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PerformancePoint Server Planning Gets New Lease on Life

Microsoft last week unveiled a surprise concession for users of its Office PerformancePoint Server product: a new Financial Planning Accelerator (FPA) offering that could extend the life of that product -- for some users, anyway.

In January, Microsoft disclosed plans to discontinue PerformancePoint, which debuted (after a lengthy community technology preview) less than two years ago. PerformancePoint's scorecarding, monitoring and analysis capabilities will be folded into Microsoft's forthcoming SharePoint Server 10 (MSS, née Microsoft Office SharePoint Server). Redmond plans to discontinue PerformancePoint Planning Server -- which officials claim was used by only a fraction of PerformancePoint users -- and to fold PerformancePoint's budgeting and forecasting capabilities, along with the assets of its FRx Forecaster in addition to some as-yet-unspecified planning capabilities, into its still-incubating Management Reporter product.

The short-term upshot was that Microsoft's move left users of PerformancePoint Planning high and dry. That's where the new FPA comes in. It isn't so much an "accelerator" (e.g., like any of several BI accelerators Microsoft has delivered in the past) as it is a disclosure of PerformancePoint's planning source code. Partners and customers who license the FPA are free to do whatever they want with it -- including developing PerformancePoint Planning-based offerings or services.

On the other hand, Microsoft isn't publishing the PerformancePoint Planning source code or otherwise making it available via either a Microsoft Public License (MPL) or Microsoft Reciprocal License (MRL), both of which have the blessing of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Instead, customers must sign a more restrictive licensing agreement, under the terms of which they must agree to forgo any support for anything that they develop in conjunction with the FPA.

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time
The Planning Server component of Microsoft's Office PerformancePoint Server has long seemed to be a work in progress.

In contradistinction to PerformancePoint's scorecarding and monitoring/analysis capabilities -- which were based on (respectively) the seminal Business Scorecard Manager (BSM) product and the assets that Redmond acquired from the former ProClarity Corp. -- Planning Server is a comparatively crude effort. More to the point, both BSM and ProClarity bought credible scorecarding and analytic capabilities to the table, helping bolster the case for PerformancePoint Server, particularly in Microsoft-centric environments.

PerformancePoint's planning component, on the other hand, has been described by OLAP market luminary Nigel Pendse as "hit or miss." Although it bundles its share of creditable capabilities (Pendse specifically cites Planning Server's currency conversion and partial ownership features as two examples in kind), it also has a few glaring omissions, such as the lack of a Web-based data entry facility, which Pendse, in an essay from earlier this year, described as "an omission almost unheard of in any modern planning product."

By itself, Microsoft's latest move doesn't do anything to bolster PerformancePoint's planning feature set. However, by giving customers access to the planning component's source code, officials argue, Redmond is effectively encouraging, if not exactly teaching, planning users to fend for themselves.

That's something they'll have to get used to. Microsoft officially discontinued PerformancePoint Server in April, and although Redmond plans to release several additional PerformancePoint service packs (including an SP3 release that's slated to ship this summer), the new FPA is being offered as-is.

Microsoft didn't anticipate offering it in the first place, officials say. "When we made that announcement and talked to [customers] on a one-to-one basis, [what we heard was that] they would like access to the source code of PerformancePoint Planning for diagnostic purposes," said Kristina Kerr, senior product manager in Microsoft's Office Business Applications group. Redmond got similar feedback from its partners, Kerr added.

"So in announcing this [FPA], we're making the source code for PerformancePoint Planning available to customers, and it's meant for customers to do self-diagnostics and for partners to customize existing solutions for their customers. This code is not going to be supported by us in any way," she said.

For this reason, shops that license the FPA must also agree to a quit claim on PerformancePoint support: If they tinker with the FPA and run into problems, Kerr said, they're out of luck. On the other hand, she added, Microsoft doesn't prohibit customers from maintaining discrete implementations of both PerformancePoint Server -- i.e., bread-and-butter scorecarding, analysis and monitoring capabilities -- and the FPA, such that licensing the FPA and developing it separately won't void general PerformancePoint support.

"The Financial Planning Accelerator customers will be able to do what they want with that code, but part of the license agreement is them acknowledging that we have intellectual property [IP] that's being exposed in the source code -- that basically we're trying to protect that intellectual property while still responding to the needs of our customers," Kerr said.

In the same way, customers -- and not Microsoft -- own the IP rights to any FPA enhancements that they develop. "If customers make any enhancements, that is their intellectual property. If, say, a partner wanted to develop a custom solution using PerformancePoint planning, they can market that and sell that through their channels. The only requirement is that they have a SharePoint Server Enterprise License," Kerr said.

That said, Kerr positioned the FPA as an option for larger shops, or for partners that already have significant PerformancePoint Planning commitments. "The enterprise customers that we talked to one-to-one about their PerformancePoint Planning deployments, those are customers who we're expecting to have the capacity and the resources to take something like [the FPA] and use that for diagnostics internally," Kerr said. "We're not expecting a lot of partners to develop their own solutions on top of this."

According to Kerr, SP3 for PerformancePoint Server, which Microsoft expects to ship this summer, will support only the Planning Server component as it exists today. "Any service pack for PerformancePoint Planning will be only for [that product] as it stands today; we won't be making any service packs for the Financial Planning Accelerator," Kerr said. SP3 will deliver at least one eagerly anticipated PerformancePoint amenity -- line-item detail support -- as well as compatibility fixes for SQL Server 2008.

Microsoft also plans to deliver future service pack releases that address compatibility issues with forthcoming deliverables, such as Office 2010, MSS 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2. "We're also planning on having another service pack after this for future versions of Office, SharePoint and SQL Server. We'll time these service packs to follow the releases [of those products]," Kerr said.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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