Choose the Right Business Intelligence Style for your Project

The Office Business Intelligence group gets the occasional question about why we offer several different BI solutions when our competitors often only offer one. Microsoft offers its customers no shortage of choices when it comes to BI solutions. We do this because, like anything else, there is no single solution for any problem. The hammer isn’t necessarily the tool for every trade, nor every job. And the tool that you can use to break down your business analytics should be no different. In this post, I want to talk briefly about what BI tools Microsoft offers and how they can be used for different purposes.

Choosing which BI application to use is a project-by-project decision. One BI application cannot cover your all your business needs – nor should it be able to. Each BI project has different users, different requirements and different stakeholders. Having choices available when you are planning your BI projects allows you to choose the right style, or tool, for the job.

BI styles depend on how users want to interact with information. The "How to Choose the Right Business Intelligence Technology to Suit Your Style" white paper defines 5 different styles.

  • Self-Service Analysis – Self-Service Analysis describes free-form reporting and analysis by users so that they can integrate data from disparate sources and drill-down and understand the root cause for data anomalies.  These non-technical users value the ability to perform their own reporting and analysis without relying on IT or others.
    Applications: Excel & Excel with PowerPivot
  • Business Reporting – This style describes formatted reports that are created by advanced business users or analysts.  Reports are typically based upon approved corporate data, and then shared more broadly with managers, teams, or departments. In this style, IT involvement is moderate, usually overseeing the distribution and monitoring of the reporting environment and building of the structured data layer upon which the reports are built.
    Applications: Excel with PowerPivot or Report Builder
  • Parameterized & Operational Reporting – Similar to the Business Reporting style, Parameterized &Operational Reporting is also characterized by fixed-format reports. The reports, however, are authored and managed by IT instead of business users and usually follow a pixel perfect format and rendering style. Consistency, scalability, manageability, and automated distribution are some of the key characteristics of this style.
    Applications: SQL Reporting Services
  • Performance Monitoring – This style describes dashboard-style reports that allow users to quickly and easily monitor the performance of their business.  This style is catered to executive level or department leadership who require at-a-glance visibility on the health of the business, but it often also permits further investigation via interactivity.
    Applications: Excel Services with PowerPivot for Excel, Reporting Services, PerformancePoint Services
  • Scorecarding – Scorecarding is a style that describes highly summarized views with Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs) measured and scored against predefined targets such as a balanced scorecard.  This style is generally a part of a performance management program, though it can also be used to measure operational performance.
    Applications: Excel Services with PowerPivot for Excel, Reporting Services, PerformancePoint Services

The BI style can be compared to the type of author and how structured the data is. The chart below shows how the different Microsoft BI tools fit in this matrix.

Microsoft provides a variety of BI applications that fit a variety of situations.  You can see that choosing just one application for all your BI needs would limit the type of BI projects you can accomplish. Having a choice allows success on all your BI projects.

Joe Wallace
Senior Program Manager Lead
Office BI