Microsoft PerformancePoint is a platform and set of tools that includes the long-awaited version of Microsoft Excel Server. Many components are aimed at the BI and performance management markets. The group of products is a critical first step toward becoming an enterprise-class vendor, but is it a large enough first step? I'm not sure yet, but let's look at a couple of examples and see what you think.The Microsoft BI conference in May gave potential partners and customers a deeper insight into the product direction. There's a lot of excitement about what is possible with the technology, which offers everything from scorecarding to centralized enterprise spreadsheets to broader dashboards and interactive analysis capabilities. While good, there are challenges in the required dependencies of SQL Server and Microsoft Office to make the product deliver its full capabilities. This complexity inevitably adds to the cost of ownership of the Microsoft approach to BI and performance management.
It's not clear whether Microsoft PerformancePoint has been designed to address the simpler needs of small- and midsized-organizations, as the technology appears to be more geared to the needs of larger enterprises, which require customization and configuration. While Microsoft channel partners will appreciate the consulting required, the complexity of the platform and technologies is really no different than any other enterprise BI technology. No simpler and no more complex - Microsoft has not gained an advantage over other BI providers in this area.
Microsoft is aggressively promoting its ability to make BI pervasive. We have heard this before, but I'm not sure Microsoft is prepared to make BI pervasive or even competitive. With its broad portfolio of technologies - from mobile to collaborative - Microsoft should prepare to expand BI through mobile technologies like Microsoft Windows Mobile or collaborative technologies like Groove, which are part of the Microsoft Office family. Oddly, Microsoft has not reached the same level of capabilities or vision as BI providers such as Business Objects, Cognos, Information Builders and MicroStrategy, which have already ship mobile BI capabilities and expanded into collaborative capabilities.
Upon further investigation of Microsoft's understanding of the mobile elements of BI and the millions of devices already in use today (BlackBerry, Palm, etc.), it appears it has no strategy. Personally, I use a Microsoft Mobile device from Verizon, which I thought would be a great place to see Microsoft BI work, but nothing is available and my six-month-old phone has memory management and form factor design drawbacks and probably won't integrate with Microsoft PerformancePoint.
At the core of Microsoft strategy is the next step in utilizing spreadsheets in an enterprise fashion. Yet the basic challenges of business today in managing, delivering and auditing spreadsheets; simplifying access and interaction with information at all levels in an organization; and determining where to extend BI into line-of-business functions are not yet fully addressed in Microsoft PerformancePoint. While the products provide a key first step forward, many competing BI vendors provide more Microsoft-empowered capabilities than Microsoft itself.
Understanding the PerformancePoint release and its dependencies on other infrastructure, like Microsoft Office and Microsoft SQL Server, will be a challenge, and so too will be determining if Microsoft can satisfy your business needs (in this or future product cycles). If you can't make these determinations on your own, be prepared for a lot of consulting to make PerformancePoint work in your enterprise and stay competitive with what other organizations have already found in BI from other suppliers.
Microsoft's BI products may not be fully prepared for enterprise-level demands, but as with any technology, a lot of patience and hard work can help smooth over the rough spots.
Let me know your thoughts.
Mark Smith is CEO And Senior Vice President of Research at Ventana Research. Write to him at [email protected].Microsoft is on the final leg of their journey to release its dedicated BI technology to support performance management... Microsoft PerformancePoint is a platform and set of tools that includes the long-awaited version of Microsoft Excel Server... The group of products is a critical first step toward becoming an enterprise-class vendor, but is it a large enough first step? I'm not sure yet, but let's look at a couple of examples and see what you think.