Microsoft Vows Ten-Fold Increase in BI Adoption

At its inaugural BI Conference in Seattle, Microsoft touts its "BI for everyone" message and previews the next generation of Microsoft SQL Server.
SEATTLE – Promising "a new day for business intelligence," Jeff Raikes kicked off the first-ever Microsoft BI Conference here on May 9 promising that "Microsoft will bring BI to ten times the number of workers that are using it today." That promise, from the president of the Microsoft Business Division, echoed the "BI for everyone" message that company executives have been reciting for more than a year. But Raikes also delivered new news, detailing progress on Office PerformancePoint Server 2007, offering a peek at the next release of Microsoft SQL Server, and announcing the acquisition of report authoring technology from SoftArtisans.

The turnout at the sold-out event -- more than 2,800 attendees – lent credibility to Raikes' ten-X promise, and he said the core of the appeal was in "delivering BI to where people work every day" – meaning, of course, Microsoft Office. Two live demos backed up that point, the first demonstrating a sales drill-down on data from the BI platform, but with all the analyses carried out and actions taken within Excel 2007 and SharePoint 2007. In a PerformancePoint Server demo, a fictional back-order problem revealed by a scorecard was resolved by making planning adjustments while staying aligned with corporatewide margin objectives. The changes made in Excel were saved back to PerformancePoint along with cell-by-cell annotations documenting and explaining the changes – meeting compliance requirements for auditability.

Now in its second beta review period, PerformancePoint is being tested by more than 6,000 customers, said Raikes. The software is set for release in late summer, with pricing set at $20,000 per server, $195 per user and $30,000 for an "External Connector" for extranet scenarios.

Raikes broke the news that the next-generation Microsoft SQL Server, code named "Katmai," would be released "in 2008." As detailed in this article,. Katmai will go beyond relational data to include unstructured data such as documents, images and special data. He said the release will also make it easier to set and enforce policies for, say, security or encryption for specific columns or types of data in SQL Server databases.

The acquisition of SoftArtisans' OfficeWriter product gives Microsoft an authoring tool that lets users view reports on data within SQL Server databases within Word and Excel. It also extends Reporting Services and, as expert Cindi Howson of BIScorecard observes, "it shores up [Microsoft's] relational capabilities and further leverages the Office interface."

Microsoft certainly isn't the only vendor trying to take BI mainstream. Independent BI vendors including Business Objects, Cognos and Microstrategy, among many others, have also made progress, to varying degrees, in offering access to BI through Microsoft Office interfaces. They're also differentiating by supporting earlier generations of Office while Microsoft is focusing on new functionality delivered only through Office 2007, and the Windows Vista operating system. While many enterprises aren't rushing to deploy either Vista or Office 2007, Microsoft's BI platform is clearly gathering steam, a point underscored in a keynote interview with executives from three prominent systems integrators: Accenture, CapGemini and Tata Consulting.

"We can clearly see that Microsoft is betting heavily on BI much more so than in the past," said Ron Tolido, CTO, Northern Europe and Asia Pacific at CapGemini. "The BI suite has reached a maturity level, and the clear strategy of spreading BI to everyone has really made a difference to us and to our customers."