Educating the Masses

After decades of being a technology used almost exclusively by IT administrators, professional researchers and power users, archrivals IBM and Microsoft this fall will place business intelligence in the hands of the great, gray mass of desktop users for a wide range of commercial applications.

IBM was on target to deliver its Workplace For Business Strategy Execution program by the end of October. Formerly code-named Teton, the program is a slick-looking graphical presentation layer that aggregates far-flung, server-based data residing on portals and business-intelligence systems and presents it through a scorecard-type interface.

The program makes it possible for anyone in a company to view the progress of short- or long-term projects based on the latest information.

"It's a tool that helps a company identify how they want to implement a strategy in real concrete and measurable steps," says Rebecca Buisan, market manager with IBM's Lotus Workplace Solutions Team. "It also gives the view of what those objectives are and links everyone in an organization so each one can see how they are contributing to the overall strategy."

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Late this fall, Microsoft is scheduled to deliver its Office Business Scorecard Manager, formerly code-named Maestro, which is intended to empower desktop users to build and manage their own scorecards and reports. The product will provide employees access to the latest corporate information and show how a particular project is aligning with the company's overall goals at any given time.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft's strategy is to tie its product, which is server-based, as tightly as it can to its Office 2003 desktop suite of applications, as well as to its SharePoint Portal Server. By doing so, company officials believe they give VARs a better chance to build solutions on top of the application suite.

"Our mission is to have BI touch all decisions in a company, and the way this product can deliver on this is by weaving BI into the Microsoft tools people use every day, like Office," says Chris Caren, general manager of Microsoft's Office business Applications Group.

Some VARs see scorecards or dashboards as an opportunity to climb into the business-intelligence arena, an area that otherwise would be too expensive and time-consuming because of training and software costs for their technical staffs.

"When people talk BI, typically it is about some corporatewide implementation that reaches maybe 5 percent of the people, and there is a lot of integration on the back end," says Henry Bestritsky, co-CEO of New York-based Binary Tree.

Increasingly, however, companies have approached Binary Tree asking for lower-cost dashboard products that can help them integrate and present information from a number of departmental applications that everyone can view, Bestritsky says.

As both a consultant and ISV, Bestritsky says he sees these dashboard programs as a way to make money not only on scorecarding programs themselves, but on other business programs and services associated with it.

"From a service perspective, it lets me get a foot in the door and into other areas of the company. As an ISV, it lets me build products that can integrate with [Workplace For Business Strategy Execution] and to leverage other IBM technologies," Bestritsky says.

IBM admits that its partners will play a critical role in helping the product gain broad-based acceptance. The company has both a managed beta program for selected partners as well as an open beta where anyone can download the beta.