Microsoft adds BI product to Office line-up

Microsoft's business intelligence (BI) strategy got a boost on Tuesday with the launch of a new product in its Office line-up.

The product, called Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007, combines a business analysis engine the company acquired through its purchase of ProClarity Corp. with an Excel front end and SQL Server analysis and reporting to provide business performance management, said Michael Smith, director of Microsoft's Office Business Applications Group.

Microsoft also is announced the close of the ProClarity purchase on Tuesday in a conference call hosted by Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division. The company announced in April that it would buy the privately held vendor, which has business analysis and visualization software for culling information from Microsoft SQL Server and exposing it to business users.

When the new product is released, it also will mean the end of life for Microsoft Business Scorecard Manager, which will be folded into PerformancePoint Server, Smith said. The new software is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2007. Scorecard Manager allows users to score the performance of a business according to key performance indicators and analyze that information against business objectives.

Microsoft has been hard at work building out a comprehensive suite of BI products to layer atop its SQL Server 2005 product, which includes analysis and reporting services the company considers its core BI platform. Office, however, is the product corporate users will begin to see shaping up as a competitor to BI suites from competitors such as Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions, Smith said.

Office 2007, which Microsoft will make available to business users by the end of the year, will be the first version of the product to showcase these new BI features.

"The [BI] market is maturing to the point, and getting big enough, that leaving all of this higher value stuff to third parties isn't acceptable anymore," said Andrew Brust, chief, new technology for New York consulting firm Twentysix New York.

Brust said that until now Microsoft has been putting its BI strategy together in a piecemeal fashion. The company owes it to business customers to explain how those pieces fit together in a full set of BI applications that are comparable to what pure-play competitors now have, he said.

ProClarity's software is known for a strong front end to show BI analysis results to end users. Though PerformancePoint will not include this feature, Microsoft plans in the future to leverage that front-end functionality in Office, Smith said.

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