Consolidated Business Intelligence Portal Lowers Costs
Published: December 2009
A single, consolidated business intelligence portal helps Microsoft streamline business processes and lower costs. Users can share business information securely across the enterprise, and can view and organize reports with ease.
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IT Business and Technical Managers
Microsoft IT (MSIT) created a consolidated business intelligence (CBI) portal with an enterprise report catalog and a hosted business intelligence solution. The goal of the portal and catalog is to provide a single destination at Microsoft for business analytics. This solution promotes reporting consolidation and simplification and is delivering BI to the masses at Microsoft using Microsoft products. This article focuses on the CBI portal and enterprise report catalog developed by MSIT.
Why Create a CBI Portal?
The latest survey of CIOs done by the Gartner® Institute indicates that BI continues to be one of the primary IT investments despite the challenging economic climate. Companies everywhere rely on business analytics and intelligence to gain greater insight into performance, budgeting, forecasting, and more. Unfortunately, many BI solutions are not really integrated with the IT infrastructure. So finding the right information at the right time in a complete way is a challenge.
For Microsoft, the lack of integration between various systems made it very difficult to manage multiple types of reporting solutions. Users had to access reports, scorecards, dashboards, KPIs, and other metrics from various locations. Security challenges with authorization and viewing rights also made it very difficult for users to get the reports they needed in a timely fashion.
What is the CBI Portal?
The CBI portal is a centrally hosted, secure, and personalizable BI destination with one enterprise report catalog for scorecards, reports, and other business analysis. After entering their credentials, Microsoft employees have instant access to all of the BI for all businesses, applications, and regions. The portal gives business and IT teams direct control of the content that they want to publish. Teams can publish to whoever they want, whether it's one user, 1000 users, or 90,000 users at Microsoft.
MSIT created the portal using the entire set of BI technologies that Microsoft offers to external users. These technologies include SQL Server®, SQL Server Reporting Services, Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server, Microsoft Office PerformancePoint® Server, ProClarity® Services, and Excel® Services. MSIT hosts the servers with a regional deployment for intranet and external scenarios.
The CBI portal has been live at Microsoft for more than two years and is used by over 20,000 global users from more than 50 businesses, covering more than 100 applications.
Benefits of the CBI Portal
The CBI portal offers the following benefits:
- For BI consumers, the portal increases productivity by providing one destination for all BI reports, scorecards, dashboards, and KPIs with a single and consistent user interface.
- For BI report creators, the portal reduces implementation times for the creation and delivery of business analytics. A special on-boarding process also helps both businesses and IT with deployment.
- For the MSIT Operations team, the portal saves IT costs. Implementation times are significantly reduced with a single code base and IT teams can deploy solutions in a more expedient fashion. There's also a reduction in shadow application development by business teams.
An Ecosystem of Platforms Based on Microsoft BI Products
To create the enterprise data warehousing solution, MSIT created an ecosystem of platforms that utilize standard Microsoft BI products. Platforms exist for all the stages of BI. It starts with the data capture and integration platform, moves through the taxonomy and data management solution platform, and then on to the distribution layers such as portals, scorecards, various dashboards, and KPIs. Everything is guarded by a security layer.
"The CBI portal has been live at Microsoft for more than two years and is used by over 20,000 global users from more than 50 businesses, covering more than 100 applications."
From a product standpoint, the CBI portal is an IT showcase for the entire spectrum of Microsoft BI offerings, starting with a SQL Server data infrastructure platform for the back end. The middle tier is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, which also serves as the foundation for business productivity, content, delivery, and management. The front end is Microsoft Office, which provides an excellent presentation layer with a familiar user interface.
The CBI Portal in Operation
To use the CBI portal, a BI consumer opens Windows® Internet Explorer and enters a URL. When the user enters the site, the site recognizes and welcomes the user. The navigation pane on the left side of the screen displays the names of folders and items such as reports, scorecards, dashboards, KPIs, and so on. When the user clicks an item, the item is displayed in the reports pane on the right side of the screen. To help decide which item(s) to open, the user can click a thumbnail button to see a preview and metadata for selected item(s). When the user clicks a thumbnail, the item is opened in Internet Explorer.
Organizing Reports and Other Items with Tabs
The user can open multiple items from multiple businesses and organize those items using tabs. For example, a user could open five reports from the Xbox team and display those five reports in a tab called "Xbox" and open five finance reports in another tab called "Finance." All of the reports are dynamic, so the user can drill down into them for more details.
Favorites and Sharing Folders
Users can customize their tabs through an intuitive user interface. They can also add items to their Favorites folder or to a Sharing folder. They can set as many default reports as they want.
"For the end users that consume the BI, the only software required is Windows Internet Explorer. This means that up to 90,000 users who could consume the BI don't have to install anything, since Internet Explorer is installed with Windows."
The portal remembers everything about the user's session, so the next time the user goes to the URL, whether from the same computer or another computer, all of the reports, scorecards, dashboards, and so on are at their fingertips. The user can ignore the catalog and just concentrate on the business analytics that are of interest. The user does not need to have special training in order to utilize these features.
Content creators are required to enter metadata for each item that they add to the catalog and the metadata is searchable. For example, a user can find all of the reports at Microsoft that belong to a particular corporate or business group and/or that are of a certain type (report, scorecard, dashboard, and so on). Searches are savable.
If a user doesn't have access to a folder or item, the folder or item is grayed out. But the metadata is still available to the user, so the user can learn more about the item and contact the owner in real time using Microsoft Office Communicator to get access permissions. This also helps to avoid duplication of items. Since all BI is available in one enterprise report catalog, before adding an item to the catalog, a content creator can check to see if an item has already been added.
To request access, the user clicks the View Reports I Cannot Access command, and then right-clicks the grayed folder or item.
The CBI portal also includes a Communities tab. Content creators can use this tab to add a SharePoint page for each of their groups.
CBI Portal Supports Thin Clients
SQL Server Reporting Services, PerformancePoint, ProClarity, and Excel Services all have a thin client version that enables users to access reports and use them dynamically. Only the content creators are required to install tools other than Internet Explorer.
The CBI portal is a very powerful tool that was created using the entire spectrum of Microsoft BI products available to external users. It offers a single hosted portal solution for all BI needs at Microsoft, delivering the right information to the right users. For BI consumers, the portal increases productivity by providing one destination for all business analytics with a single and consistent user interface. The portal reduces implementation time for report creators, and cuts down on duplicate reports. For the MSIT Operations team, a single code base helps to cut down on IT costs and shadow application development.
The adoption and use of the CBI portal is growing rapidly at Microsoft, with over 20,000 global users from more than 50 businesses, covering more than 100 applications.
For More Information
To see a demonstration of the CBI portal and a multimedia presentation on the content of this article, please visit http://technet.microsoft.com/video/consolidated-business-intelligence-portal-lowers-costs.aspx.
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