It’s just another BI app
In a recent poll, 78 percent of SQL Server Magazine readers said they wanted to learn more about Microsoft’s new business-performance management application, PerformancePoint Server (PPS) 2007, and another 4 percent said they were already testing it. Those numbers indicate that a lot of database implementers are interested in a product Microsoft is pitching to business decision makers (BDMs) rather than technical decision makers (TDMs). According to Bill Baker, general manager of Microsoft’s business intelligence (BI) applications division, just about the only involvement that SQL Server professionals should have with PPS is making sure their data is “right, clean, consistent, integrated…. That’s the domain of SQL Server.” Baker and Microsoft are emphatic that PPS is “just an application” like any other business application and that its intended importance is in giving end users access to BI capability without the need for IT intervention.
It’s Not About Database Performance
Perhaps one reason readers have expressed so much interest in learning about PPS is that the product’s name creates confusion by incorporating the word “performance.” Just to be clear, the “performance management” this product addresses has nothing to do with how fast your queries run or whether your resource utilization is optimal. PPS is about business effectiveness. In the business context, “performance management includes activities to ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner. Performance management can focus on performance of the organization, a department, processes to build a product or service, employees, etc.” (http://www.managementhelp.org/perf_mng/perf_mng.htm). As Baker puts it, “Performance management sits on top of good clean data and gives employees the ability to get good insights. Think about it as being that kind of corporate decision-making function.”
Now that we’re clear on the type of “performance” this product addresses, what is PPS 2007? Baker explains that “technically, \[PPS 2007 is\] the next generation of the Business Scorecard Manager 2007, the next generation of ProClarity, and the first generation of what used to be called BizSharp.” Functionally, PPS is a BI application that supports “a sort of natural progression of thinking from looking backwards at what happened, to examining what is happening now and wondering why, to trying to forecast what will happen, and trying to plan what I want to have happen. We call that ‘monitor, analyze, plan.’ We wanted to build elements that speak to each of those in the corporate context. PerformancePoint has a monitoring component, which is score-carding. It has an analytics component, which is an add-in to the Excel experience and to the browser experience. And then it has full-fledged planning functionality.”
Just an Application
If PPS is just another BI application that uses SQL Server data, do DBAs need to know anything about it? According to Baker, what SQL Server professionals need to know about PPS is that “\[it runs\] on a database. It has to be provisioned. The server has to be up, permissions have to be granted, backups have to be scheduled, and the whole thing. It’s just like any other app. \[It’s\] totally on top of SQL Server. \[It uses\] the relational engine. \[It uses\] the Analysis Services engine. \[It uses\] the Reporting Services engine. \[It doesn’t\] directly drive Integration Services, but that’s part of that first step of the IT department using Integration Services to get that clean data. So \[PPS\] consume\[s\] all of SQL Server.”
But, Baker emphasizes, “The loop we’re trying to break up somewhat is that the business users know what the business rules are. IT knows how to implement them. Even in great companies, that \[combination\] doesn’t run at the speed of business, so we wanted to allow the business users to have a much tighter feedback loop. We want to cut that cycle down by having a tool that they can sit down and use together. One of our ambitions (we haven’t accomplished this in v1) was that the business users could push a button and deploy the solution. The truth is IT is chasing this in a funny way. The business users are bringing the demand so much faster, and the IT departments are just trying to keep up. It’s a tough job being in IT because people like me are telling business people your company can improve using BI and performance management. And the business users are demanding more and more while cutting IT budgets at the same time. Just to get it down to basics, technically \[PPS is\] an application.”
PPS is targeted at large enterprises, and it gives Microsoft access to BDMs who until now haven’t seen a need to engage with the company. Baker says, “We’re trying to add the business person to the equation. I think you’re going to see a lot of top-down drive \[to purchase PPS\]—more than we’ve ever seen before. I think it’s going to create a new conversation for us that we never used to have with the business person.”
To help reach this new market, Microsoft has tried to price PPS attractively. When the product becomes commercially available, the pricing will be a server CAL, at $20,000 per server (not per processor), and $195 per user. Because PPS has a large footprint, the product requires SQL Server Enterprise Edition. For more information about PPS, go to the Microsoft PPS 2007 Web site (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/performancepoint/fx101680481033.aspx). To sign up for the PerformancePoint Server 2007 Community Technology Preview program, go to http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/performancepoint/fx101680481033.aspx.