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Microsoft BI Review: "Build a highly automated and flexible BI solution for your organization!"
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Sean Brady profile photo
September 06, 2013

Microsoft BI Review: "Build a highly automated and flexible BI solution for your organization!"

Score 10 out of 101
Vetted Review
Verified User
Review Source

Software Version
2008 R2
Modules Used
SQL Server, Analysis Services, Reporting Services, Integration Services

Overall Satisfaction

  • Analysis Services by far outperforms in-memory ROLAP type systems - this allows for very fast ad-hoc drill-down and discovery of huge data sets. Don't believe otherwise - I can assure you it is true. Of course, you have to know what you are doing on the data modeling side in order to get there.
  • Analysis Services's ability to integrate with Reporting Services and Microsoft Excel is extremely attractive to business users, especially analysts who are very familiar with the powerful analysis tools already in Excel. The performance of reports built on Analysis Services is really a stand-out feature as well.
  • Integration Services is hands-down the most flexible and powerful ETL tool you have ever used. Just try it - there is no one else even close. You will be able to pull data from anywhere, push data to anywhere, and build just about any workflow you can think of around those processes. It is also an all-around great automation tool for your BI environment.
  • Reporting Services has both a feature-rich developer-oriented authoring environment (Visual Studio / BI Development Studio) as well as a simplified end-user authoring tool (Report Builder). It has an enormous collection of visualization components built in, as well as an even bigger set of 3rd party controls to allow you to create just about any report you can imagine. The ability to extend Reporting Services with .Net code (if you have the developers) expands your options even further.
  • The report authoring solutions in Reporting Services could be better, especially on the Report Builder (end-user oriented) side.
  • Greatly reduced reporting project development time (and associated costs).
  • Significantly larger pool of experts to assist on large / ad-hoc projects.
  • Faster availability of critical business data to our users (due to decreased development time as well as performance of overall system - we are able to keep the data very fresh).
  • Significantly increased ETL / data integration capabilities means that more legacy and external system data is making it into the data warehouse.
It is the best fit BI solution for a Microsoft shop - nobody else is even close on integration capabilities, feature set, and price at this point.
Although it is technically a different product, you can build a really nice self-service intranet reporting solution by integrating Reporting Services into Microsoft SharePoint (Enterprise). I would highly recommend going in that direction if you are looking to deploy this stack.
Also, remember that Excel is your friend! No, it should never be used to store data, but it is an amazingly flexible and powerful analysis and reporting tool - especially when combined with Power Pivot and SharePoint.

Product Usage

  • Forcasting
  • Asset Management
  • Pricing
  • Sales Reporting
  • Customer Satisfaction Reporting
  • Detailed Account-level Cost and Revenue Reporting

Evaluation and Selection

We were using a custom, in-house developed (ASP.Net) portal and reporting system, with a little bit of Crystal Reports and Microstrategy in there.
Microstrategy - I went with Microsoft BI because of features, usability, integration capabilities, performance, availability of talent, cost, and end-user (self-service) capabilities.

Implementation

You need to have (1) a very solid SQL Server DBA and (2) a Windows Server administrator with domain administrator rights to get the BI stack set up correctly. As most Windows systems people will tell you, a lot of good comes out of doing some security planning on the domain side (users, groups, roles, etc.) before you start the implementation. This is a big integrated system, and getting it set up right is half the battle.
On the development side, you will want to have a full time data architect making sure that the model you are developing holds together and supports the reporting requirements of the business. You will also want a technical lead who has rich experience with the stack - that person will be able to shepherd the rest of the development team and help them come up to speed with the tools.

Training

  • Online training
  • Self-taught
I have used on-line training from Microsoft and from Pragmatic Works. I would recommend Pragmatic Works as the best way to get up to speed quickly, and then use the Microsoft on-line training to deep dive into specific features that you need to get depth with.
I have been working with this BI stack since before the 2000 version (even though it didn't really get pulled together until the 2000 version). Because of this, I have been steadily picking up more exposure to and experience with the parts of the stack as they were introduced and evolved; and, I was in a position to be able to build solutions with the stack all along the way. Since that may not be your background with this tool, I would highly recommend getting some training before diving into a big project built with Microsoft BI. You will want training in: (1) a data modeling methodology for multi-dimensional data (i.e. Kimball method) so you can use Analysis Services, (2) Analysis Services itself, and (3) Integration Services. SQL Server and Reporting Services are a little easier for the average developer to pick up (in my experience). But if you can, get the whole end-to-end integrated training from Pragmatic Works and you'll be building complete solutions much more quickly than you expected.

Support

I am basing this rating not on Microsoft's paid premium support, but rather on the resources available (both from Microsoft and 3rd parties) to BI consumers. There is such a huge community working with and building solutions with the Microsoft BI stack (SQL Server) that I have always been able to find a solution (or at least a workaround) to any problems that have come up.
No - I have not needed to reach out to Microsoft for support on the BI stack; the community expertise is very deep and readily available.