Microsoft eyes bigger slice of BI pie

Microsoft made a more aggressive foray into the business intelligence space Tueday, promising a product that will tie in with its SQL Server database and its Office suite of productivity applications.

The company announced Office PerformancePoint Server, which will be based in part upon ProClarity Analytic Server. Microsoft gained Analytic Server through its acquisition of ProClarity two months ago, and Business Scorecard Manager 2005, which is already available. By the middle of next year PerformancePoint Server will converge these two products. ProClarity’s features will also be integrated with Office 2007, while a detailed product roadmap of how Microsoft’s Dynamics line of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software will work with PerformancePoint Server will be released this summer.

Microsoft Office Business Applications Group corporate vice-president Lewis Levin said in a conference call that PerformancePoint will improve the relationship between IT departments that want a more consistent business intelligence (BI) platform and the business units that are frustrated with ease-of-use problems and poor reporting capabilities. The product will feature Business Modeller, which will allow business unit executives to set the key performance indicators (KPIs), the kind of information that gets analyzed and the way it is viewed.

“Many BI solutions are brought in by the business (departments) and then IT is left to pick up the pieces,” he said. “IT wants to consolidate vendors and reduce total cost of ownership, improve security and support lots of users with lots of information.”

Microsoft Business Division president Jeff Raikes said PerformancePoint would establish a permanent connection between Excel and the data sources that feed into it, allowing users to drill down to dig into particular problems. He also said it would transform SharePoint portal product from a collaborative environment to connect business information and processes to a complete repository for BI content.

Early users of PerformancePoint Server include White Plains, NY-based Combe Inc., best known for Grecian Formula and Brylcreem hair products for men. Tim Case, Combe’s CIO, said the company was already a use of SharePoint and was in the process of upgrading from SQL Server 2000 to SQL Server 2005.

“It brought together a lot of things we’ve been working with,” he said. “From what we’ve seen so far, the concepts are solid, as is the strategy. We think it will hit the mark with end users.”

Microsoft’s BI moves, which began with the introduction of reporting services last year, puts it directly in competition with a number of established firms, including Ottawa-based Cognos. Mychelle Mollot, Cognos’s vice-president of market strategy and strategic communications, said that in order for Microsoft’s offering to work, it will require users to upgrade to Office 2007, which could take a long time. Cognos 8, meanwhile, is a proven platform used by many Canadian customers, she added.

“Microsoft is trying to bridge their various BI components. They’re trying to glue them together into a cohesive solution for their customers, but there’s still a massive amount of complexity on the back end,” she said. “They’ll probably have an impact on the small to medium-sized business, because that’s where their channel is focused.”

Raikes, however, said Microsoft will build a broad ecosystem of partners, from large systems integrators to regional specialists that will deploy PerformancePoint. The company has already trained 500 partners and thousands of their consultants, he said, and developed more than 100 BI solutions of its platform for 12 different industries.

“This is a people-ready business. If you provide the right tools and support to enhance and extend their capabilities, you maximize the success of the business,” he said.

Microsoft is entering a mature space and has a lot of catching up to do, said Keith Gile, an analyst with Forrester Research. SQL Server, however, gives the company a solid installed base to build upon.

“If you combine the reach of Office and the analytics from ProClarity and use of the scorecard product, a lot of the pieces are coming into place right now,” he said. “It shows that Microsoft is aggressive about being in this space, where it used to look to partners.”

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