Users Give PerformancePoint a Big Thumbs-Up (Part 2 of 2)

Users say PerformancePoint lets them preserve existing business processes and roll out BPM capabilities to hitherto untouched constituencies

While users like what they see in PerformancePoint Server 2007, most agree that -- like many products from Microsoft Corp. -- the first revision of the product isn't quite a slam dunk. Not that that's a problem, according to many users: they bought into PerformancePoint with the expectation that Microsoft will fine-tune and enhance it over time -- much like it did with SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS, nee Data Transformation Services), and SQL Server Reporting Services.

PerformancePoint doesn't deliver all that Redmond's existing PM tools -- especially its Excel spreadsheet and its ProClarity technology assets -- do. That isn't a bad thing, users say: PerformancePoint's integration with Excel, for example, helps mitigate some of its own shortcomings. They point out that PerformancePoint lets them preserve existing (and largely Excel-based) business processes and roll out business performance management (BPM) capabilities to previously untouched user constituencies.

"[T]here are some functions that are not available on [PerformancePoint Server] that are available in Excel, such as double X-axis graphs," says an executive director with an Australian business service management specialist. This user did volunteer, however, that "[PerformancePoint] is a good product."

For the present, he says, his organization is thinking about deploying Microsoft's ProClarity offerings -- per Redmond's own recommendation -- to address some of PerformancePoint's functionality shortcomings.

"I am familiar with ProClarity from a past life and know that the [PerformancePoint] product will get better with time and as more ProClarity functionality is made available," this user says. "[Microsoft] suggested [that] we download ProClarity to address the [Excel graphing] issue."

Indeed, this user's experience reveals something else about the way PerformancePoint is being deployed in many organizations: namely, as a complement to Microsoft Excel and Excel-centric business processes.

Although its slick interface and visualization capabilities make it suitable for (indeed, ideal for) use by non-power users, business analysts and other power users are embracing PerformancePoint, too.

This often flies in the face of initial expectations, users say. Consider the case of buying cycle optimization specialist RedPrairie, which based its newest application (RedPrairie Performance Management) on SQL Server 2005 and PerformancePoint Server 2007. While its integration with Office (and particularly Excel) did factor into RedPrairie's decision to deploy on top of PerformancePoint, Office integration was by no means a decisive factor.

Post-deployment, however, Office and Excel integration has proven to be especially important to clients. "I don't think the integration with Microsoft Office and Excel in particular was as important in the initial decision, but it has proven to be an important feature to many of our clients," says John Workman, RedPrairie's senior manager of performance management.

At the same time, Workman stresses, PerformancePoint's seamless integration with Excel has helped make it a success with rank-and-file users. He notes that it lets companies keep business analysts and other "geek" users happy (by accommodating existing -- and typically Excel-based -- business processes) while at the same time exposing PM capabilities to rank-and-file information consumers.

"It is amazing how many companies out there run their business on Excel. The ability for a non-geek employee to build ad-hoc reports in Excel while connecting to OLAP cubes with a live connection has really made an impact on our clients," he comments.

Indeed, "piggybacking" on top of Excel is one of the most common PerformancePoint deployment scenarios, according to Craig Utley of Solid Quality Mentors and a former program manager with the SQL Customer Advisory Team at Microsoft. In many cases, he says, this is a reflection of user and customer inexperience with business performance management.

"Most are fairly new to delivering such data so [PerformancePoint] is [used as] a complement to Excel," he explains. The salient point, Utley says, is that PerformancePoint lets users consume PM data in the format -- or application context -- that's ideal for them. "I see the primary benefits as a single tool that can deliver data in a variety of formats for different users."

With PerformancePoint and the rest of its BI stack, Microsoft can credibly address the breadth and depth of most enterprise BI and PM requirements, Utley argues. "Microsoft has a great answer to cover the needs of different types of users," he says. "Scorecards [or] dashboards are great for decision-makers, reports are useful for the majority of users, and analysts can use either ProClarity or Excel for in-depth analysis."