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'Maestro' Keeps Business Intel Score

UPDATED: Microsoft has released a private beta of a new business intelligence (BI) application, hoping to tap into the rich market for creating corporate performance reports.

Code-named Maestro, the new application uses the ubiquitous Microsoft Office to help businesses get to the root of their operational and employee performance.

The software, part of an offshoot of BI called business performance management, helps business users create and use performance scorecards to gauge productivity and effectiveness. Maestro's scorecards, which work with Office 2003 and Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003, rate performance throughout the organization.

The scorecards are used in reports, charting, graphs and analysis tools, as well as in documents and spreadsheets.

Microsoft said in a statement that BI continues to be an important area of investment for Microsoft's information worker business, which is focused on helping employees who use Office be more productive.

"Maestro is a key deliverable in our strategy for BI, bridging the gap between enterprise data sources and the information workers who need to view and analyze business information, as well as plan, make decisions and collaborate with others," said Lewis Levin, corporate vice president of Office business applications at Microsoft.

The first incarnation of Maestro was originally released last summer as a Business Scorecard Accelerator. A public beta version will be available this summer. Redmond has not decided on pricing or general availability.

Forrester Research analyst Keith Gile said the Office group hasn't had a strong BI approach in the past. He said the Accelerator was something of an "advanced spreadsheet" that proved that users could do a lot more with the Office environment.

The positive feedback Microsoft received led it to take that concept and make it into a more formal product offering which is what Maestro is, Gile said in an interview.

"It does for the first time bring together SQL Server and Office into a bonafide BI offering."

There is serious money to be made in BI, especially in the burgeoning performance management area. According to a recent Gartner report, corporate performance management is projected to grow 10 percent a year and top $900 million by 2009.

Microsoft enjoys a partnership with Business Objects, but the software power is still encroaching a bit on the French company's territory. Cognos, Hyperion, MicroStrategy and a host of other smaller vendors also sell Performance-management software.