One issue that regularly confounds supporters of business intelligence (BI) software has been the general lack of adoption. BI software clearly adds value, but end users have been loath to give up their spreadsheets in favor of richer BI applications that are often difficult to master. To solve this issue, some have argued that what was really needed was a less expensive approach to deploying BI applications using open source or software-as-a-service applications.

But what if the real problem is that users want the functionality of a BI application embedded inside the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet they already know how to use? When you take a good look at what Microsoft is really up to in Excel 2010, it becomes pretty apparent that the equivalent of a data mart is being baked into the application using OLAP database technology that Microsoft bought from Panorama Software. That means that rather than exporting data from Excel to another business intelligence application, Microsoft is positioning Excel as the underlying “database” that BI applications will be layered on using technology that is now marketed under the name SQL Server Analysis Services.

While this approach may not scale to meet the requirements of the most demanding BI applications, it will probably meet the need of the vast majority of end users. BI application partners such as Panorama will then invoke Microsoft’s MDX language to access data in the underlying Excel database, which is a new fact of BI life that even Oracle concedes is going to be a practical necessity.

Panorama also plans to make its NovaView software available in-memory for on-premise applications using Microsoft’s PowerPivot in-memory database. Eventually, the company will make the same technology available for its software-as-a-service implementation, which ironically can be also integrated with Google Apps. Once that’s available, performance of Panorama applications on top of an Excel framework should be a non-issue, say Panorama executives.

The real goal is to make BI applications one click away from the most popular analytic tools in use today, which happen to be spreadsheets from Microsoft and Google. So rather than trying to reinvent the BI wheel, maybe all we need to do is make the existing wheel a little bit bigger.

By Michael Vizard, Posted on IT Business Edge: 07-Dec-2009