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A First Glimpse at Microsoft’s PerformancePoint Server 2007

Overall, Microsoft's PerformancePoint Server 2007 announcement is good news for the business intelligence and business performance management (BPM) communities, and it will likely bolster adoption of business performance management.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

Microsoft's announcement of the long-awaitedPerformancePoint Server 2007 (formerly Biz#) is now complete – and the market should take note.

In general, this is good news for the overallbusiness intelligence (BI) and business performance management (BPM) markets. Microsoft’s enhanced presence adds credibility to the category and will bolster enterprise adoption of performance management initiatives. Although some of Microsoft’s initial market positioning was broader than the scope of what was presented as product, Microsoft has planned a robust performance management platform that can be built upon by other vendors and channel partners to offer a more complete solution. The total cost of ownership (TCO), end-user tools and data integration messaging should resonate in addressing end-user needs. To align the PerformancePoint 2007 release plans with the overall scope, the announcement presentation unfortunately simplified the breadth of performance management to dashboards, Excel analytics and rudimentary planning. Although these are all important components, performance management has a much broader scope (see the framework document from the BPM Standards Group). Although I do not have inside information, I expect that there is more to come in this offering that will be revealed as the currently scheduled mid-2007 commercial release date approaches.

The presentation highlighted some strong thinking behind addressing security, enabling controls on the Excel server (to address Excel compliance issues) and data integration challenges for applications developed on the Microsoft platform. In addition, the front-end tools, although we did not see much in the limited introductory demo, had a very clean look integrated within the Office 2007 Suite and will be a welcome addition for companies looking to take first steps in deploying a basic performance management application. There were some attractive components in the dashboard presentation, but it was tough to see what was going on behind the scenes (i.e., how much of the screenshot demonstration was custom built vs. a prepackaged application).

There was some discussion about integration with the Microsoft Dynamics and theProClarity acquisition, but very limited (if any) information was provided regarding how FRxand its large client base integrate on this platform. FRx clients should watch future release news carefully. It is not clear how the existing FRx applications are going to be supported – one must assume that there will be some migration to a consistent platform in the overall PerformancePoint architecture. Although there was some cursory mention in reaction to a final question posed by an audience member, I expected at least a directional statement in the main presentation.

One other question that remains open is what we can expect to be delivered by Microsoft vs. what will be delivered by Microsoft partners in the future. In addition to the client case example mentioned during the introductory presentation, it would have been of high value to hear a summary from two or three partners regarding what they are developing on this platform. To better support performance management application development and implementation, Microsoft will be required to evaluate whether their existing channel partners will have the ability to handle this sophisticated platform within the BPM market. Successful BPM implementers require both technical understanding of the platform as well as firsthand experience in addressing the business processes supported in budgeting, consolidation and operational analytics applications. With the right partners, we can expect a combination of vertical solutions and some purpose-built applications (more sophisticated planning, financial consolidations, operational analytics, profitability analysis), but no comments were made in these areas.

Software firms that previously embraced the Microsoft platform for both marketing and technical reasons – such as Cartesis, Extensity (formerly Geac) and OutlookSoft – will need to make some hard decisions on how this will impact their overall product architecture. Cartesis seemed to be the sole core BPM vendor that proactively announced their support of the PerformancePoint platform at press time. OutlookSoft, with their recently announced support of Oracle, may not be as closely reliant on Microsoft technology going forward. Regarding the many vendors in the market that leverage Microsoft front-end tools today, they should be pleased with some of the improvements planned. For new vendors and Microsoft partners looking to extend their business, this release will provide for a strong foundation, lowering the barrier to entry for competing against some of the incumbent BPM vendors.

The overall message of this announcement will play well for the IT community and the Excel-passionate finance analysts, but the gaps in domain expertise around specific business processes will make it difficult for members of the office of the CFO to jettison investment in applications from Hyperion, Cognos and others at this time.

There was no discussion of pricing or packaging in the announcement, but it reasonable to expect that Microsoft will be commercially aggressive out of the gates.

Competitive responses from non-Microsoft friendly BPM vendors will likely highlight the shortcomings of the V1.0 status, the long lead time to commercial availability (mid-2007 if delivered on time), and the lack of some of the core BPM components for the next 12-18 months. Note that the true value for this platform involves adoption of the full Microsoft stack including SQL Server 2005 and Office 2007 – and some larger enterprises may be reluctant to make that commitment with a new software release. In addition, obvious technology alignment with open source and other non-Microsoft platforms will be real differentiators for competing vendors.

In summary, this is overall good news for the market. In the short term, Microsoft directs organizations to their Business Scorecard Manager 2005 and the ProClarity 6.1 product – both commercially available today. If you are an existing Microsoft shop and have a BPM initiative that is in its early stages or planned for the next 12-24 months, care should be taken to assure that you integrate this new platform in your plans. If you are in midst of a deployment, or in late stage consideration of a vendor decision, I would not delay plans, but would ask questions of your vendors regarding their planned support for new Microsoft capabilities. This announcement will clearly create some price pressure across the market, in particular the mid-market during the initial release, and will expand adoption of business intelligence and business performance management technologies enterprise-wide over time.

Note: The author would like to acknowledge Nigel Pendse, author of The OLAP Report, for his constructive input on this viewpoint.

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