SAP, Microsoft Make BI Acquisitions

SAP announced a deal to acquire OutlookSoft, a Stamford, Conn.-based maker of planning, budgeting and forecasting software. Terms were not disclosed.

OutlookSoft's expertise could bolster SAP's push into analytics. The OutlookSoft buy "makes a lot of sense, as the existing SAP [Strategic Enterprise Managment] product line, which addresses the same function areas as OutlookSoft, has proven very slow to take on the likes of Hyperion, Cartesis, OutlookSoft, Infor and Cognos," said David Jones, director at Paragon Consulting, a London-based performance management specialist.

"We found that in the Anglo-Saxon markets, less than 10 percent of these large companies were using SAP SEM. And even across the whole of our survey, including Germany, Switzerland, Austria, only 29 percent were using SAP SEM solutions for consolidation and planning, even though over 65 percent were using SAP R/3 as their core ERP platform," Jones wrote via e-mail.

Microsoft, meanwhile, said it has acquired OfficeWriter a product by Watertown, Mass.-based SoftArtisans.

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Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes said Wednesday that OfficeWriter, combined with SQL Server Reporting Services, will enable business users to author and consume managed reports in their Microsoft Office applications.

The SAP and Microsoft deals, plus Oracle's recently closed acquisition of Hyperion, show that interest in BI among major software players is at fever pitch -- and that the days of pure-play BI players could be numbered.

Business Objects, one of those pure play BI vendors, recently bought Cartesis. And there's been buzz that IBM might acquire Cognos, a stand-alone BI player and a close IBM partner.

Ottawa-based Cognos clearly feels there's plenty of room for a platform-agnostic BI play like theirs.

Microsoft's strategy is "very SQL Server and tools centric," said Harriet Fryman, senior director of product markeging for Cognos.

"Yes, Excel may be on everyone's desk but that doesn't mean that front-line workers are interacting with data in Excel. We think innovations like search, mobile access to data via PDAs and other devices is key. If you want to get BI to everyone, you have to get to every delivery vehicle and not everyone lives in Excel every day."

As for SAP/OutlookSoft, Fryman said SAP has bought a technology that is very Microsoft-centric and must integrate its own technology with it. "OutlookSoft is not certified against SAP," she noted.

Cognos, SAS Institute and others see their BI tools as tapping into all the relevant platforms and that customers will continue to want that freedom.

SAP, Microsoft and Oracle see BI as a way to sell more products into current accounts and, perhaps, penetrate new customers as well. The continued focus on corporate governance is also a nagging factor in many IT buying decisions. Many IT executives feel that their companies already have tons of data at their disposal, so the problem now is making it relevant and accessible in the right format.

In other BI-related news, Microsoft said its PerformancePoint Server 2007 will ship late this summer and the long-awaited "Katmai" SQL Server database will make its debut in 2008.

Microsoft sources say a Community Technology Preview release of Katmai is due out within the month. Many partners expected the CTP to be announced and released this week at Microsoft's Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle.

On Thursday, Microsoft corporate vice president Ted Kummert is slated to talk more about Katmai, and partners said they hope he will announce the release of code as well.

STACY COWLEY contributed to this story.

This report was updated Thursday morning with Cognos reaction