Some might tell you that SharePoint can meet all your corporate collaboration and information needs, and that it is the answer to world peace. Some will say that SharePoint is simply “skin” and provides limited core business value.
When it comes to Business Intelligence (BI), we need to step away from the fanaticism of either argument. Here’s what we do know: Gartner shows BI as the fastest growing software segment, with 7% growth in 2013 and overall revenue of $13.8B, and growth expected to continue to over $17B by 2016. There are a number of very specialized players in the space that have poured investment and expertise into this area.
So why are users still clamoring for more, better, timelier information? It is not because the data is not available. Of the organizations that we work with, most already have effective ways of capturing the core information that influences their business. Further, many organizations are relatively proficient at managing that information in structured chunks. Where is the disconnect?
The holy grail of IT used to be “getting the right information, to the right people at the right time” and in this case, the information is there, it is structured, and it is available. However, the information is not accessible in a useable way. Usability is so often overlooked in IT projects, it is almost a cliché. IT projects at the nexus of providing business information directly to end-users have traditionally struggled because the focus has been on making the technology work, rather than making the information work for the user.
SharePoint may not be the proverbial Swiss Army knife of software, but it has one huge advantage in the BI space. Business users are comfortable interacting with information displayed through the SharePoint/Microsoft medium. Some BI experts claim that “Excel runs the world” and it is interesting how much information is ultimately distilled down to Excel for consumption, even after substantial investments have been made in BI technology – but that is more of a symptom. The problem for most organizations is information overload. SharePoint lets us make data digestible and relevant to the business users, allowing them to interact with and manipulate information through interfaces they are already comfortable with.
One of our clients recently ran into this issue. They had invested significant capital and resources in their current ERP, and the vendor was pushing them to buy more software to expand BI functionality and increase usability. This client also had SharePoint, which was used within departments but not considered an Enterprise-ready application. Tahoe helped our client keep a single version of the truth, leveraging SharePoint to make information accessible and useful to their users. Based on the success of the original SharePoint BI reporting project, this client is now building on this foundation and implementing Microsoft’s Performance Point BI technology. By keeping the ETL with the ERP, the client negated the risk of multiple versions of the data, while at the same time increasing the availability and trustworthiness of the information they were already collecting. SharePoint provided the customer with imaging tools that business users needed to better interact with and ultimately interpret data, without increasing licensing costs.
Are we saying the world should run on Excel? No. Our core belief is that people use tools that they find useful and, yes, enjoyable. When it comes to technology, the new reality is that corporate technology needs to be as usable as what is available in the consumer market. SharePoint helps companies to bridge this gap without adding undue cost or complexity.