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The Rise of SharePoint as a BI tool

SharePoint started off as an enterprise content management system but over the years, it has become an integral part of business decision making in organizations. As the user-base of SharePoint grew exponentially so did the uses of it and soon SharePoint community started to realize that there is a lot more to it then content management and that’s where SharePoint started to become more of a platform for Content/Document management, team collaboration, Project Management, etc which all falls under the umbrella of what we call a modern workplace. SharePoint has become a great presentation layer and central repository for content which are integral for any business intelligence solution. As such it was natural for Microsoft to introduce a suite of BI features built within SharePoint to help business users in utilizing data efficiently to make business decisions, but the question is are they enough to consider SharePoint as a BI tool? In this article, we will start by looking at key BI capabilities every Modern workplace organization is craving for and then analyze the BI capabilities provided by SharePoint and are they enough to make SharePoint a preferred BI tool.

What do Organizations look for in BI?

Business Intelligence is a lot more than just a package of visual reports that condenses the data making it easy to be absorbed by business users to facilitate decision making. BI is essentially a process of transforming huge datasets in a way that it can be used into scorecards, dashboards, and reports to make decisions and track performance. Following are the key capabilities of an efficient BI tool

Collect Data from various data sources

Every organization uses several business applications and each stores data in a different data source. To utilize the data, BI tool must be able to gather huge sets of data from multiple data sources efficiently and make it available in a centralized location so that you can get a holistic view of your organization in one convenient location i.e. directly from your BI dashboard.

Data Visualizations and Analysis

Not all sets of data can be presented using similar visualization and similarly not everyone processes information in the same way, therefore having the ability to view data in a way that makes sense is important. That’s why having various data visualization options for reporting is very important for every BI tool. An effective BI tool should provide a range of visualization options so that you can view your data in the way that suits the audience and it should also allow you to convert data so you can present the same report to various audiences.

Interactive reports

Gone are the days when a bar or pie chart is considered enough for reporting. Now business leaders want their reports to be interactive so that they can drill down into their reports to go deeper in analyzing the data and extract more insights. Interactive reports provide you just that i.e. convert data into knowledge. An effective BI tool should allow you to add and remove data with just the click of a button, or apply data filters and slicers to condense data and discover insights.

Customizable Dashboards

Pre-built dashboards are useful to start with but soon business users will need highly customizable and personalized dashboards to consolidate all the relevant reports in a single view. Personalized Dashboards provides decision makers a bird’s eye view of all the relevant reports so that they can easily understand real-time data, enabling faster and accurate decision-making. Additionally, exception reporting enables creating alerts for the executives to unexpected events and scenarios that require action e.g. Sale of a particular region is below the predicted target line.

What SharePoint has to offer in BI features?

After reviewing the key BI features desired by organizations, let’s see what SharePoint as a BI tool has to offer in terms of features.

BDC – Enabling Collection of data from different sources

Business data connectivity (BDC) allows users to connect to the external LOB applications to bring data from multiple data sources into SharePoint using features like external list and external content types. It not only allows users to view external data but users can also add or update data in their external systems. It also enables users to utilize data in SharePoint lists using external data columns.

AxioWorks SQList continuously export SharePoint lists and libraries as normalised SQL Server tables with SQList by AxioWorks, making SharePoint data available to reporting tools like Power BI, Crystal Reports, or SSRS.

Excel Online – Unleash the power of MS Excel

Excel has become one of the most widely used reporting tools for business users providing them an easier way generate reports using the data from spreadsheets especially date is relatively small and they have been using Microsoft Excel to organize, present, and edit data. One great thing about SharePoint is that Excel documents retain data connections and the viewer can see the changes in real-time. Workbooks have data models that combine data from different mediums like SQL Server, Access, and XML. You can also control the view of Excel to a Single PivotChart, which make it easier for the user to look at the information you are trying to highlight.

PowerPivot – Efficiently work with large datasets

Just like Excel services help users to work with smaller sets of data, PowerPivot is an effective tool that deals with a large dataset work. It is tied to Excel Data that gives maximum control of the charts and makes it possible to pivot data with ease. With Power Pivot, you can mash up large volumes of data from various sources, perform information analysis rapidly, and share insights easily.

PerformancePoint – Analysing data to make smart decisions

PerformancePoint is a strategic data and analysis tool that makes it possible for core On-Premises data to be used and analyzed as it is presented on the dashboards. It is a performance management service that you can use to monitor and analyze your business. By providing flexible, easy-to-use tools for building dashboards, scorecards, and key performance indicators (KPIs), PerformancePoint Services can help individuals across an organization make informed business decisions that align with organization’s vision, mission, and long term plan.

Business Intelligence Center – The home of BI

SharePoint has now provided users with a home for all the BI capabilities called the Business Intelligence Center. It provides users the centralized location to store and view all their BI elements including Excel Services workbook for analysis, charts, data connections to different data sources and various kinds of dashboards. It includes prebuilt special-purpose libraries allowing users to create data connections, manage content for PerformancePoint Services or SharePoint BI, and store finished dashboards.

Power BI

Although Power BI is not part of SharePoint by default but it has become a important part of the SharePoint reporting ecosystem enabling users to create interactive reports with some innovative and eye-catching visuals without the need of writing any code. Using the SharePoint Connections, business users can use Power BI to generate reports which include filters, slices and drill-down capabilities allowing users to create dynamic and interactive reports which can then be published and viewed in SharePoint sites. Users can also use different visualization mechanism like Power View, KPIs in Power Pivot, as well as Power Map that will put out the data for all the users.

AxioWorks SQList continuously export SharePoint lists and libraries as normalised SQL Server tables with SQList by AxioWorks, making SharePoint data available to reporting tools like Power BI, Crystal Reports, or SSRS.

Our Verdict

SharePoint has evolved over the years and has transformed from a content management system into a platform used by everyone in the organization. It is utilized by the business leaders in everyday decision making and needless to say that smart decisions need to be backed by information and insights extracted from data. With all the SharePoint BI capabilities we highlighted in this article, we can conclude that SharePoint is a preferred BI tool for organizations to build and showcase interactive reports, dashboards, performance indicators, pivot tables, etc and helping business leaders in making decisions.

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