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At its simplest, business intelligence is any series of activities you perform to gather and analyse data in order to make better business decisions.
The problem is that most IT systems are designed for a single purpose, such as taking orders or bookings, managing stock, managing contacts or customer relations and so on. It is usually difficult to get useful business information from these systems and is something that requires a high level of IT knowledge to do.
This is where a good business intelligence solution comes in. It can pull data from multiple different systems in to one place – a central data warehouse – and give users access to the data that they need in a format that they can understand. They can then use familiar tools – such as Microsoft Excel – to further analyse the data they are presented with.
Microsoft provides an excellent suite of business intelligence tools which can be used to build a business intelligence solution.
SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) is Microsoft’s ETL (extract, transform, load) tool that allows us to pull data from multiple sources – for example Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, Oracle databases, flat files, SQL Server databases – and manipulate the data according to the appropriate rules before loading it into a warehouse. SSIS underpins many of the systems we develop, whether pure business intelligence solutions or traditional line-of-business applications.
SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) is the foundation of the Microsoft BI stack. It allows us to create multidimensional database structures called cubes. A well-designed cube allows the user to easily drill into the data to get the information they need much more efficiently that is possible with a relational database.
SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) allows us to create, deploy and manage complex online reports to allow business end-users to view and interact with data in the form of tables, graphs, matrices and so on. It makes it easy to control who has access to what, and for end-users to even design and deploy their own reports. The reports can be viewed and interacted with online, or downloaded in many familiar formats – whether in Excel for further analysis or in PDF for printing and distributing.
SSRS reports can also be embedded within bespoke HTML5 applications.
PowerPivot is part of what Microsoft are referring to as “self-service BI”. It is a free add-in for Excel that brings powerful data analysis capabilities to the familiar environment of Excel. With the PowerPivot add-in, you are no longer limited to 1 million rows but can work with datasets that are tens of millions of rows long. You can work with the data in the normal ways: sorting, pivoting, filtering and so on – all in memory. You can define relationships between data sets to pull in related data from multiple sheets. PowerPivot also allows the use of a querying language called DAX which enables more complex analysis –for example year-by-year comparisons for the same periods.
On top of all this, once a PowerPivot workbook has been created, it can be uploaded to the web where it becomes an interactive web application. In this way it can be viewed by users who don’t even have Excel installed.
Contact us now and let us Integrate, Analyze and Report on your data to add value.