VARs Say PerformancePoint Will Add Muscle To BI Lineup

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"Excel is the main budgeting tool for a lot of companies. It's great for data entry, but it's a pain in the neck for people trying to do financial analysis," said Per Solli, CEO of Solver, an analytics integrator in Los Angeles. "IT departments have had to deal with so many one-off models, it's been a nightmare. Total cost of ownership is going to go down dramatically."

One early PerformancePoint tester backed that view.

"I believe what differentiates this solution from others is its common user interface with Excel and the extension of our current investment in Microsoft's BI tools," said Tim Case, CIO of Combe, a consumer personal-care products maker in White Plains, N.Y.

Combe is working with Microsoft systems integrator Altara, Basking Ridge, N.J., on its PerformancePoint project.

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Microsoft's new performance-management application incorporates technology from and will supersede ITS Business Scorecard Manager 2005 and software from the company's recent ProClarity acquisition. PerformancePoint is intended to handle scorecarding, analytics, planning, forecasting and reporting tasks. Microsoft cast the new product as the linchpin of its BI line, which also includes Excel, SharePoint and SQL Server.

"We've aligned our investment across the company to be able to deliver a complete and integrated product line," said Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes about the new offering. Microsoft plans to work closely with partners to promote its expanded BI offerings, he said. "We've really increased the partnering activity that we're doing, from global systems integrators to regional specialists," he said. "In the past nine months, we've been able to train 500 partners."

PerformancePoint 2007 is slated for release in mid-2007, with a beta program scheduled to launch this fall. Customers who bought ProClarity Analytics or Business Scorecard Manager and Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing plan will receive a free direct upgrade to similar functionality in PerformancePoint 2007, according to Microsoft.

PerformancePoint will pit Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft against existing BI leaders such as Cognos, Hyperion and SAS, but those rivals say they're unfazed by Microsoft's entry. They point to Microsoft's traditionally long development time frames and say they expect it will take several years for the company to have a complete, competitive BI suite.

"What they're talking about is interesting, but it's what we've had for some time, and all their pieces aren't really available yet," said Neal Hill, senior vice president of corporate development at Cognos, Ottawa.