Microsoft Makes Analytics Push

New business-intelligence software could be a selling point for the data-analysis tools in vendor's database

Aaron Ricadela, Contributor

May 14, 2005

3 Min Read

Get ready for a bigger push by Microsoft in the business-intelligence market. The company last week said it has started testing server-side software code-named Maestro that looks like an Office application, runs on the Web, and could be a selling point for the data-analysis tools in Microsoft's database.

More than a dozen companies are testing a beta version of the software, which is expected in September, Microsoft says. Using Maestro, which relies on Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Services software and online analytical processing tools in SQL Server, users in sales and finance departments can measure their performance against their businesses' goals in near real time based on criteria such as sales quotas, investment performance, manufacturing output, costs, and quality control, according to a demonstration of the software given by Microsoft.

Maestro also is able to forecast trends, using the data-analysis capabilities of SQL Server, and can pull data from business apps SAP and other software companies sell--even those that run on databases from Oracle or other vendors. SQL Server is required to generate the data "scores" that show users whether they're hitting targets, though Maestro will be able to pull data for analysis from other vendors' databases through the OLE-DB protocol.

Microsoft wants to dominate the business-intelligence market, VP Lewis Levin says.

"This is part of a broadening set of investments by Microsoft in business intelligence," VP Lewis Levin says. Microsoft plans to market Maestro as a complement to its Office suite, which is expanding beyond the PC desktop to include server products that help teams of workers collaborate on projects--a business trend on which the vendor is trying to capitalize. Last month, Microsoft and SAP said they're developing software code-named Mendocino that can visualize information from SAP systems in Microsoft Office programs for applications such as expense reports and budgets.

Microsoft's information worker division, which includes Office, could use a sales boost. During the company's third quarter ended March 31, sales in the unit grew by just 2.5% to $2.76 billion, compared with 5% revenue growth overall for the company. Maestro will ship around the same time as a new version of SQL Server that's slated to include improved features for data analysis and generating reports; Microsoft says it plans to sell SQL Server 2005 and Maestro together. The overall business-intelligence market is worth $3 billion to $4 billion a year, Levin says, and Microsoft wants "all of it."

Microsoft's low-cost and ease-of-use arguments appeal to Skanska USA Building Inc., a construction unit of the Swedish Skanska AB. The company is centralizing its IT operations, and "we're really going to push what we can do with IT on a shoestring," says IT director Allen Emerick. Skanska USA's CEO ordered up a scorecard application to track performance on metrics such as sales, profits, jobs awarded but not begun, and safety, but the project wasn't in the company's IT budget. The price tag for Maestro, though, was affordable, at about $40,000, including consultants. "We can't really afford a Hyperion or a Cognos," Emerick says.

Microsoft's plan could threaten business-intelligence software companies such as Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion Solutions, which also have developed performance-management technology that can give PC users results on operations as they happen. Cognos is closely watching moves by Microsoft and SAP in the analysis-software market, says Neal Hill, Cognos' senior VP of corporate development. Adds Hill, "We always have to see which way the wind's blowing with all these guys."

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