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Business Intelligence for Excel

White Paper

Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc. Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

Business Intelligence for Excel


This white paper concerns business intelligence for spreadsheet usersas such it concerns business intelligence broadly defined, and standard, current Business Intelligence products and technology. It also explains a non-standard, very smart Business Intelligence product, Business Intelligence for Excel. The argument made here is that Business Intelligence for Excelalso known as BIXL (pronounced bee-eye-ex-el)has superceded other Business Intelligence products by closing a technology gap that exists between where data is stored and where it is needed. BIXL closes the gap by employing two outstanding technologies, the relational database, which has been enhanced with cube/analysis capabilities, and the everyday spreadsheet. It assumes that smart business users, whose job is to counsel themselves or management, very much want to continue working in their spreadsheet, for its computational, formatting, and graphical features. So, the product brings whats needed to the spreadsheetBusiness Intelligence for Excel.

Copyright Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved 200 Hyde Park, Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901 PH: +1 215 340-2880 FAX: +1 215 230-2828

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Business Intelligencethe concept, the products


The term Business Intelligence is much in use today. Business Intelligence has taken its place among other technology conceptsOLAP, Decision Support, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), etc.that relate to the fast delivery of key data to organizations. The data in question is of the sort that companies have (historically) a difficult time reaching, i.e., records in underlying, mostly relational databases. Figure 1, below, schematizes the Technology Gap that these technologies attempt to address. [Fig. 1Technology Gap between where data is stored, and where it is needed.]

Mention of Business Intelligence, like the mention of those other termsOLAP, Decision Support, etc. inevitably raises the question, For Whom? Necessarily the answer must be, business end-users. End users need business intelligence for, in effect, any job they need to do! (Wouldnt any business user want a single software application that could do everything?) These user tasks, which millions of spreadsheet users must accomplish each day, could broadly be described as planning, analysis and reporting. The products that call themselves Business Intelligence (BI) solutions need to address some part of those requirementsoptimally, one product would address all of those requirements. As we consider the challenge of providing Business Intelligence, we see that some products do not meet end-users requirements; and thatoften just the oppositeBI solutions sometimes perpetuate the disconnect or technology gap problems they were meant to address. Business Intelligence for ExcelBIXLdiffers from other BI tools in this respect: the product delivers to an end-users Excel spreadsheet data that can be used for analytical and reporting purposes, from Microsofts Analysis Services (and other OLE DB for OLAP cube providers), and adds all-important writeback capabilities for planning (and budgeting and forecasting) tasks. Most importantly, since the interface is Excel, users enjoy the full familiarity and capability of their spreadsheet, just as they are used to. The next figure, Figure 2, shows the schematic for Business Intelligence for Excel. This is followed by a brief Benefits Summary of the product.

Copyright Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved 200 Hyde Park, Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901 PH: +1 215 340-2880 FAX: +1 215 230-2828

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[Fig. 2 Business Intelligence for ExcelBIXLis a Microsoft Excel add-in that accesses Analysis Services (and other OLE DB for OLAP) data and returns that information for end-users to work with in their spreadsheets. BIXL delivers Business Intelligence into Excel dynamically.]

Benefits Summary for Business Intelligence for ExcelBIXL Business end-users work in the familiar Excel spreadsheet. Write-Back capability to MS Analysis Services cubes, and other OLE DB compliant cubes Fast and easy ad hoc customization of reports Dynamic updating from SQL Server to Analysis Services cubes to BIXL reports Leverage experience and investments in SQL Server and Excel Cost-effective for all organizations The following pages cover the Business Intelligence market and the standard problem of working with data stored in relational systems; Microsofts initiation of an OLAP capability in SQL Server; the third-party vendor products that work with MS Analysis Services and, finally, a further examination of the features and methodology of Business Intelligence for Excels features and benefits.

Copyright Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved 200 Hyde Park, Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901 PH: +1 215 340-2880 FAX: +1 215 230-2828

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Business Intelligenceproblems working with relational database systems


Although the focus of this paperand the focus of BIXLis Business Intelligence delivered to Excel from Microsoft Analysis Services (and other OLE DB for OLAP compliant) cubes, it will be worthwhile to briefly consider the state of Business Intelligence without a Microsoft or other OLE DB for OLAP compliant back-end componentin other words, BI typically accessed from relational database systems. The expression Business Intelligence has, until recently, suggested something pretty much limited to analysis and reporting, with heavy emphasis on reporting. Getting good reports that satisfy enterprise requirements is no mean featand several reporting products do that job quite well. The best of these reporting tools provide data retrieval; formatting options; and even some analytical functionality. But reporting solutions typically suffer from any or all of the following problems: (a) Length of timeboth to update reports and to create new reports (the ladder results in a significant cost problem: the cost in time and dollars to create new reports) (b) Analytical weaknesseseven if a tool has been backwards-enhanced with analytical capabilities (c) The reporting-only, read-only syndromei.e., no capability for interactive use of data (because the reporting data is read only). All of these problemsfor they are truly problems when organizations want more from these tools than they are able to providetrace back to the fact that most report-writers are table-based, relational database query tools. To write reports, they run queries on an underlying relational system. Then, queries must be re-run each time new transactions are recorded in order for a report to be truly up-todate. When a structural change is made to the underlying systemfor example, a new account code is added to an accounting applicationboth the report must be modified and the query re-run. This is why new reports are so difficult to get, and why report-writers take so long [problem (a)]: running and rerunning queries takes time, as any company that relies on them knows. And new reports with entirely new queries may take time and consulting dollars. Insofar as analytical weaknesses (b) are concerned, some report-writer tools have been enhanced to perform analytical cube modeling (and thus claim to have some OLAP capabilities)but these cubes are sometimes constructed from reports themselves, so to analyze data in a new way involves running still more reports, now to create cubes. At best, backwards-enhanced OLAP capabilities dont do much for the end userthe problem remains, getting data fast, in a familiar way, for what users need to do. To overcome these problemsand in particular to address the reporting-only, read-only issue (c) end-users resort to familiar means. That is, they type or copy data from reports (whether reporting tool interfaces or printed reports) into their familiar Excel spreadsheet environment. And from their spreadsheets, users customize their own one-off reports with their own charts and graphs; create or enter data into Excel-based budgeting applications; aggregate totals from columns, rows, entire worksheets; and create their own formulas for individualized calculations to forecast, plan, what if, etc.in other words, perform all the functions they are used to doing in Excel. As a consequence, after most BI solutions are implemented, users subvert the situation by creating, by necessity, another disconnect between where data is and where it needs to be. More serious from an organizational and logistical standpoint, there is a replication of data from one source to another, with the resulting loss of dynamism at best, and the loss of data integrity at worst.

Copyright Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved 200 Hyde Park, Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901 PH: +1 215 340-2880 FAX: +1 215 230-2828

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Microsoft SQL 2000 Analysis Serverproviding a back-end OLAP component for BI


Microsoft has addressed what might be called the ongoing back-end (relational database) problems of Business Intelligence. With the release of SQL Server 2000, the companys relational database system, Microsoft bundled an OLAP tool, Analysis Services:

Together with SQL Server, Analysis Services offers everything needed to build analysis applications, including integrated OLAP and data mining capabilities. With open standards and flexible client support, the integrated Microsoft solution works in virtually any business environment and offers integration with a wide variety of third party products and client tools. Using the graphical administrator, businesses can create and deploy new analysis applications quickly and easily, yet the solution is scalable to support demanding analysis environments and very large data volumes.
http://www.microsoft.com/sql/techinfo/BI/AnalysisSvcWP.asp Microsofts entry into the market (originally, with the release of the predecessor SQL Server 7.0s OLAP Services component), employing a technology (i.e., OLAP) that it stated revolutionized the business of finding answers fast, was a powerful endorsement of OLAP. Indeed, Microsofts successive SQL Server releases signaled a dramatic growth in the familiarity and use of this important technology. By most measures, Microsoft, through these releases, has actually become the largest OLAP solution provider. Further, application vendors now create and provide pre-built cubes to Analysis Services, which give general functionality to users enjoying their first exposure to OLAP capabilities. Quite naturally, users expect enhanced Business Intelligence capabilitiesfor reporting, at least. But once again, users requirements have not been met entirely, and in some cases not at all, and the technology gap perpetuatesthat is discussed in the next section. For now it is important to emphasize that Microsoft at least has provided a solution: in its recent relational database release, it has provided the OLAP capabilities of Analysis Services, the key piece in an excellent SQL Server based BI system.

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BI Solutions with MS Analysis Services databut with what front end?


We must explicitly note that Microsofts Analysis Services is a component functionality bundled with the relational database system SQL Serverit is not a separate product or a finished application. Microsoft always intended to provide this extremely valuable function as a technology upon which third-party developers could build applications. Through its creation of OLE DB for OLAP standard, Microsoft opened the door to enable independent vendors to provide solutions that leverage the data in Analysis Services cubes. Vendors have developed some successes, particularly in providing front end data visualization capabilities. There is a real need for lively, intelligent graphical representation of data. (Users have confirmed this through their individual use of Excel, with data they work up and display through the spreadsheets formatting and graphical tools.) If we consider Business Intelligence circumscribedi.e., reporting, and the analysis that graphical reporting can afford, we must admit that there have been strides in creating reporting solution front ends from Analysis Services data. However, by and large vendors have failed when we measure their achievement against a wider and more resonant concept of Business Intelligence. There has been little done to extend the application functionality of Analysis Services for spreadsheet users to do their planning, budgeting, forecasting and what-if analysis. As we shall see, Business Intelligence for ExcelBIXL succeeds in providing precisely these capabilities. Let us refer back to the problems with reporting-only BI solutionsthose that do not even leverage Analysis Services. We acknowledge that current Analysis Services front ends have made strides in improving upon (a) length of time to create different and new reports; and (b) providing far better analytical capabilities. But we need, at the same time, also to explain that these improvements owe more to Analysis Servicess serving up that data through the use of OLAP technology. Beyond the standard graphical reports, it still can be a difficult and costly effort for an end user to create truly customized reports, in an ad hoc fashion, showing data exactly how he or she wants to see it. Furtherand this is a key point(c) the reporting-only, read-only syndrome has not been addressed. The instant a business end-user wants to work with the data the way he or she wantsand work on reports, analysis, plans, budgets, forecasts, etc. on a going-forward basishe/she will seek out the tool that is available, comfortable and extremely powerful for these purposesExcel. In other words, there is no write-back capability in reporting-only, read-only applications. The Technology Gap appears againbetween where data exists and where users want it. In other words, there is a disconnect between where data is transacted and made eminently available (SQL Server Analysis Services) and where users choose to work with ittheir familiar spreadsheet. For these reasons, the best scenario in an Analysis Services configuration would be to provide optimized Business Intelligence for Excel as a front end; for reporting, analysisand for write-back to planning, budgeting and forecasting models. These are exactly the core capabilities of Business Intelligence for ExcelBIXL, discussed on the following page.

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Business Intelligence for Excel Features and Benefits


Business end-users need business intelligence for the competitive advantage that up-to-the-instant, accurate knowledge can give them in the marketplace. The core concept of Business Intelligence for Excel (BIXL) is to allow users to build that business intelligence into Excel and deliver it exactly the way they want it. BIXL works as a Microsoft Excel add-in to seamlessly retrieve Analysis Services OLAP data and returns that information for use in the everyday spreadsheetnot a PivotTable. BIXL brings all Business Reporting, Analysis, Planning and Budgeting into Excel in a matter of minutes. With a keen eye on your ROI, and offering access to and enhancement of Microsofts OLAP functionality at a very competitive price, BIXL is the intelligent and powerful way to reach business intelligence through Excel. The following summarizes BIXLs features and benefits: Work In Excel. Users never leave their comfortable and familiar Excel environment. A few minutes of training, and end-users have access to data the way they want it. Users can start advanced analytics and reporting with the Excel formatting and functionality they already know. Write Back Capability. Users see business figures dynamically in Excel, but BIXL also allows them to send data back to the source cubesfor example to report the latest figures and test what if scenarios. This Write Back capability makes BIXL ideal for all planning, forecasting and budgeting requirements. Data from Anywhere. BIXL integrates with any OLE DB for OLAP-compliant system, including Microsofts SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, to retrieve data from cubes into Excel. WWW-Able. Use BIXL across the Web for worldwide access, data manipulations and data entry to models contained in Analysis Services cubes and other OLE DB cube providers. Cost-Effective. BIXL is very competitively priced. Whether an organization has one user or thousands, BIXL provides solutions for the right price, leveraging and combining already-deployed technologies SQL Server and Excel. Fast. Users see data in spreadsheets that can be customized in a few seconds. Quick and dynamic views of real-time data support requirements for immediate enterprise-wide analysis-and-response time. Easy. There is no need to ask the IT Department for help: simple BIXL wizards guide users through customizations to create the spreadsheet users want to create. Familiar and simpleexactly as Excel is currently usedmeans money saved on roll-out efforts and training. Flexible. BIXL allows users to change the layout of a spreadsheet with a mouse click. BIXLs flexibility dynamically allows views of your data on the fly, with multidimensional, ad-hoc analysis capability instantly, from within Excel. Return on Investment. Important data is sitting in company databases, but presently it is cumbersome, costly and time-consuming to get that data into Excel, where analysts use it. Today they can continue to lose productivity and pay a very high costor use they can use the right tool. BIXL is the right toolit is Business Intelligence for Excel.

Copyright Business Intelligence Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved 200 Hyde Park, Doylestown, Pennsylvania 18901 PH: +1 215 340-2880 FAX: +1 215 230-2828

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