The Value of (Real) Integration Between Business Intelligence and MS Office

The Value of (Real) Integration Between Business Intelligence and MS Office

Something I find many folks don’t know, at least on one level or another: most of today’s business intelligence (BI) solutions have been designed and built with integration into Microsoft Office in mind. Arguably, Excel is the mainMS_Office medium to which most BI information is exported (or in some cases, it can be the BI tool unto itself), so it’s logical that these integrations are essential to any strategic BI platform. Really, no longer is a full integration with Microsoft Office a differentiator – it should be required functionality.

However, even though MS Office integration is now fairly prevalent in most of the main BI solutions, this technology still tends not to be taken advantage of in the ways it was intended. There is much unrealized potential related to this integration and most of it is the result of a lack of training or education.

MS Office integration is bisynchronous, meaning you can initiate BI from the appropriate Office product or you can export from a dedicated BI tool to an Office product. In too many cases (and this truly saddens the hardcore BI wonk in me), the two-way integration for end users simply means there is a nice little button in their Office task bar that they can click to get access to the BI solution and run a report.  Put another way, instead of starting in BI and exporting to Excel, the user starts in Office and accesses BI via a basic GUI integration. In this scenario there really isn’t much difference between the two and the advantages of this integration are essentially lost; it’s good for marketing feature bullet lists and not much else.

But there’s so much more to be had.  Let’s take a moment and explore a basic example that would harness more depth of this type of integration.

Let’s say you have to generate monthly presentations for your management team and you use the same PowerPoint template every month. However, each month your data changes and you have to update the numbers within your PPT.  This means you have to run your reports, manipulate them and get the data you need, each and every month.   You then must manually update the PPT with the new monthly data.

Depending on how extensive the reports are and how many slides you have and how much manipulation you have to conduct, this could take a significant number of hours to accomplish – all for something that’s pretty rote and programmatic.  Not only that, but while you’re doing such a task, you just know that this sort of work is exactly what integration and automation were designed to handle.

Well, what if your PPT were automatically integrated with your relevant BI reports that could, in turn, instantly populate the month’s data for your PPT? In this scenario, since only the data changes (not the content or format), you could simply use the integration with MS Office and automatically refresh the BI reports, saving you significant hours of time in preparing your presentation. Additionally, since this avoids the “manual” part of updating, you reduce the potential to introduce errors. The presentation stays the same, you refresh your important reports from your BI tool and the integration with Office does the rest.  Easy.

Is this the most powerful feature on Earth?  Not even close.  But it is often overlooked and downright underutilized.  Typically, once I show clients how they can trim a considerable chunk of time from their workflow with this integration, they wonder how they ever lived without it.

As with many things in enterprise technology, the gods live in the details.  From simplicity comes power.

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Previously by Larry Zagata:

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