Office 12 is not the next version of Office, it’s the next wave of our productivity platform.  It has all the programs, servers and services designed for people who work with information.  So far we have talked a lot about the client side changes and about our results oriented approach, starting with the new UI.  There’s a lot to get excited about in Office 12 on the server side too and perhaps the most interesting area is the often overlooked field of business intelligence.

We announced this week the release of Business Scorecard Manager 2005 which is a powerful way of managing the performance of your business using key performance indicators.  This is the first product deliverable in what will be an ongoing investment in this area by the Office group.
Why is this relevant to you?  The “empowered culture” is an overused cliché in business these days but modern companies do expect more from every individual employee.  We are no longer just required to be mindless slaves in the corporate machine who respond to orders from above.  Today, business performance management is everyone's responsibility - we are all CEO of our own little part of the company.  As such we need to be able to turn the mountains of data we can now access into not just information but insight.  

Previously BI used to be restricted to data gurus and specialist departments.  Fine for larger companies who can afford to invest in the staff, new applications and skills training required.  With Office 12, BI is open to everyone and we are calling it Knowledge Discovery and Insight – and not missing the chance to create a TLA, you see it referred to as KDI.

Along with this BSM release, we also announced some other related enhancements which will ship with Office 12, in Excel and SharePoint.

Excel 12

Excel 12 will be a powerful tool in the hands of everyday information workers who need to analyse data to extract vital insights.  Not to take away from the leaders in this field such as ProClarity who sell excellent products today, maybe the reason why BI has been the preserve of the elite is because it has required additional applications to access it.  Instead of trying to take people into BI, we are bringing BI to the 400 million people already using Excel.  We are bringing BI to where you work every day – in Office.  Bringing BI to the masses is good for everyone too because by vastly broadening the usage of BI we create a market growth where BI vendors, building on our platform will be even more successful.

Excel 12 can connect to enterprise data and maintain a permanent connection between their workbook and the data source, enabling not only easy updates to Excel worksheets, but also the ability to “drill down” within Excel to more detailed levels of information.  Improved pivot table and chart interfaces make this very straightforward to understand and use.

Excel services

In Office 12, it will be possible to run spreadsheets on the server.  This allows a company to publish workbook models and to run them centrally.  It will be possible to share the results without revealing the underlying logic so you could share a spreadsheet with people outside your organisation and it lets you manage the version of the model centrally.

SharePoint v3

SharePoint will hold details of data connections centrally and as a list making it simple to connect to backend data via Excel 12.  New features like Report Center will make it easy to set up and manage data reporting.  Finally we get to one version of the truth - now we can stop arguing about the validity of the data and get on with deciding what to do about what it’s telling us.

Integrated innovation

What really impresses me about this area of Office 12 is the joint innovation we are demonstrating between the SQL Server group and the Office group in Microsoft.  If you have time, I strongly recommend this video from the PDC which shows how improvements in SQL Server 2005 are used by Excel 12.

In a way, this is what Microsoft has always been good at, taking technology beyond the reach of normal people and companies and making it available to everyone.  With this level of strategic, joined up thinking in our product development, Office is laying the foundations for the future not just in the next release but beyond.