Microsofts BI Crusade Draws BI Vendors Ire

Competitors are quick to point out that there's nothing cheap about Microsoft business intelligence.

Theres nothing cheap about the BI capabilities of Office 12 when you have to upgrade all your desktops and many servers to get there, competing BI vendors say.

"Today, BI is too expensive, too hard to use and too inconvenient," proclaimed Jeff Raikes, president of Microsofts Business Division, when the company on Monday talked up the business intelligence muscle its putting into its upcoming Office 12 platform. "We think everyone deserves BI. Theyre just not able to get there today."

BI vendors are eager to pop that bubble. Following Microsofts news of bargain-basement BI and the first-ever centralized server control of the insanely popular Excel spreadsheet, BI competitor Cognos was quick to point out that theres nothing cheap about Microsoft BI.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about how Office 12 will anchor Microsofts BI strategy.

"To get the full BI value, you need to do two things: upgrade all your desktops to Office 12, and then youve got to swap out most, if not all, of your server-side infrastructure and put in Microsoft instead of what youve got now, between IBM and SAP and Sun and Oracle," said Neal Hill, senior vice president of corporate development at Cognos.

"To get the full value from the thing, its not just I add this server plus those full seats," He said. "You have to swap out your current infrastructure for Microsoft. There arent that many billion-plus organizations willing to do that for any vendor, much less for Microsoft."

Its easy to see why BI vendors are protesting so loudly. Excel is by far the most widely used BI tool. All major BI vendors have some type of Excel add-ins—they have to, since office workers are virtually addicted to it.

But up until Office 12, those Excel spreadsheets have been disconnected, stand-alone files. They havent been linked to the server or back-end databases. As such, if a user were to create a huge, mission-critical Excel file and then to leave a company, critical knowledge walks out the door with him.

Microsoft is set to change all that in Office 12 with new server-side Excel capabilities called Excel Services. With Excel Services, Excel will be able to be used as a BI interface sitting on top of SQL Server.

Control of the spreadsheet for the first time will be centralized so that enterprises can secure, share and manage spreadsheets on the server.

Spreadsheets can be viewed via Web browser or downloaded to desktops, but the enterprise will retain the ability to control who sees what data, vastly aiding in regulatory compliance issues that pertain to controlling who sees what.

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