Before we dive into what SharePoint can do to help us implement a BI solution, let’s spend a bit of time considering where SharePoint fits into the bigger picture. If there’s such a thing as a BI mantra, it’s this: “One version of the truth.” That is, every BI system within an organization should provide exactly the same answer when asked the same question. Addressing this problem is undoubtedly one of the biggest considerations of a BI solutions architect, and to address this issue, Microsoft provides a single enterprise ready BI solution. Where there’s one single, all-encompassing platform, maintaining one version of the truth is a much more realistic goal.
Business User Experience
Microsoft Office applications are ubiquitous on the desktop PCs and laptops of knowledge workers. Using applications such as Excel and Outlook to surface and manipulate BI data makes it easy for users to consume BI data without having to adopt a new way of working or learn new tools. Furthermore, using applications such as Excel, users can achieve a much higher level of integration than would be possible if BI data were available only via reports or other static data media. Custom workbooks can be created that directly access and utilize data from the BI platform.
Business Productivity Infrastructure
“Business productivity infrastructure” is something of a marketing term that relates to the infrastructure and applications that an organization uses to facilitate the use of business information by knowledge workers. Business productivity is all about making the right information available to the right people at the right time. It’s also about allowing people to create and collaborate on the creation of new information as effectively as possible. Clearly, when viewed from this perspective, SharePoint fits in. Centrally managed and created content can be easily surfaced using portal sites, and self-service BI applications can be created using tools such as Excel Services. Furthermore, BI can be integrated with other sources of information, increasing the overall visibility of important business metrics.
The user experience is all about how the user interacts with the data provided, whereas the productivity infrastructure is about providing a platform that allows centralized storage, collaboration, and content creation. One important element that we haven’t looked at is the actual data itself—where it’s stored and how it’s processed. Although SharePoint is a great tool for storing documents and document-related content, when it comes to processing and analyzing large volumes of data, a more specialized tool is required. Offering tried-and-tested OLAP functionality via Analysis Services and a comprehensive reporting platform via Reporting Services, SQL Server is the obvious choice for hosting and managing both the data warehouse aspect of a BI solution and the analysis and reportgeneration aspects.
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