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I remember the first time I heard the term “Business Intelligence.”  I had been working on Excel for awhile at that point and loved crunching data, but boy, “Business Intelligence” sure had an intriguing sound to it.  It conjured up visions of darkened CIA situation rooms, Tom Clancy novels, technology that bordered on sci-fi, and a young Alec Baldwin (who in subsequent movies, transformed into a not so young Harrison Ford, then into Ben Affleck, and now… Captain Kirk?).

Some faces look more intelligent than others

“Intelligence” sounded like a brand new direction, an empowering evolution to the Excel toolset that already turns mere mortals into business saviors.  “Sign me up,” I said, and became the lead program manager in charge of Excel 2007’s BI feature set.

Two years later, I was sick of BI and leaving the Excel team to do something less corporate.  It all had just turned out to be so much more formulaic and rote than what the term “Business Intelligence” had promised.  In short, here is what I had learned:

What I Had Learned about BI, Circa 2005

    1. “Real” BI was the domain of the IT department, which rightly sought to standardize as much as possible
    2. Excel usage, while empowering, was something that IT often regarded as a liability
    3. Real BI tools were usually just the visible component of a highly premeditated, IT-prescribed, multi-layer stack
    4. Excel users themselves had zero interest in “real” BI tools, and were disappointed that we’d done so much BI work in Excel 2007 instead of other spreadsheet features

I want to be absolutely, 100% clear:  I did not disagree with anything I had learned.  By then I had seen, with my own eyes, the real-world factors driving those trends, and had become convinced they were necessary.  There was nothing wrongheaded about standardization, centralization, and discipline.

No, I was not opposed to what I had learned.  Instead, I was just really disheartened by it.  The whole thing was like Kryptonite to a personality like mine.  I am very much “of the people and for the people.”  Big, top-down, standardizing efforts are not my cup of tea.  If it wasn’t their goal to drain all of the fun and creativity out of things, it certainly seemed like an accepted side effect.  If these things are necessary, was my thought, so be it, but let someone else lead that charge.

So off I went, in 2005, to pursue things that better suited my democratic mindset.

Lo and behold, a couple years later, I was back in BI.  And excited about it.  PowerPivot, of course, was what brought me back.  But I want to be more specific than that, and will do that in part two.

Rob Collie

One of the original engineering leaders behind Power BI and Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, Rob Collie founded a consulting company in 2013 that is 100% devoted to “the new way forward” made possible by Power BI and its related technologies. Since 2013, PowerPivotPro has rapidly grown to become the leading firm in the industry, pioneering an agile, results-first methodology never before seen in the Business Intelligence space. A sought-after public speaker and author of the #1-selling Power BI book, Rob and his team would like to help you revolutionize your business and your career.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Hey Rob ….

    Interesting thoughts. Thanx

    I have wondered for some time now though why MS didn’t just re-engineer the Add-In for Cubes that shipped with Office XP? In that add-in (which I did a tour about in the Southern Stataes for MS at the time)you could pick your data sources, define your Dimensions and Fact tables, define your Hierarchies within the Dimensions and then even save the data as a Local Cube. Do you know what happend to that?

    This was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in this area and after working with PP I can’t help but think that some of the features of that Add-In would be welcome additions to PP.

    I would be glad to know what happened there :-)…. because THAT add-in definitely would have been a winner if it was promoted at all.

    How is PP’s promotion going to be different?

    Dick

    1. Two quick answers:

      1) As nice as that addin may have been for some folks, it was hardly approachable by the average Excel power user. Why do I need a cube? What is a cube exactly? Dimensions? Facts? Huh? And overall, it lacked many, many, many features that PowerPivot has. That addin and PowerPivot share some bloodlines, but the relative scale of the offerings differs by orders of magnitude.

      2) PowerPivot has the combined efforts of SQL, SharePoint, Excel behind it. All three of those organizations look at PowerPivot and see a leading potential source of future revenue growth. If you are skeptical of MS’s commitment to the product, and fear it may fade away like that cube addin, just trust that MS will not leave large sums of money on the table. If the cube addin had been a moneymaker, it would still be getting lots of attention.

      In short, the cube addin was something you could have missed hearing about even if you worked on the Excel team. PowerPivot is in the top 3 of most-talked about products internally at MS. They seriously couldn’t be more different – they occupy different endpoints of the internal MS spectrum based on all of my years at the company. Trust me, the person, not the MS employee, that PowerPivot is in zero danger of fading away 🙂

  2. Thanx Rob….

    ” Why do I need a cube? What is a cube exactly? Dimensions? Facts? Huh?”

    I understand the complexity of all that but I was kinda under the impresison that BI by definition is OLAP and that there is lotsa value to the Dimension, Fact Table, Hierarchical stuff….

    “If you are skeptical of MS’s commitment to the product, and fear it may fade away like that cube addin, just trust that MS will not leave large sums of money on the table.”

    “Trust me, the person, not the MS employee, that PowerPivot is in zero danger of fading away ”

    OK – I take our word for that 🙂 … I feel better already.

    Thanx
    Dick

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