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What Microsoft Buying ProClarity Means for BI

Microsoft sweetens its BI portfolio.

Here I was, quietly debating with other industry experts the effect of Oracle's announcement to offer Siebel Analytics as its enterprise-wide BI solution, when wham, along comes Microsoft's announcement it is acquiring long-time partner ProClarity. My reaction to Oracle's announcement: ambivalent. My reaction to Microsoft's: wow!

If BI pure-plays were downplaying Microsoft's threat to the BI market before, this will certainly set off alarm bells. As history has taught us time and again, when Microsoft is serious about something, it generally succeeds. IBM never thought its DOS and OS/2 market would fall to Microsoft Windows. Lotus failed to foresee the ousting of 123 by Excel. And I suspect Netscape underestimated the impact of Internet Explorer.

Since the initial release of Microsoft Analysis Services in 1999, Microsoft has been steadily improving its BI solution, of which its OLAP server is just one component. The addition of Reporting Services in 2004 broadened the vendor's portfolio but was decidedly developer-, not business-user-, oriented in its target market. SQL Server 2005 (released December 2005) introduced Report Builder as a solution for business users. The business user experience is not currently best of breed. The preferred interface of business power users remains Excel, and surprisingly, Microsoft lags all the leading BI vendors in integrating Office with its BI solution.

ProClarity, meanwhile, boasts the dashboards, scorecards, and solid Microsoft Office integration that Microsoft has been lacking. As a Microsoft gold-partner, it was quick to support SQL Server 2005 and exploit some of the new capabilities such as embedded KPIs. This acquisition moves Microsoft up in the ranks of BI suite vendors. Customers who want a broad BI solution based on the Microsoft platform will no longer have to buy multiple products from separate vendors.

In no way does this acquisition mean the BI market is Microsoft's for the taking. Pure-play BI vendors continue to offer customers flexibility of BI components (operating system, application server, directory server, disparate data sources, Java development) that Microsoft currently lacks. But for any customer who has standardized on the Microsoft stack, this latest move sweetens its BI portfolio. For others, Microsoft has clearly laid down the gauntlet.

By Cindi Howson, author BIScorecard and TDWI Instructor.

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