“The vision of Microsoft is to bring business intelligence (BI) to the masses,” says Cassandra Nuttall, marketing manager for Server Solutions at Microsoft UK. It is a strategy that has, by stages, transformed Microsoft from a non-player in business intelligence (BI) software to one of the market’s main most significant – and feared – vendors.
Aside from the widespread use of its SQL Server relational database in BI applications, the company has taken the online analytical processing (OLAP) product market by storm. In the three years since it acquired highly-rated technology from Israeli BI company Panorama, it has grabbed over a fifth of the global OLAP market, making it joint market leader with Hyperion Solutions, according to figures for 2001 by Business Intelligence analyst Nigel Pendse.
Fundamental to this success was Microsoft’s early decision to bundle its OLAP tool, Analysis Services, with SQL Server, effectively making it a free add-on. Analysis Services provides multi-dimensional views of cubes of data, allowing sales managers, for example, to conduct analyses across related variables such as sales, customers, geographical areas, and targets.
But Microsoft’s BI ambitions run deeper. It provides extraction, transformation and loading capabilities through its Data Transformation Services toolset, and has progressively added ever-more sophisticated BI facilities to its Excel spreadsheet.
But it is the company’s move into front-end data analysis, query and reporting tools that could shake up the sector most of all. The company’s most aggressive push here came with its mid-2001 acquisition of Israel-based Maximal Innovative Intelligence, vendor of Max, an analytic and visual toolset developed specifically to front end Analysis Services. As it is OLAP-specific, the product (sold as Data Analyzer by Microsoft) has only had minimal impact on mainstream BI tools vendors such as Cognos, Crystal Decisions, Business Objects and Information Builders. But the writing is on the wall, warns Pendse: “It is probably only be a matter of time before Microsoft moves deeper into their space.”