środa, 31 października 2007

Microsoft Business Intelligence Days

Mood: 4 free days ahead :)
Music: Smushing pumpkings, Bleeding the orchid

I have just come back from the Microsoft Business Intelligence Day. I usually do not like this type of events, as I believe that having exactly the same amount of time you may usually find more on the web. The main reason why I still force my self to move my ass off, is a willingness to meet new people or old friends ;) This time I found not only this, but also quick review of new, interesting MS product(s).

As it is easy to notice, I put some interest into SharePoint area as I do believe that it is for now one of the most promising point in whole Microsoft’s products portfolio. In the same way as an age ago they started to provide products on MS platform, they start now to provide the services basing on SharePoint+SQL Server platform; actually, services in SQL Server 2005 are visible literally ;)

SharePoint and SQL Server are somewhat high maintenance women, when we speak about hardware requirements, but there is no doubt that it is one of the best on the market, when we speak about true plug-and-play approach. That is why, I am quite sure it is a perfect shoot for standard applications and MSP market. As a bonus it provides the customers the interface, to which people are used to as it is fully compliant to the whole Office package. Sharepoint is nothing more than web collaboration extension of Office package.

There is number of interesting actions, which happens in Redmond right now about SharePoint and the most important from my perspective are:
  • Reporting Services (as the most visual of new SQL Server 2005 services) allowing you to provide quickly SQL query on the web, within the complex and out-of-the-box web platform, which includes the security mechanisms, alerts etc.
  • Excel Services – in fact the Google Spreadsheet competition ;)
  • Enterprise Project Management – the MS Project on the web finally after so many years!!! It seems also like within this product, there will appear the Project Portfolio Management bought with UMT. I hope that adoption of the product will go quicker than usage of NetIQ solutions within MOM>SCOM and smoother than incorporation of PlaceWare into NetMeeting>Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
  • Pefromance Point Server – long awaited complex web GUI for BI functionalities like budgeting (actual versus plan) process.
As you can see most of these products are nothing more and nothing less than just web, collaboration-enabled version of various MS products. Heave usage of SharePoint+SQL Server bundle is a promising trend and I am quite excited looking where it goes.

The conference was about the last bullet (PPS). I was quite sure, that I will see (as friend of mine said) the SharePoint with number of color bullets and arrows. Consider for a second SharePoint as a tree and PPS as lamps and chains. When you put is together you will get the Christmas tree ;) What my surprise was, when I saw… Proclarity! Yes, the next product, which MS bought and now they sell it under the different name with couple of additional sauces ;)

The approach is quite smart, as it is always better to buy the ready to use product than bleed producing it from the scratch or maybe the corporation is so big, that it can produce the breaking through technology only buying it with some smaller company ;) The Performance Point Server is actually relatively young product and MS officially says, that it was not sold in Poland yet! There is a living blog of development team. It consists of:
  • BizSharp – the tool which helps to plan the OLAP cubes; they does not promote the tool too strongly and treat it mostly as kind of support application; in Google, there is just 1180 findings!
  • Business Scorecard Manager – the simple, standalone application, which allows you to create in drag-and-drop way the BI reports for publishing on SharePoint pages as WebParts (when you use link, be aware that live demo is loading infinitely)
  • Proclarity Analytics – the horse power of the whole solution including desktop and web client, with all the candies like the decomposition tree, strategy map and perspective view (on-line demo under this link works smoothly; is it the metaphor of the whole solution?). It is quite visible that buying Ploclarity, MS bought also number of interesting patents ;)

It was what I took from the Tomasz Kwiatkowski (real demo!) and Paweł Borowiecki (business talk) session. Fellows tried to play cool buddies, but it turned out a little bit artificially. Luckily the content of the whole presentation was quite solid; I took out from the session clear vision, what the whole thing does and what the PPS from user perspective is. They hidden smoothly the double nature of the whole solution – it is Proclarity inclduing GUI, but it can be SharePoint also ;) I think the whole thing is still in transition phase. Under this condition, the try to charge the regular client 80k$ for about 25 clients installation (Performance Server + CALs + SQL Server with 25 CAL + consulting company for 3 months period of installation – the price for SharePoint Server, which is not included as in standard they offer free Windows SharePoint Services!) seems to be relatively high price, even after impressive demo of “ready-to-use capabilities”.

My clear vision was slightly blurred during Krisitina Kerr speech, who started to talk something about Monitoring and Planning servers being a part of the whole solution. I must admit, that even now after 15' browsing, I am a little bit lost in the whole complexity of the whole architecture, even knowing a little bit about OLAP. If it is just for implementation engineers, why to torture pure decision makers with such a level of information. BTW, plus for MS, for organizing headsets with english-polish translation; it was visible that surprisingly many people used it.

Summarizing in numbers, the whole conference was quite interesting even if there was about 60-70% percent of marketing talk cover like Monitor>Analyze>Plan flow around the Strategy bubble and just 30-40% of some real show. Only? Maybe, as much as!

90% of time was spend on presentation layer, which is definitely the coolest part and small part about the sweat and pain of collecting and clearing data (actually only Jarosław Szybiński touched that topic). I know from practice, that it is the most often the hardest part of any BI implementation (definitely not plug-and-play, regardless from how good the product would be). This I can forgive, but what I cannot forgive though, is that some sessions had the same content – it happened even once that some guy showed part of demo, which was just showed couple of hours before and it was publicly noticed!

In fact it was the only visible set-back. For such a mid size conference, it is not much and the whole thing was organized quite nicely. Year after year MS in Poland learns how to make truly social events. This time during the lunch break, they let people enter into the dark dinning room, where you had Halloween pumpkins (conference was 3 days before Helloween, which we traditionally in Poland celebrate differently from US citizens) and they left the place dark for some time; delicious ;) Also budges had interesting, modern outlook and about 83,4% of people had them attached, what I treat as a proof of acceptance ;)

The T-shirt is from Microsoft Technology Summit 2006 and budge is from the conference. I feel like MS Christmas tree commercial ;)

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