Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) Tools and Microsoft Dynamics Business Applications (like GP and CRM) Can Jumpstart your BI Initiative

I often get asked about Business Intelligence and related tools, as dashboards and data integration have become so common today. Everyone wants “instant information.” After all, aren’t we all information workers today?

Since my company is a Microsoft Partner, doing Dynamics (GP, SL and CRM) business applications, my first recommendation is to “look close to home”. You may be surprised by how much existing BI you already own and are not utilizing if you use Microsoft products (Dynamics, SQL, SharePoint, and Office). The Microsoft BI toolkit is not a lightweight player in the BI market, as you can see from the 2013 Gartner’s Magic Quadrant graphic below.

So why do Microsoft customers not know the value and quality of the BI tools they already own? Why do they start exploring the Hyperions, the SAS and Information Builders before looking at their own backyard?

I think the answer is two fold; one is that a pure “BI” software maker targets and markets its tool independently, meaning “This is What we Sell and You Should Buy,” while the Microsoft suite is marketed by the various components that comprise the set. The SQL group, the SharePoint group, the Office group and the Dynamics group all tell a great story but not the complete story. Secondly, I think historically BI should be complex and expensive in customers’ minds.

Some of the earliest roots of BI technology can be found in relatively simple reporting and analysis technologies. Pulling data from disparate systems was complicated and expensive. However, todays databases (for the most part) have modern APIs that make merging data less difficult. So, customers who have data from Dynamics GP’s SQL database auto-push into Excel, don’t realize that although this used to be a complex undertaking, it is now “out of the box.” Because it is just “there,” Microsoft technology users may not understand the complex, but natively free BI that Microsoft has created.

Back to my first point, because each Microsoft BI group touts its reporting, analytics, strategic planning/budgeting and predictive insights somewhat independently, the mindset of Microsoft users may be that these “cool toys” are not as good with Microsoft as with the others. But this is quickly changing as the Office group has championed the Microsoft BI story (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/bi/default.aspx) and has separated out the server and end user tools to provide a compelling strategy.

From the end user perspective, Power Pivot, an Excel product, empowers users of all levels to access and mashup data from virtually any source. Users can create their own compelling reports and analytical applications, easily share insights, and collaborate with colleagues through Microsoft Excel and SharePoint. SQL Server 2012 introduces Power

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