MS Office 12 BI Makes for Risky Business

Opinion: Putting Excel on the server brings power to "stealth" users, but IT needs an organized infrastructure to prevent chaos.

You are likely to be a member of your organizations stealth IT group whether or not you are aware of it. If you have a desktop or laptop PC and a way to extract data from other sources and populate a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, then chances are you belong to this less than exclusive club.

Now, the stealth IT organization doesnt care about building a sustainable infrastructure. It doesnt care about metadata management or data security. It cares about getting the job done. And why not? That is why we get the big bucks, is it not?

Of course, in this highly regulated environment we live in today, little things like data accuracy and data security tend to be important. Especially if we dont want to find our companys name spread across the front page of a newspaper in a most unflattering manner.

That can happen either because we reported poor results based on poor decisions or because sensitive data found its way into the wrong hands.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts BI strategy in Office 12.

And that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg with respect to the hidden costs of our stealth IT organization. Lets not forget the time wasted by highly paid individuals, wrangling data and massaging it manually for use in their spreadsheets.

Or the fact that spreadsheets are simultaneously the greatest software invention known to mankind and perhaps the most destructive if used incorrectly.

Lets face it, every organization uses spreadsheets incorrectly. Our stealth IT organization has stretched the boundaries of spreadsheet usage well beyond those of a mere desktop productivity tool. Spreadsheets have become ingrained within business processes to the point where they have been institutionalized.

The good thing about spreadsheets is they are so powerful yet easy to use. But those very attributes make them dangerous to the long-term information needs of the organization.

Any user can, within a short period of time, take some data, create some calculations, use a formatting wizard and produce some useful pieces of information. People with real knowledge of the almost limitless power of spreadsheets can create amazing quasi-applications that dont even look like spreadsheets.

Why is that so bad?

There has always been the balancing act between the stealth IT organizations short-term goals and the official IT organizations focus on long-term goals.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about Microsofts Office 12 server plans.

The very nature of desktop productivity tools is anathema to the shared, secure, accurate and auditable nature of the infrastructure that the official IT organization strives for.

Now Microsoft has announced that in its upcoming release of Office 12, Microsoft Excel, the most popular end-user tool on the planet, will have a server component. Now that is pretty exciting.

If you are in the stealth IT organization you should all be cheering, because there is hope! Of course most of the members of the stealth IT organization were not aware that they needed help. So, everyone in the official IT organization, stand up and cheer! Now, just the database administrators! Ok, now the compliance officers!

A server-based solution to BI development and productivity is long since overdue for any organization that is trying to become more analytically mature. The database is the key piece of infrastructure here, but its not enough.

End users will require the same sense of autonomy from the official IT organization. You know, the one that holds them back from getting their jobs done (so they tell me anyway). At the same time, the long-term issues of data accuracy/timeliness, security and maintainability cannot be ignored.

Next Page: Autonomy versus unity.