Why is Microsoft BI Right for Me?
Updated February 04, 2015
Why is Microsoft BI Right for Me?
Score 10 out of 10
Overall Satisfaction with Microsoft BI
Microsoft BI that is part of SQL Server 2014 is very easy to install and configure in either a department or enterprise setting. I have experience in both scenarios with multiple different clients in various industries. There is also a lot flexibility in how you install/configure the Microsoft BI tools, depending on what type of solutions you are looking to implement. If you need just an ETL (Extract, Transform & Load) solution to get a data mart up and running using data from multiple sources or if you need a quick web based reporting solution. You have the options to put each of the Microsoft BI tools on separate servers (virtual or physical) or one server and you can then scale out or up on each of these options as needed over time. All of the tools use a standard set of development tools provided either with SQL Server or available for free from Microsoft's website. These tools are all using the Visual Studio engine and provide a very easy to learn environment, especially for those that have done any development in Visual Studio in the past. The end users will be able to easily interact with the solutions you build either through the web or in tools they are most familiar with like Excel.
- SSIS is by far the easiest and most efficient ETL (Extract, Transform & Load) tool available, after trying many different tools over the years there is no tool that is more flexible and easier to develop solutions with. What takes days/weeks or longer to setup in other tools can be done in at least half the time and perform better.
- SSRS is one of the best web reporting tools available for companies of any size that doesn't require you to re-architect your entire existing database structure. SSRS can connect to all of the major databases and work with data from multiple of them all in the same report. For web reporting that needs to be up and running fast, but be secure and easy to develop on there is no better tool available today.
- SSAS is for more in depth analysis of your data and it has the same capabilities as all other Microsoft tools to connect to multiple data sources and present the data to the user in standardized format. Most users will love that they can access so much of the companies data in Excel using the PivotTables that they probably already use today, but now you are controlling the data and know that it is the correct data. With the new Tabular capabilities in SQL Server 2012 and up it allows end users to help build the initial version of these complex data structures which can then be migrated over to IT to add security, automation and quality control to the final solution.
- The development tools for Microsoft BI in SQL Server 2012 and up are in a bit of flux at the moment. Initially with SQL Server 2012 they were all fully integrated and available with the installer, but now they have moved to it being a separate web download that you have know which version you need to get it working correctly with the version of SQL Server you are working on. Thankfully all of these tools still use Visual Studio as the starting point, but it would be nice to see the tools better integrated going forward and still able to be updated on a regular basis.
- SSRS has not seen any major updates in the last couple of versions of SQL Server and it could really benefit from some of the new advancements that Microsoft has made with the Power BI line of products that are only available if you use the cloud based Office 365 service. It would be really nice to see some of the features that are available in Power BI added to SSRS to make it a more complete web based reporting tool and more accessible to end users as well as IT.
Microsoft BI provides the most flexibility and best integration across of the products in the SQL Server Microsoft BI Suite (and with other Microsoft tools). The tools are flexible enough to work just as well in a small group as they are in a large enterprise and without having to re-learn the products to fit those different scenarios. All of the tools in the SQL Server Microsoft BI stack are provided with one licenses (assuming you install everything on one server) and all of the development tools required are available for free if they they aren't included with the main installer. The Microsoft BI tools will work with most of the major database systems out of the box and if it doesn't, there is a very active 3rd party software environment that develops free or paid add-ons that will cover the options that Microsoft doesn't out of the box. The tools are easy to learn and use and updated on a very regular basis. There is always the flexibility to add or take away from the products installed as part of a Microsoft BI solution, so you never have to be locked into using only the tools provided by Microsoft.
Flexibility and ease of use! I have not found something that I can't do with the Microsoft BI tools. Some things may be a struggle, but that comes with any tool. The online community support for developers and users of Microsoft is tops as well. If you have a problem you can post in the forums provided by Microsoft or just post on Twitter and you will get an answer from the experts in the field in no time. There is no better community out there for technology that is very supportive and will not bash you even for asking the most basic question. There are plenty of options for support that don't require you to contact Microsoft and that helps save a lot of dollars and time. The tools are keep up-to-date and are constantly evolving.
I have implemented Microsoft BI in small departments with less than 10 people all the way up to full enterprise deployments with multiple IT groups and 1000's of users. The only difference will be what of the provided Microsoft BI tools will you use and how many servers will it all be installed on. Once it is setup it is very easy to keep up-to-date and even expand in the future. Some of the tools do need more IT involvement to get up and running, but once it is setup and working it can easily go into a hands-off setup and just works. I have been oncall support for an enterprise SSRS deployment that was on multiple servers across multiple data centers and only received calls of issues once or month or less and most of time those were cause by human error and not following the procedures that were established.
There is no data that I have not been able to get with the Microsoft BI tools. The tools will accept flat files and access any database that has a way to query it, even if that is through a web API. If you need to get some data into a Microsoft BI solution, there is a way to do it. You can go down the custom development route if you have to, but in most cases there is someone else that has tried to do the same thing and shared their solution online for you to use. The Microsoft BI tools are used in so many different companies and scenarios that it is very rare these days that you are first one doing something. There is also the speed factor, depending on the source of the data I have run into more issues with the source systems not being able to keep up with the processing on the Microsoft BI side.
It is easy to export anything you build in Microsoft BI to Excel or other tools and then share it from there. With SSRS being a web based reporting tool, that makes it very easy to share reports with anyone that has access to the internet or the network. At this point the weak point in report accessibility is on tablets and smartphones, Microsoft is working to make all of their tools HTML5 compliant, but it is not there yet. Security for all of the tools is baked in and is easy to setup if you already have a Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure. If you are not using Microsoft Active Directory you can still enhance the tools to use your own security tools without a lot effort. I believe that in the very near future this rating will be a 10 as well, once all of the tools are supported on all platforms using established standards.
There are a very wide variety of options with visualizations in SSRS, but not everything is available yet. SSRS excels in creating fixed formatted reports that can show visualizations and/or detail data on the same reports. The tools allow for amazing levels of customization, which can be frustrating for new developers to get used to, but once you learn how it all works it will allow you to develop anything they give you. You can use SSRS to build dashboards even though most will warn you against it, but since it is a web based tool that is much easier to setup than SharePoint (and it doesn't require SharePoint, but can integrate with it as well) it is ideal for creating some of those quick dashboards and have it in front of the right people quickly. As your reporting needs mature in the organization there is even more that can be done by using SSAS. The best thing is that all of the solutions you build in the SQL Server Microsoft BI stack will be accessible in the newer tools like Power BI as well, so you don't lose that investment as you mature in capabilities.
Microsoft BI works across many different scenarios and solutions, so it is an ideal tool for small department roll outs that may grow to full enterprise solutions or even starting at the enterprise level. The biggest thing to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use SSRS is are you going to be able to support all of the group's reporting needs as it does not have a good end-user report development tool at this point (Report Builder is no longer being supported by Microsoft). SSRS is meant to be an IT driven reporting environment where the report formats are very rigid and the reports need to be delivered to a set of users by a specific time every hour/week/day/month. SSRS is NOT an ad-hoc reporting tool and should never be thought of that way. If you are looking for ad-hoc analysis of data then you should consider setting up either Multi-Dimensional or Tabular structures in SSAS and then the users can access those structures in Excel and create "reports" in Excel to show it. If you are looking for a way to get control of your data and end the Excel "spreadmarts" then the tools provided in SQL Server Microsoft BI will help with that given that you have the time and resources to develop that solution.
Using Microsoft BI
70 - Consultants, Business Analysts, Project Managers, Directors and C Level, it is being used at all levels for all functions of our business and it keeps getting used more and more with the new Power BI functionality that has made it available for mobile as well as laptops/desktops. We use it to drive our business and keep us up-to-date on our bottom line and make sure all of our projects/clients working well.