Beefing Up the Role of Office in Business Intelligence

Microsoft will move more aggressively into the business intelligence market, and the Microsoft Office suite will play a big role in the effort, Microsoft Business Division president Jeff Raikes said Monday.

Raikes' news conference comes about two weeks before the formal launch of the first new version of Microsoft's flagship database in five years. SQL Server 2005 includes numerous enhancements to SQL Server's business intelligence capabilities in addition to other database functions, such as transaction processing, database management and rapid application development.

Raikes outlined an approach to business intelligence that is classic Microsoft -- building on a massive existing installed base, in this case Office, and undercutting competitors' prices. While Raikes described a long-range companywide push, he had two immediate product announcements related to the effort. Microsoft is launching a server product called Business Scorecard Manager 2005 on Nov. 1. The company is also building business intelligence enhancements into Excel "12," the version of the company's spreadsheet software due to ship late next year.

"It's clearly a natural extension of the Office business," Raikes said of Microsoft's business intelligence plans. Under the recent Microsoft corporate reorganization, Raikes added Microsoft Business Solutions division to his existing duties of managing the $11 billion Office business.

He framed the existing business intelligence opportunity by drawing a parallel to another Office product, Microsoft Word. "Business intelligence today has the characteristics of Wang word processing, or back-room word processing, 20 years ago," Raikes said in an analogy he returned to several times. According to Raikes, Wang-era word processing was inconvenient, difficult to use and too expensive. Business intelligence products today share the same problems, Raikes claimed.

It is not the first time Microsoft has positioned Office components as business intelligence clients. Raikes acknowledged past attempts to present Microsoft Excel as a BI client because of its pivot tables and other features dating back as far as the launch of SQL Server 7.0 in late 1998.

A difference this time is a larger R&D budget, which Raikes said amounts to $10s to $100s of millions. Another difference this time that separates Microsoft from its competitors, Raikes said, is a growing stack of software and services that allows data to exist on fat clients, on servers and in services, giving users more opportunities to work with data when and where they need it.

In any case, the business intelligence push is clearly one way Microsoft hopes to drive upgrades to the next version of Office. By repositioning the desktop productivity suite within an integrated business intelligence toolset, Microsoft is honing one of several messages for the large group of customers who are satisfied with their older versions of Office and resistant to upgrades.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.