Software // Information Management
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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Microsoft Tops 2010 BI Survey

In a finding that bodes well for Microsoft SQL Server, a new InformationWeek report shows 49% of firms are using the vendor's business intelligence tools.

In our case we had qualified BI and information management professionals reporting their use of Microsoft BI tools and capabilities. But make no mistake: the chart presented on the previous page is not a market share report.

IDC bases its widely recognized BI market share figures on software revenue reported by vendors. Because Microsoft's BI technologies are bundled for free, IDC came up with a model -- in use for many years -- to estimate the vendor's market share.

In IDC's latest report, Worldwide Business Intelligence Tools 2009 Vendor Share, released in June, Microsoft is ranked fifth behind SAP, IBM, SAS and Oracle, respectively. But continuing a years-long trend, Microsoft has the highest growth rate of any of these vendors for 2009 -- 8.1% for Microsoft versus -1.1%, 6.9%, 4.5% and 2.6% for SAP, IBM, SAS and Oracle, in that order.

The difference between our "which tools are you using?" survey question and IDC's calculated market-share figure gets to the heart of the nature of Microsoft BI. Use of Microsoft SQL Server Reporting, Analysis and/or Integration services does not make your organization a Microsoft BI shop. Nor does deployment of Microsoft Excel, a product that's almost never purchased separately from the Office suite and that's seldom used exclusively for BI.

That said, you can't discount the ubiquity of Microsoft BI components. What Microsoft offers is more like a developer-oriented toolkit as compared to most other BI suites out there. You get vendor- and community-supplied application templates instead of prebuilt interfaces. But Microsoft seems to be responding on this front as well.

As part of the Denali preview announced last week, the next big release of Microsoft SQL Server will include "Crescent," a Web-based, ad-hoc data visualization and presentation environment. Where the PowerPivot plug-in fell short -- adding powerful but power-user-oriented in-memory analysis capabilities -- Crescent promises mainstream data visualization and presentation capabilities out of the box.

Crescent is aimed at giving business users the sorts of immediate analysis capabilities addressed by rival BI products such as SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius and Explorer, IBM Cognos TM1, SAS JMP, QlikTech QlikView and Tableau Software.

The bottom line of the results on our vendor-usage question is that Microsoft BI is in a strong position. Denali promises to make that position even stronger. Buyers will also consider the green-but-maturing data quality, data lineage and master data management capabilities now built into SQL Server. It all adds up to strong value-add for Microsoft SQL Server that now also includes the option of scaling out with the Parallel Data Warehouse edition.

So when Forrester's James Kobielus observed that "It's Microsoft... one of the predominant BI vendors for the mass market," -- the quote that sparked the "Microsoft has big problems" comment -- he was simply acknowledging that the number of firms exploiting Microsoft BI and information management capabilities is vast and growing. Whether these firms call themselves "Microsoft shops" or not misses the point.

Microsoft certainly has its share of problems these days, as discussed recently by my colleagues Paul McDougall and Rob Preston. But I'd observe that those challenges are mainly in consumer markets including search, social media and smart phones. It's ironic that just as it's pushing ever deeper into the enterprise market where it has long sought credibility, it is losing dominance and mindshare in the mainstream market that put the company on the map.

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