Microsoft releases BI tools for Dynamics CRM

Microsoft Corp. has taken another step to make it easier for customers and partners to customize its business intelligence (BI) software suite.

The company on Monday announced the general availability of Dynamics CRM Analytics Foundation, a free bundle of customizable source code and documentation, for users of its customer relationship management software.

Customers and partners can use the tools "as-is" or build on them to create customized BI applications including dashboards to run on top of Dynamics CRM 3.0, according to Christian Pederson, senior director for Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft is one of several applications vendors, including rivals Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, that are all touting the benefits of "BI for the masses" or the opening out of real-time information and metrics previously reserved for managers to a company's entire work force. The software firms hope such capabilities will encourage more sales and usage of their back-end applications across enterprises.

Analytics Foundation draws on Microsoft's data management and analytics capabilities contained in BI products such as its SQL Server 2005 relational database, SharePoint portal technologies, Office Business Scorecard Manager and the vendor's Visual Studio 2005 development tools suite. The bundle includes sample code, pre-built templates and guidelines for building BI software on top of Dynamics CRM.

"We're bringing the entire BI strategy from Microsoft to life," Pederson said. Analytics Foundation will serve as an important "proof point" in that strategy, bringing together the data mining and analytics capabilities of SQL Server with Dynamics CRM, he added.

A future contributor to the Analytics Foundation bundle will be a new Microsoft offering, PerformancePoint Server 2007, due to ship later this year, Pederson said.

In beta testing since November, PerformancePoint is a combination of technologies Microsoft acquired when it purchased BI player ProClarity in 2006 and its own business intelligence technologies. PerformancePoint enables users to place their data and business rules on a central server and then integrate that information with a variety of BI functionalities including planning, forecasting, analytics and scorecarding.

Microsoft is looking to integrate PerformancePoint's features into both its Dynamics CRM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

Pederson gave two specific user scenarios for Analytics Foundation. In one, a company could use the technologies to engage in predictive analytics around customer behavior to cross-sell or up-sell additional products. When contacted by a customer, a salesperson at the company would be able to access from Dynamics CRM not just the information related to that individual's purchase history, but also compare it with other customers' buying patterns, better positioning the salesperson to recommend other products for the consumer to buy.

In a second scenario, a salesperson could use predictive analytics to better prioritize their qualified sales leads by carrying out a historical analysis of the types of leads by industry and source that have resulted in sales in the past.

Dynamics CRM Analytics Foundation is now available free for Microsoft CRM customers and partners from the vendor's CodePlex project hosting Web site. It's a shared-source download, meaning that users have the right to take the tools and reverse engineer the code.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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