Microsoft wades in BI waters

Microsoft inched closer to the BI applications space on Wednesday with the release of two BI accelerators for SQL Server 2000 and SharePoint Portal Server.

The Office Business Scorecard Accelerator integrates with the Microsoft portal and will allow managers to lay out a strategy map for their business by monitoring key performance indicators of their choosing and display it through SharePoint.

For professional analysts and high end users, Microsoft Office Excel Add-in for SQL Server Analysis Services integrates Excel into the greater BI environment, according to Tom Rizzo, director of product management for SQL Server at Microsoft.

While Excel pivot tables do not support multiple data sources, the new add-in does. The Excel add-in also supports write back to data source which is also not supported in Excel.

Mike Schiff, vice president at Current Analysis, said Microsoft may be testing the BI waters with the launch of these two programs.

"These aren't just BI tools. When you start getting into balanced scorecards these are analytic applications. They are solutions," said Schiff.

Microsoft Rizzo was, in fact quite direct about Microsoft's long-term strategy, saying that Microsoft started targeting BI almost six years ago.

"Today's announcement is part of a methodical plan. We want to get in to the BI market and we decided that in 98 when we released our OLAP Server and then added data mining in SQL Server 2000," Rizzo said.

Rizzo also said that while Microsoft's data mining tools offer only two algorithms currently and is not competitive with a company such as SAS, plans call for the release of six additional algorithms with SQL Server 2005.

"Eight data mining algorithms meet the needs of the vast majority of the market," Rizzo said.

Both the scorecard and the Excel add-in have a set of open APIs and can be customized by partners and service providers.

Office 2003, Portal Server 2003, SQL Server 2000, and Windows Server are required to run the new accelerators. Both are available now as free downloads.

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