Microsoft's Business Intelligence Plan for the Masses
Published: December 6, 2006
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft yesterday announced the first community technology preview (CTP) for Office PerformancePoint Server 2007, a new business intelligence product expected to ship in the middle of next year. Unlike other corporate performance management and planning tools that are primarily used by business intelligence "power users" and financial analysts, Microsoft envisions PerformancePoint Server 2007 being used by all workers in an organization.
PerformancePoint Server 2007 will be a mash-up of new and existing business intelligence and CPM products currently in Microsoft's arsenal and in the development cycle. The new product will include the planning, budgeting, forecasting, and financial consolidation capabilities of "BizSharp" the internal code-name of a product Microsoft has been developing and using internally for some time. It will also deliver the scorecarding functionality currently available as part of Microsoft's Office Business Scorecard Manager Server 2005.
And when the second CTP of PerformancePoint is released early next year, it will include the analytics and data mart capabilities of ProClarity Analytics Server, a SQL Server-based BI product Microsoft acquired earlier this year. While ProClarity will continue to exist as a separate product for now, it will eventually be absorbed into the PerformancePoint product line, Microsoft officials have said.
One of the keys to delivering an easy-to-use business intelligence product is enabling users to interact with it using tools that are familiar to them. To that end, the integration between Office Excel and PerformancePoint is expected to be a key differentiator for the product. In addition to Excel, PerformancePoint will work with other Office products, such as PowerPoint and SharePoint.
Business intelligence tools have developed a reputation for being complicated, expensive, and difficult to implement and use, a rap that Microsoft is trying to break with PerformancePoint. Bill Baker, an engineer with Microsoft, says the reliance on familiar front-ends like Excel in PerformancePoint will "democratize" the use of tools for a range of business intelligence activities, including scorecarding, analytics, planning, budgeting, forecasting, consolidation, and financial reporting.
"Performance management tools and processes have . . . been siloed or stovepiped traditionally, meaning that they sit outside the day-to-day business processes of most employees. PerformancePoint Server was designed to address and wipe out all of these inhibitions, enabling performance management across the enterprise, not just for the CFO and financial analyst," Baker says in a PressPass Q&A on Microsoft's Web site.
As a top-down, high-end business intelligence tool, PerformancePoint will help solve the five key questions facing business, Baker says. "If you look at the questions that business users have, there are basically five categories: What happened, what is happening, why, what will happen and what do I want to happen," he says. "Reporting is classically how we look at what happened. Dashboards and scorecards are how we look at what is happening. Analytics of various types are how we look at why. And then there's planning software."
Excel support in PerformancePoint is key, says Brenda Jansen, a director of business analysis services and support for battery-maker Energizer, which has been testing the new software. "We believe PerformancePoint Server 2007 has the potential to combine the familiarity of Excel with a disciplined, rule-driven, centrally managed environment to meet a number of planning and reporting needs across the business," Jansen says. "We're in the early stages of testing, but we're impressed with the ability to integrate our strategic business planning processes with our specific field account level planning and budgeting."
PerformancePoint Server 2007 was first unveiled to testers in April as part of a Technology Adoption Program (TAP). Microsoft plans to release either one or two additional CTPs before the general availability of the product scheduled for mid-2007, the company says. It is planning on using the CTP process, in which the product receives frequent, but small, updates, as opposed to the beta process, where there are fewer, but larger, releases.
More information on the product is available at www.microsoft.com/performancepoint.
Microsoft Introduces New BI Product Dubbed 'PerformancePoint'