Connecting Microsoft Office Users to Business Insights



Lewis Levin, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Office Business Applications

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 23, 2005 – Today, Microsoft is announcing new Microsoft Office technologies designed to connect the information workers who use Microsoft Office software every day with the business information they need to make faster and more informed decisions. PressPass spoke with Lewis Levin, corporate vice president of the Office Business Applications group, to learn more.

PressPass: What is being announced today?

Levin: We’re announcing that Microsoft is significantly increasing, aligning and broadening our investments in business intelligence (BI). Office and the Microsoft Office System are going to play a much bigger role. Specifically, we’re shipping the newest Office system product – the Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005, and we are also previewing new Office “12” BI features, which are a big, new focus for Microsoft Excel and SharePoint. With this new product and the new Office features, Microsoft will make BI tools accessible to more people and more mainstream within organizations.

PressPass: What do you mean when you say “make BI mainstream”?

Levin: Well, today, BI solutions are costly and complex to use and deploy. BI solutions only reach a fraction of the people within an organization who would benefit from the ability to access and analyze business data in a rich way. Our goal is to address the unrealized potential of BI by providing a simple user experience through Microsoft Office and by applying our low-cost, high volume approach to the market. We think decision makers – at all levels within an organization – can drive improved business performance if they have the right data, at the right time, in the right format. That’s our focus – we want Microsoft Business Intelligence to touch as many decisions in an organization as possible.

Let me give you an example to illustrate the potential. Imagine a workplace where business reports won’t just be a static collection of numbers that reflect the judgment of whoever gathered them. Instead, reports will be an entry point into whatever issue is being addressed. The report will contain links to all the underlying data, plus the tools for navigating through all the reports that were summarized in the report. No longer will a manager have to make a bunch of phone calls about an anomaly. If, say, a revenue number on a summary includes some data point that is well outside the norm, the software will automatically flag the outlier.

PressPass: What’s significant about the improvements planned for Excel in Office “12”, how does that relate to BI?

Levin: Excel is clearly where information workers like to analyze, format and share data. Case in point, almost every single BI tool has an “export-to-Excel” button. But so far, Excel has not been a starting point for secure data access and analysis. With Office “12,” we’re making Excel a great BI tool for end users. Instead of creating a new tool, we’re building BI into Excel so people can securely access, work with, and share business information all within a tool they know. Office “12” Excel will deliver improvements like style galleries and advanced visualization capabilities that make it quick and easy to build professional-quality spreadsheets. It will also deliver complete support for SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services so you can establish a permanent connection between a spreadsheet and your enterprise data – so you can update the spreadsheet with the latest numbers, or “drill” to the next level of detail with the click of a mouse.

I’ll give you a scenario. At one time or another, most retail executives have asked a question which isn’t easily found in the company’s data archives, like the profitability of a particular product. But the business’s IT system may only calculate profitability down to the level of departments. Today, a specialist still has to dig into the data manually. The work can be done, but it’s slow, hard and expensive. With Office “12” Excel, you can preserve the connection to the data source so employees can drill down for additional context on data, and understand what’s going on with the numbers they see. That’s going to help the employee make faster, more informed decisions.

In Office “12” Excel we’re also adding server-side capabilities that make it easier to secure, manage and collaborate with others on spreadsheets – effectively making Excel a more secure and manageable data analysis and presentation tool. Instead of e-mailing Excel worksheets and changing and storing them in multiple places on the network, you have one version of the worksheet in one place – and people can access it with just a browser or with Excel.

PressPass: How do SharePoint products and technologies factor into BI?

Levin: In Office “12”, SharePoint products and technologies become a comprehensive BI Portal for all of the BI content and end-user capabilities in SQL Server Reporting Services and Microsoft Office, providing secure access to business information in one place. There’s a new “Report Center” feature that will make it easy to get a report and data portal up and running in no time. And, of course, Business Scorecard Manager works with our current SharePoint technologies and will also light up some of the new Office “12” features.

PressPass: How big is the market for BI solutions? And, do you see this as a departure from the traditional Office focus on productivity software?

Levin: The business analytics market is a roughly US$15 billion market, according to IDC. Today, Microsoft has a good foundation in this market with SQL Server at the platform level and Excel at the client-level. Now we’re focused on a complete BI offering that appeals directly to business users and business decision-makers. The BI investments we’re making in Microsoft Office – significant enhancements in existing products like Excel and SharePoint and new server products like the Office Business Scorecard Manager – are a very natural extension of our Office System strategy. Accessing information, gaining insights from it, sharing the insight, and acting on decisions fits with how customers use Microsoft Office already. They’ll be more productive and make better decisions with our new BI investments in Office.

PressPass: Tell me about the group that you lead, the Office Business Applications group.

Levin: We formed this group about four years ago to focus on turning Business Intelligence into applications. For most customers today, BI is about building something from scratch. But, other major software categories have shifted to customizable business applications. So, we set out to do this on the Microsoft BI platform, SQL Server, with the user experience in Microsoft Office. Along the way, we discovered that customers want lots of their business applications to be more effective, useful and usable – and customers see performing key business processes in Office as the way to accomplish that. So, we’ve expanded the group’s charter to making Microsoft Office the preferred place for users to access business information and perform business processes. Both of our group’s announced products reflect this charter: Office Business Scorecard Manager for BI and a product code-named “Mendocino,” which we are co-developing with SAP, to bring business processes into Microsoft Office. We’re off to an exciting start with more to come.

PressPass: What differentiates Microsoft’s BI approach and solutions from other companies who’ve been successful in this market?

Levin: First is making BI an integral part of the Microsoft Office System – where people work and collaborate today. Customers consistently and emphatically say that this is what they want. Take the Office Business Scorecard Manager, which we’re launching, as a prime example. We’re delivering this very rich scorecarding application at a fraction of the cost of competing scorecard solutions. And it runs on SharePoint so it’s simple for decision-makers at all levels within an organization to build, manage and use scorecards. Collaborative BI is easy – SharePoint makes it easy to work with others, add other information, and even automatically notify users of changed information. It takes advantage of a company’s existing skills and technology investments so they get more value with less cost and time.

PressPass: What benefit will Microsoft Dynamics customers receive from Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005?

Levin: The combined capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics and Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager offer a comprehensive way for organizations to gain deeper contextual insight into what business drivers matter most to their business, helping the entire organization move forward with common purpose and direction.  By taking advantage of “out-of-the-box” or available, straight-forward methods to move key financial, CRM and supply-chain data to Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services cubes, Microsoft Dynamics customers can quickly take advantage of the rich key performance indicators and view that data in Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005.

PressPass: What other investments is Microsoft making in BI?

Levin: Without getting into specifics, what we’ve announced today is not the end; we have more coming. Business Intelligence is not just a set of products. It is an activity or process that people in organizations do. We think it has been too hard to build business intelligence into the processes people follow when they make decisions. This is an area where we are continuing to make big investments. We think BI is an important area of expansion for Microsoft.