PerformancePoint a Tougher Sell than Anticipated?

Don’t look now, but Office and Excel are shaping up as PerformancePoint Server’s biggest competition.

With the release of PerformancePoint Server 2007 later this year, Microsoft Corp. will formally jump into the ranks of the big business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) players—on par with Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., Oracle Corp., and others.

But just what kind of built-in audience can Microsoft Expect for PerformancePoint Server? Anecdotal accounts vary. Some users say they are eagerly anticipating the PerformancePoint product, but others still haven’t even heard of it. And still others seem unsure how PerformancePoint will fit into an existing Office-centered BI and PM stack that already includes the ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet tool.

In fact, Office and Excel might shape up as PerformancePoint’s biggest competition. Take Vidya Jayaraman, a BI technologist with a U.S.-based Microsoft partner. Jayaraman—who requested that we abstract his employer’s identity—says he believes PerformancePoint will make a big splash in larger organizations, although he doesn’t know how that product will fare in the small-and-medium-sized business segment to which his company caters.

"Our organization works typically with small and midsized businesses and we use SQL [Server] 2005 and some of them are still using SQL [Server] 2000. It is [our] primary RDBMS product as we use one of the Microsoft Dynamics products. We also see a trend where we would be using more of the BI stack in future," Jayaraman comments.

PerformancePoint Server isn’t yet available, but Jayaraman’s employer has looked at its predecessor—Business Scorecard Manager (BSM) 2005. That product was a bit too pricey for his company’s SBM clientele, Jayaraman indicates: "We were evaluating Score Card Manager and many clients use Excel and Reporting Services as front end BI tools. However BSM seems to be a little too expensive at the moment for smaller businesses."

For this reason, he concludes, PerformancePoint will probably remain a large enterprise play—although it could make some headway into the SMB segment if Microsoft packages it correctly. "I perceive that Performance Point Server … will become [widely] popular only if there is a smaller/scaled down version that addresses the needs of small businesses," he indicates. "I do see that it eminently suits mid- to large-sized businesses."

Others aren’t quite as sanguine about PerformancePoint’s large enterprise prospects—at least in their organizations.

"As I understand it, PerformancePoint 2007 is really the replacement for Business Scorecard Manager. It is something on my radar, but I do not know of any plans within my organization to implement it upon its immediate release," comments SQL Server specialist Mark Feferman, who likewise asked that his employer not be named. "Obviously, in the BI realm, Microsoft is fairly new, when it comes to comparing some of the capabilities of Cognos and Business Objects. On the other hand, the licensing can be quite compelling to use a simpler, less mature product like the [SQL Server] 2005 suite, if what's coming down the pipe— i.e., future releases—have as much advancement as going from the 2000 platform to the 2005 platform." Feferman says his company is highly dependent on the rest of Microsoft’s BI stack, however.

"My organization has grown increasingly dependent on a solution I put together using several Microsoft Suites. SQL Server 2005 is one of our primary RDBMS platforms and I make as much use of it as possible to report internal compliance. I use Integration Services for the ETL process, loading and munging data from many different sources. After the ETL process is complete, [I] use Reporting Services to serve up reports in an ASP.NET dashboard that I built using Visual Studio 2005," he comments. "The Report Viewer control works perfectly. I present high-level data to upper management in the form of graphs, as well as provide drill-down capabilities with detailed action items in a report that can be exported to many different useful formats, to regional offices around the globe."

There’s a sense in which the mighty Microsoft marketing machine probably needs to do a better job in getting the word out about PerformancePoint, too. Consider Fernando Ponte, a BI technologist with the Brazilian government.

Ponte’s organization, like those of the other users surveyed here, is a big Microsoft shop. It currently uses SQL Server 2000, Analysis Services 2000 and Microsoft’s old Data Transformation Services (DTS)—the latter of which has received a retooling and a rebranding in SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (SSIS).

"We use SQL Server as our main relational database and Analysis Services as our main OLAP server. We also have DTS packages for ETL and Cube Processing," Ponte comments. "Today we have a custom web-based reporting tool. Similar to Excel's PivotTable, but entirely built in DHTML, VBScript and JScript. The origin of this tool is the ThinWebClient released by Microsoft with SQL Server 2000." At some point, Ponte’s employer anticipates rolling out SQL Server 2005—along with other Microsoft BI components.

"Today the existing MS BI stack achieves all our needs. We don't use Reporting Services, but we have an extensive use of OLAP Cubes within [more than 12] multidimensional databases … varying from 15 MB to more than 1 GB in size," he indicates. In spite of this, Ponte and his employer don’t yet have a PerformancePoint Server strategy. In fact, he says he only just became aware of that product. "I just read something about Office PerformancePoint, but I really don't know if this will be used here."

On the other hand, Ponte says, Office itself does amount to a stellar BI solution. "I believe that Office is a great tool for BI. I don't think it's more expensive than any other [tool] in the market. I think if you are a Microsoft corporate client and you already have Office deployed on users’ desktops, especially Excel, your users will be more comfortable just migrating to a new Office version than learning a new tool," he concludes, adding that "Excel 2007 is a fantastic tool for BI."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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