Microsoft to expand BI plan

Microsoft this week plans to unveil an updated business intelligence strategy that includes its first business process management (BPM) offerings.

The BPM family will feature new dashboard tools and analytic applications for budgeting, planning and other financial tasks, analysts said.

Microsoft will also announce plans for shipping the visualization tools gained with its acquisition of ProClarity in April, analysts said.

Some of the products will be available later this year while others will ship next year, an analyst said.

Even before Microsoft's updated business intelligence plans were unveiled, some users had already replaced traditional BI tools with SQL Server 2005-based BI tools, citing simplicity and low cost as drivers.

Goulds Pumps, a subsidiary of ITT Industries, last week began to move all of its 2,000 internal users to Reporting Services 2005, the reporting tool in SQL Server 2005, said systems analyst and database administrator Christopher Bellizzi.

The Microsoft tools will replace ReportNet reporting software from Cognos the manufacturer of water pumps, Bellizzi said. The company also uses an earlier version of the Microsoft reporting tools.

Later this year, Gould plans to replace the Cognos PowerPlay analysis software used by its power users with Microsoft's Analysis Services 2005 OLAP tool, he added.

The annual licensing costs to keep the Cognos software in place are approximately equal to the one-time licensing and hardware costs of deploying SQL Server 2005, Bellizzi said, without providing figures. In addition, the Cognos software was "really overkill" for the company's reporting requirements, he said.

Goulds Pumps also expects to further reduce its use of the Microsoft Access database as it expands its use of Reporting Services 2005 and its SQL Server database. Use of the older Reporting Services 2000 has already allowed the firm to cut its total Access licenses from 6,500 Access databases three years ago to 4,000.

"We're generating close to 2,000 hits on the Reporting Services database for reports every month," Bellizzi said. "Who knows how many [Access databases] I can really stick a fork in, because you can use [Reporting Services 2005] and get the same information."

Crossmark Inc., a provider of labor and services to consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers, has almost completed a project to replace a pure-play BI tool with Reporting Services 2005, said Charlie Orndorff, vice president of infrastructure services at the Plano, Texas-based company.

He declined to name the tool being replaced but said it was too cumbersome for monitoring sales of specific products by stores. When the rollout is complete, Reporting Services will be used by 16,000 employees to pull summary data from a field force automation application running on SQL Server 2005, said Orndorff. The database processes point-of-sale data for 30,000 locations and 60,000 items weekly, he said.

Experian Marketing Services, began using SQL Server 2005 BI tools in production about six months ago for a project called ProspectVue, said Eric Tagliere, vice president of technology development.

Experian is using SQL Server to process large data sets about potential customers for retailers, financial services firms, catalog companies and other businesses to use in marketing campaigns, Tagliere said.

The company has struggled to optimize the SQL Server database to meet its performance demands, he noted. "Microsoft had to make some changes to how their software processes some things to provide us the speed and scalability we need," Tagliere said. Some of the products will ship later this year, while others will be available next year, analysts said.

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