Raiking in the gold


SEATTLE – In his opening-day keynote here last week at the first Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference, Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, noted the explosion of data being produced in most business today.

That growth points to the need for business intelligence (BI) tools to help executives interpret data and make decisions that align with overarching strategic goals. But as the number of employees using BI tools expands, he said, companies are discovering the need to provide access to BI data to workers where they live — mainly in Office tools. With that in mind, Raikes also announced that Microsoft’s Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 — the company’s performance management server linking monitoring, analysis and planning — will ship this summer.

Computerworld spoke to Raikes last Thursday at the conference.

Excerpts from that conversation follow:

You announced today that Microsoft is acquiring SoftArtisan’s OfficeWriter tool for reporting authoring in Microsoft Office. Can you provide more details about that acquisition and whether this tool is aimed at helping companies that find their IT shops struggling with report request backlogs?

That is the intention. People want access to BI from within the context of the Office tool that they use every day. It was a natural for us with SoftArtisans to want to use their technology as part of opening up the reporting to Word and Excel. [Users] can consume reports from within Word and Excel. Those become an end point for being able to have access to the information.

You mentioned today that there have been 6,000 downloads of the Community Technology Preview (CTP) version of Microsoft’s PerformancePoint Server 2007. What types of companies are using it now, and what are they looking for in performance management?

It is really varied. For example, one of the companies we will showcase here is Premier Bankcard. They have an explosion of digital information they want to get access to. It is the hundreds of thousands of calls they receive each day. They want to manage their performance of handling those calls.

You have the integration of BI … into the Office tools, and that was really enhanced with Office 2007 where Excel could have live access to data cubes. What completes the end-to-end solution is the ability to do the traditional BI applications like performance management, forecasting, planning and reporting — but do that in the context of your Office tools.

Business performance management technology has taken some shots in the market over the past six to 12 months, with companies reporting they can’t figure out how to set up key performance indicators, how to make performance management relevant to their processes and the fact that few workers use dashboards. What’s your response to those complaints, and is PerformancePoint 2007 designed to solve those issues?

You can use SharePoint and the portal to have a comprehensive scorecard that then drills down into the information. We’ve made that easier for average human beings to be able to set those capabilities up.

SAP this week announced plans to buy a BI company. Oracle recently bought Hyperion. These are just recent examples of ERP companies upping their BI ante and trying to go after the BI market by claiming that they have better access to back-office data that needs to be analyzed because they own it. What is your take on ERP companies trying to snag a bigger part of this market?

What really matters is whether users get the capabilities they need. Acquiring the traditional industry players in BI just gives you the same capability characteristic of the old industry. It makes those acquisitions suspect. Much more of our focus has been in how we transform the industry. Historically, you have had the pure BI players … and the enterprise application vendors dabbling in BI. Our approach is much more about an end-to-end focus on BI, starting with the platform, including the integration with the Office tools and the business performance applications.

In that case, the competitive context is: Do we show customers they can get the BI capability they need, get BI to more people at a lower cost and with a higher return?

Our bet is, “Yes.”

Microsoft talked a lot today about the next version of SQL Server. What’s on the horizon for BI applications? What can users expect next?

The key thing is what we are doing with PerformancePoint 2007.

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