:

I'm happy to see that some vendor posted its links here - you are welcome :)

I received informations about these other tools that have nice features:

http://www.board.com (it is in WPF, it should get data from SSAS but I never tested it)

http://www.tableausoftware.com

http://www.softpro.hr/Products/CubePlayer/tabid/65/Default.aspx (CubePlayer has the best MDX editor I've seen)

A more complete list is available here:

http://www.ssas-info.com/analysis-services-client-tools-frontend

January 18, 2010 10:40 AM
 

Antonio Smiraglia said:

Hi Marco, fisrt let me say that I agree at all with your post. That said, I just took a look to another vendor: http://www.it-workplace.co.uk . I suggest you to check it out

cheers

Antonio

January 20, 2010 8:44 AM
 

Jim Sinclair said:

I'm afraid too much of Microsoft's BI strategy is driven by the need to keep everybody locked into Office.  In the environment I work in I really need to be able to deliver web-based OLAP, and Microsoft has done everything possible to make that harder.  Why they didn't just make ProClarity a SQL Server component after the purchase is beyond me.

BTW, I saw a pretty impressive demo of the new NovaView software from Panorama the other day.  You should check them out.

January 25, 2010 1:39 PM
 

SQLBI - Marco Russo said:

I know, the answer is: SharePoint. But, despite SharePoint 2010 is much easier to install (well, I’m

March 4, 2010 4:52 AM
 

ryangaraygay said:

Thanks for this great.

I couldn't agree any better. We (our company) are also on the same quest for a good client-side component for SSAS. For sometime already and hopefully we run into that will fit our requirements (flexibility, performance and features).

Adding myself to the long list of people calling for action from Microsoft on this. Or a good 3rd party or community to come up with a really good one.

April 7, 2010 1:17 AM
 

Rif said:

Dont forget the amazing ActiveX Controls from Microsoft OWA, long live OWA!

September 13, 2010 7:07 PM
 

Rif said:

Sorry, should have been Microsoft OWC..

September 13, 2010 7:07 PM

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About Marco Russo (SQLBI)

Marco Russo is a consultant, writer and trainer specialized in Business Intelligence with Microsoft technologies. He runs the SQLBI.COM website, which is dedicated to distribute resources useful for BI developers, like Integration Services components, Analysis Services models, tools, technical information and so on. Marco is certified as MCT, MCDBA, MCSD.NET, MCSA, MCSE+I.

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