Crushed by Your Calendar? Try This App

REDMOND, Wash. — April 27, 2011 — As tools, email and calendars go one of two ways for many people.

“Your calendar can be on top of you, or you can be on top of your calendar,” said Tom Casey, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Business Platform Division.

Tom Casey, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Business Platform Division, and Executive Assistant Melissa Krohn use the new Calendar Analytics application to review and adjust how Casey spends his time.

To ensure he continues to operate in the latter group, Casey and his executive assistant, Melissa Krohn, are beta testers for a new business intelligence app called Calendar Analytics. The PowerPivot application retrieves meeting and other information from Exchange and presents it in a simple, easy-to-read dashboard they can use to analyze (and sometimes even change) how the executive uses his time compared to his priorities.

In honor of Administrative Professionals’ Day today, Microsoft’s Business Intelligence team is offering the application free along with an informational video to introduce the app.

For Casey and Krohn, the information analysis helps ensure day-to-day work is contributing to larger goals.

“At the end of the day, it’s helping him, and it’s helping me manage his calendar better, and making sure I am scheduling meetings that are going to align with his commitments,” Krohn said.

On a day that most people give administrative professionals flowers, today they can have “the magic of software,” said Bruno Aziza, director of Microsoft’s Business Intelligence.

In an email-and-calendar-driven world, having a tool for everyone from administrative professionals to information workers to executives to analyze how time is spent is invaluable, he said.

“We only have a set amount of hours available throughout the week,” Aziza said, adding that the biggest difference in competitive business environments can be how effectively people use their time.

Aziza said the Business Intelligence team wanted to show people how approachable and helpful business analytical tools could be – no Ph.D. in mathematics required. Bob O’Brien, a senior director in Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) originally had the idea for the application, and refined it with help from Arun Ulagaratchagan, director of the Microsoft Business Process Management Group.

“Microsoft’s vision is to make business intelligence available to everybody. So we picked one of the biggest problems that is common to the largest number of people: time management,” Aziza said. “We think making it in an app like Excel that’s very friendly, and using your calendar which you look at on a daily basis, shows people that business intelligence is something that can be used by anybody.”

Aziza said Calendar Analytics lets people look at, and make the most of, what is perhaps people’s most valuable resource – time.

“For some of us, managing our time better can mean hours or a full day back out of the week,” Aziza said. “That’s the kind of return that we’re thinking of for this app. You’re working really hard and trying to be productive, and yet you don’t have a simple button to show you how productive you were, how you spent your time, and what you can do to change things. This is not about working more, it’s about working smarter.”

Casey, who has beta tested Calendar Analytics for more than a month along with people such as Eric Swift, general manager of Microsoft SharePoint, said the first few summaries of his calendar showed him he wasn’t necessarily spending his time the way he wanted to be, allocation-wise.

“I had drifted a little from where I wanted to be,” Casey said.

With the help of Krohn, he was able to correctly categorize all of his appointments and track his time in a highly accurate way, then make adjustments to his day-to-day schedule. How much time does he spend on one-on-one meetings? How much time does he spend answering email, traveling, on projects, or in group meetings? Krohn uses the app to quickly tell him.

Bruno Aziza, Microsoft’s director of Business Intelligence.

Before this tool, Krohn used to hand-compile information into an Excel spreadsheet when asked to present an executive with an accounting of time spent.

“I wish I could go back in time and use this app, rather than trying to pull all the information myself,” Krohn said. “As a user-friendly tool, it’s been awesome.”

A big part of Microsoft’s business intelligence (BI) strategy is to make BI personally meaningful to people, and the Calendar Analytics application is a great example of how to do that, Casey said.

“Hey, I’ve got an 8-year-old daughter. There’s nothing more precious to me than that time,” Casey said. “For me, this is a simple tool to keep track of where the personal and work blocks of time are and how I’m prioritizing. It’s also a tool that should be relatable to almost any of our customers.”

That’s music to the ears of Aziza, who is working to make the field of business intelligence more approachable.

“Our team is trying to broaden this topic that has for 25 years been couched as a narrow, complicated field. We want to help the world by making BI available to everyone, simple to understand, and make sure that, when they use BI, there is direct value they get out of it,” Aziza said.

He added: “What differentiates business intelligence at Microsoft is that we are not going to make it complicated, we’re not going to make it expensive, and we’re not going to make it impossible to use. You shouldn’t need a Ph.D. in math to draw value out of your data.”

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