Usually I wouldn't consider a new release of Microsoft Office to be of great interest to the SQL Server world. However, Microsoft Office 2007 (currently available in a Beta 2 version) is poised to shake up the business intelligence (BI) world by finally making OLAP technology accessible to the entire business community.

Back in the beta days of SQL Server 7.0, I started writing about OLAP for the masses--the idea that OLAP technology would be adopted by most businesses. An OLAP- and BI-based approach to data management seemed to promise vast improvements over the way that data was managed on the back end and presented to users on the front end. Although OLAP wasn't brand new at the time, it was new to me and its potential blew me away. It was then only a niche technology, but I was convinced that Microsoft's ability to turn technology into a commodity would eventually result in most businesses using OLAP on a daily basis two or three years down the road.

Now, almost 10 years after the release of SQL Server 7.0, BI technology is much more widely adopted, but I'm not convinced that we've reached the level of OLAP for the masses. Many businesses still don't leverage BI or OLAP or use them to their full potential. I can think of many possible reasons for the underutilization of these promising technologies, but I suspect the absence of a mass-market BI front end is a big contributor, along with a perception among many developers that "BI isn't what I do."

Even though Office improved its BI front end over the years, most BI experts I know would agree that it's never been quite good enough to be used by the masses as their standard BI front end. However, many of those same experts believe that Office 2007, coupled with Microsoft's recent acquisition of ProClarity and its BI-related analysis and visualization technologies, will provide the long-awaited mass-market BI front end. In an attempt to show developers how easy and incredibly powerful it can be to embed BI technologies into applications that haven't historically used them, Microsoft plans to target developers who haven't historically viewed themselves as "BI people." I think that the combination of a "good enough" OLAP front end and the push to enlighten developers about the ease of use and benefits of BI might mean that we'll realize the dream of OLAP for the masses within the next decade.

You can read about Office 2007 Beta 2 at http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview. For more information on Office 2007 and its BI role, see the Office 2007 Partner Technical Readiness Training Presentations at
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=5CB386FF-1B77-4ADC-A42F-F5EA375E4ED1