Microsoft’s business intelligence (BI) vision represents a fresh approach to BI that focuses on collaboration using Microsoft Excel 2007 and Excel Services, boosted further by Microsoft’s Workflow Foundation. If it is executed successfully, Microsoft’s strategy could prove to be the biggest challenge to pure-play BI vendors who are targeting the ‘BI-for-the-masses’ market.
BI is one of Microsoft’s core market activities for this financial year. It is seen by the company as its main product differentiator, in particular adding value to Excel 2007, to help leverage upgrades from Excel 2003. Of course, Office applications repositioned within BI allow Microsoft to tap into the predicted growth in the BI market, providing a good way for the company to boost sales, and to differentiate its Office applications from competition, such as Google’s no-cost spreadsheet.
The new Excel Services technology is due for release by Microsoft at the same time as the delayed Office 2007. Excel Services will provide functionality such as spreadsheet calculations on the server-side, with browser rendering, and web services interfaces. Excel Services will also bring with it collaboration functionality that allows teams and organizations to share spreadsheets through the browser in portals and BI dashboards, and to manage spreadsheets with controls and security.
These plans could spell the end of the proliferation of single-user spreadsheets, or ‘spread-marts,’ and the beginning of an era of enterprise-wide spreadsheets with improved accuracy and reliability.
To benefit from Excel Services, customers who do not already have SharePoint will have to increase their investment in Microsoft platforms. Research by Butler Group indicates that Office SharePoint Server 2007 could become the de facto back-end for many of the Office-based applications and services. Indeed, in a recent survey, around 60% of respondents indicated that they had already deployed SharePoint or planned to do so over the next 24 months.
In the next few months, ProClarity’s analysis server will be merged with Microsoft’s Business Scorecard Manager and the beta version of PerformancePoint to create Microsoft’s new performance management software, with analytics, planning, score carding, and reporting, for release in the June/July 2007 timeframe.
Microsoft’s BI solutions work with Windows Workflow Foundation that is based on Microsoft’s own eXtensible Application Mark-up Language (XAML). This is in contrast to the rest of the industry, which is attempting to standardize extensions to business process execution language (BPEL) to extend web-services process orchestration to provide functionality for people-level processes too. The proprietary workflow from Microsoft could just slow down the pace of standardization.
Microsoft’s new BI strategy is certainly not intended to win any friends in terms of partners, but it is carefully designed to influence people, aka customers. The question that remains is how successfully Microsoft can deliver its strategy? Further delays in the availability of Office 2007, and high pricing could provide the competition with enough opportunities to bring their own solutions to the market, and gain valuable market share ahead of Microsoft. This was recently demonstrated by Panorama Software’s integration of NovaView with Google Spreadsheet. Industry observers will no doubt be looking with great interest at developments over the next few months.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)