Monday, November 15, 2010

Microsoft’s Announcement of BI Road Map – a Public Relations Nightmare

During Microsoft’s PASS Summit 2010, Microsoft announced their strategic plans for their Analysis Services business intelligence platform. But as intriguing as Microsoft’s announcement was from a technological perspective, it also had another less desired effect – it presented Microsoft’s long time business partners, namely BI consultants and service providers, with big questions in regards to where they fit in Microsoft’s grand plans for the BI space.

There are two main reasons for this:

1. While Microsoft heavily relies on its partner network for selling more SQL Server licenses, they have been heavily marketing PowerPivot which is positioned as self-service BI. Neither the partners, nor Microsoft, have yet to figure out how to position the two offerings in a way that makes sense to a typical customer.

2. Microsoft’s road map clearly shows a shift away from OLAP architecture and to a new paradigm they call the BI Semantic Model that doesn’t coincide with their partners’ existing and hard earned training and expertise in implementing/selling Microsoft BI solutions. Microsoft partners would need to re-align their entire business based on a product that isn’t even released yet, let alone implemented anywhere.

Following this announcements, high profile evangelists of Microsoft BI solutions have openly expressed their concern regarding this radical move. See examples here and here. Ever since, Microsoft has been working overtime on some major damage control, trying to explain itself and reassure its partner network that OLAP is not going anywhere and that these new plans are complementary to the existing Analysis Services offering (i.e. "bla bla").

Regardless of Microsoft’s post factum attempt to re-establish calm amongst its partner community from a PR perspective, that cat is already out of the bag.  And honestly, Microsoft’s move was not unexpected. Check out the article published two months ago titled ‘Business Intelligence Vendors and their Partners – Rough Seas Ahead’ which specifically discusses what PowerPivot (and similar technologies) would mean for the BI implementation business.

Whether Microsoft’s ideas are practical or just pipe dreams remains to be seen.  However, one thing is certain – considering the fact Microsoft rely so heavily on its dedicated partners for sales and marketing, I would have expected this to be handled with much more finesse. This announcement was a very poor display of handling public relations.
By: Elad Israeli | The ElastiCube Chronicles - Business Intelligence Blog


  1. but, Elad, MS bi pro's will quickly adapt...and certainly you have to admit that tapping into a 500 million strong world-wide Excel user base might have some upside potential

  2. Anonymous,

    Some will adapt, sure, but I believe some will also turn to alternatives that may generate more revenues in the long run and open up new markets.

    Companies have been trying to tap into the '500 million strong world-wide Excel' user base for years. Microsoft's assumption is that by giving more power to the business users, they open up a door for more SQL Server licenses. Not sure how sound that assumption is. I've heard similar stories before and during the launch of Excel 2007. The marketing messages never change, only the people behind them.

    More over, Microsoft pros tend to be less patient than Microsoft in respect to looking at things long term and I am not sure how appealing they would find gaining new business through Excel users. This is business, and they will do what works for them, not for Microsoft.

    Oh, and one more thing - I think one of the biggest issue with Microsoft's strategy is that they are entering the arena too late (again). By the time their vision is backed up by an enterprise ready product, they'll have a lot of ground to cover against their growing list competitors that have already understood OLAP is going no where years ago.

  3. ok, being devil's advocate, who cares about the installed base of bi partners...once the excel people that actually run the world's corporations "get" what's going on with PP ("the devil's engine") they will own and drive it & yes they will buy a boatload of servers..they have the money..don't really know how this is stoppable

  4. ...and that is exactly my point. Microsoft's partners fear that this is exactly what Microsoft is telling them, although not in so many words. The smart ones have already got that.

    However, like I said, Microsoft's vision is one thing and reality in another. I do not share your optimistic view of PowerPivot's success. Even if it was the holy grail, life is much more complex.

    I'll share at least one flaw in your premise -

    Microsoft is not a BI company. It's primary software business is Windows and Office, and the latter being distributed as it is, it is very hard to show growth (an important factor for a public company) through acquisition of new Office customers. That is the major reason why Microsoft added PP to Excel 2010 - to promote upgrades by existing customers who are happy with their Excel 2002. However, there is a limit to what can be added to Office that will justify an upgrade. This is a problem Microsoft has been facing for years.

    Even if PP was enough to persuade most customers to upgrade to Excel 2010 (which it isn't), what are they going to do with the future versions of Office? That is why in the long term (but foreseeable future) Microsoft will need to rely on their enterprise servers (SQL Server, SharePoint, etc) for new software sales... And they cannot afford to do it alone, they need their partners.


  5. Elad,

    Thanks for your critical commentary. As you can tell, I have already "drank the kool aid" w/ PP. I really think it's going to be a global tidal wave that you do not want to get in the way of.

    About future releases, one idea: DAX blows in's gonna get better...a lot better.

  6. That's fair enough, buddy. It's going to be interesting and all we can do is wait and see.

    Regarding DAX... out of your 500M excel users, maybe 0.0000001% would find that interesting :-)


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