Microsoft Introduces New BI Product Dubbed 'PerformancePoint'
Published: June 7, 2006
by Alex Woodie
Another piece of Microsoft's business intelligence strategy fell into place Tuesday when the company unveiled Office PerformancePoint Server 2007. The new software, which isn't due to ship until mid-2007, will provide users with business scorecards, analytics capabilities, and financial planning functionalities, and will be closely tied to Office on the front-end and SQL Server on the backend. PerformancePoint will include technology Microsoft obtained in its recent ProClarity acquisition, and eventually will be integrated with the Dynamics ERP suite.
Microsoft's sprawling business intelligence strategy spans many products and divisions within the company, including the Windows Server group (SQL Server and the SharePoint Server portal), the Information Worker division (the Office suite and Business Scorecard Manager 2005), and Microsoft Business Solutions, which sell the CRM product line, as well as ERP solutions holding the data on which the BI solutions act.
Microsoft envisions all of these products working together at different levels, and in different ways. The foundation of Microsoft's evolving business intelligence stack is the SQL Server database, which is used for extracting data from transactional systems and performing basic analyses and running SQL queries against the raw data. In the past, end users would use Office tools such as Excel to extract meaningful information from that data. Increasingly, customers are using products like Business Scorecard Manager 2005 to tap that data, or Excel Services, which will debut with Office 2007.
PerformancePoint is really geared toward uniting all of these components, says Lewis Levin, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office business applications, in a PressPass Q&A. "If you run Microsoft SQL Server, you can move data into Performance Point using SQL Integration Services, you can report in PerformancePoint using SQL Reporting Services, and we utilize SQL Analysis Services, so any client or product that works with Analysis Services will work with Performance Point," Levin says. Similarly, PerformancePoint will integrate with Excel for performing analyses and with SharePoint Server for sharing analyses, he says.
With PerformancePoint, Microsoft will deliver a single business intelligence platform that does everything from production reporting to "heavy-duty analytics," and will replace existing business intelligence systems, Levin says. "Existing solutions from other companies have been cobbled together and built on fundamentally different platforms, which means they sometimes use different basic data storage, or different development approaches or have different reporting solutions," he says. "We're building a well-integrated solution on an established and integrated platform."
If it sounds like Microsoft has already announced this sort of integrated business intelligence solution, replete with scorecards, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other ways to consume data analyses visually, it's because it has. Business Scorecard Manager 2005 has many of these same capabilities. In fact, PerformancePoint Server 2007 will include a new version of the Business Scorecard Manager product. However, Microsoft will continue to sell Business Scorecard Manager as a separate product.
The secret sauce in PerformancePoint is the mapping and modeling technology that allows business managers to combine data from different parts of their businesses according to pre-defined templates for budgeting, forecasting, and financial reporting. "We've built models and we have mapping between models [in PerformancePoint] that's almost like spreadsheet links, but a lot more powerful," Levin says. "We actually make the ability to combine these models together and report across model as part of the product; it's not an afterthought or something the customer has to figure out how to program."
Much of the new stuff in PerformancePoint will come from ProClarity, the business partner that Microsoft announced its intent to acquire in April (see "Microsoft Buys ProClarity to Boost BI Wares"). That acquisition is now complete. Microsoft will continue to support the ProClarity tools for customers that have signed maintenance agreements.
Microsoft also plans to offer PerformancePoint as a pre-integrated component of its four Dynamics ERP products (or product, when the convergence is finally complete). At the end of the day, Microsoft's BI strategy hinges on making ERP-resident data more useful for decision-making. "The transaction level detail you get from an ERP system doesn't really help you understand what's going on," Levin says. "People think in terms of, 'Should we sell more of this product? Should we go into this new sales territory? Should we open that store? Should we hire some more sales reps? Should we consider another supplier?' These are questions that are actionable, and BI software should help people think about these questions and take action."
The beta program for PerformancePoint is scheduled to begin this fall, and general availability is slated for the middle of 2007. Microsoft has also been using the software internally for budgeting and forecasting since last fall.