Microsoft adds BI server to Office lineup

Microsoft has added yet another server to its Office 2007 line-up, this one focused on spreading business analytic tools across a corporation.

The Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 will go into beta in November and ship in mid-2007. It puts data and business rules on a centralised server and integrates them with scorecarding, analytics, planning, budgeting, forecasting, consolidation and financial reporting tools to help users better understand their businesses. PerformancePoint was formerly code-named Biz# (pronounced Biz Sharp).

Microsoft is hoping a centralised business intelligence platform that incorporates the popular Office applications will steer users away from a myriad of competitive platforms and standalone BI tools in favor of an integrated platform from a single vendor.

Excel, Outlook and Internet Explorer will be the client side interfaces into PerformancePoint. The server also will be integrated with portal capabilities via SharePoint Server due to ship with Office 2007 later this year.

Microsoft also plans to integrate the PerformancePoint features directly into future version of its Dynamics ERP financial application suite.

"This is bringing together a lot of things we have been working with," manufacturer Combe's CIO, Tim Case, said. Speaking during a Microsoft Webcast to announce PerformancePoint, he said Combe was working with SharePoint Portal Server, SQL Reporting Services and in the process of converting its data from SQL Server 2000 to the new 2005 version.

"But the final piece that really helped out was when we took a look at the user layer, and with the extension of Excel, we had a really easy migration path," he said. His biggest complaint from end-users was that current tools in use at Combe were not user friendly, Case said.

Microsoft's efforts to date on business intelligence infrastructure have focused around SQL Server, which includes data integration services, analytical queries, data mining and reporting services. Microsoft also has a number of Business Intelligence Accelerators for Office, and Office 2007 will include BI tools called Excel Services.

Microsoft is incorporating its Business Scorecard Manager with analytic and visualisation technologies from ProClarity, which it acquired in April. The ProClarity Analytics Server lets users publish collections of views onto a middleware server for centralised access to analytical information.

PerformancePoint also includes a feature called Business Modeler, which lets business analysts manage rules, roles, and workflows without involvement from IT.

Microsoft's push deeper into BI will accelerate its competition with vendors such as IBM and Oracle, but also put it at odds with partners in the BI market.

"We are seeing a strong demand to evolve BI to have better supported decision making, better support of collaborative analysis and to bring together structured and unstructured information," president of Microsoft's business division, Jeff Raikes, said.

It was time for BI to move from a backward view of what has happened to a more real-time view of what was currently happening, Raikes said.

In the past nine months Microsoft had trained 500 partners and thousands of their consultants on BI infrastructure, he said. There were more than 100 new BI solutions under development for the Microsoft BI platform, Raikes said.

Microsoft did not announce any pricing or licensing for PerformancePoint but said it is beginning a technical advisory program (TAP) around PerformancePoint and is now accepting applicants.

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