The New York Times posted an article today with the amusing title, "Microsoft to Enter Market for Business Intelligence." I mean, what rock has that reporter been hiding under? Excel is at least 15 years old, SQL Server's been around for a decade, and Analysis Services (formerly OLAP Services) has been around for at least five years.
OK, well, maybe Microsoft has had bits and pieces of BI, but it's certainly no stranger to the market. It turns out that the article is actually about Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager, a part of Office that will serve as a dashboard containing key performance indicators.
Two of the three analysts quoted in the article have it right: Peter O'Kelly ('Office is becoming a platform') and Andreas Bitterer ('Microsoft isn't taking over BI anytime soon.') Howard Dresner, who until recently was the BI guru at Gartner (and who actually coined the term "BI") and is now at Hyperion, says, "Excel is part of the problem." No, it's actually BI vendors not working well with Excel that's the problem.
Actually, the longterm impact of this announcement is twofold. First, Microsoft owns the business desktop. Microsoft Office is where business people live. The Business Scorecard will continue that tradition. And frankly, the smarter BI players have figured this out. For example, Business Objects XI works very well with Office. Three and four years ago, BI players would sputter (just like Howard) that Excel was a toy, a disservice to BI, and all would be well if users just used their user interface. The smart vendors finally realized users weren't about to change, and now position their software as a data server to Excel.
Besides keeping a stranglehold on the BI user interface, the Business Scorecard will be the first introduction that many small and mid-sized businesses have to BI. And this is the more insidious result. As people like BO, Cognos, and SAS have pretty much infiltrated the Fortune 1000, they are looking for greener pastures, and the SMB segment is one of them. So the takeaway here is not so much that Microsoft will take business away from the big BI players, but that it will prevent them from moving into a market that they covet for future growth.