I went along to the Microsoft BI summit last week because I was interested in seeing what the new Microsoft BI offering PerformancePoint is all about. I came out of the day thinking, wow, I think I know what I would like to do for a job now. PerformancePoint has some really compelling points but I still have some underlying doubt about the whole area of business acceptance of the PerformancePoint product.
Now I’m not saying here that I’m a PerformancePoint expert, far from it – but I am interested in learning about it and I have some solid technical and business skills which combined can be useful for working with PerformancePoint. Also, I still have a number of questions about how PerformancePoint works, so some of the information below may not be 100% right, but that’s why I’m taking some time to learn about the product.
What would be the compelling reason for a business to start using PerformancePoint? I think businesses would only be interested in PerformacePoint if they already had SQL server, already had a cube built and were already looking at one of the other BI suites such as Cognos or Hyperion.
Whilst PerformancePoint may be significantly cheaper than the competitors (I don’t know this for a fact, it’s just what they said on the day) it is still a hefty price because of all the prerequisites. You have to have SQL Server Enterprise Edition (including SSAS and SSRS), Office 2007 and SharePoint – I looks like you can get away with WSS 3.0 as a minimum but I reckon companies are going to need MOSS Enterprise Edition with Office 2007 to really get the most out of this because they will surely want to use Excel Services at some time to do some of the complex calculations to go into the Performance Point dashboards. Here is a link to the prerequisites page on the PerformancePoint server site. All of these software components together is a significant investment in licences alone.
However, it’s not just licencing costs; most companies don’t know how to build complex systems like these themselves. To get the most out of PerformancePoint a company will need a Cube built, which needs a big SQL Server database behind it, and significant time and effort, probably by an external consultant. Then they need to create the scorecards and dashboards in PerformancePoint (a scorecard is an element of a dashboard). Whilst Microsoft have made the Dashboard Designer part of Office 2007 so that power users can use it, it still will need a very experienced IT literate person to build the scorecards and dashboards and get it all working (that’s me by the way). Then if they are going to display it on MOSS, or even WSS then they will probably want to utilise all the other features of MOSS and create an intranet site also – so they will need someone to build their SharePoint site (again, me).
Lets just assume for now that MS are right, that the software is significantly more cost effective than the competitors (and the consulting would probably be a lot cheaper than the competitors also). Then this means that there is a significant market segment of businesses who would not have done any form of scorecarding before but now they have the tools at their reach and at a realistic cost. Previously BI/Scorecarding has been just for the big business, due to the huge costs involved, but now it can be available to the medium size business – the ones who really need it – the ones who run their whole business on cobbled together excel spreadsheets that just get re-hashed month after month.
For the business to get the most out of the whole process they will need to have a very good relationship between the IT department and the business units and also very good integration between the different business units. Implementing a PerformancePoint solution will definitely need a business champion at the executive level of the business to get all the business units on board, and then a full time coordinator looking after the IT/Business integration side and working with the external consultants (again, a role I can do quite well).
The risk is that a “rogue” business unit will just decide that the way they do things is too different than the rest of the business and that their data does not fit into the cookie cutter approach that management are taking, so they will just continue to do their own spreadsheets the way they have always done, because that’s what they know and trust. A PerformancePoint Solution will not work if it does not have full integration from all business units. Apparently PerformancePoint handles exceptions quite well, so hopefully these objections can be overcome, (again, where I can help) with the support from the management’s champion. PerformancePoint is basically just fancy spreadsheets where the data is stored in the database to make it all uniform and controlled.
If PerformancePoint is allowed to be used by the business and is NOT hijacked by the IT department then it will work really well – it brings the business reporting BACK to the business rather than it being a difficult IT Function. I think it was really smart of Microsoft to position the Dashboard designer as part of Office. However, it does need good support from IT, which brings it back to needing good business and IT integration.
At the BI summit, MS showed a case study of a business using the earlier software that PerformancePoint was based on – it was a Hospital (a bit different to the usual Microsoft demo of AdventureWorks or the Alpine Ski House sample that comes with PerformancePoint). The case study was excellent, they showed how they made the software fit their business.
I think that a majority of real life businesses, once they get a hold of PerformancePoint will not use the red, yellow and green stop light indicators, at least initially, because they are not what they are used to. The hospital case study showed that they created “scorecards” that looked exactly like their previous profit reports – a really good use of the software. This shows the business that they can get the benefit out of PerformancePoint such as improving productivity in collecting and reporting on the information, without having to significantly change the content and look of the existing reports. That way the business can get used to the system and then evolve the way the reports look over time, and maybe then add some stoplight functionality.
I would love to work on implementing PerformancePoint either from within a company or working for a consultant that a company engages to do the implementation. I can see me being the business analyst that liaises between the financial controller, the heads of departments and the IT department, to translate between them. I can analyse what the existing financial reporting is, then translate that into the scorecards and dashboards required for PerformancePoint, bringing the data in from either an existing cube or other Line of Business systems. I can also build and run the SharePoint site for the business if required.
I can utilise my existing IT skills with databases and SQL along with my business skills and understanding of financial and business reporting to help businesses improve their existing reporting into the structured system that Microsoft PerformancePoint is.
Now I just need to find out what companies in Australia are implementing PerformancePoint or what consultants are going to be selling their PerformancePoint skills. If anyone knows of any company I can contact about working for them with PerformancePoint please let me know via email jminers at gmail dot com.