When your customers purchase an information system from you they are really just interested in one thing: Return on their investment. Coming up with a realistic explanation of how a product can provide a return on investment can be a tough task at times. Business intelligence (BI) software can directly benefit your customers' business and help you demonstrate your value by using existing data to help an organization make better business decisions.
Customers with SharePoint Server already have BI software in their environment. As with any type of BI software, SharePoint's BI features need to be customized to fit your customer's requirements before they can provide any meaningful information. The process of setting up a BI site in SharePoint is tedious and non-intuitive and your customers will likely not have the expertise required. This is where you have real value as a solution provider.
Both SharePoint 2007 and 2010 include BI features and the primary feature in SharePoint 2007 is the Report Center, which can be linked to the SQL Server Reporting Services so that SQL reports are made available directly through SharePoint.
The Report Center exists in SharePoint 2010 as well, but only for backward compatibility purposes. The primary BI feature in SharePoint 2010 is a Business Intelligence Site. This is a full-blown SharePoint site that is totally focused on BI. It can provide reports, monitor key performance indicators and allows you to create dashboards that provide a consolidated view of business data.
Creating a Business Intelligence Site in SharePoint 2010
The process of setting up a BI site requires a great deal of organization-specific customization work, but we can get you started by explaining how to create a template site.
There are a number of different features that must be enabled before you can create the Business Intelligence Site for your customer. To enable the prerequisite features, log on as an Administrator and open your main SharePoint page. Next, choose the Site Settings command from the Site Actions menu, go to the Site Collection Administration section and click on the Site Collection Features link.
This will take you to the Site Collection Features page, which is shown in Figure A, and allows you to activate or deactivate various SharePoint features.
Figure A: The Site Collection Administration page allows you to enable or disable various SharePoint features
At this point, you must activate the SharePoint Server Publishing Infrastructure feature by clicking the Activate button and also activate the PerformancePoint Services Site Collection Features.
Next, choose the Site Settings command from the Site Actions menu, locate the Site Actions section and click on Manage Site Features. On the next screen, locate the PerformancePoint Services Site Features and click on Activate.
Now that you've enabled the necessary features, you can begin to create the Business Intelligence site. Go back to your main page and choose the New Site command from the Site Actions menu. SharePoint will now display a list of the various site templates that are available. Scroll through the list until you locate the Business Intelligence Center template, shown in Figure B.
Figure B: Locate the Business Intelligence Center template
After you've provided a name and a URL for the Business Intelligence Center site that you are creating, click the Create button.
You are going to have to customize the Business Intelligence site to your customers needs for it to be of any value to them. Microsoft provides several tools designed to make the customization process relatively painless. As you can see below, the newly-created site contains tools for monitoring key performance indicators, building and sharing reports and creating dashboards.
Figure C: Once you have created a Business Intelligence site you will have to customize it
When configured correctly, BI applications can prove to be useful to any organization, which means a big revenue opportunity for channel partners and VARs. Because of this, you might consider setting up a lab server so that you can demo SharePoint 2010's business intelligence capabilities for your customers.
About the expert
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a six-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services, file systems and storage. Posey has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Posey's website at www.brienposey.com.