How SharePoint 2010 brings BI to the next level

A survey of the key enhancements to Microsoft's business analytics capabilities

Microsoft SharePoint has a long history of bringing BI (business intelligence) capabilities to users, but it's generally done so with a mishmash of acquired technologies revamped to fit the Microsoft model, look, and feel, and pieced together like Frankenstein. SharePoint 2010 changes that, taking BI to the next level.

The key concept behind BI (to avoid becoming BS) is that you have data amassing daily, hourly, even each second, and you need to do more than simply monitor that data or record that data. You need to analyze it, you need to share it, you need people to take ownership or accountability for it today -- not three months from now when that information may be worthless to your company.

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Thus the push today for right-time business intelligence. It's all about delivering the right information to the right people in the right format at the right time. The end result should be optimized decision-making.

Let me explain what the SharePoint BI components are and do.

In SharePoint 2010, the BI tools are Microsoft Excel, the PowerPivot Add-in for Excel, Excel Services, Visio and Visio Service, PerformancePoint Services, Report Builder, and Reporting Services, all running off SQL Server, which includes SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services), Integration Services, and Analysis Services.

Combining SharePoint with Excel or Visio allows users to create workbooks or diagrams and share that information with others easily. However, the Excel and Visio services also allow data to be updated and refreshed by pulling the latest data from various data sources. So, building your workbooks or Visio diagrams from dynamic data does not require manual adjustments on your part.

The free PowerPivot combines an Excel add-in and an SQL Server 2008 R2 add-in to supercharge Excel by letting users do self-service analytics and BI collaboration around large data sets.

PerformancePoint Services allows you to build rich dashboards that pull from a variety of different data sources (such as SharePoint lists, relational data stores, OLAP cubes, and Excel Services). Dashboards might include scorecards, reports, and KPIs (key performance indicators) that provide a summarized view of your business analytics.

There are some serious improvements in PerformancePoint 2010 over its 2007 predecessor. A huge one is the fact that it no longer resides as a stand-alone server but is now an integrated part of the Enterprise SharePoint product. That moves it off the IIS/SQL structure of the past and lets it now use SharePoint document libraries and lists for content storage. The changes in design make for a better backup/recovery strategy, plus they enhance security by authenticating through SharePoint.

New PerformancePoint Services features include enhanced scorecards, reports with built-in drill-down features so you can access information quickly, and calculated metrics that allow you to create calculations that use multiple data sources. You can also view variance metrics to help you see differences between your target values and your actual values, for identifying concerns and risks. And the Decomposition Tree feature from the original ProClarity vesion of the product, which helps keep the top performers on the top of the tree when you are analyzing data, has now become a visualization report type.

To me, SharePoint 2010's BI capabilities certainly feels a lot more cohesive than those in SharePoint 2007. What do you think? Have you begun working with SharePoint 2010's BI features? How do they stack up to other tools you've worked with?

This article, "How SharePoint 2010 brings BI to the next level," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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