Have you heard the branding “Microsoft Business Intelligence” a lot more recently? I have. It used to be something like “SQL Server Business Intelligence,” but times are changing and Microsoft is slowly cooking the frog--moving our mindsets to understand that SQL Server is only one part of BI. Instead, we need to think about Microsoft’s holistic BI platform.

Okay, I know you’re asking, “What else is there?” We’ve always had Microsoft Office, and the good news is that Microsoft will release the 2007 Office System, including Excel client and server features for BI, this year; look for a commentary about the 2007 Office System in an upcoming UPDATE Special Edition. And you might recall that I introduced Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager (BSM) in my August 2005 UPDATE Special Edition commentary (http://www.sqlmag.com/articles/index.cfm?articleid=47487&). BSM will be only one of many BI applications that Microsoft will release this year and in the future.

Some of you already know Bill Baker as Microsoft’s general manager for BI, and perhaps you’ve caught one of his many keynote presentations.

During the SQL Server 2005 development cycle, Baker owned development for all the BI components; when the 2005 release shipped, Microsoft told Bill he’d done a great job, but it was time to broaden his scope and turn his attention to BI applications. The development group that built BSM, dubbed Office Business Applications (OBA), had already warmed a seat for him. I think Baker’s involvement in the OBA team is good news all around. Microsoft’s development investments and adjustments of key leadership positions are solid proof that it intends to have a holistic BI platform.

Though it’s too early to unveil specifics, the next project for the OBA team will take Microsoft into the forecasting, consolidation, and financial analysis arena. OBA is developing a solution based on an Excel-heavy client toolset coupled with a dynamic application server solution; for lack of branding and specific official announcements, let’s just call it “financial planning” for now. Long-standing competitors own the financial-analysis arena, so entering this market space is an interesting move for Microsoft because it often places business focuses before technology focuses. But lest there be any doubts about Microsoft’s strategy, customers’ overwhelming interest in the new financial-planning application has forced Microsoft to be selective in its choice of its “financial planning” beta clients, just as it did in it beta cycles for BSM.

Be sure to keep an eye on Microsoft’s BI site (http://www.microsoft.com/bi). The site still focuses on SQL Server, but you’ll witness a steady evolution as Microsoft adds new BI applications to its BI platform. And if a financial-planning project is on your horizon, soon Microsoft will have a new option for you.