Is There Much More (Pro)Clarity In Microsoft’s BI Strategy Now? - Part 1

Tough times demand tough decisions and sacrifices even from seemingly untouchable corporations. Most of us were likely discouraged (if not necessarily disappointed or surprised) by Microsoft’s mid-January 2009 layoffs announcement, the first ever in the company’s illustrious (at least when it comes to financial performance) history

Whether related to these layoffs or not (some will argue the former) one day after that shock came the news about Microsoft’s fundamental shift in its business intelligence (BI) product strategy. The giant has apparently carefully evaluated and then rethought its BI portfolio, breaking apart the business performance management (BPM) family of products. To that end, Microsoft will include the monitoring and analytic functionality within Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, while seriously backpedaling (if not completely unplugging) the development of its nascent financial planning & consolidation application.

My analyst relationship contacts within Microsoft sent me an elaborate email message at the time. They wanted to make me aware of a significant change in Microsoft’s strategy for delivering BI capabilities that the giant hopes will enhance its customers’ ability to experience truly Pervasive BI (PBI) within their existing investments.

To explain the appeal of an application's pervasiveness or penetration: typically, specialized BI solutions offered by a majority of vendors are only adopted by about 20 percent of employees at any given company. Part of the reason for such low adoption rates are the expense of licensing additional seats and the learning curve required to become a proficient user. This low adoption rate limits the potential advantages of having everyone within an organization on the same page.

Microsoft formally unveiled its plans to roll out a BPM/BI product to the masses some time in 2006 after acquiring ProClarity. The suite, officially named Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server (MOPPS) 2007, encapsulated existing Microsoft products with new development to provide dashboards, scorecards, analytic applications, and planning, budgeting & forecasting (PBF), and financial consolidation & reporting applications to companies of varying sizes and industries.

Words From the Horse’s Mouth

Microsoft’s goal is – and has always been – to bring BI to the masses. To that end, the company will be consolidating the scorecard, dashboard, and analytic capabilities delivered today via MOPPS 2007 into the current and next versions of MOSS. These capabilities will be called “PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint” and will be available to customers through the Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) version of SharePoint Server (i.e., at no additional cost).

Additionally, in the summer of 2009, Microsoft will release “Service Pack 3” for MOPPS 2007, which will include updates to the financial planning module. From there the company will focus its development on the new monitoring and analytic capabilities in “PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint” and will not offer standalone versions of PerformancePoint Server.

Microsoft believes that via its "holy trinity" of technologies -- MOSS, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft Office Excel, customers can deploy a robust BI solution in a cost-effective way, through the software they already have and use every day. As the vendor hopes the market will agree, this shift demonstrates its ongoing commitment to democratizing BI.

Microsoft believes its revised (and somewhat reversed) BI strategy will allow customers to make smart, timely business decisions with their existing investments – during a time when doing so is more critical than ever. In today’s economic climate, it is imperative to have the most pertinent information available to allow users to clearly view the health of their organization. Microsoft wants to give its customers what they need in a way that makes sense for their business – through the widely adopted MOSS for search and collaboration, the #1 planning and analysis tool Excel, and the scalable Microsoft SQL Server database.

The email message ended with a draft copy of a question and answer (Q&A) session with Kurt DelBene - Senior Vice President (SVP), Microsoft's Office Business Platform (OBP) Group –discussing the impact of these moves on the BI industry, and how this will benefit customers. While the entire conversation can be found on Microsoft’s PressPass site for journalists, below is an excerpt containing a set of questions dedicated to Microsoft Dynamics.
Q: How does this announcement impact Microsoft Dynamics customers?

A: The combination of MOSS with the monitoring and analysis capabilities of MOPPS significantly increases the combined BI capabilities of both products. Microsoft Dynamics customers will be able to leverage these capabilities to take BI to the next level in their organizations. Microsoft Dynamics is committed to supporting FRx, Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Management Reporter, and Forecaster customers under our Business Ready Customer Care and our Lifecycle Support Policies.

Customers who currently use FRx, Forecaster or Management Reporter can rest assured that their investment is protected, and that their financial planning and reporting needs will be supported by Microsoft Dynamics going forward. Microsoft Dynamics is working on a financial planning and reporting roadmap based on what our customers need, which will provide them with maximum business value for the lowest possible total cost of ownership.

Q: How does this announcement impact Microsoft Dynamics partners?

A: The combination of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) with the monitoring and analysis capabilities of Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server (MOPPS) represents an evolution of Microsoft’s BI offering, and we expect that partners will see an increase in the number of BI related opportunities going forward. Providing a clear financial planning and reporting product roadmap for Microsoft Dynamics customers will allow our partner community to feel confident in position these solutions with prospects.

Part 2 of this blog series will conclude with my views on this strategy shift, devoid of Microsoft’s spin. In the meantime, your views and comments are welcome as usual.

If you are existing users of SharePoint, PerformancePoint, or FRx, what have been your experiences with these products and what is your take on their future? Did this news make you somewhat apprehensive, enthusiastic, or indifferent?
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