Microsoft discontinues PerformancePoint

Microsoft Corp. announced recently that it was giving its relatively new business intelligence product PerformancePoint Server the axe, a casualty of a tough BI market, the worsening economy, and the strength of its enterprise portal product SharePoint Server.

Support for those who bought PerformancePoint Server will be given for the next five years, or 10 years for those who bought the extended support package.

Additionally, Canadian IT managers will actually be able to trade up. As of April 1, Microsoft will be offering a licence-for-licence switch for SharePoint Server, a much more expensive and complex product.

Once the new version of SharePoint Server arrives, those who bought PerformancePoint Server with Software Assurance will automatically receive the new version of SharePoint once it comes to market. (Microsoft declined to say when that would be as of yet.)

The demise of PerformancePoint came about after a product portfolio review that found that Microsoft wasn’t making the most of its assets or achieving its goals in the business intelligence market.

“We wanted to have BI for the masses,” said Kristina Kerr, a lead project manager with Microsoft headquarters. “But we weren’t that different from the other mega-vendors in the space. Nobody has been able to achieve that due to how business intelligence is deployed, the cost barrier, and the user experience.”

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Kerr said that many business intelligence vendors were trying to push BI as more user-friendly, and by use of plug-ins and add-ons that would make the product seem more familiar — as familiar as a Microsoft Office environment.

“So,” said Kerr, “with the current economic environment, it was much more cost-effective to take the scorecarding, dashboarding and analytics and consolidate it in SharePoint. It’s already being used across the enterprise for search, content management, workflow, and collaboration. Now they can do their business intelligence there, too.”

Michael Corcoran, the chief marketing officer for large pure-play business intelligence vendor Information Builders Inc., is not so sure that business intelligence functionality will be adequately visible or used enough by the general user base of SharePoint.

“Business intelligence is about financials, forecasting, budgeting, planning, and reporting. It’s a specialized purpose, so it might not be a good match with such a general portal. It could hurt the visibility of it,” he said.

Kerr is confident that the move will make IT managers’ lives easier. “This is actually much better for IT managers, as we’ve consolidated a few environments into one. Instead of having to manage multiple environments, we’ve made it simpler,” she said.

This is right in line with what customers have been calling for, she said. “When looking at software capabilities, customers are looking holistically. They want something with that integration,” said Kerr.

Corcoran pointed out, however, that accessing a rash of applications from a single portal can often be difficult, due to different structures and the metadata at play.

Either way, Microsoft stands to benefit, said Info-Tech Research Group senior research analyst George Goodall, as it can push any leftover financial functionality into Dynamics, and then use the PerformancePoint features as an additional selling point for both SharePoint and Dynamics.

It will also keep customers quieter about cost. “What are the core technologies, really? SQL Server and SharePoint Server. Customers are no longer so interested in these (specialized) products that they’ll pay extra for them. Sure, Microsoft might be able to do something SAP and Oracle isn’t doing for small businesses, but it’s a broader issue of cost,” said Goodall. “It has more value now (as a built-in feature).”

IDC program vice-president for business analytics Dan Vesset said that this snafu might even make Microsoft think twice next time about building new products instead of fresh functionality, especially in times like these. “They might turn to SharePoint or SQL Server — or whatever — before they go for the stand-alone product,” he said.

As for the IT manager, there are things to consider when it comes to making the switch to SharePoint from PerformancePoint.

“A lot of IT managers think they can make a switch like this as a one-for-one trade-off, and do the whole transition over a weekend, but they really should think of this as a real software project,” he said. “Study your basic requirements and implement test plans.”

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