Microsoft's CEO says an inside-the-enterprise business intelligence focus misses the real opportunity for large-scale insight.
What About On-Premises?
Microsoft has applied what it has learned through its online business to Windows Azure, and that, Nadella said, is where inside-the-enterprise data and inside-the-enterprise applications will meet cloud computing. He cited examples of customers such as Travelocity, which has moved SQL-based analytic apps into the Azure cloud, and Australia's Tickets Direct, which launches new instances of its ticket-selling site on Azure when big acts like U2 generate a spike of activity. When the show's over, the instances come down.
Database and app extensions in the cloud are old hat, Nadella says. Next-stage opportunities for customers include mashing up their intellectual property with data from outside the enterprise, he says. The Windows Azure Marketplace includes a DataMarket where companies can enrich their information with data sets from third-party sources. Nadella gives the example of a business correlating its sales stats with government-supplied GDP or census data.
The big idea is to get intellectual property out of warehouses and to blend it with other data to create new value. Says Nadella, "These are the sorts of new world value opportunities in which the data itself is the platform."
New World Opportunities
So that's where Ballmer was coming from when he said, "I'll use the word 'data' rather than 'BI' because that says I want to use all the world's information… not just the information that we figured out how to capture inside our corporate system."
Microsoft isn't the only company thinking beyond the walls of the enterprise. Accenture's Greg Todd has talked up the potential of big data analytic services, citing companies like Nielsen, Acxiom, and others "gearing up to deliver analytics as a service in the cloud."
Having a search engine gives Microsoft a platform to get at all the world's information, Ballmer said. He put it in the context of a resort in Las Vegas or Macao where the problem isn't getting people to come back, it's get them to spend more while they're there. That involves interactions inside the enterprise, like checking into the hotel or activating a casino card, and also searching for a restaurant or booking a show. The resort wants to consider all available data in real-time.
"The explosion in the use of data is not always in a traditional BI-ish way, and that's a big thing for us," says Ballmer.
I was pretty impressed by Microsoft's big data vision, but merely having access to data and computing capacity won't guarantee success in analyzing information, mashing it up, and delivering insights. That's where analytics come in.
Perhaps Microsoft is counting on customers to add that part, though it could leverage industry-specific knowledge from its Dynamics apps business and partnerships. In the areas of online sales and marketing, it could tap its search, ad-serving, and Web analytics experience. Those might be good starting points for analytics, not just big data, in the Microsoft cloud. The proof will be in its execution.
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