RealTime IT News

Microsoft Touts Smarter, Thinner Office

UPDATED: Microsoft believes business intelligence should be added to a suite that employees use to collaborate and manage their workflow -- Office.

The Redmond, Wash., company today unveiled Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005, a business performance management server application to improve the user experience of corporate workers.

Jeff Raikes, group president of Microsoft's information worker business, said the product reflects changes in the workplace, including increased needs for collaboration and the trend of offering employees more access to information and applications.

"Customers want to use business intelligence differently, to move from just getting reports to focusing in on metrics and goals. They want to not just look at what happened last month, but also to know what is happening currently," Raikes said in a conference call. "We want to make business intelligence a truly mainstream technology, as mainstream as e-mail is today."

The software, available November 1 -- long in advance of Office 12 -- injects the BI technology that would normally be found in the SQL Server database platform into Office, helping employees pump out personalized scorecards to track key performance indicators (KPIs) against goals.

Microsoft said it will sell the scorecard application for $5,000 per server, and a client access license of $175 per seat. This is generally thousands less than software products from leading BI vendors such as Business Objects and Cognos.

"Today, [business application vendors] do a little business intelligence, and smaller companies tend to have taken the high-price, low-volume approach, which we think is the opposite of what the market ultimately wants," Raikes said. "Our role will be to transform the business intelligence market."

Office 12 Excel will help workers maintain a persistent connection between their Excel spreadsheet and the data source so that spreadsheets created with Excel can be updated with ease. New features include support for SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, expanded spreadsheet capacity and better sorting and filtering tools.

Office 12 SharePoint will leverage new Excel Services to allow customers to more effectively secure, share and manage spreadsheets on the server and allow them to be viewed via a Web browser or downloaded to the desktop.

The inclusion of BI in Excel is an obvious strategic choice for Microsoft: IDC said Excel has been the most widely used end-user tool for BI. It has also been the most difficult to deploy for Web-based collaboration and computing.

The announcement is yet one more example of the ongoing shift in the computing industry from desktop-maroooned applications to Web-based applications that reside on a server. Take the recent collaboration from Google and Sun Microsystems . The deal is expected to lead to Web-based office productivity software, such as OpenOffice.org, the open source office productivity suite.

Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, said: "This takes the capability down to an end-user level, in much the same way that Excel and Word provided capabilities formerly provided by IT back end processes."

While the functionality is rather basic, he said that's what's needed when providing technology to non-IT users. "If you make it too complex, it becomes intimidating, and they won't use it. This is one of the first steps [in this direction from Microsoft] that a user might actually use," he said.

Raikes' comments about complex, costly software are a shot across the bows of business intelligence software incumbents Business Objects and Cognos , from whom Microsoft is intent on stealing market share.

But he said that Microsoft Office Business Scorecard would interoperate with a wide range of applications and data sources.

IDC claims the BI software market has experienced a 17 percent compound annual growth rate over the last 10 years, to reach $4.3 billion in revenue worldwide. Corporations all over the world covet software that gives their employees pertinent information faster, and in a clear report with helpful graphics.

During the conference call, Raikes demonstrated how BI tools are being added to the next release of Microsoft Office Excel and SharePoint products, code-named Microsoft Office 12. Both will integrate with SQL Server 2005, which will be launched November 7 in San Francisco, along with Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006.

Raikes said Microsoft Office Business Scorecard would provide new opportunities for partners, mentioning IT consultants Accenture as an example.

But JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox said partners could feel some pain. Wilcox has warned in the past that Microsoft is not against competing with partners, and in this case, the potential benefits to them are a year or more away.

"The company is working overtime to enhance the value of its products to drive upgrades," Wilcox said. "I expect a result of that process will be that Microsoft will increase the amount of competition it does with partners, and we're already seeing that."

Susan Kuchinskas contributed to this story.