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Microsoft insists it's serious about BI with Kilimanjaro and Gemini

Microsoft business intelligence (BI) is taken "very seriously," said a company executive, evidenced by its upcoming SQL Server update and accompanying self-service BI tools' release, scheduled for 2010.

Despite recent decisions to scrap PerformancePoint Server and scale back its annual summit, Microsoft insists it is playing for keeps when it comes to the business intelligence (BI) market.

"[Business intelligence] is something that we take very seriously," said Guy Weismantel, Microsoft's BI marketing director. "We're in this to win."

During an interview with editors, Weismantel said Microsoft's decision to shutter PerformancePoint Server and incorporate its dashboarding capabilities in SharePoint Server would allow the company to reach more users and was not due to a lack of interest in data monitoring technology from customers. He did say, however, that PerformancePoint Server's corporate planning features did not sell as well as expected.

Business intelligence is something that we take very seriously. We're in this to win.
Guy Weismantel
marketing directorMicrosoft Business Intelligence

 Further, next year's scheduled release of SQL Server 10 and accompanying self-service BI tools, codenamed Kilimanjaro and Gemini, respectively, addresses many of Excel's BI shortcomings and demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to providing customers with robust data warehousing capabilities and easy-to-use, effective BI technology, Weismantel said.

"We can do a better job of investing in Excel as a BI tool and not just a tool that has some BI features," he said.

In addition to the self-service tools, next year's new SQL Server update will incorporate technology from a number of Microsoft's acquisitions aimed at making the database more scalable and efficient, so it can compete with the likes of Teradata, Weismantel said. It will include, for example, MPP technology from DATAllegro, search technology from FAST, data quality capabilities from Zoomix and MDM capabilities from Stratature.

When combined with SharePoint Server, collaboration software that can let workers share BI and analytics, Microsoft hopes to expand the use of its BI tools to non-power users throughout its customers' organizations, a concept called pervasive BI, or "BI for the masses."

It is a strategy being followed by other BI mega-vendors, including SAP and IBM, but Microsoft thinks it has a leg-up on the competition thanks to its large Office installed base, a point echoed by analyst firm Gartner in its latest BI Magic Quadrant report.

"By placing Excel, SQL Server and the very rapidly spreading SharePoint Server at the center of its BI strategy, Microsoft virtually guarantees its BI offering's continued adoption," the report, released in January, states.

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 Letting workers do their own self-service analysis is good for both the customers and Microsoft, Weismantel said. Obviously, it means more revenue for Microsoft, but it also lets workers do their jobs better by providing them the flexibility to do quick analysis on their own without IT assistance. That also frees up IT to concentrate on more strategic projects, BI or otherwise, he said.

Microsoft also hopes to sharpen its marketing message to customers so they think of Microsoft in the same terms as SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos and Information Builders, for example. To that end, Weismantel said, Microsoft sales agents are learning to focus on selling BI as a concept and a strategy, not just selling individual tools like SQL Server or PerformancePoint Server.

Weismantel also said that Microsoft is still working to incorporate text analytics capabilities into its BI mix, but he acknowledged that both Microsoft and the industry at large have yet to find a compelling use case for the technology.

As for the company's decision to hold its BI summit biannually rather than yearly, he said that economic factors played into the decision but that the new arrangement also aligns better with Microsoft's product release schedule.

"By no means are we pulling back [our BI focus]," Weismantel said.

He pointed out that Microsoft will have its biggest BI-related presence to date at TechEd in Los Angeles next month and will continue to "OEM" BI technology through other Microsoft products, such as its Dynamics CRM and ERP software.

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