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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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October 6, 2008 11:36 AM

Microsoft's vision for business intelligence for everyone, even in 'Halo 3'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft wants to "democratize" business intelligence software so that everyone who does office work can know when they're missing their quarterly targets, not just the 10 to 25 percent of employees who do now. At its business intelligence conference in Seattle today, executives laid out their strategy to expand usage of this category of software.

Business intelligence software seeks to solve what Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop called the data challenge: Information workers are faced with a growing deluge of data, but they struggle to pinpoint the specific information they need to make timely decisions, he said.

Microsoft's business intelligence offerings sit on top of the company's SQL Server database software and form components of its Dynamics line of customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning products. A major selling point is the familiar Office user interface.

The software generates a real-time heads-up-display of business metrics such as production and sales, tracked visually with charts and symbols. The data can be overlaid on maps and augmented with external sources. An oil company production manager, for example, may want a real-time view of the weather at the rigs he's responsible for.

Guy Weismantel, Microsoft's director of business intelligence marketing, told the audience of about 3,000 people at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center this morning that Microsoft wants to make these capabilities pervasive.

Already, Weismantel said, people are encountering "business intelligence" in lots of places. "Business intelligence is in Xbox," he said, acknowledging that it's an unlikely place to find the technology. Specifically, "Halo 3" players get real-time stats such as their standing versus other online competitors and their most effective weapons.

Elop, who joined Microsoft 10 months ago, replacing Jeff Raikes, said the company is focused "on the democratization of business intelligence: The goal of putting business intelligence capabilities into as many hands as possible, in a way that is suitable to the needs and level of sophistication of the users."

To that end, the company announced an effort called Gemini, described in a press release as "a set of managed self-service analysis capabilities and deep integration with SharePoint and Excel. Gemini enables users to perform managed self-service analysis and intuitively build their own BI solutions with minimal dependence on IT. Gemini is also an IT managed infrastructure that allows end users to produce, consume and collaborate on personal BI results while allowing IT to capture business insights in the process."

The business intelligence market has consolidated in the last decade, with four major players remaining: SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.

In a bid to better compete for the high-end of the database market, to which business intelligence is closely linked, Microsoft acquired DATAllegro earlier this year. Today, the company announced a project, named "Madison," to integrate DATAllegro's high-end data warehousing appliance with Microsoft's own SQL Server.

From the release: "Madison will provide an appliance-like solution in collaboration with hardware partners Dell, HP, Unisys, Bull Systems and EMC, enabling customers to customize the appliance to conform to their existing hardware environment."

(Late last month, Oracle teamed with HP on a similar-sounding appliance.)

Madison is due in the first half of 2010, along with an update to SQL Server 2008, code named Kilimanjaro, that will update the software for the kind of self-service business intelligence Elop described.

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