Insufficient data from Andrew Fryer

The place where I page to when my brain is full up of stuff about the Microsoft platform

BI for small business

When I applied to join Microsoft nearly 4 years ago I had to give  a presentation on olap for small business which now looks a little dated.  So yesterday I got the chance to revisit my thoughts on this over espresso  with BI Guru Rafal Luckaweiki from Project Botticelli who was over to run a Microsoft BI Seminar.

We both thought BI for small business has become even easier,partially because the capabilities in the the top BI end user tool, Excel have grown and grown from Excel 2003 partly because it has got better itself with slicers, sparklines, conditional formatting etc. but also because of the add-ins available:

  • the data mining add-ins for excel (you’ll need to access SQL Server running analysis services somewhere for this to work)
  • PowerPivot

What of the downsides? I would say data quality is key as is the ability to join data together.  In either case getting this wrong will produce faulty analysis, but as Rafal pointed out in a smaller business this  much more likely to be picked up as the users have a better feel for the numbers. So a sense of reality is key to this issue.   

Training and awareness is the other barrier to adoption.  A lot of people still don’t know about the more powerful capabilities of Excel, and Rafal mentioned a family run business where he introduced them to basket analysis, and they were so pleased with the results they have passed this best practice to other businesses in their community.  Another case in point was a guy at a Housing Trust I met recently who didn’t know that SQL Server came with a comprehensive set of BI tools and as he rightly pointed out where are the simple getting started guides for these other components that a semi-professional IT/ business user can understand.  I don’t think TechNet has this and actually it’s probably not the right place, but to be honest I couldn’t find too many other articles on using Excel for BI on Microsoft sites apart from a few blog posts (mine included!) so I shall see what I can do to fix this!

What does this all mean for the BI developer/practitioner/[insert your own word here].  I think it means that there are more customers wanting BI, and that what they need is practical help to clean their data and education and guidance to get the most out of the data themselves.  I Actually enjoy working with these smaller businesses, because as Rafal pointed out as they value agility over control – they just want get going quickly, so you don’t get so bogged down in procedures and overhead you just get to play with the data and get close to their business. 

I also think this trend will continue as PowerPivot evolves in the next release of SQL Server, but that’s another story!

As ever comments and feedback welcome and if weren’t among the 300 at the seminar yesterday there might well be another one in May.