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Microsoft: We're 'changing the economics of business intelligence'

At its first BI conference, Jeff Raikes outlined Microsoft's business intelligence strategy, announced an acquisition and unveiled "Katmai," the next version of SQL Server. Attendees shared his excitement.

SEATTLE -- The economics of BI have been out of whack, according to Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft business division, at Microsoft's first business intelligence (BI) conference. Microsoft intends to change that, Raikes told a crowd of 2,600 attendees here at the Seattle Convention Center during his opening keynote speech.

People are paying too much for BI and getting too little, he said. Traditional BI software is costly, complex and difficult to maintain. Raikes proceeded to outline Microsoft's strategy for "changing the economics of BI."

"We are revolutionaries in the economics of BI by making broad deployment possible through a low per-user price point and by dramatically improving ease of use," he said. "Microsoft will bring BI capabilities to 10 times the number of workers. We'll be able to do that because we deliver business intelligence exactly where the information workers work every day, in the applications and tools that they already know."

Microsoft delivers BI in its Sharepoint and Office applications, such as Excel, which help organizations truly democratize access to BI and make BI "pervasive," he said. These front-end applications are supported by Office PerformancePoint Server 2007, Microsoft's planned corporate performance management (CPM) application and SQL Server. Soon, another piece of technology will be integrated into the stack.

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Microsoft has acquired Brookline, Mass.-based SoftArtisan Inc.'s OfficeWriter software for managed report authoring in Microsoft Office, Raikes said. The technology makes it easier for users to write reports in Office applications and will ultimately be combined with SQL Server Reporting Services, he said.

Microsoft spokespeople showed two colorful demonstrations of how business users might approach common challenges working in an Excel or Sharepoint environment. The demonstrations were welcome to at least one attendee, Roberto Landrau, BI architect with Tampa, Fla.-based BST Global.

"I was aware of each of the products, but the demonstrations were really cool. I was not expecting that. They were a great way to get an at-a-glance look at how they work," Landrau said.

But what really got Landrau's attention was the announcement of the next version of SQL Server, code-named "Katmai" and slated for release in 2008. The news came as a surprise to many attendees, used to the historical five-year release cycle for SQL Server.

Though stingy with details, Raikes outlined the key features of Katmai. It will include an enhanced enterprise data platform, with policy management. It will store and manage both structured and unstructured data. It will support dynamic development, with a new entity data model to help developers "build richer applications faster." And, other features will support Microsoft's vision of "pervasive insight," Raikes said.

Even Katmai is already old news to some analysts, who were pre-briefed months ago, before the official announcement.

It was the updates on PerformancePoint Server and the clear articulation of a unified BI strategy that impressed James Kobielus, principal analyst with Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis.

"They've had BI for several years. They just haven't -- until now -- done a good enough job of focusing their message," Kobielus said.

Now, they have a clear BI and CPM story to tell and proof that they're aggressively executing on it, he said. PerformancePoint Server is currently being tested by 6,000 users and is on track for release in "late summer," according to Raikes. And, it seems that the conference timing, and emphasis on integrated, pervasive BI and CPM, was well-timed. The benefits of combined BI/CPM have gotten lots of visibility lately, with Oracle's acquisition of Hyperion, Business Objects buying Cartesis and SAP's planned purchase of OutlookSoft. But Microsoft is holding some interesting cards, Kobielus noted.

"Everyone is wondering how do we leverage our existing [Microsoft] investments into BI projects?" Kobielus said.

With a strong message, Office installed on many enterprise desktops and a unified BI/CPM strategy, Microsoft will be more often mentioned on the short list of BI vendors, Kobielus said.

This has not gone unnoticed by system integrators. During the keynote, Raikes also announced that Microsoft has partnered with Accenture, Capgemeni and the recently renamed TCS (formerly known as Tata). Each will help further the reach of Microsoft BI and CPM technology, he said.

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