One of the biggest trends in Business Intelligence in the past couple of years has been the rise in self-service data discovery and visualization tools. These tools combine powerful in-memory capabilities and simple interfaces that allow analysts to integrate and transform data for data exploration, dashboards and reporting. By using this self-service model, analysts are able to produce results much more quickly than using the traditional BI model.
While there are many advantages to this model, they have produced several challenges. Organizations are struggling to manage an environment where there is one enterprise BI tool along with several niche self-service BI tools. There is now a cost to license multiple tools and train people to use another new tool. These organizations have made large investments to build Data Warehouses, providing one version of the truth accessible via established BI tools. How do they leverage this investment while supporting the legitimate need for self-service BI?
These organizations need a tool that integrates with their existing BI environment while providing the users with a first class self service capability. This is why I’m excited by the recent announcement that SAP and Microsoft have worked together to bring the powerful capabilities of a Business Objects universe into the Power BI suite of self-service tools inside Excel 2013. Not only does this integrate a self-service BI tool with the existing data platform, but it does it in Excel, a tool that most users already have and know how to use.
This integration is built into the Excel component, Power Query. Power Query is the new Excel component used to retrieve and manipulate data from multiple data sources. It can load the data into memory to be used in other analysis or simply dumped into an Excel worksheet. Data can be retrieved from SAP Business Objects into Power Query by simply selecting it from the “Other Sources” icon on the Excel ribbon.
After specifying the Business Objects server and universe, users can easily add universe objects to the Power Query model.
After being added to the model, users can easily transform and integrate the information with other data sources. The results can then be used to build a dashboard or report within minutes.
As this market continues to mature, expect Power BI features to continue to be enhanced along with the rest of the self-service tools. Integration with SAP Business Objects was just added only supports UNX universes built using Business Objects 4.1 Service Pack 2. Stay tuned to see what enhancements will be made to make this and other self-service tools even more powerful.