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Microsoft looks to channel for BI growth

Business intelligence is more about implementation than the actual application, according to the software giant

Research firm IDC Canada says business intelligence will be the top area of software investment over the next 12 months, and when it comes to seizing that opportunity Microsoft Canada will be relying heavily on its channel partners.

A survey by IDC of 500 Canadian IT decision makers indicated that business analytics and data warehousing will be the top are of software investment for Canadian enterprises over the next 12 months.

Leading the way departmentally for BI will be finance, sales & marketing and operations, which together are expected to account for 90 per cent of all BI spending over the period. Additionally, some 30 per cent of all SQL Server investments are expected to be for BI solutions.

“The investments happening in ERP and CRM are all about operational efficiencies, capturing customer information and improving the customer experience,” said Joel Martin, vice-president, enterprise software research with IDC Canada

Given that Canadian businesses invested $184.5 million in BI software in 2006, a figure that is expected $291 million by 2011; Martin said there is significant growth potential in the BI market.

“BI is a great opportunity for partners to have a long-term, strategic relationship with a customer,” said Martin.

BI is about more than just implementing the application for the customer, said Martin. It’s about customizing it for their business needs, helping them leverage it, building role-based views, putting information in context and getting ready for the next platform upgrade.

“They can bring in some of these products that really bring the whole BI story together, such as collaborative tools, database tools and content management tools,” said Martin.

Implementing a BI solution, he added, not only requires a partner to think more strategically about a client’s business but also offers the opportunity to become more of a strategic partner.

“They’ll bring a lot more value-add when they’re thinking about how the client wants to use the technology and the information that resides on it,” said Martin. “The more they understand that the more value they can drive into the client.”

Having brought its BI family of products together under the Dynamics brand and built a strong business in the mid market, software giant Microsoft has its sights focused on the growing BI opportunity. David McJannet, senior product manager, SQL Server with Microsoft Canada, said the explosion of structured data in ERP and CRM platforms and unstructured data such as e-mails is forcing companies to become more efficient and is creating an opportunity for BI tools.

“If you can harness that data and put it into the hands of all your decision makers, not just the corner office, that can have a real impact on your organization’s performance,” said McJannet.

Microsoft’s BI strategy involves leveraging its pervasive application stack that is already well entrenched on the enterprise desktop, such as the Microsoft Office suite, to improve usability and push BI usage deeper into the organization.

“We want to provide people with BI where they want it, and that’s in their productivity applications,” said McJannet. “Our vision is to expand the BI footprint within an organization ten-fold by enabling it for those operational business decisions where it wasn’t previously before used.”

To meet Microsoft’s ambitious goal, McJannet said the vendor will be relying heavily on its ecosystem of channel partners to bring their skills to the table, applying their technological expertise to marry Microsoft’s tools with the business problems customers are facing. It’s an opportunity, said McJannet, for partners to provide both technical and business value to their clients.

“The channel component of this is absolutely critical given the nature of the technology, as there’s customization required,” said McJannet. “One of our biggest assets is the partner community that works with us and adds their best practices to each implementation.”

A Cambridge, Ont,-based third-party freight logistics provider, Challenger Motor Freight, has used Microsoft’s ProClarity BI tool on SQL Server since 2002.

Eveline Gaede, Challenger Motor Freight’s director of information technology, said with a patchwork of legacy siloed systems with little interactivity it was difficult to get enterprise-wide business visibility.

The company dismissed software from Cognos as too proprietary and expensive, said Gaede, settling instead on ProClarity in part because it integrated well with tools they were already using, such as Microsoft Excel.

Working with Microsoft partner Shea Business Solutions to gain best practice expertise and assistance in areas like financial reporting, Gaede said Challenger is now using ProClarity from the executive suite down to the operational level and is currently exploring integration with SharePoint to share data with external partners.

Comment: cdnedit@itbusiness.ca