Microsoft Brings Analytics to the Desktop
Microsoft has taken another step toward bringing customizable business applications to the desktop. The company on Tuesday announced general availability of Dynamics CRM Analytics Foundation, a free set of prepackaged customizable BI tools and source code, for users of its Dynamics CRM software.
Using Analytics Foundation, customers and partners can either use the tools out of the box or create customized BI applications, including dashboards, to run on top of Dynamics CRM 3.0, according to Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Microsoft's intention is to provide business users with role-based access to analytical capabilities normally considered beyond their sphere of knowledge, using the tools to make them part of the everyday Dynamics CRM work environment. "We're focusing on delivering roles-based analytics that enable every person to make better decisions and allow every customer interaction to be optimized," Wilson says.
The announcement is indicative of the increasing scope of BI platforms to include more users and access more data sources, says Kurt Schlegel, research director at Gartner. Traditionally, BI was for senior executives and analysts, but many companies are now extending BI capabilities throughout the organization to operational workers and managers while the solutions themselves are increasingly relying on data from a broader array of applications and data sources. Microsoft is one of several vendors that are touting BI for the masses. Enterprise providers Oracle and SAP, and best-of-breed vendors like Business Objects, Cognos, and SAS Institute, have all begun tailoring product enhancements around this concept.
Analytics Foundation draws on Microsoft's data management and analytics capabilities contained in BI products such as its SQL Server, SharePoint portal technologies, and Office Business Scorecard Manager. The bundle includes sample code, prebuilt templates, and guidelines for building BI software on top of Dynamics CRM.
According to Microsoft, Analytics Foundation uses unified dimensional models to build analytics that can be delivered to end users in the tool of their choice. The tools cover three types of operation. Real-time business performance management is designed to provide a real-time graphical view of the company on the desktop, with drill down capabilities. Business reporting and ad-hoc analysis uses online analytical processing cubes designed to enable user to analyze Microsoft Dynamics CRM data without having to call on IT department expertise. LAst, predictive analytics makes use of the data-mining algorithms within Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services to detect patterns within customer information streams and generate recommendations.
With many customers still using Excel pivot tables for data analysis, the move is also part of Microsoft's efforts to upsell their customers to the company's new BI platform. Microsoft is offering the CRM Analytics Foundation as a no-charge, shared-source download from its open source project-hosting Web site CodePlex and from the Microsoft CRM Sandbox.
PerformancePoint Server 2007, a new Microsoft offering, is due to ship later this year as an additional component of the Analytics Foundation bundle. Currently in beta testing, PerformancePoint is a combination of Microsoft's own BI technologies and those it acquired when it purchased BI player ProClarity in 2006. PerformancePoint enables users to place their data and business rules on a central server, then integrate that data with a variety of BI functions, including planning, forecasting, analytics, and scorecarding. Microsoft is looking to integrate PerformancePoint's features into both its Dynamics CRM and ERP applications.
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