Business intelligence is a "key area" for Microsoft and for the future of IT. That's the core message delivered by Steve Ballmer in his wrap-up keynote address at the vendor's May 9-11 BI Conference in Seattle. While those words were hardly earth shattering, the fact that they were delivered by Microsoft's CEO sent a clear message to attendees and to rivals including Oracle, SAP and IBM that the company is serious about BI.
Ballmer was part futurist, part analyst and part top executive during his one-hour presentation, with the futurist predicting "the information workers who today feel bombarded with information [in the future] will feel effortlessly connected and in control of the information they need – finding it, using it and collaborating around it. Business intelligence is squarely in the middle of that challenge."
Echoing the "BI for everyone" theme underpinning Microsoft's BI strategy, Ballmer said, "If businesses want a higher level of performance, then they have to enable their people to make better decisions. That's something we at Microsoft are very excited about."
The next milestone in the vendor's thrust into BI will be the release of the PerformancePoint Server, which is expected in September, but Ballmer said Microsoft is already running its own business using the beta software. Ballmer also interviewed customers Randy Benz, CIO of Energizer, and Steve Anderson, Chief Architect at the Veteran's Health Administration, about their use of the Microsoft BI platform. Energizer is developing scorecard apps on the beta version of PerformancePoint while the Veterans Administration is centralizing multiple departmental deployments of Microsoft BI and ProClarity software. PerformancePoint is based in large part on performance management software from ProClarity, which was acquired by Microsoft last year.
In a Q&A session, Ballmer answered preselected questions from the audience, the first of which dealt with the long-term direction of Office – an important topic given Microsoft's emphasis on exposing BI through Office System components including Excel and SharePoint.
"It's clear that Office needs to make transition to software plus service," Ballmer replied, "but I wouldn't go as far as some pundits who suggest that means we need to do a complete rewrite in Ajax." In the same vein, Ballmer answered a question about SaaS saying he has advocated delivering PerformancePoint as a service, "but my people reminded me that we have to ship the product first."
Asked about short-term and long-term options for meeting BI and portal needs in an SAP/Microsoft environment, Ballmer said, "I think we're doing a superb job of offering you a choice. You can follow a Microsoft strategy, an SAP strategy or you can choose Duet, our joint solution. We'll continue to invest in Duet and we'll work to make core programs more interoperable."
Speculating that the process of democratizing BI will take many years of hard work, Ballmer closed his remarks saying, "until every knowledge worker who has a question can say, 'I could find the information I needed and answer that question myself,' we'll still have work to do."