Microsoft Plans To Expand BI Product Line

The company next year will deliver a performance management application that provides business scorecarding, data analysis, and planning, budgeting, and forecasting capabilities.
Help For Nonprogrammers
Online travel services company Expedia uses SQL Server Analysis Services, Business Scorecard Manager, SharePoint, and an early version of Office 2007 to manage data, such as Web site performance information, used by the company's customer satisfaction and Six Sigma programs. But accessing and maintaining that data is difficult for workers without programming expertise, says Laura Gibbons, customer satisfaction and Six Sigma manager. PerformancePoint will make accessing that data much easier and even let the company develop business scorecards on individual hotels. "There's a lot of potential here," she says.

Of all the workers who could be using business intelligence tools, only about 20% to 30% are doing so, Raikes said. Business analysts and technically savvy employees are the primary users of BI software, while the majority of information workers rely on desktop tools such as Excel.

That gives Microsoft a huge advantage if it can deliver business intelligence capabilities through desktop software such as Excel and SharePoint that users already are familiar with. The new release of Excel in Office 2007, for example, will provide more BI capabilities such as color-coded trend indicators and improved integration with SQL Server Analysis Services. It also will provide a way to centralize spreadsheet data using SharePoint, eliminating the common complaint of proliferating spreadsheets with conflicting data.

Microsoft is still working through plans for how the ProClarity client software might be incorporated into Office. A more detailed product road map is due later this summer. Some analysts say the ProClarity acquisition confuses Microsoft's stated plan to position Office as its front-end business intelligence software. But Dan Rosman, IT director at candy maker Jelly Belly, would like to see Microsoft offer ProClarity as a front-end tool. "Microsoft has done an excellent job on the back end. But I've always wondered why they didn't have a business intelligence client," he says. Jelly Belly's business intelligence system uses a combination of Microsoft and Panorama software.

Don't Discount Microsoft
Microsoft has a price advantage over competitors, given the low cost of its database and desktop software. Sasfin Bank in Johannesburg, South Africa, used Microsoft products such as SQL Server, SharePoint, and an early version of Office 2007 to assemble a data warehouse system to comply with that country's regulations for risk management and financial reporting. The project cost about $2.5 million in U.S. dollars using Microsoft products, compared with an estimated $8 million to $9 million using products from other vendors, CTO Peter Oeschger says.

Executives at competitors such as Cognos and Hyperion profess to be unconcerned by Microsoft's moves, noting that PerformancePoint is designed to work only with other Microsoft products--a limitation in today's heterogeneous IT environments. They also note that Microsoft's track record for delivering products when promised has been poor at best.

When Microsoft enters a market, it increases market awareness and sales tend to increase for all vendors with competing products, says Howard Dresner, Hyperion's chief strategy officer. The same could happen with performance management, Dresner says. "In some ways, Microsoft acts as a market catalyst and grows sales for everybody," he says. But he's quick to add: "We're not discounting them, by any means."

He'd better not. The IT graveyard is littered with companies that professed to be pleased when Microsoft entered and validated a market, only to see their sales decline rather than increase.

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