Microsoft Business Intelligence Front-end

Microsoft has been working very hard on extending the functionality of the front-end of its Business Intelligence solution over the last years. For quite some time Microsoft didn't have a lot of BI front-end possibilities, while they do have a very strong back-end with SQL Server and Integration Services. Before the introduction of SQL Server Reporting Services, the visualisation was limited to Microsoft Excel.

With the latest release of SQL Server 2016, Microsoft finally offers a broad spectrum of front-end tools. We can broadly divide them into the two following categories:

  • Enterprise Business Intelligence. Pixel-perfect paginated reports are created with Reporting Services. These can either be browsed using the Report Portal or they can be integrated into SharePoint. Enterprise features include exporting to variety of formats (Excel, Word, PDF), data-driven subscriptions, push & pull subscriptions, caching, reports snapshots and so on. Power users can also create their own reports using Report Builder, a more user friendly development environment. Reporting Services is available in all SQL Server versions and its capabilities have been improved greatly over the years. There are various possible data sources, but typical a relational data warehouse is used (such as SQL Server itself) or an OLAP model (Analysis Services Multidimensional or Tabular).
    With SQL Server 2016, you can now also create mobile friendly reports/dashboards and KPIs using the Mobile Report Publisher. With this tool, you can create attractive reports that can be displayed on a regular screen, on tablets or on smartphones.
  • Self-service Business Intelligence. Over the last years, Microsoft has invested heavily in the self-service segment of the BI market. You can either start your self-service journey in Excel, using the Power BI add-ins (Power Query, Power Map, Power Pivot and Power View), or you start with Power BI Desktop, a stand-alone and free application. With Power BI Desktop, you can create visually attractive and interactive reports with just a few clicks. You can either import data into model (like Power Pivot) or you can query live from SQL Server or from Analysis Services. For sharing your analysis with colleagues, you can upload your Excel file or Power BI Desktop file to the Power BI cloud environment. There you can combine different analysis into dashboards. Power BI also has native apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. These apps allow you to view your reports and dashboards on a mobile device. Important to know is that the app can also browse the Reporting Services Mobile Reports.

You don't have to choose between the two options. It's perfectly possible to use a hybrid approach where you combine Enterprise reports with self-service analysis. There are integration points between both methods, such as the Power BI app and the capability to pin Reporting Services reports to a Power BI dashboard. Excel itself plays a big role in both methodologies. You can either use it to do your own self-service BI, or you can connect to an Enterprise BI solution such as an Analysis Services model to do ad-hoc analysis. You can even connect to a Power BI model in the cloud with Excel.

Microsoft offers a rich front-end environment with different options to suit your needs, where mobile reporting is fully supported.

Contact us for more information on Microsoft front-end Business Intelligence functionality.