Regularly, in this blog space, you read often about "vertical" business intelligence solutions, or "industry" BI solutions. Usually, I will frame this around our Microsoft Services and partner offering called Microsoft Enterprise Cube or MEC. That is probably appropriate terminology in the Microsoft space of platform software technology. In other words, at Microsoft, in the product groups, we make flexible tools and platforms for developing solutions such as business solutions based on business intelligence. For Microsoft, that means SQL Server, PerformancePoint Server, Excel and Sharepoint for the most part. And the development environment for the glue is .NET all residing on the Windows Server OS.

But in solutions group such as within Microsoft Services, we help our customers implement these products as high-impact business solutions that will solve immediate problems and provide ROI in the shortest payback period we can produce. In the world of business intelligence, there is really is no need to distinguish between an industry specific vertical BI solution or any other type of BI solution. In order produce a business solution, you must use industry knowledge, data and content based on the vertical area you are addressing. There is just no other way to do it. The distinction then is really boiled down to product vs. offering. So, PPS, SQL & MOSS are our products. Packaged solutions such as MEC are our offerings to solve your business problems.

Back back to the area of indsutry domain. If you look at a holistic approach to solving a business problem with BI, you need to start at the source. Or the data sources, to be more precise. If you are a healthcare provider or a manufacturer or a telecom company, your data sources will have some similarities in CRM, inventory, billing, etc. But there will be many differences in business processes, data models and operational data that will mean that scorecards with KPIs in one industry do not directly translate into another industry's business domain.

Once you work your way up the stack from data sources, you will again find similarities in areas such as collaboration and user access. But in manufacturing, for example, there may additional needs to remote access from portable devices to see what-if scenario output, forecasts and dashboards whereas an insurance company may require 90% PC access to their BI portals.

These differences should be discovered and recorded through requirements analysis using techniques such as E-R, ORM and UML diagrams that depict the processes, entities and relationships that will form the basis of our business intelligence solution. Performing these up-front tasks as essential to build the domain model that will produce high-impact business value with your Microsoft BI tools.