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Introduction to Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007

Originally published July 18, 2007

Microsoft intends to change the business intelligence (BI) market with PerformancePoint. The companies participating in the BI landscape started to change dramatically as Microsoft was announcing its planned new release. Oracle has taken over Hyperion, Business Objects purchased Cartesis and SAP acquired OutlookSoft, just to name a few of the changes. There is a sense of more changes to come, as the lines between business intelligence, performance management and process management continue to blur.

A dramatically lower price point per user from Microsoft translates into business intelligence becoming much more affordable for more organizations, both within specific departments and enterprise-wide. Even though BI applications have been available from Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion, OutlookSoft, SAS and others, the high cost of ownership has prevented many companies from making business intelligence available for an enterprise-wide audience. Although there are many positive end-user benefits that will result from the Microsoft launch, both from Microsoft and their partners, end users should be aware that this is the first commercial product release on this new platform. A rigorous pre-release program has allowed us to have a good insight into the benefits of the Microsoft platform, but it has also identified some challenges that buyers should be aware of as they consider near term purchases.

What is PerformancePoint?

According to Microsoft, “Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 provides all of the functionality that is needed for performance management including scorecards, dashboards, management reporting, analytics, planning, budgeting, forecasting, and consolidation. The application reaches all employees, across all business functions (finance, operations, marketing, sales, and human resources).”

At a more tactical level, PerformancePoint enhances and places structure around the financial data collection processes. Workflow, security, assignments, and form management are all configurable. Custom business rules can be defined, and processes can be put in place to move and manipulate data. Advanced consolidation features such as intercompany eliminations and foreign currency conversions are built in.

The Microsoft PerformancePoint platform leverages a suite of products including Business Scorecard Manager, ProClarity, the PerformancePoint Business Modeler, the PerformancePoint Server and the PerformancePoint Excel Add-In. Business Scorecard Manager and ProClarity are available today in their more generic forms; both products will tightly integrate with the PerformancePoint Server. The PerformancePoint Business Modeler, Server and the Excel Add-In are scheduled to become available later this year along with the integrated versions of ProClarity and Business Scorecard Manager.

Information Delivery and Collection

ProClarity is an information delivery tool that provides interactive reports, ad hoc analysis, decomposition trees, heat maps and graphs. Business Scorecard Manager enables the creation and delivery of dashboards that contain KPIs, scorecards, graphs and pivot tables. ProClarity and Business Scorecard Manager each have their unique strengths, but they do overlap in some areas as both can be used for dashboards, scorecards, reports, and graphs.

The PerformancePoint Excel Add-In can not only produce asymmetrical Excel-based reports, but can also use the reports for data collection. The Excel Add-In works in concert with workflow features such that the administrator can precisely define what form to use to collect specific data from an identified set of users. This data collection mechanism, though precise, may be too restrictive for some implementations. Exporting data in an ad hoc fashion directly into PerformancePoint without the restrictions imposed by workflow is not possible by the business user. The sole other way to deposit data into PerformancePoint involves copying data to the PerformancePoint relational staging area and loading it into the system. Microsoft does provide a few stored procedures which will check the data for errors before loading; after that, you are on your own.

SharePoint Server 2007 or SharePoint Services can be used as the web front end. By using SharePoint web parts, the PerformancePoint data can be presented from SQL Server Reporting Services, ProClarity, and Business Scorecard Manager. In addition, SharePoint Server 2007 can present PerformancePoint data in live, interactive Excel pivot tables and charts over the web. The integration between PerformancePoint reporting and SharePoint is pretty good, providing the end user with interactive reports, and a common user interface that integrates the data from the multiple information delivery tools. SharePoint is easy for the end user, making it appealing for nontechnical executive users that require information delivered over the web.

PerformancePoint Business Modeler

The PerformancePoint Business Modeler is a Windows application in which the administrator creates and maintains the various PerformancePoint objects (dimensions, models, workflow, work assignments, business rules, security, etc.). The Business Modeler user interface does not have the same look and feel as the other Microsoft Office 2007 products (or Office 2003 for that matter).

Under the hood is SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Edition with Analysis Services (required). The PerformancePoint Business Modeler is fairly easy to use. It allows business users to easily manage the application objects that would otherwise have to be managed in the much more complex SQL Server Business Intelligence Development Studio. Business-like terminology replaces the more technical sounding Microsoft Analysis Services (MSAS) language. In addition to managing MSAS objects (dimensions, models, security, etc.), the administrator also manages PerformancePoint workflows, processes, PerformancePoint Expression Language (PEL) scripts, etc. The interface can get busy, but to the Modeler’s credit, it is doing some pretty complex things.

PerformancePoint Business Modeler utilizes the financial intelligence built into MSAS. Different types of accounts are available in the account dimension, such as income, expense, balance, statistical, etc. Other built-in dimensions have similar options. Based upon the type of model built, PerformancePoint will automatically generate the business rules for the model. Dimensions can be shared across models. Dimensions and their hierarchies can be loaded from external sources.

Performance has been what you would expect from MSAS; however, aggregations need to be designed outside of PerformancePoint using the Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS).

Going through the process of creating a simple application, some users may find challenges in the following areas:

  • The immutability of the time dimension – once the time dimension is created for an application and saved, it cannot be changed other than adding additional time periods out toward the future. Therefore, it is not possible to have more than one calendar at a time in the application as alternate hierarchical rollups are not allowed in the time dimension.

  • Alternate rollups are possible in generic dimensions through the use of views on properties, but you need to give up the familiar PerformancePoint Business Modeler dimension maintenance interface.

  • As mentioned earlier, other than Excel, the only other way to deposit data into PerformancePoint involves copying data to the PerformancePoint relational staging area and loading it into the system. Microsoft does not provide assistance for loading data through staging other than a how-to guide and some stored procedures.

Summary

Overall, Microsoft is on the right track. PerformancePoint will fill the needs for many organizations. We expect future versions will address some of the short-term issues and Microsoft will fill in the gaps to make the platform even more capable.

If you are a Microsoft shop and your BPM initiative is in its planning stage, then you should definitely consider integrating Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 into your plans. At the same time, expect there will be some release 1.0 issues to address. Some can be managed with logical workarounds, but as with any other major enterprise software platform, some will require patience as Microsoft works through their market launch.

If you are already negotiating with BPM vendors, this launch should help you apply price pressure on them. In addition, you should also consider how elements of PerformancePoint could be part of your BPM infrastructure in the future.

  • Russell Damske
    Russ has worked in the performance management space for 20 years, starting with IMRS which later evolved into Hyperion Software and Hyperion Solutions. Russ has hands-on experience in financial consolidations and reporting, OLAP, planning, data warehousing, data mining and software development. Russ is currently a Principal and owner of Perfiniti LLC.
 

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