Microsoft Makes the Cut With Data Analyzer

Enterpriseshave spent time and money to manage information assets on the back end, but thefront-end – the side information workers see – sometimes goes neglected. To helpenterprises quickly ramp up front-ends, last week, Microsoft Corp. introducedData Analyzer.

Data Analyzeris a data visualization and analysis tool which uses a graphical interface toallow end users to easily create charts and graphs from corporate data. Itinterfaces with Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, to pull data outof databases and into the desktop application.

“We’re tryingto bring business intelligence to the masses,” says Francois Ajenstat,technical product manager for Data Analyzer at Microsoft. While many BIproducts are focused on specific applications – and require intensiveintegration efforts, Data Analyzer can be seen as a one-size-fits-all solution.

To understandits market, Microsoft divided knowledge workers into three categories:analysts, information explorers, and information consumers. Because analysts’jobs have always revolved around looking at data, Microsoft believes that theyalready have the tools they need at their disposal. Instead, Microsoft chose tofocus on the “information explorers,” who need to analyze data on a casualbasis. Although information explorers are rarely upper managers, they areincreasingly called on to shape the direction of the enterprise. “Decisions arebeing pushed down the ladder,” Ajenstat says.

As a member ofthe Office family, Data Analyzer integrates with other Microsoft packages. Forexample, users can take views from Data Analyzer and use them in Power Point,Excel, and other Office components. In addition, views can easily posted as WebParts to the SharePoint Portal server.

Data Analyzerdepends on SQL Server Analysis Services, a Microsoft layer for advanced dataanalysis services. “We’re leveraging advanced features of the server to thatpower down to the desktop,” Ajenstat says. Enterprises who do not use SQLServer 2000 as their database server can still purchase SQL Server 2000 andintegrate the tools with their database. Enterprise may still find otheroptions, as Data Analyzer can connect to DB2 and Oracle. Ajenstat says,“Theoretically any OLEDB or OLAP would work, but we only patch and supportMicrosoft Analysis services.”

Although DataAnalyzer shares some features with other data analysis tools, such as CrystalReports, David Jaffe, lead product manager for Microsoft Office, says it isfilling a previously empty niche in the market. While Crystal Reports is areporting tool used primarily by analysts, Data Analyzer focuses on the visualpresentation of data for non-technical end users. “The solution is verycomplementary to the partners in this market,” Jaffe says.

Data Analyzerretails for $179, but Microsoft expects most customers will take advantage ofits Volume Licensing Program. – ChrisMcConnell.