The story I heard goes like this: The BI folks at Microsoft, with years and years of experience behind them building BI software, went out and interviewed a number of customers about how to build a better tool for end users. The goal was to go back to the drawing board, armed with knowledge and feedback from the real world and build a better self-service BI toolset.
They asked customers what would be a good interface for working with sets of data. The customers wanted something that looked like a spreadsheet. They asked about how customers wanted to manipulate data and heard that something was needed like the formulas in Excel, which were easy to use. They asked about how data should be shared and presented, and customers said that ease of building reports and charts in Excel would be preferred.
I think the message got through that the best BI tool is really Excel. It's a tried and proven interface and people understand it. There are limitations to be addressed and enhancements to be added, but ultimately everyone understands Excel.
Microsoft built PowerPivot with this knowledge. It sits on top of Excel as a kind of add-in. I saw a few demos of it recently at the PASS Summit. It looks cool, and you can see an impressive demo at the Powerpivot site. Behind the scenes it has a runtime of Analysis Services (sort-of) and handles some large data loads very well.
I don't know that this is the ultimate BI tool or that it will greatly speed the adoption of BI solutions in the world, but it is pretty cool and I'd like to see how it scales. It's coming in SQL Server 2008 R2 and we are trying to get some content written for the site to show you more about how it works, and more importantly how you can use it. Look for that soon, and I'm curious to know what the rest of you think about this new direction in BI.
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