Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ottawa SharePoint User Group – PerformancePoint

Yesterday’s Ottawa SharePoint User Group was a demonstration of Microsoft PerformancePoint, given by Microsoft Canada’s Olivier van Brandeghem. PerformancePoint is a Business Intelligence product that was built on top of SharePoint (MOSS Enterprise only).

Olivier began by explaining Microsoft’s strategy of making Business Intelligence available across the organization. He pointed out that the people who tend to see Key Performance Indicators and Dashboards are be the people who are least likely to act on them directly – so it is helpful to make these sorts of dashboards available as widely as possible. He argued that this form of Business Intelligence is collaborative or “democratized”.

In order to allow this, the technical complexities (of installing the BI product, managing it, producing OLAP cubes and other data sources, and making and deploying dashboards and reports) have to be reduced. This is a key goal of PerformancePoint, and Olivier therefore focused his demo on showing how easy it was to use.

As I mentioned, PerformancePoint was previously a standalone product. As of today, April 1 (International Conficker Day!), it can no longer be purchased separately – it is part of the SharePoint Enterprise Client Access License which means if you own Enterprise MOSS, you get PerformancePoint.

This is a huge win for clients who love the idea of dashboarding and BI but can’t afford even more software licensing in addition to their SharePoint fees. It also fits well into the Enterprise SharePoint space, which also provides basic KPIs, Excel Services, Forms Services, and the underappreciated Business Data Catalogue.

Additionally, Reporting Services can be bundled with SharePoint “natively”, so the Enterprise product fit is very good. PerformancePoint is also part of recent Microsoft moves from licensing by servers, to licensing by services. This is due to the Software+Services initiative I blogged about here.

So what exactly does PerformancePoint give you? Here’s a quick list:

  • Scorecards
  • Analytics
  • Maps of business data
  • Data Linked Images
  • Search
  • Advanced Filters
  • Predictive KPIs (“You will come into some money”)
  • Planning Data

One nice feature is the Central KPI management, where you can set the KPIs in one place and share them all over a portal.

Olivier also demonstrated how Visio diagrams can be connected to KPIs. The demonstration he showed was of a hospital, which was actually a very intuitive way of showing all these capabilities. The Visio diagram for instance was a map of hospital rooms showing infection rate, patient turnover, and other metrics, and the various rooms of the hospital turned red or yellow or green depending on the KPI result.

It seems easy for end users to create their own reports, using various templates. Olivier mentioned the use of MasterPages so there can be a level of consistency in the branding (Reporting Services, are you listening?).

Strategy Map scorecards are available. These are dynamic combinations of KPIs - almost like a workflow or flow chart - that give a more realistic flow of key business metrics. As an example, if you have some red KPIs at the beginning of a business process, your whole process might be flagged red or yellow; but if everything is alright except for a few optional business metrics that are red, your strategy map may still be Go Go Green.

PerformancePoint ships with some built-in web parts that allow ad-hoc KPI manipulation. Generally they provide Master-Detail views and some charting or rendering components such as pivot tables. Each allows export to Excel as you would expect, where you can drill down into even more detail or take the data offline. For more information on the native SharePoint Excel / BI offerings, check out this blog post from the Sydney User Group.

The Advanced Analytics tool called ProClarity also ships with PerformancePoint. Microsoft purchased these guys in 2006 with the goal of beefing up their Business Intelligence offering. ProClarity gives you open access to the OLAP cube to manipulate and report on data. Although the tool is separate in this version, in the next version it will be tightly integrated into the rest of the toolset.

PerformancePoint supports a variety of data sources, including Relational Databases, but the obvious source is an OLAP cube. In response to a question from the audience, Olivier stressed that the goal is not to require SQL Server Analytics, but any OLAP cube provider. Microsoft understands that companies that have made big investments in some other BI vendor, such as Cognos, won’t be willing to shift all their BI bits into another vendor, simply to get dashboarding. So their goal is simply to help surface the existing data into SharePoint.

Olivier also mentioned that Enterprise Project Management, the latest version of Microsoft Project Server, now uses OLAP cubes to help report on project metrics. Anybody using PerformancePoint and EPM therefore should spend just a bit of time putting these metrics to use.

One thing that startled me a bit was the licensing discussion. Olivier mentioned that you can mix Standard and Enterprise User CALs. To be honest this recommendation has tended to vary depending on who you talked to at Microsoft. Sometimes Microsoft representatives say no, everybody in the organization has to use Enterprise CALs if anybody does; other times the response is yes, you can mix them up as long as they are tracked somehow. An official FAQ seems to imply the latter. In any case with dedicated Site Collections it’s pretty easy to lock down functionality to a select few so this is achievable in SharePoint.

The tight integration of PerformancePoint with SharePoint is part of a growing trend I mentioned a couple of years ago. More and more products will end up on top of, or talking to, the SharePoint stack. This is the whole point of having a platform. We can expect much more evidence of this in the next release.


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