As I mentioned yesterday I was fortunate to listen in to the official launce of the Office Performance Server – formally known as Biz Sharp.
There was a fair amount of marketing speak about how BI was worth $13 Billion and would grow at 8% over the next 3 – 5 years. There was also lots of talking about how Microsoft wanted to unify users experience of structured and unstructured data. But then they started getting into the bits about the product. We were only shown a limited number of screen shots but we were assured that it is a functional product that Microsoft are dog fooding it worldwide and across all groups, some 1600 users.
Its a server based product that includes Business Scorecard Manager and Proclarity functions. It uses SQL Server 2005 as its data store and makes the most of Analysis Services. It wont work on SQL Server 2000, but no surprise there, but Excel 2003 will be supported. It seems it will also require Sharepoint to deliver a lot of the functionality.
The idea is that an IT department will set up a model of the business measures by defining cubes etc. They will also define the access writes for this model which can be granular down to cell level.
This model is then published to the server. It can then be used by the whole organization to build scorecards, reports and spreadsheets. The idea is that by rolling this functionality out to a much lower level than before users can work with metrics that actually mean something to them and their work.
It also means that there has to be a big drive to consolidating and unifying the data. I can see master data management becoming a major issue here.
There was no specific mention of a price for all of this but it was said the the intention was to "price to allow a broad distribution". Now that should be scaring some of the other big players out there!
There is a major push going on for this to become a fully integrated part of the Dynamics suite and I can see that being a major driver. This area was not covered in any great depth but in the Q and A session it was mentioned that the Microsoft FRX (forecast and reporting suite for Dynamics GP (Great Plains)) team was working hard on an integration and I expect that the GP product will debut this first. It would make sense as they have a web portal and the likes of Axapta would be a much harder proposition.
In order to be SoX compliant every action can be logged and locked down. No read access means no visibility.
The time scales mentioned were Nov 06 for a beta of Biz Sharp which is part of the infrastructure then a full beta in Q2 2007. This will include a beta update to the Business Scorecard Manager. A full road map will be released this summer. Lets hope the Office team have not lost the ability to keep to their timetables.
I have kept the best for last!
One of the big killer punches was the ability to do 360 degree forecasting in a workflow environment. The way it seems to work is that an addin to Excel can download a report that shows, for example, actual spend, and then has cells where users can enter forecasts.
This spreadsheet can be taken off line.
When the forecast has been entered it is submitted which locks it and when the user is next connected the forecast is uploaded to the server where it can be passed along a workflow and then rolled up into the organization’s forecasts.
If they get this right and the screen sots indicated they have it will be a major winner. Similar functionality has been available to FRX users but purely in a finance environment and primarily for GP finance but this is way ahead of that.
If the other BI vendors dont look long and hard at their margins and business model then I foresee some running out of money fast when this is launched.