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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI (And What You Can Do About Them)


Table of Contents Executive Summary......................................................................................................................................................3 Introduction: The Dilemma of the Microsoft BI User.....................................................................................................4 When is Microsoft Business Intelligence a Fit?..............................................................................................................6 The Top 5 Challenges with Microsoft Business Intelligence...........................................................................................7 Challenge 1: Report Backlogs...............................................................................................................................7 Challenge 2: Limited End-User Self Service...........................................................................................................8 Challenge 3: Limited Dashboards.........................................................................................................................8 Challenge 4: OLAP Cube Maintenance.................................................................................................................9 Challenge 5: High Total Cost of Ownership........................................................................................................10 Evaluating Alternatives to Microsoft Business Intelligence...........................................................................................12 Introducing Birst: A New BI Paradigm for SQL Server..................................................................................................16 Conclusion.................................................................................................................................................................19

Birst, Inc. 153 Kearny St., 3rd floor, San Francisco, CA 94108 www.birst.com | Email: info@birst.com | Toll Free Phone: (866) 940-1496

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Executive Summary The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI SQL Server is the world’s most widely used database for small and medium businesses for good reason: users of SQL Server value its power, speed and affordability. However, research shows that these users also often face significant challenges in producing the business intelligence (BI) – reports, analysis and dashboards – that they need to gain crucial insight into their businesses. The challenge arises when these SQL Server users want to move beyond a limited set of canned reports to a more mature business intelligence deployment. What they discover is that Microsoft’s BI offering is relatively limited in functionality and, contrary to conventional wisdom, comes with a high total cost of ownership (TCO). More specifically, organizations typically start facing one or more of these top five challenges: • Report Backlogs. Reports take too long to build and deploy which leads to backlog and end-user frustration. • Limited End-User Self-Service. There is no good Microsoft BI tool to make end-users more self-sufficient, which limits the level of insight the organization can achieve. • Limited Dashboards. Microsoft’s dashboarding products are limited which makes it hard for IT to deliver what executives and line-of-business management are requesting. • OLAP Cube Maintenance. The setup and maintenance of Analysis Services OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) cubes become too time-consuming for IT to effectively support analysts in their analysis tasks. • High Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Because of the level of effort and expertise involved in building and maintaining the Microsoft BI deployment, it becomes cost-prohibitive to sustain the organization’s BI growth. The purpose of this white paper is to help those using, or considering using, Microsoft for business intelligence evaluate their situation and alternatives. Specifically, the paper will cover: • For what organizational profiles can Microsoft business intelligence offer a good fit • Why the top five challenges arise and what their implications are for the business • The three primary BI alternatives Microsoft customers have and how to evaluate them The paper ends with the introduction to a new reporting and BI paradigm for SQL Server.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

“Users often believe that because Microsoft BI products come bundled for no additional cost with SQL Server, Microsoft BI costs less than comparable solutions. [… However,] the TCO of BI products often adds up to much more than the cost of the initial license.” —Forrester Research

Introduction: The Dilemma of the Microsoft BI User SQL Server users often naturally adopt Microsoft’s business intelligence (BI) solution, components of which are included in both the SQL Server and SharePoint software. This adoption is happening primarily in small to midsize businesses, or within Enterprise departments, that have purchased SQL Server or SharePoint and have decided to leverage the BI tools that come bundled with these products. Indeed, for those users who are just starting down the BI track and who have limited budget, the offer of a pre-bundled BI solution can be compelling. At the early stages of a Microsoft BI deployment, the solution seems reasonable from a capabilities and staffing requirements standpoint. However, as the deployment grows, what starts becoming apparent is that the Microsoft BI offering is limited in functionality and, contrary to conventional wisdom, is expensive from a TCO perspective. To highlight the first point, the most recent Forrester BI Wave1 states that: “While Microsoft continues to round out its BI portfolio, today it still relies heavily on partners to deliver complete end-to-end BI solutions […]. Consequently, enterprises still need to put together components from several vendors for a complete solution.” In another report2, the issue of high TCO is addressed:

1 Forrester: “The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise BI Platforms, Q3 2008.” July 31, 2008. 2 Forrester. “SharePoint and BI Survey Q&A: The Last Mile to BI Users.” Based on a survey of 57 BI and portal practitioners. March, 2009. 3 A leading industry analyst firm’s survey of 480 customers, January 2009. 4 Gartner: “Strategic Companies Will Use BI to Weather Tough Economic Conditions.” October, 2008. 5 Gartner: “Meeting the Challenge: The 2009 CIO Agenda.”Survey of more than 1500 global CIO’s. January 2009.

“Users often believe that because Microsoft BI products come bundled for no additional cost with SQL Server, Microsoft BI costs less than comparable solutions. [… However] the TCO of BI products often adds up to much more than the cost of the initial license. For example, Forrester commonly finds a ratio of 5 to 1 for the amount spent on implementation services versus the cost of the initial software license.” More specifically, another leading analyst report3 shows that Microsoft BI has the industry’s second-highest IT staff overhead, leading to high TCO. But business intelligence is too important to an organization to be held hostage by sub-par technology and high TCO. As Gartner stated in a recent report4, “[BI] can have a direct positive impact on a company’s business performance, dramatically improving its ability to accomplish its mission.” It is no wonder that BI continues to rank, for the fourth year in a row, highest on the CIO’s list of priorities5.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

So, what are Microsoft BI users to do? An investment has already been made and it is not clear that there are alternatives that provide better functionality and, importantly, are affordable. In some cases the investment is justified as the organization’s BI profile is such that the Microsoft offering makes sense. We detail the characteristics of such an organization in the next section. For other organizations, which are experiencing the top five challenges detailed in the subsequent section, it is likely time to start looking at other BI solutions to complement the Microsoft environment. In the report’s penultimate section we describe the three primary types of BI alternative and how to evaluate them. In the report’s final section we introduce the reader to a new reporting and business intelligence offering targeted at SQL Server users.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Although Microsoft’s business intelligence offering is not suitable for all organizations, it can be adequate in certain situations.

When is Microsoft Business Intelligence a Fit? Although Microsoft’s business intelligence offering is not suitable for all organizations, it can be adequate in certain situations. In this section we review the characteristics of these organizations to help determine when the Microsoft BI suite is a fit.

Reporting-Centric BI The business intelligence deployment consists primarily of a relatively small set of IT-generated reports. There are few requests for new or customized reports from the business. IT is sufficiently staffed to handle new report requests in a timely fashion such that there is no report backlog and users feel they are getting all the information they need to run the business.

Limited Need for Ad-Hoc Query The business is happy with the reports it gets from IT and makes limited requests for ad-hoc access to the data. In the case where there are such requests, users can manage independently with an Excel-based approach and IT is satisfied that there are no security or data consistency challenges with such solutions.

Limited Dashboarding Needs Dashboards are used infrequently by executives and mid-level management to manage the business. Those dashboards that are needed are put together by IT. The dashboards are generally static in nature, with limited-to-no drilling capability or on-dashboard interactivity like filtering. IT is sufficiently staffed to handle the dashboard requests expediently such that the business is satisfied with level of responsiveness it is getting.

Solid Development Expertise The IT group has a sufficient number of programmers who are proficient in Visual Studio. Their expertise is required to access, integrate and manage data sources as well as to build, deploy and maintain reports using Visual Studio’s .NET and C# programming environment.

Slow BI growth The number of business intelligence consumers in the organization remains fairly constant. Going forward, there is not much change expected in terms of the number of users or the functionality required to support these users. If an organization’s BI environment does not align with all these characteristics, it is likely to be suffering from one or more of the top five challenges companies experience as they grow their Microsoft BI deployment. The next sections detail these challenges and the potential alternatives that exist.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Microsoft’s offering is not a single-product suite. In fact, the offering constitutes a large number of BI components with varying degrees of integration.

The Top 5 Challenges with Microsoft Business Intelligence In this section we explore the primary challenges organizations face as they grow their Microsoft Business Intelligence deployments. Before we get into each challenge, it is worth first defining what we intend by “Microsoft Business Intelligence” as Microsoft’s offering is not a single-product suite. In fact, the offering constitutes a large number of BI components with varying degrees of integration. It is, in part, due to the unintegrated nature of its suite that the challenges arise. Below is a list of the main products and modules that form the “suite.” • Microsoft SQL Server 2005/2008 (provides the server platform) • Microsoft Reporting Services (for reporting) • Analysis Services (for OLAP) • Report Builder (for ad-hoc query) • Report Designer (for report designing) • Excel 2007 (interface for analysis) • PerformancePoint Services which will be released late 2010 and is slated to contain the previous Business Scorecard Manager (scorecarding server) and ProClarity (ad-hoc and dashboards) • Integration Services (for data integration) • SQL Server Management Studio/Microsoft Business Intelligence Studio (for administration) Now let’s review the five top challenges.

Challenge 1: Report Backlogs Report building using the Visual Studio-based Report Designer requires SQL and .NET programming expertise and is labor-intensive. There are a number of features lacking from the Microsoft reporting environment that contribute to this issue. For example, there is no reusable business logic. IT must recreate logic for each new report in the Report Definition Language (RDL), increasing development time and potential for multiple versions of the truth. Reporting Services does not offer report designers a way to edit and format the report layout while viewing it with a real-time WYSIWYG view of their changes. Lack of easy formatting capabilities increases the design time due to unnecessary iterations and design frustration.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

As the requests for new and customized reports continue to grow, IT becomes overloaded as it takes too long to turn around these reports given the limited number of report writing

Microsoft offers limited options for business users to parameterize their reports by choosing personalized filters, report fields, and calculations. This means that when business users need even simple customization, they must wait for IT to generate the updated report. As the requests for new and customized reports continue to grow, IT becomes overloaded as it takes too long to turn around these reports given the limited number of report writing experts available. The resulting report backlog leads to end-user frustration as the business cannot get the insight it needs in a timely fashion to effectively run its operations.

experts available.

Challenge 2: Limited End-User Self Service As the organization matures in its need for insight, so does the demand for greater business intelligence self-service through ad-hoc query and reporting. Not having this capability will limit the organization’s ability to push fact-based decision making to lower levels of the organization. Typically, this capability is provided through an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that allows qualified business users independently find and report on the data of interest to them. However, Reporting Services offers only a limited end-user ad-hoc query capability through a downloadable module called Report Builder. Report Builder is functionally weak (e.g., there is no way to create hierarchical or banded reports) and is not well integrated with the Reporting Services framework (e.g., reports built in Report Designer cannot be modified in Report Builder), making it a poor choice to deliver ad-hoc query capabilities to end users. Equally, Analysis Services, which provides OLAP-style functionality through an Excel front-end, is a workable solution for data analysts who need to drill through a limited slice of data but not for a broader user population who need ad-hoc access to the full data universe.

Challenge 3: Limited Dashboards As the recognition of the importance of BI to the strategy and operation of the business grows, company executives and business-line management start requesting a greater use of dashboards and scorecards. SQL Server does not provide any dashboarding capabilities. In order to get this functionality, users must purchase PerformancePoint Server (from the ProClarity acquisition) or SharePoint, the Microsoft enterprise portal. (Note: Microsoft has promised that these two will be merged in the 2010 SharePoint release as PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint, a yet-to-be-released product at the time of this writing.)

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Microsoft dashboarding is limited on a number of fronts. The product lack the interactivity of best-of-breed dashboards

Microsoft dashboarding is limited on a number of fronts. The products lack the interactivity of best-of-breed dashboards, including Flash visualization components and master-slave synchronization (where one user selection automatically updates all dashboard graphs and reports.) Microsoft and ProClarity Dashboards do not support pixel-perfect positioning and users cannot edit the dashboards while viewing the data. Users must switch back and forth to edit mode to make small design modifications. ProClarity Dashboards do not support distinct layers and users must then switch tabs to view different dashboards, increasing context changes and the number of dashboards for IT to maintain. Microsoft also lacks automatic drill-anywhere data discovery. Drilling and the modeling of drilling hierarchies require Analysis Services (Microsoft’s OLAP product) and Excel or ProClarity as the front-end. It is easy to break drill links, and upon drilling users often receive confusing error messages.

Challenge 4: OLAP Cube Maintenance Microsoft Analysis Services is an OLAP-based technology which provides analysts with the ability to do self-service analysis. It is often selected because, as part of SQL Server, it is readily available and has an Excel front-end which would appear conducive to end-user adoption. However, as the deployment grows, so does the effort and time involved in building, maintaining, and optimizing the increasing number of OLAP cubes required to provide this service. Ideally, IT would like to deliver more autonomy to the business, but the level of training and expertise to build and deploy cubes make this difficult. For example, Microsoft Analysis Services often needs programming in order to pass parameters to the cube, making it more cumbersome for business analysts to parameterize their analyses. A lack of automatic data-source optimization means that IT professionals have to spend a lot of time manually performance-tuning queries. Microsoft optimizes its queries for Microsoft data sources, namely SQL Server Analysis Services cubes, and provides fewer out-of-the-box connectors than other offerings on the market. Also, the ROLAP mode requires careful IT configuration. For example, IT professionals must manually configure certain dimensions, or business logic definitions, to be stored in MOLAP or ROLAP mode.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Challenge 5: High Total Cost of Ownership Gartner has cited Microsoft’s lack of a reusable common metadata as one of the main factors leading to its high Total Cost of Ownership.

It is not uncommon for organizations to select Microsoft as their BI platform for reasons primarily related to cost. The perception is that since BI functionality is bundled with the company’s database, SQL Server, then the BI solution is almost “free.” However, over time, the true costs of the Microsoft BI platform become apparent, particularly as the deployment grows in terms of functionality and users. This is due to the staffing levels required to build and maintain the solution. In fact, according to IDC, BI staffing costs typically constitute 60% of a three-year TCO (see Figure 1 below.)

Figure 1. Three-Year Business Intelligence Total Cost of Ownership Gartner6 has cited Microsoft’s lack of a reusable common metadata as one of the main factors leading to its high Total Cost of Ownership. While Microsoft began to work on the reusability of its metadata layer with the concept of the Universal Data Model (UDM) and the Report Models, Microsoft still does not have a common metadata across its BI platform, nor has Microsoft announced long range plans to create a common enterprise metadata layer. In Microsoft Report Services, report designers still cannot save and reuse newly created metrics, filters or prompts outside the definition of the report. There is generally a lot of metadata or business logic built within the report definition that users would like to reuse across other reports as building blocks to create more advanced report objects. A lack of object dependency checking means that changes to metadata objects can cause unanticipated issues in existing reports, resulting in report failures and downtime.

6 Gartner. “SWOT: Microsoft, Business Intelligence Platforms, Worldwide.” November 3, 2008

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Because of these factors, the Microsoft platform requires more staff resourcing per end user than nearly all BI offerings on the market.

Another factor contributing to the high TCO is that Microsoft lacks a unified industrial strength security model. As a result, IT professionals must perform redundant and overlapping security administration tasks in different servers including SQL Server 2005/2008, SharePoint Server, and PerformancePoint Services. Also, Microsoft does not offer a data and report-checking integrity tool. Instead, Microsoft BI customers must expend a tremendous amount of IT effort manually testing the application. Finally, Microsoft’s out-of-the-box monitoring capabilities are extremely limited and the monitoring reports remain relatively static and inflexible, which are of little use to the administrator. Because of these factors, the Microsoft platform requires more staff resourcing per end user than nearly all BI offerings on the market (see Figure 2 below.) As the demand from the business for greater insight continues to grow, so does the challenge of maintaining the BI environment given the existing limit on resources and budget.

Figure 2. Number of Users per IT Administrator for Leading BI Solutions

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

It is never a trivial decision to introduce a new business intelligence solution, but it is

Evaluating Alternatives to Microsoft Business Intelligence If an organization is experiencing one or more of these challenges, then the question is what options are there?

also a false economy to stick with a bad solution just because it avoids having to make a change.

The first is to simply stick with what Microsoft offers. The primary perceived benefit is that this could be less disruptive than going with an alternate solution. However, if the plan is to extend beyond the existing functionality already being offered (e.g., introducing ad-hoc query or dashboards), then the organization is essentially introducing a new solution anyway as these products (Report Builder and SharePoint) are not well integrated with Reporting Services. Also, the pain being experienced now is going to get worse as the BI deployment expands in terms of the number of users and functionality required. The other option is to look at bringing in a new solution to complement or replace the existing. It is never a trivial decision to introduce a new business intelligence solution, but it is also a false economy to stick with a bad solution just because it avoids having to make a change. In this section we briefly review the three primary categories of BI solution that exist on the market today and the pros and cons of each.

Traditional Business Intelligence The first set of candidates to provide business intelligence capabilities are the traditional BI vendors such as Business Objects (now part of SAP), Cognos (now part of IBM), Hyperion (now part of Oracle), and Microstrategy. The primary benefits and challenges with traditional business intelligence vendors are as follows: Benefits • Full-suite BI functionality. The traditional BI vendors have been around for over a decade and have mature BI offerings. Their offerings cover the full spectrum of primary BI needs including Data Integration, Enterprise Reporting, Ad-Hoc Query, Dashboarding, and Analysis. They may also include more specialized BI needs such as Data Mining and Text Analytics. • Strong services and solutions. As large organizations, these vendors have extensive professional service expertise to help customers implement their BI deployments. In some cases, vendors have industry-specific solutions, although these are typically not very mature.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Challenges

One of the primary challenges that organizations face when considering a solution from a traditional BI vendor is cost.

• Cost. One of the primary challenges that organizations face when considering a solution from a traditional BI vendor is cost. The license costs often run into six or seven figures with ongoing maintenance fees on top of that. This is of particular concern to Microsoft users who have essentially acquired their BI capabilities with little upfront license costs. • Complexity. The traditional vendors’ portfolios are comprised of products built in-house as well as those added through corporate acquisitions. So, in the case of these large vendors, the downside of a full-suite offering is the complexity associated with building and maintaining BI solutions based on these multiple, often unintegrated and overlapping products.

Open Source Business Intelligence Open Source has irrevocably changed the software landscape. The appeal of being able to acquire software without paying a license fee has had a profound effect on the market. Already well entrenched at the operating system level with Linux, and increasingly at the infrastructure level with offerings like MySQL and JBoss, Open Source has started establishing itself at the application level of the software stack. Business Intelligence is no exception to this trend with a number of startups providing this capability. The primary benefits and challenges with Open Source business intelligence are as follows: Benefits • No license cost. That there are no license costs to start using the product is often the top reason users cite for choosing Open Source. This and the fact that the products are readily downloadable explain the significant number of Open Source BI users. The vast majority of these, however, are individual users who have simple reporting needs (e.g., for their personal website), with only a fraction of a percent in commercial use. • Flexibility to change the code. The other top benefit frequently identified as a driver for Open Source adoption is the fact that users have the ability to access and customize the code if they so choose. This can be appealing to those organizations that have the resources and expertise necessary and are willing to maintain their own custom solution. Challenges • Heavy resource requirements. Unfortunately, what companies save in licensing costs they lose in terms of the level of staffing required to adequately build, deploy and maintain an Open Source BI solution. In fact, some would argue that the Open Source BI Total Cost of Ownership is greater than that of traditional BI vendors given that staffing costs are the

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Although certainly improved from what was available a few years ago, Open Source BI offerings are still limited in functionality.

largest component of a BI deployment. It is for this reason that the largest deployments of commercial Open Source (i.e., where the user pays for a commercial license with support), are in organizations where resourcing is less of an issue, such as in a department of a Fortune 2000 company or in the Engineering group of an ISV which is building its software leveraging Open Source components. • Limited functionality and ease-of-use. Although certainly improved from what was available a few years ago, Open Source BI offerings are still limited in functionality. The maturity of the offerings is often dependent on the Open Source projects acquired to form part of the company’s product portfolio. Generally conceived by developers for developers, the Open Source products also suffer from sub-par ease-of-use and are a challenge to maintain because of the lack of integration between the different modules.

On-Demand/SaaS Business Intelligence Due to the ubiquity of broadband and advances in web application interactivity, software delivered as a service has become a reality that is rapidly changing the software world. Referred to interchangeably as On-Demand Software, Softwareas-a-Service (SaaS), or more recently as Cloud-based software, this new model has upended how people think about deploying and consuming software. The primary benefits and challenges with SaaS business intelligence are as follows: Benefits • Low cost. One of the biggest benefits of SaaS BI is its low upfront and ongoing costs. Customers can start using the service without any large capital expense which reduces the risk of the investment. With a payas-you-go, pay-for-what-you-use model, customers also benefit from pricing that stays aligned with their actual current requirements, not some projected future need. As the service is delivered in the Cloud, there is also no need to purchase any hardware or storage which further reduces cost. • Few resources required. Another significant benefit of SaaS BI, particularly given IT departments’ current staffing constraints, is that these offerings typically require much fewer resources to manage than other BI solutions. First, there is no software to install and maintain. Second, there is no hardware and storage to source, deploy and manage. Third, as products from this generation of BI are the latest to emerge, they typically surface all their capabilities through a single, unified product and employ the most modern user interface targeted at enabling true end-user self sufficiency so that IT does not need to spend a lot of time training and supporting its user base.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Challenges

In spite of the clear benefits of SaaS BI, some companies are not willing to move all the data needed for their BI deployment into the Cloud.

• Cloud-based data only. In spite of the clear benefits of SaaS BI, some companies are not willing to move all the data needed for their BI deployment into the Cloud. Sometimes this has to do with issues of regulatory compliance, as is the case with certain data in the Financial Services and Healthcare sectors. Other times, it has to do with corporate culture. In all cases for these organizations, the challenge of having to load the requisite data into the Cloud outweighs the benefit of the SaaS model. • Functional-specific BI. The other common challenge with a lot of SaaS BI offerings is that they are not general-purpose BI suites. Instead, they have been developed with a focus on providing analytics for particular business functions, primarily sales and marketing. Often built to service other SaaS offerings such as Salesforce.com, these BI solutions provide useful analytics to sales and marketing professionals but cannot be deployed beyond this audience.

Choosing the Right BI Alternative In evaluating these different options, organizations will need to consider their particular situation and requirements to determine which type of solution best fits. For companies with a large IT staff and substantial BI budget, the traditional BI vendors could provide a good alternative with their extensive functionality. Open Source BI might find particular appeal with those businesses which have a solid IT staff with strong programming expertise and who wish also to build custom BI solutions. However, for a lot of companies, particularly small to medium-sized businesses and Enterprise departments, who have limited budgets and resources, the SaaS model can be appealing. It doesn’t require any upfront capital investment nor does it need a large, expert staff to manage. Unfortunately, the downsides of having to upload all data and having limited BI capabilities prove too much of an obstacle for many to proceed any further. But what if there were another alternative – one that essentially combines the strengths of traditional BI with the benefits of the SaaS model? The next section introduces Birst, the first and only SaaS BI offering to provide full-suite BI capabilities for both on-premise and Cloud-based data.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Birst was developed with the needs of SQL Server customers in mind. In fact, Birst delivers its full suite of BI capabilities based on a SQL Server backend.

Introducing Birst: A New BI Paradigm for SQL Server Birst is a full-suite Business Intelligence product that provides fully integrated ETL, Enterprise Reporting, Ad-Hoc Query and Analysis, and Dashboarding from a single interface. Birst is delivered On Demand but has the unique ability to report both on data that stays on premise, as with a traditional BI tool, as well as data that is loaded into the Cloud. In essence it delivers the best of both worlds: the power and security of traditional full-suite BI tools with the cost, time-tovalue, and resource benefits of the Cloud. Thanks to its patent-pending backend automation and on-demand model, customers can deploy production BI in as little as 30 days. Birst was developed with the needs of SQL Server customers in mind. In fact, Birst delivers its full suite of BI capabilities based on a SQL Server backend. It can connect to and report on an on-premise SQL Server database as well as a SQL Server data extract that is uploaded into the Cloud. Also, once a logical data model is defined, the physical model and the SQL generated by user-built reports and dashboards are optimized for high performance on SQL Server. Birst can also connect to any other corporate data source so that its data can be pulled in and combined, where needed, with SQL Server data. Referring back to the five top challenges faced by Microsoft business intelligence users, Birst addresses these as follows: • Eliminates the Report Backlog Unlike Microsoft Reporting Services, Birst does not require any programming knowledge to generate pixel-perfect reports. Through an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface, IT can quickly generate productionquality reports with advanced options like banding and conditional formatting. The report design environment is WYSIWYG, meaning that there is no need to switch back and forth between design and runtime versions making development easier and faster. Also, Birst is built on a single, uniform metadata layer meaning that once defined, metadata can be reused anywhere thereby saving on development time. Finally, end users can personalize reports through features like on-reporting filtering and sorting which offloads low-level customization from IT.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

Thanks to its extreme ease of use, business users can start using Birst’s ad-hoc query and dashboarding capabilities almost immediately.

• Provides Extensive Self-Service with IT Control One of the keys to alleviating the report backlog is to enable greater end-user self service. Thanks to its extreme ease of use, business users can start using Birst’s ad-hoc query and dashboarding capabilities almost immediately, with little training, to get answers to their questions. Another important enabler for true self service is the ability for end users to source the right data at the right time. Birst provides extensive end-user flexibility in this regard in that they can not only access corporate data sources provided by IT but can easily add in ad-hoc sources (e.g., Excel spreadsheets) into their own “workspace.” IT retains control through a powerful and uniform metadata and security layer. • Delivers Interactive, Easy-to-Use Dashboards Birst allows users to simply create powerful, pixel-perfect dashboards by dragging and dropping existing user- or IT-generated reports onto a blank canvas. Designers can edit the dashboards directly while viewing the data which eliminates context switching and increases productivity. Ondashboard filters can be quickly added to allow the viewing of different slices of data and master-slave synchronization, where one user selection automatically updates all graphs and charts, works out of the box. Drill anywhere is automatically enabled as are advanced interactive features like pivot in place. The product provides an extensive palette of charting options, including advanced visualizations like heat maps and funnel charts. • Enables Powerful Analysis with No Cubes Needed Birst requires no cubes to be built to deliver out-of-the-box performance for analysts. Based on an optimized ROLAP backend, IT need only define a logical model once and Birst takes care of generating an optimized physical model which gives analysts true ad-hoc access to the entire data set. Analysts can then quickly generate their own ad-hoc queries and use drill, filter, and pivot to analyze the resultant data set, all from the same easy-to-use interface. Analysts can also easily pull in additional ad-hoc data sources when needed through Birst’s ETL services which leverage patentpending automation to facilitate and speed the process. IT retains visibility and control over the analyst “workspaces” to ensure data consistency and security. All of this power and flexibility is provided without the need to generate a single cube thereby offloading IT from the cumbersome task of constantly having to maintain and optimize a growing cube farm.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

In summary, Birst delivers a full suite of BI capabilities, tuned for SQL Server, at a fraction of the cost and resources required of any other alternative.

• Delivers Truly Low Total Cost of Ownership One of the main attractions of the Microsoft BI offering is the fact that it comes bundled with SQL Server. This perception of “free” belies a high total cost of ownership as the product requires extensive staffing resources to develop and maintain. Birst, on the other hand, not only has low pay-as-you-go, pay-for-what-you-use pricing, without the need to purchase hardware and storage, but also requires far fewer resources to manage thanks to its on-demand nature and patent-pending automation. Specifically, the on-demand nature of the Birst offering means that there is no need to source, set up, deploy or manage the hardware, storage, and software required as in the case of Microsoft’s BI environment. Each new environment (e.g. test, production) can be simply deployed as a new virtual instance, significantly decreasing setup time. Birst also provides a high degree of automation. As 80% of the work typically involved in delivering BI involves preparing the data for analysis and maintaining physical database schemas, Birst has focused patent-pending technology on automating these time-consuming processes. All these factors contribute to drastically reducing the resources, and associated costs, required to set up and manage the Birst environment. In summary, Birst delivers a full suite of BI capabilities, tuned for SQL Server, at a fraction of the cost and resources required of any other alternative. Finally, as a company exclusively focused on helping resource and budgetconstrained businesses deploy effective business intelligence, Birst recognizes that technology is only part of the equation of a successful solution. For this reason, the company has developed an adaptable, low-risk BI implementation methodology that resource-constrained companies can leverage to accelerate their deployments. In addition, customers can leverage Birst’s BI domain expertise to take advantage of BI best practices so they don’t have to learn the lessons of successful BI the hard way.

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The Top Five Challenges with SQL Server Reporting and BI

By delivering the power and security of traditional full-suite BI tools with the cost, time-tovalue, and resource benefits of the Cloud, Birst can provide a compelling alternative for Microsoft BI users.

Birst, Inc. 153 Kearny St., 3rd floor San Francisco, CA 94108 www.birst.com Email: info@birst.com Toll Free Phone: (866) 940-1496

Conclusion The appeal of the Microsoft business intelligence offering is clear. The various components are readily available as “free” bundles with the ubiquitous database and portal from Redmond, which claims purported benefits of ease of use and integration. Whereas the BI suite may suit certain early-stage business intelligence needs, most organizations will find the products to be too functionally limited for their needs. Moreover, the perceived benefit of low cost ultimately proves to be a fallacy as the cost of staffing required mounts uncontrollably. The alternatives of traditional BI and Open Source BI could be a suitable option for those organizations which have sizable budgets and IT staff, such as large Enterprises. However, for most organizations, particularly those who have adopted Microsoft BI, the low cost and low resource requirements of SaaS BI will be most appealing. Unfortunately, the prospect of having to load data into the Cloud makes this a non-starter for many prospect organizations. Birst is the first and only SaaS vendor to provide full-suite BI capabilities for both on premise as well as Cloud-based data. By delivering the power and security of traditional full-suite BI tools with the cost, time-to-value, and resource benefits of the Cloud, Birst can provide a compelling alternative for Microsoft BI users.

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