Microsoft delivers first Maestro beta

Claiming it represents a significant step forward in its business intelligence strategy, Microsoft on Tuesday is selectively introducing the first beta of Maestro, a code name for a server-based application that helps corporate users build scorecards to monitor and improve company performance.

The strategic intent of Maestro is to drive down business intelligence capabilities to the desktop so customers can use the applications associated with Microsoft's Office System to better track their company's performance relative to the overall goals they have set for themselves, company officials said.

"It [Maestro] basically moves business intelligence from being report-centric to being more metric-centric, meaning managers and their workers who want to view KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can do it via a Web page," said Chris Caren, General Manager at Microsoft's Office Business Applications Group. "And because it is built into the Office System and SharePoint, it has collaboration capabilities that let users analyze performance with their peers," he said.

Microsoft officials said Maestro represents its ongoing commitment to business intelligence, which they see as a crucial piece of technology for its Information Worker Business. That group specializes in helping individuals, teams, and organizations to be more productive through the various pieces that make up the Microsoft Office System.

Explaining how the product works, Caren said Maestro sits on top of the company's SQL Server database, which is commonly used for building data warehouses and for populating and tracking metrics. Maestro can be used to expose metrics that reside in SQL Server, allowing users to author or define new KPIs they write, and which SQL Server then tracks.

Maestro, which builds on the BI technologies built into the company's Business Scorecard Accelerator shipped last summer, allows scorecards as well as various initiatives and action plans to be monitored, managed, and measured through an organization.

"As a group we are focused on augmenting all of the BI capabilities that have been delivered by SQL Server and to drive a lot more end-user capability that shows up in the Office System. This is the first in a series of steps you will see us make with the Office System to enable a much broader set of BI capabilities," Caren said.

Although some analysts see Maestro as a promising move in Microsoft's BI strategy, they caution that it is just one step that needs to be followed by more than a few before Microsoft can be competitive at the upper reaches of corporate IT.

"This is a step in the right direction but do not confuse this with a large, integrated scorecarding mechanism now implemented in a Fortune 100 company. It is a good starting point, however, that shows Microsoft is going to be aggressive in linking products like Office and SQL Server together. It is version 1.0 of a product and strategy," said Keith Gile, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

One of the strengths of Maestro, according to Caren, is bringing together multiple data sources into a single scorecard or user experience. This allows users to combine information they find in data warehouses, Excel spreadsheets, and ERP applications, thereby giving users a more seamless and broader view of the metrics they most care about, Caren said.

One ISV appeared impressed with the product, saying it would allow him to build enterprise-class solutions that address the performance management requirements of his customers.

"It looks like it can deliver a more scalable BPM scorecarding framework that can help us innovate within the business intelligence market and create better opportunities for customers," said Eynav Azarya, CEO of Panorama Software.

According to a report released by Gartner in early March, the performance management software market was worth US$520 million in 2003 for new license revenues and is projected to be worth US$900 million by 2009.

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