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SQL Server 2008 R2 Serves Ups Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence has been floating around as an industry phrase for more than a decade now, and yet many partners or IT pros would likely be hard-pressed to name 10 people who actually use BI tools.

The promise of BI -- essentially the idea that non-technical users should be able to easily get to and manipulate information that's buried in a database somewhere -- has actually come to fruition. BI software, as overcomplicated as much of it has become, has basically worked pretty well for a while. Some of it isn't even that hard to use. And, yet, BI hasn't really trickled down into organizations the way vendors, partners and IT folks would like to see it trickle.

With this week's release to manufacturing of SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft hopes that it's creating a product that will finally play a major role in bringing BI to the masses by linking it tightly to SharePoint and Excel. R2 is really about bringing BI to average users by embedding it in familiar tools. Office 2010, for instance, will include a feature called PowerPivot -- which ships as a free download with R2 -- that will let users manipulate BI data in Excel and share it via SharePoint. No strange interfaces, no special training -- just familiar tools for normal folks. That's the idea.

"If we truly want [BI] to be for the masses, the masses can't be the power users," Herain Oberoi, group product manager, SQL Server Business Group at Microsoft, told RCPU recently. "We know BI is pervasive when people like you and me are using BI without knowing we're using it. It's not about 10 million users. It's about 500 million users."

Oberoi said that SQL Server 2008 R2 is all about bringing BI to users through "the ubiquity of Office," something he says Microsoft has thus far underutilized on the BI side. "Microsoft has never really gone after that," he said of Office's massive market share. "[BI] has to become part and parcel of what Office means for productivity and information workers over time."

When it comes to democratizing BI, many have tried, and few -- arguably none -- have succeeded. But Office has always been an ace up Microsoft's sleeve, and Redmond really should have a big advantage over competitors given the familiarity users have with the suite. Plus, Microsoft's BI capabilities, which trailed those of rivals for years, are looking very solid these days. So, partners, you should be able to allay customers' fears about giving up BI functionality for a more familiar interface. Microsoft's BI technology is pretty impressive.

Will SQL Server 2008 R2 be the product that finally pushes BI into the everyday life of average office workers? Well, if anybody can do it, Microsoft can. Now, we'll just have to see how well all of this stuff actually works.

How do your customers or office workers use BI? How important is it to your business? What would you like to see from Microsoft or other BI vendors? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on April 22, 2010