Last week I got to spend Monday and Tuesday with 344 of my closest friends in the business intelligence (BI) community, and 70 more of them couldn't even join me—they got "wait-listed. " I was in Redmond at the Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager Airlift. Microsoft kicks off every new product or release with an Airlift event that offers a few days of intense product information and training. For a new product like Business Scorecard Manager (BSM), Microsoft usually considers the Airlift well attended if 100 people sign up, let alone 415!

A lot of you are asking, "What's the big deal? " especially if you're unfamiliar with business scorecards. If you dig into Microsoft's description of BSM, formerly codenamed "Maestro, " you'll see it described as a "new server-based business performance management scorecard application \[that\] leverages the power of the Microsoft Office System to help organizations build, manage and use scorecards and key performance indicators (KPIs), and perform deep analysis—all within an intuitive, collaborative environment. " Their description—aside from the gratuitous mention of the Office System—pretty much sums up the objective of that segment of the BI market. To get the general scoop on BSM, check out the resources on the Microsoft sub-site: http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=11655:7C9F1 . If you want more background on Balanced Scorecards, a specific type of Business Scorecard created by Dr. Robert S. Kaplan and Dr. David P. Norton, check out the excellent resources at Balanced Scorecard Collaborative online: http://lists.sqlmag.com/t?ctl=1165C:7C9F1 .

I got some deeper insight from Oudi Antebi, the Product Manager for Business Scorecards Manager. I asked Oudi why he was excited about BSM, and he gave me several reasons. He said that according to recent research, 65 percent of all organizations are currently looking for a business scorecard solution, and "scorecarding" is the hottest trend in BI. So he's downright excited that BSM is in the right place at the right time. He also likes that BSM supports the transformation of Microsoft Office from a "suite" to a "system." A central goal of Microsoft Office is to add more functionality to current applications and to add new, relevant business applications such as BSM. BSM effectively uses the Microsoft Office System to bridge structured and unstructured data; when decision-makers evaluate business performance KPIs, they can also collaborate on linked Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. Oudi also pointed out the growing enthusiasm surrounding BSM as its expected November launch approaches. Already there are 1300 BSM beta customers. This is astounding because the "pure-play" business scorecard vendors (those primarily dedicated to one product, unlike Microsoft) consistently close about 100 client deals a year—BSM already has 1300 clients and it hasn't even been released!

Other factors contribute to Oudi's excitement about BSM. First, BSM is built on or integrates with familiar technologies such as SharePoint, Office, and SQL Server, so Microsoft partners love BSM because they can ramp up quickly and can extend and integrate it in many ways. Independent software vendors (ISVs) love it because they can easily include it in their products or provide integration with it. But another reason Oudi and 1300 Beta customers like BSM is that, feature-for-feature, it's the best business scorecard application on the market. Microsoft would be reluctant to make statements like that, except that they invested a lot of time and money on comprehensive third-party research and competitive analysis.

So, if you're tasked with helping decision-makers better understand how their business is performing, consider investigating BSM. You'll find that it delivers plenty of empowering features for developers as well as end users.