Microsoft to talk up Office 12’s BI enhancements

Microsoft Corp. Monday will unveil a host of new business intelligence (BI) features that will be available in the next version of Microsoft Office, code-named Office 12, in an effort to push the software as more than just a productivity suite.

In a Web conference hosted by Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, Microsoft is expected to unveil BI enhancements to Office 12’s Excel and SharePoint Products and Technologies, which both will integrate with SQL Server 2005, the next version of Microsoft’s database.

Microsoft plans to launch SQL Server 2005 Nov. 7, and Office 12 is expected to ship sometime next year.

New features in the Office 12 version of Excel are support for SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services, more spreadsheet capacity, improved sorting and filtering capabilities and improved data visualization schemes, according to the company. All of these are aimed at making it easier for business users of Excel to more securely access, analyze and share information between databases and enterprise applications, according to Microsoft.

Office 12 also will add Excel Services to SharePoint Products and Technologies. These server-side Excel capabilities will enable customers to better secure, share and manage spreadsheets over a server and allow those spreadsheets to be viewed through a Web browser or downloaded to a user desktop, according to Microsoft.

SharePoint also will be updated so users can more easily build personalized dashboards that combine data and charts from various sources, and find reports and spreadsheets by using improved search capabilities, the company said.

Raikes also is expected to talk up a new product, Microsoft’s Business Scorecard Manager, which will be made available Nov. 1. Business Scorecard Manager uses both Microsoft Office and SQL Server to enable business users to track business performance indicators against company goals in a collaborative environment, according to Microsoft. Business Scorecard Manager will cost about US$5,000 for the server, with a client access license of $175 per user.

Microsoft executives have been touting the next version of Office as a BI tool for some time, hoping to convince the industry it is more a platform for business collaboration than just a desktop suite. It has not always been easy for the vendor to convince Office users to upgrade to new versions of the software when they are made available.

Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, acknowledged in July that many customers are not upgrading their Office suite because they believe the older versions are sufficient to compete in the current business environment. Microsoft is keen to change this perception, according to executives.

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