RealTime IT News

Microsoft Bulks up Intelligence Stack

Microsoft  is making its new business intelligence (BI) platform available for review by its developer community today.

PerformancePoint, which builds on previous BI tools such as Business Scorecard Manager and the ProClarity analytics server, is intended to broaden the number of users within an organization who can benefit from reporting, dash-boarding, planning and forecasting capabilities.

These tools "are not broadly deployed across the enterprise. We're trying to make broader deployment easier and more cost-effective," said Michael Smith, Microsoft director of marketing for PerformancePoint.

"It advances our strategy to make Office more strategic to our customers," Smith told internetnews.com.

The application includes templates and wizards to allow users to build scorecards based on key performance indicators.

One benefit of the template functionality is that it can help companies reduce the number of individual spreadsheets created across the enterprise, thereby reducing the potential for human error.

Moreover, users can share scorecards and reports they generated using PerformancePoint with colleagues who don't have the program.

Kathleen Wilhide, research director at IDC, noted that "visibility of performance information is critical to decision support, but in many organizations, much of this information is accessible by finance and not operations... PerformancePoint Server delivers integrated performance management information into the desktop tools that both finance and operations workers use every day."

The application also connects with external systems and data sources, such as an ERP .

PerformancePoint 2007 sits on top of Microsoft's collaboration engine, SharePoint 2007 server, which is due in January.

Excel 2007 is the foundation for end-user analysis, while number-crunching functions are provided by SQL Server 2005 analytics server and reporting servers.

Combining these applications is part and parcel of Microsoft's stack strategy, which it calls "Better Together."

Microsoft is hoping to ride the crest of a burgeoning interest for BI tools among enterprise customers, and a surge in the popularity of earlier versions of its BI stack.

A report from Gartner this summer showed that Microsoft's revenues from its BI platform grew by almost 40 percent last year.

According to Paul Hamerman, who follows enterprise applications for Forrester Research, Microsoft could also benefit from the fact that there is a growing replacement market for older applications on the market.

And any momentum driven by PerformancePoint will cascade down to its other tools.

"Microsoft is offering a business solution that may require some of its customers to upgrade to later versions of Office and SQL server," he told internetnews.com.

But Hamerman cautioned that Microsoft still has to "get past the first release problems and get it into a state where it's scalable and reliable."

Microsoft is releasing the community technology preview (CTP) to TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers today, and plans to refresh the CTP in January and March 2007.