Data Management

Microsoft invades the business reporting services market

Microsoft is testing an important business reporting service that will be added to its latest version of SQL Server. It could spell trouble for those vendors currently engaged in the business reporting services market.

With the upcoming release of its new SQL Server database (code-named Yukon), Microsoft has decided to enter a market traditionally led by specialized business reporting software companies, such as Crystal Decisions and Actuate. Because the business reporting segment is still experiencing growth in an otherwise bleak software market, Microsoft obviously sees an opportunity to capitalize when its venerable SQL Server database product is released. Tentatively named SQL Server Reporting Services, Microsoft plans to develop this add-on feature to provide the database services capabilities needed to generate reports. Let’s take a look at how this new SQL Server add-on will possibly change this software market.

The importance of Microsoft SQL
End-user business reporting is extremely specialized. Business reporting software companies have to work closely with larger organizations to tailor the output for their customers' individual requirements. This close relationship has blossomed over the years and developed into the multibillion-dollar business reporting services industry. A key part of that growth was Microsoft’s SQL Server software, which provided the engine for these custom reporting applications to operate.

By staying out of end-user reporting services, Microsoft created opportunities for other software companies to custom-tailor reporting packages for organizations looking to make sense of valuable database information. While many of these software companies continue to develop products in a cross-platform environment, Microsoft SQL is obviously an important part of their business strategy.

What does SQL Server Reporting Services mean for vendors?
First off, it is important to note that Microsoft has not indicated a desire to provide actual report generation with its SQL Server Reporting Services. It merely includes the hooks in the database server for report creation. Another third-party reporting engine will still have to handle the actual writing of the reports. Second, this service is still in a testing phase, so many details about what the add-on will include are still unknown. Also, with the traditionally long testing cycles for Microsoft products, it is difficult to say when the add-on will be available. Nonetheless, Microsoft’s impact will be significant in the once third-party-dominated field of reporting services.

The biggest question is how the relationships between the reporting services vendors and their customers will be changed now that Microsoft is providing the back-end computing for report generation. These vendors have worked with Microsoft SQL extensively in the past to ensure a smooth reporting infrastructure for their customers. With Microsoft entering the reporting services market, that relationship should become adversarial.

Fortunately, in the short term, the business reporting software vendors can count on few changes in their business model. The larger vendors develop their reporting software to work in more realistic, non-Microsoft SQL-only environments, so their cross-platform advantage will keep their customers from switching right away. For instance, Crystal Decisions’ new Crystal Enterprise 9 product release boasts of interoperability among various operating systems by explaining, “Different systems can be combined in one installation, allowing you to pick the best platform for each component. For example, large reports may be better run close to the database on a UNIX platform, and Web components may be managed more easily on a Windows platform.”

Pricing
One area of concern is future product pricing. Traditional Microsoft forays into established software businesses have made pricing difficult for those vendors that developed off the Microsoft SQL platform. Many future buyers of reporting services will be hard-pressed to justify the higher costs for third-party products when much of the database engine work has already been included with Microsoft’s new SQL Server version. In addition, upgrades could be put off until the SQL Server Reporting Services product is tested, causing vendors to adjust their prices further downward.

The future of business reporting software
Business reporting software makes sense out of the seemingly infinite amounts of data accumulated by organizations today. From end-user reports to sales-analysis tools, the software that drives this process is database software. In the past, Microsoft has enabled certain business reporting services companies to develop unfettered of its long reach and superior market position. When Yukon is finally released and the database reporting software that is proposed is fully tested, that all may change.

Tell us what you think
We would like to know your position on this topic. Start a discussion at the end of this article by clicking on the Discuss button below. Some food-for-thought topics include:
  • Will your current investment in existing business reporting products preclude you from making a switch to Microsoft’s proposed SQL Server Reporting Services?
  • Will the multiserver environments that most third-party business reporting vendors operate out of make it difficult for Microsoft to completely take over this market?
  • Do you foresee Microsoft eventually extending its SQL Server offerings to include report generation?


 
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