Microsoft vies for BI market success

Summary:The software giant is investing in business intelligence software and aims to reach beyond its customers' IT departments and up to board level

...transferring decision-making powers from senior to lower levels of management, and basing performance reviews and bonuses on the outcome.

This is leading to a broader requirement for information which, in turn, is boosting demand for unstructured data-based collaboration systems as well as tools to analyse structured information.

But while traditional BI vendors such as Business Objects and SAS have geared their tools towards specialist audiences and have, therefore, been able to charge a premium price, this is not so commercially viable if thousands of workers are involved.

"So the dynamics and the nature of the solutions are changing. It's about pushing smaller chunks of information to a wider audience, not the luxury of delivering it through specialised desktop solutions," Vile said

And this is where Microsoft comes in. The company has a natural front end through both Office and Outlook. It also has some control of the layer directly behind this, with the Exchange email messaging and collaboration server and the SharePoint portal, which is becoming increasingly pervasive, especially in larger organisations.

SharePoint Server 2007 now includes BI-like functionality. An example of this is Excel Services, which enables users to share host-based spreadsheet data and makes it possible to maintain a single version of the truth for auditing purposes.

The product also incorporates tools for users to create their own dashboards in order to display business information and a Business Data Catalogue to search data from back-end business systems and add it to Office applications.

At the departmental level, the SQL Server database is also a popular option. Over the past few years, Microsoft has been adding more and more functionality to create a kind of BI layer within its offering and, in April 2006, the vendor also purchased ProClarity to provide it with analytics tools. This means it now provides an easy way for organisations to exploit basic data-warehousing and data-mart functionality at the low-end, and the analytics tools will be further enhanced in the next version of SQL Server, code-named Katmai, which is due to ship in 2008.

"The advantage, and the card that Microsoft will play, is the idea of pervasive BI and pushing information out to a broader audience. The ace is its control of the desktop and the layer immediately behind and, as people move to Office 2007, it will attempt to sneak in through that desktop entry point," Vile says.

Among lower-end and mid-market companies, which are less willing than larger players to buy specialist tools, Microsoft is likely to become a dominant player. It also has an advantage given its incumbency — "unless it screws up", suggested Vile.

But it is a different matter at the high-end. "Microsoft has tried for a while to position its offerings as an end-to-end BI solution, but while this kind of proposition resonates with small to medium businesses, it completely misses the mark with large companies that are interested in more plug-and-play solutions," says Vile.

Most large organisations have fragmented BI deployments, which have grown up at the departmental level or in relation to different applications such as SAP. This means that they are less likely to be...

Topics: Tech Industry

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