Microsoft says it's preparing to deliver BI for the masses with a new set of products that blend Excel's widely known functionality with sophisticated analytical capabilities for an addressable market of 500 million prospects. After all, Microsoft figures, since that many people use Office, why can't that many get into BI?
The opportunity is certainly right for the "democratization of BI" that various companies are talking about these days. Think about it: on the outside, web-savvy customers are demanding real-time access to more and better information; and on the inside, new-product cycles are shrinking, back-office operations are becoming less secluded, and companies of all types are tearing down bureaucratic silos that obscure a total companywide focus on customers and prospects.
In these types of fast-paced and more-open environments, companies are expecting more and more of their workers to not only understand the needs of the market but also actively contribute ideas and insights. And in one form or another, many of those companies are realizing that the best tool for the job is business intelligence and the modeling, forecasting, matching, analyzing capabilities it offers.
For CIOs, the problem has been the complexity of many BI tools: aimed at sophisticated experts, many of today's products just won't scale to the levels needed if the democratization effort is to be more than a slogan. And that's precisely where Microsoft comes in.
Few if any companies have shown the ability to drive robust applications to scale the way Microsoft has with Office and other products, and now the company says it's launching a BI initiative that'll blend the familiarity of Excel with the power of SQL Server. On top of that, Microsoft says, it's configured the product in a way that will reduce the management and development burdens on IT rather than compounding them.
"Managed, self-service BI: this is the big one for us," said Herain Oberoi, Microsoft group product manager for the SQL Server Business Group. "We hear a lot about the need to democratize BI, but then you have to ask, who are you democratizing BI for?
"Right now, analysts say BI is used by somewhere between 3% and 8% of all computer users, and then you also have some Excel power users and builder, and there are maybe tens of millions of them worldwide. And then there's the rest of us: 500 million information workers worldwide—we're comfortable with that figure because that's how many people use Office," Oberoi said.
Now, I didn't take Oberoi's point literally to mean that he expects Microsoft to rack up 500 million sales of PowerPivot for Excel; on the other hand, with an addressable market of that size, even 1% penetration gets you 5 million BI customers, and if Microsoft and its partners can push that penetration level up to 5%, then it's brought BI democracy to 25 million information workers.
Given the potential benefits, those numbers seem feasible, particularly with the much greater visibility that the whole BI space has gained outside the IT community in the past couple of years. As more businesses realize the strategic need to engage effectively with customers, they realize that doing so will require more awareness, more information, and more insights—in short, more intelligence about their business.
Microsoft intends to deliver that with a lot of help from its widely deployed Office and Sharepoint platforms, Oberoi said: