REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 27, 2004 — Companies using data warehouse and business intelligence technology often confront a problem similar to that experienced by daily newspapers: the editors and writers can develop the best paper in town, but everything is lost when the newspaper carrier misses the driveway. In the case of business intelligence, companies have terabytes of data on hand but struggle to get that information out to managers and employees in a timely way in easily readable reports.
Fortunately, Microsoft has come up with a better paper carrier.
Microsoft’s new SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services officially launched today. Enterprises using the beta version say they are now better able to deliver critical business intelligence faster, more efficiently and more conveniently to users while also lowering overall costs. As a result, users are able to make more insightful decisions in a more timely way, companies report.
“With SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services we are able to provide interactive reports to the entire organization without increasing overhead,” says Dan Moen, vice president of Business Intelligence and Marketing for Coldwater Creek, a leading specialty retailer of women’s apparel headquartered in Sandpoint, Idaho. “It’s always been possible for the senior executives to get the information they need. The challenge has been managing the unique reporting needs of hundreds of other employees. Now everyone in corporate and in our retail locations has immediate access to attractive reports tailored to their needs.”
As detailed by Microsoft Senior Vice President Paul Flessner in his launch keynote today (webcast available from the Microsoft SQL Server website, see Related Links at right), SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services is a comprehensive, server-based platform for creating, managing, and delivering both traditional, paper-oriented reports and interactive, Web-based reports.
An integrated part of the Microsoft business intelligence framework, Reporting Services combines the data management capabilities of SQL Server and Microsoft Windows Server with familiar and powerful Microsoft Office System applications to deliver real-time information to support daily operations and decisions.
SQL Server combines integrated analytics including online analytical processing (OLAP); data mining; data warehousing; extract, transform, load (ETL) tools; and data warehousing and reporting functionality.
At Long & Foster Companies, the largest residential real-estate firm serving the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services has meant the difference between agents getting reports a week or a month after the fact to wherever, whenever they want. Says Lance Morimoto, a senior manager in the company’s e-commerce and software development group, “With Web-based report delivery, data that was once pushed out monthly is now available instantaneously. It’s truly real-time reporting.”
Rapid access to information translates into a competitive advantage for Long & Foster and and its 13,000 professionals. As the appropriately named E-REPORTS initiative rolls out, the end-user community at Long & Foster will be able to respond quicker to market shifts and exploit new opportunities as they arise.
Prior to SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, reports were delivered through a variety or mechanisms, including paper-based distribution using a network of couriers. Now, thanks to the Web services-based architecture of Reporting Services, the reports are available 24×7 via the corporate intranet. “People prefer to access information through a browser can do so now, says Morimoto. “Or they have the option of retrieving the data through a different medium such as a .pdf file or an Excel spreadsheet.”
Integration Delivers Rapid Report Development
Of the thousands of beta users, many report that in addition to the flexible delivery options afforded by SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, the tight integration with SQL Server and the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET development environment makes report development easier and faster than other options. They also appreciated the ability to generate reports in XML for easy data interchange with other applications and tools such as Microsoft Office Web components.
Explains Peter Newey in the technology group of ASB Bank Ltd. in Auckland, New Zealand, “If you look at our business intelligence environment, we have a data warehouse of about 700 GB and growing by 30-40 GB per month. We have operational and departmental data marts, an awful lot of data. What we don’t have is the tools that provide the developers and business analysts with the flexibility to draw information together in a consolidated and consistent manner. Reporting has been fairly ad hoc. One of the challenges that we’ve got is to get to and use the data that we’re actually storing. SQL Server Reporting Services provides some powerful tools in this area.”
In order to test the beta release, ASB Bank rewrote an existing Web-based reporting front end, using the new report development tools provided with SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. Whereas the previous project had required five weeks of development time, the new version took just five days. This rapid deployment schedule plus the overall performance, scalability and affordability have resulted in ASB Bank pushing SQL Server Reporting Services into full-scale production.
“Our goal is to use Reporting Services throughout the organization. New data marts will use Reporting Services as the presentation layer,” says Newey. “It has exceeded our expectations in terms of ease of implementation and report production.” With a more than 150 year history, ASB Bank is one of the oldest banks in New Zealand and consistently receives accolades for superior customer service. By putting key retail sales and customer information in the hands of employees, ASB stands to enhance its reputation even further.”
At Long & Foster Companies, SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services has also been adopted as the corporate standard. A key factor in this decision was the tight integration with Visual Studio .NET and the overall extensibility of the framework. The development team was able to create 35 core reports around key productivity metrics in four months shaving eight months off the initial estimate of one year. This time savings looms even larger in view of the 250 reports planned down the road.
“Reporting Services has proven to be a perfect solution: our software developers were impressed by the tight integration with Visual Studio .NET, overall extensibility of the framework, and short learning curve,” says Morimoto.
Coldwater Creek envisions SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services as a way for the retailer to maintain its competitive advantage as it increasingly expands into retail outlets to supplement its popular catalog and Web businesses. The company has 66 stores now, with 40 to 50 more planned to open in the coming year.
“My vision is that 80 percent of our users’ questions will be answered within Reporting Services reports so that our analysts are freed up to work on strategic analysis,” Moen says. “Reporting Services is easy for our report writers to use, and easy for our report users to read and print.” Currently Coldwater Creek has more than 800 GB of data in its SQL Server data warehouse and will expand to more than 2 terabytes over the next couple of years as new data sources are added.
SQL Server Integration
Another important factor cited by customers is the tight integration with SQL Server and Windows Server, which facilitates rapid deployment. At Coldwater Creek, one interactive report can serve the needs of a large hierarchy of users. This is due to the security features inherent in the platform that automatically manage report viewing privileges. For example, a store manager might be permitted to only see data relevant to her store, while a region manager may have access to a broader set of stores, on up to the CFO who has access to the full report.
“Role-based security was a big deal to us in terms of making reports widely available — and Reporting Services gives us a rich, extensible architecture for managing security right from the start,” Moen says.
ASB Bank’s Newey adds that the underlying architecture has proven to be stable and reliable in the bank’s evaluation of the Reporting Services. “We have no concerns in that area,” he says. “It integrates well with our SQL Server environment and will allow us to more effectively manage production reports.”
For these companies and many others in a wide range of industry segments, the delivery of data and information has taken a dramatic step forward as a result of Reporting Services. No more will data be trapped inside data warehouses, accessible only to a select few. With Reporting Services, SQL Server provides the single-most comprehensive BI platform on the market with integrated analytics, data mining, data warehousing, and reporting functionality enabling companies to get more for less.