Microsoft PerformancePoint Server 2007 Due in September

News Analysis: But with the release of SQL Server 2008 in, well, 2008, are customers left hanging?

Microsoft is set to launch a portion of its business intelligence technology platform, PerformancePoint Server 2007, at an event in New York on Sept. 20.

The second piece to Microsofts BI technology triad, SQL Server 2008 (code-named Katmai), is scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2008. The companys third major tech component, Office 2007, is available now—and will be integrated with PerformancePoint Server 2007.

But with the companys BI strategy spread over three major components with a remaining year-long release cycle, will businesses have the luxury to wait?

In a recent report, IT research firm IDC found that the BI market grew by more than 11 percent in 2006, with the BI tools market driven by the need for improved CPM (Corporate Performance Management) and, to a lesser extent, compliance software.

Performance management really centers around various decision-support and reporting functions that help companies to improve revenue, profit and operational efficiency, according to IDC analyst Dan Vesset, who said in a statement that "Microsoft had another strong year" with performance management.

The release of Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 next month is really the repackaging of Microsofts ProClarity acquisition a little over a year ago, which brought CPM functionality to Microsofts BI portfolio.

At heart, CPM allows chief financial officers to answer critical questions about their business—questions like: "How are we doing? Why are we doing well (or doing poorly)? And what should we be doing about it?"

But Microsoft isnt alone in pursuing the CPM angle to garnering business intelligence users—folks Microsoft hopes to lure beyond the CFOs office. SAP and Oracle, two formidable competitors in the business applications sector, have each acquired CPM capabilities in the past six months.

SAP announced May 8 its intention to acquire OutlookSoft, which provides planning, budgeting, forecasting and consolidation software. Oracle spent $3.3 billion in April to acquire Hyperion, an industry leader in CPM software.

Chris Caren, general manager of Office Business Applications at Microsoft said in a May interview with eWEEK that his company plans to do something "really different" with CPM.

"While we are targeting the CFO and compliance we bet incredibly hard on Excel, making it a place where you can work with information securely and share information securely," said Caren, in Redmond, Wash. "Our ease of use and our price point leads to much broader solutions. SAP and Oracle typically dont go beyond the CFO; our goal is to [reach] everyone who might own a budget."


Click here to read more about Microsofts business intelligence strategy.

With about 500 million licenses of Office floating around, Excel offers quite a leg up for Microsoft as it works to expand BI throughout the enterprise—and with the release of PerformancePoint Server 2007 next month, its available.

But that still leaves the question of whether a 2008 release of Katmai will leave users hanging?

While PerformancePoint Server will include dashboards, score carding and analytics for monitoring, analysis and planning, Katmai is really the underlying applications layer of Microsofts BI platform—and the basis of Microsofts overall data platform vision.

According to Microsofts Aug. 22 press release, Katmai (SQL Server 2008), will "help organizations deliver a more secure, reliable data platform for storing business-critical information and delivering the right information to all users."

At Microsofts May BI event in Seattle, Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, outlined Katmais capabilities that include the ability for large scale data warehousing and richer information delivery through Office.

"Beyond rational database capabilities, [users] will be able to store any type of data, including unstructured," said Raikes. "Its a new data model that will enable [developers] to build richer applications faster."

At the same time, Katmai will utilize software from SoftArtisans, a company Microsoft acquired last year that generates functional Excel spreadsheets and Word documents over the Web—without the need for Office on the server—by populating Office documents with dynamic data from any source. The bottom line: SoftArtisans enables better interoperability of reporting with Office.

"We have a very strong interoperability in terms of taking reporting services and exporting that to Word, or Excel, but [SoftArtisans] gives you the capability to start in Word or start in Excel to access information and author reports from there," said Caren in his May interview.

So while Microsoft BI users will have pretty good CPM capabilities with PerformancePoint 2007 Server—an obvious business driver—the real meat seems to be coming next year.


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