Excel and SQL may spell trouble for business intelligence vendors

Summary:One of the more interesting technology battles this year (and probably 2008) will pit Microsoft's Office 2007 coupled with SQL Server 2005 against established business intelligence players. Business intelligence is by far one of the more interesting--and important--software categories in the enterprise space.

One of the more interesting technology battles this year (and probably 2008) will pit Microsoft's Office 2007 coupled with SQL Server 2005 against established business intelligence players.

Business intelligence is by far one of the more interesting--and important--software categories in the enterprise space. After all, CIOs can spend millions on revamping business processes and investing in enterprise applications, but if a wide range of folks can't analyze critical data the effort is wasted. Simply put, you can spend a lot on IT and get a ROI goose egg without business intelligence software.

That fact is part of the reason companies like Cognos and Business Objects are successful. But the party may be about to end. In about a year there may be no better time to squeeze your favorite business intelligence software supplier.

Why? Excel 2007 will add a lot of business intelligence (BI) tools. Coupled with Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services and the software giant could be dangerous to business intelligence players.

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This Excel/SQL combo-as-BI tool pitch has been bubbling up within Microsoft for years. However, the launch of Office 2007 is the first effort to really pitch Microsoft's spreadsheet program as a BI application. Indeed, a visit to the Excel Developer Portal finds plenty of BI mentions.

Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest, noted in a Jan. 3 research report that:

"Excel 2007 will be the first version of Excel to interface easily with SQL Server's Analysis Services. This means that anyone running Excel 2007 will be able to access various databases and compile BI reports from Excel."

Barnicle reckons that Microsoft's encroachment into the BI space "could further commoditize the BI market."

At the most risk is Business Objects' Crystal Decisions software, says Barnicle. Business Objects' Crystal Decisions had an OEM agreement with Microsoft, but the software giant is now offering BI functions directly.

The Excel as low-end BI tool satisfies a few Microsoft goals. For starters, it moves Office upstream and away from Web efforts from the likes of Google. Microsoft has also been moving upstream in enterprise applications overall. It's a slow process, but those smaller companies that Microsoft caters to will grow and pull Redmond's applications along.

While Office 2007's interface may mean more training for companies, the BI argument may make the upgrade argument easier to digest. We'll see as the year unfolds.

Topics: Microsoft

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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