Microsoft Bundling For BI

Microsoft has announced new Business Intelligence technologies designed to help knowledge workers use business intelligence software with more smarts and analytical tools.

It comes in a bundle that works with mainstay products such as SQL Server, Office applications Excel and Word, and PerformancePoint Server 2007.

The BI tools are described in projects that include “Kilimanjaro,” a combination of two projects to add business intelligence capabilities to Microsoft SQL Server 2008, which was released to manufacturing in August.

Self-service analysis capabilities are also in “Project Gemini,” which adds managed self-service analysis and reporting capabilities, and a project code-named “Madison” will add advanced data warehousing functionality, Microsoft said.

“It’s all about how to get more users empowered as they try to make relevant and faster business decisions day to day,” Andy Kamlet, director of marketing for Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) Business Intelligence product group, told “We want to enable individual, team and corporate business intelligence, all aligned and with accountability and manageability.”

“Kilimanjaro will let users develop reports using Word and Excel as the front end to Report Builder, which we first released in SQL Server 2005,” Kamet said. Kiliminjaro’s BI capabilities are a continuation of the capabilities announced last year for Katmai, which recently hit the market as SQL Server 2008.

Microsoft is claiming that customers’ total cost of ownership of SQL Server-based BI solutions is lower than the competition, of which there is plenty. After all, the Business Intelligence software sector has been a hot space for a few years now.

Microsoft’s biggest rivals are Oracle, which spent $3.3 billion on BI leader Hyperion Solutions last year. It also faces SAP, which paid $6.7 billion to acquire Business Objects last year, which was followed by IBM’s purchase of BI provider Cognos for $5 billion.

Mark Smith, CEO and executive vice president of analyst firm Ventana Research, said Microsoft is still lagging in the BI sector. In many ways, the company is playing catch-up to many of the technology offerings out there already, he said.

Cognos and Hyperion are leveraging Web 2.0 technologies, including mashups. Meanwhile, SAP has been integrating business intelligence into all its offerings.

Microsoft also has to grapple with the sales cycle, Smith said. “The secret to success in software sales to very large organizations is direct relationships,” he explained, adding that Microsoft does most of its business through its channels.

Also, Microsoft’s BI capabilities will not be available in the full market for some time yet, and that will further hinder its sales, Smith pointed out.

The advanced data warehousing functionality of Madison is slated for release in the first half of 2010, but customers will get early access to it through community technology previews, which lets customers download and play with the software before it’s in production, Microsoft’s Kamet said.

In the meantime, Microsoft has lined up a slew of alliances to work with on BI implementations, including appliances, such as Dell, (NASDAQ: DELL) EMC, (NYSE: EMC) Hewlett-Packard, (NYSE: HPQ), Unisys (NYSE: UIS) and Bull in Europe.

“Customers will get preconfigured deployments of SQL Server out of the box so they can develop solutions at once,” Microsoft’s Kamet said. “Customers want to move along the lines of using appliances” as part of their Business Intelligence strategy.

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