Top-tier business intelligence vendors are beginning to court chief financial officers of the world through new and upcoming tools designed to help answer crucial questions about the health of their companies.
Microsoft, Oracle and SAP each have recently announced acquisitions and strategies to win CFOs hearts by providing CPM (corporate performance management) applications backed by platform and integration capabilities.
Despite their commonalities through CPM, the three vendors are taking different approaches to reaching essentially the same enterprise customers.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is largely taking a tools approach to BI with a platform that consists of SQL Server—currently with SQL Server 2005 but later with the 2008 release of "Katmai"—SharePoint Server 2007 and Office 2007.
Microsofts upcoming PerformancePoint Server, due late this summer, is the platforms CPM component, with functionality based on Microsofts acquisition of ProClarity 10 months ago. Microsofts BI Platform differs from the approaches of SAPs and Oracles platforms in its ability to let users author reports in commonly used environments, such as Excel and Word.
At its Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle May 9-11, Microsoft announced the acquisition of SoftArtisans, which develops Microsoft Office format software that Microsoft will use to help BI customers access, modify and author reports in Office and Word. That technology will show up first in Katmai and later in PerformancePoint Server.
"This is a new day for BI in our view … not only for Microsoft but for the industry as a whole," said Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division. "The bad news is, we feel people are paying far too much for BI and not getting enough. The promise of BI is unfulfilled."
What SAP and Oracle offer that Microsoft hasnt yet—Raikes barely mentioned Microsofts ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite, Dynamics, in his keynote—is the ability to tap specific processes in their respective ERP environments.
SAP is seeking entry into the CFOs office through a CPM suite, but SAP is combining performance management with GRC (governance, risk and compliance). SAP said May 8 it will buy OutlookSoft, which develops planning, budgeting, forecasting and consolidation software—all functions geared toward CFOs.
SAP plans to bridge OutlookSofts performance management software with its GRC application suite, which will be optimized for the NetWeaver platform.
Oracle bought a customer base and access to CFOs with its $3.3 billion acquisition of Hyperion April 19. Hyperions CPM functionality will augment Oracles OLAP (online analytical processing) engine and provide Oracle with a product it can leverage to sell its middleware and database offerings.
With different approaches to essentially the same customers, the issue becomes one of position, partnering and access, rather than functionality, analysts say. "In the broader market, behind the increased spending on enterprise BI/CPM is a desire by users to unify multiple aspects of performance management," Saugatuck Technology analyst Bruce Guptill said in a May 10 research note.
Analysts disagree on which vendor owns the upper hand. Guptill points to SAP, while others say they believe Microsoft has the more promising offer. "One thing I took away [from Microsofts BI conference] is that the whole Microsoft platform is the real value here," said AMR Research analyst John Haggerty.
It will likely take years for a leader to emerge. In the meantime, entrenched pure-play vendors such as Cognos and Business Objects will have to continue to innovate at lightning speed to keep up with the likes of deep-pocketed larger companies, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which are also making big plays in BI.
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