Microsoft BI conference in Stockholm 5 October 2007.

Conclusion

  1. Great interest – 1250 persons
  2. Steve Ballmer same message as in Seattle.
  3. Announcement of PerformencePoint Server – to be tested.

The story.

Living in the south of Sweden meant I had to start off this day early, so my wife was not too happy when the alarm started at a quarter to five. Using SAS and the Arlanda Express I arrived 8.30 at the entrance of Berns where the conference was held, half an hour before they promised to close the doors. Security this day meant we were not supposed to carry our outdoor jackets or any suitcases of any kind. A lot of people with high expectations had already gathered and I managed to get some breakfast and a cup of coffee before I decided to get a seat quite close to the scene.

At nine prompt the scene was entered by Thomas Andersson and Marcus Gullberg, who were our hosts today. They told us that they were very happy, that we were so many, 1250 persons, which is impressive and really gives the feeling that this is a serious effort on Microsoft’s behave of getting into the marketplace of BI and trying to change it into a more democratic approach. We were also told that the total Swedish market for 2007 was expected to be 7 billion SEK. I always wonder were these figures come from?? I have no clue, but they always tell them in a very convincing way? I mean, if we split them on 1250 we would each get more than 5 million SEK 2007. I am happy if I in my company reach 900′. So? Who gets the rest? They also told us that Gartner has estimated BI to be the hottest investment in IT followed by security, they opposite of BI, I mean lock in all information and hide it so it won’t harm you. They left the scene for Lars Backhans, Business & Marketing Officer of Microsoft Sweden.

I have seen Lars a lot in his career and some 12-14 years ago, when he was newly arrived from Borland into Microsoft, he was the guy convincing me that JET, the database engine of Access, was a full blown replacement of DB2 on mainframe which was my reference of a relational database at that time. Since I have been able to make living on his advice my confidence in him might be to high, which could be a reason for my view on him being biased. Today his role was to be the warm-up for Steve Ballmer. His presentation was to convince us by telling us how he is eating his own dog food, which I think is the English way of saying eating your own medicine which is the saying used in Swedish. So he described one part of his current job were BI is used. It is in the planning of where to put emphasize, when deciding which of Microsoft’s products that should be supported and how much resources different products and markets are worth. To estimate how big the market is, Microsoft collects information by using outside marketing analysis, interviewing potential customers asking two questions ‘How much will you invest in ….?’ and ‘Who is your preferred supplier?’ These two questions give an estimate of the ‘potential’ and the ‘reach’. These figures are compared with sales figures picked up in the internal systems, which gives the URP, unrealised potential. The URP then gives you advice on what and where to put in resources to reach your goals and to best use of our resources. In theory this seems wise and very rational, and he really gave me a very convincing feeling as always. Is this the secret behind Microsoft’s tremendous success? Is this the way they do it in practice? Who knows? In the middle of his presentation he got the sign that Steve has arrived. He told us the true story why he still after fifteen years loved Microsoft. It was two reasons, Bill Gates and ….., the American who best knew how to pronounce his last name in Swedish – Mr Steve Ballmer.

And there he was!! As in Seattle he told us what an honour it was for him to meet us, and we all felt warm heartened by his comment. We were told that the agenda was ‘Role of BI in Business’, the dog food story and Microsoft’s future plan in BI. He started with a big view of history; on the left side was the story about the information worker looking for a more effective way to solve his/her problem on the right hand side was the IT-department and the desire from the company of solving it’s processes in a cheaper and more efficient way. In between there was a cloud of confusion as there always has been. If I understood Steve’s picture right this was the new mission of Microsoft, clearing out this cloud. I don’t think this is history today or maybe it is. I am convinced that in the history book some hundred years from now there might be statements telling the story about the two different approaches of how computers should be utilized in the society. But, who knows?

(My thoughts) : The structured business information today governed by ERP-systems like SAP is hidden for those who need it. The truth is that still today many people don’t get the information they need to make fact based decisions on their business problems, I know because I meet them every day. They wish they could, but there is some small obstacles making it impossible…. It is bureaucracy and misplaced security around the business information of the company that make up most of these problems. But there are also technical and political issues. Many of the people I meet use Excel to do the calculations they need to make sound business decisions, but many of the figures they need are known by their ERP-system, but still they have to do their best estimates. Is this mission new for Microsoft, no I don’t think so. ODBC was their first effort of trying to break this barrier, and they almost succeeded. But then came the Internet-cloud and the mystery cloud of security. So for about ten years nothing has actually happened in this area. All of us who has been working in this arena welcome Microsoft back to the origin in their business, making facts from figures. We all know that the competitors of Microsoft have been trying to do their best to defeat them in this aspect, but I think in the long run they will lose. Most people working in an office for a company knows what type of information they need to make sound business decisions, and they should of course get the information they need for those purposes. Anyhow, that is not what is happening today, but with the support from Microsoft it might be possible to get there.

After this initial message Steve stressed how much money Microsoft has put into R/D in the BI-area, very impressive figures as always. Still one wonders, are money spent a true picture of the impact that will reach the market. The truth is that I think Microsoft have to invest ten times the money they spent ten years ago to get the same market impact. If this is due to internal inefficiencies in Microsoft or if it depends on a more demanding market, could of course be discussed. I think it could be 80% due to the inefficiencies of a bigger organisation and 20% on market demands, but any figure might be right, it only depends on your religion. Innovation is and will always be cheaper in smaller organizations, where less effort is spent on dependencies to earlier investments. The backpack you carry isn’t cheap!

After the initial presentation Steve went into his interviewing role of truth witnesses. On guy from Sandvik and one from SSAB were introduced, covering traditional Swedish manufacturing business. I think this was the most convincing part of the whole day. I got the message that these guys where happy and convinced that the solutions offered by Microsoft were good enough to make the difference. I got the feeling that Steve was impressed that BI was used in manufacturing and not only in finance as in the US. We are in the frontline in Sweden was the message brought to me. If it was just theatre I don’t know, but I believed it was realty…

Then Steve told the dog food story about how much BI was used inside Microsoft. As in Seattle he stressed the importance of Kevin Turner from Wal-Mart and how he has been working since arriving in Microsoft of making it happen. As a partner of Microsoft I have got the feeling that something has happened. A year ago I was struggling about a bug with support, and just two days after I was asked to fill in a quiz about my satisfaction, if this was pure coincidence I don’t know, anyhow it made me go to Microsoft.com to realize that two new outsiders now have reached top management, Kevin and Ray the crown princes of Microsoft. I felt relived, now could anything happen… If the dog food story is true I don’t know. I think if it was, some more stories would have been told during the day. My believe is that Microsoft as most companies today have a good view of their sales performance, and for this they use BI in one way or the other. I don’t think that Microsoft is head of their competitors (if they exist) in using BI for managing the company, to much bias is produced to convince me of that. To conclude I think the dog food story is half way true and half way wishes.

After this Steve went into the future business, telling the same story as in Seattle. They have asked the best brains they know about the future and any ideas about how to make profitable software for the next ten years. They, I don’t know if it was Bill and Steve or who ‘they’ were, has gotten 35 ideas about it, they have expected five. One of them was ‘BI for the masses’ and it was high on the priority in Redmond. One of the ideas was in interface and expression. How will I as a user express what I want? He used the example of how he expressed him self in preparation of his Europe-tourney. The only thing he said was ‘Give me my preparation for the journey’ and his assistant delivered all what he needed and wanted. I think this vision could be too tough for any computer to handle though. He used the word to get the computer to understand ‘My intent’. The other thing he stressed was self-service, which will reduce costs a lot in the BI-area. The idea was that I as a user could do it myself. But he also confessed that many reports he asked for inside Microsoft he was unable to produce. The last point mentioned was about models of business processes. They should in the future be good enough to do recommendation to line of business (LOB). I think this vision also have some years before it will arrive. Conclusion is Microsoft have the intention to make the computer to understand my intention, if it is expressed through the keyboard or by speech. Will they manage to do it? Speech recognition has been in Office since 2000 and in Sweden at least it not used at all. The last sentence about the future was ‘Software as a service’, which I also think is essential for Microsoft’s survival.

At the end he also mentioned that he was on scene to tell us about the new product announced today ‘Performance Point Server’. He told us about all the money spent on this major investment from Microsoft. As far as I have understood this is an application developed with .net as the platform. So I mean it has to be great…. OR

After the presentation it was time for the questions from the ‘audience’. This trick is too simple. I have been asked to send in questions as many others, but using the filter of an internal from Microsoft doing the quiz doesn’t convince me. (I just say the Shah of Iran, what did he know about Khomeini.. ) To be truthful you must handle the microphone to the audience, else it won’t be convincing. I have to comment one question though, which could be worth mentioning. ‘Which is the most intelligent use of BI that you have heard of?’ The answer given by Steve was thoughtful, because what he mentioned was the Wal-Mart story, created by Kevin Turner, now at his office. I think the idea of giving the suppliers all the information and probably more than they needed in a way they could use and interpret is one of many factors about the tremendous story about the Wal-Mart phenomena, mentioned in many American business books. The information given about you and your competitor’s performance at the cashier’s desk has given a great impact on how to deliver the right goods to a reasonable price to the consumer. Coming from the south of Sweden though, I don’t see the big difference from what we call the IKEA phenomena. ‘Same, same but different…’

After Steve Ballmer, Marcus was given the opportunity of his life. I mean talk about warm-up…. Most of the time you feel that people from Microsoft are comfortable in their role of presentation, but I do understand if you are feeling a little nervous after having Steve Ballmer as warm-up. I think Marcus and Simon did a tremendous work in convincing us that BI with Microsoft is good enough and much easier to understand than most others. We were also taught that half of the BI market in 2007 in Sweden is in manufacturing and government.

Then they told us that Sharepoint is meant to expose the result from our analysis to others, I mean forget the G-disk who everyone knows well. They have got their sales quota we all know….

On the scene came Simon Lidberg to do the demo. I must say I am impressed, daring to demonstrate Performance Point Server. I have seen it in Seattle and I have seen it in Solna, so my hawk eye was on highest alert. Will it perform today??? And my answer is: I still don’t know if it is a bird or a fish. The impression you get it is a fish, I mean everyone taking a breather after getting it started in a demo… But what MS tells you is that it is a bird flying on it’s own after four years of development inside MS, with 10000 beta testers… Anyhow these brave guys got it flying. The learnt a lot since last time, because now thye told the business story before they began. So for the twelfth time at least in my life I was told the story about a bicycle manufacturer with great international business, I mean how exciting Adventure Works is… Is this, what MS has got to show?? They must have some more exciting data to display, I mean BI is about excitement for data not for technique, or.. It is at least what MS claims. What these guys showed up though was good, very good. They demonstrated that the MS solution is simple to handle, you don’t need to be an expert. The showed up how easy it is to connect and what you could achieve if you got an IT-department that has given you a connection to use from Excel 2007. They ended the demonstration with data-mining without knowledge about what you do. This approach could be dangerous, but is of course appealing, and basically it tells the story ‘BI simple don’t make simple things complicated’. I read a comment from Cognos Sweden about PPS, congratulating MS to Halo.. After this demo we had a coffee break.

After, Urban Ask from Gothenburg entered the scene, presented as the guru of BI in Sweden, and I have never heard of him.. My ears might not be of best quality, being 56 these days. Exciting guy though I must say, telling the relaxed story about BI. He was announced to tell trends in BI and CPM from the University of Gothenburg. I think his presentation is the reason why I give this seminar four out of five, not for his presentation, but from the MS perspective a choosing such a guy, when announcing PPS. He told the story which I think should be on any BI seminar; don’t be too technical, BI is the story about acting better in the real world without getting stoned in technical implementation and theory about OLAP. I was taught this lesson some fifteen years ago working with IKEA. The question raised about any issue in IT and BI was always, ‘Will this sell some more Billy?’. His mission was almost impossible but I think he did well, very well. First he claimed that CPM means a lot of competence from both a user perspective and from the organization asking for the application. If that is not available experience tells the truth, the project probably will be a failure. He also stated that CPM is top-down, meaning that if management is not involved and engaged the failure is almost impossible to avoid. The most exciting statement he did was that to most people today ERP is almost the same as SAP.. His speech was around trends in CPM and it covered six points. Firstly he talked about the rhetoric in CPM, with it specialized language making it to be technically complex. Then he spoke about the metaphors and the high focus on technologic part of the development of the products in the market place today. We also was told that Sweden is top with Switzerland and Denmark when it comes to BI-investment per capita. He ended up with the trend of packs of key indicators, at least 200 per package. And finally he talked about the trend of how to organize the implementation of CPM, it should be done through a support group containing both technical and business people… As I said a totally different approach and surprising since we were there to hear about PPS. But of course the message that Mr Ask gave is important, when implementing CPM don’t forget the human aspects! Finally he gave a hint on the hottest book for the moment ‘Competing on Analytics’.

And finally it was time for the announcement of PerformancePoint Server. We had some PP-slides to get the picture and the message was monitor, analyze and plan. A total product covering scorecards, dashboards, reporting, analytics, planning, budgeting, forecasting and consolidation, for just $20k/server and $195/CAL. ‘A complete package to the price of a fraction in the industry’. We then went into the demo that started with at least a string response time of 50-60 seconds. The public was all quite as the speaker. He then did a showcase of why the Germans had a problem with there planning and did some score carding in PPM. He went into Excel 2007 where he made a change of the plan and ended with showing up the result in the scorecard. Response time during this part was good enough. The presentation ended with some pictures telling us that the beta had been used by 10000, I wonder if my download was counted because I didn’t manage to get it sunning on my machine… And it has been under development for four years and used inside Microsoft for two years. Conclusion the product is complete already in release 1 and 1000 partnes have been educated in how to use it. I decided to give it a chance and will return with my experience later.

 

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