In a keynote address at the first Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle earlier this month, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, said the explosion of data produced by businesses points to the need for business intelligence (BI) tools. Such tools can help executives interpret data and make decisions that align with overarching strategic goals, he said. In an interview with Computerworld at the show, Raikes talked about the company's PerformancePoint Server 2007, which is set to ship this summer, and about Microsoft's purchase of SoftArtisans's report-authoring tool.
Microsoft announced the acquisition of SoftArtisans' OfficeWriter tool during the conference.
Can you provide more details about that acquisition and how the tool can help IT shops struggling with report request backlogs?
People want access to BI from within the context of the Office tool they use every day. It was a natural for us to want to use the [SoftArtisans] technology as part of opening up reporting to Word and Excel. [Users] can consume reports from within Word and Excel. Those become an endpoint for [having] access to the information.
There have been 6,000 downloads of the Community Technology Preview version of PerformancePoint Server 2007. What types of companies are testing it, and what are they looking for in a performance management tool?
It is really varied. For example, one of the companies we will showcase here is Premier Bankcard. They have an explosion of digital information they want to get access to. It is the hundreds of thousands of calls they receive each day. They want to manage their performance of handling those calls.
You have the integration of BI into the Office tools, and that was really enhanced with Office 2007, where Excel could have live access to data cubes. What completes the end-to-end solution is the ability to do traditional BI applications like performance management, forecasting, planning and reporting -- but in the context of your Office tools.
How do you respond to users who complain that they can't figure out how to set up key performance indicators or how to make performance management relevant to their processes, and to the fact that few workers use dashboards?
You can use SharePoint to have a comprehensive scorecard that then drills down into the information. We've made that easier [in PerformancePoint 2007] for average human beings to be able to set those capabilities up.
What is your take on ERP companies like SAP and Oracle claiming that they have an advantage in the BI business because their acquired tools have better access to back-office data that comes from their own ERP systems?
What really matters is whether users get the capabilities they need. Acquiring the traditional industry players in BI just gives you the same capability characteristic of the old industry. It makes those acquisitions suspect. Much more of our focus has been in how we transform the industry. Historically, you have had the pure BI players and the enterprise application vendors dabbling in BI. Our approach is much more about an end-to-end focus on BI, starting with the platform, including the integration with the Office tools and the business performance applications.
In that case, the competitive context is, do we show customers they can get the BI capability they need [and] get BI to more people at a lower cost and with a higher return? Our bet is yes.
Microsoft talked a lot today about the next version of SQL Server. What's on the horizon for Microsoft BI applications, and what can users expect next?
The key thing is what we are doing with PerformancePoint 2007.