Microsoft extends business intelligence toolsMicrosoft\u00a0last week released two Office-based tools for letting users extract and view business data from back-end systems.The company introduced the Office Business Scorecards Accelerator and Office Excel Add-in for SQL Server Analysis Services. The two free tools attempt to provide an easier path for end users to get a look at business data, such as sales and revenue numbers, through reports and analysis.The two offerings ratchet up the sophistication of business intelligence software Microsoft is offering and could point to deeper strategic plans, analysts say."The Business Scorecards Accelerator gives Microsoft an analytical application," says Mike Schiff, vice president of data warehousing and business intelligence for research firm Current Analysis. "They may be testing the waters to offer business intelligence solutions rather than just business intelligence tools. That would put them into competition with all the business intelligence vendors." Those vendors include Cognos, Business Objects and SAS Institute.The Business Scorecards Accelerator can pull together data from a variety of back-end databases, including Microsoft's SQL Server and Oracle. Users can use several pre-configured Office 2003 Web components to construct scorecards that dig into key performance indicators, such as revenue and customer satisfaction.Users also can create customized components. The scorecards then are linked to the back-end data source and made available via SharePoint Portal Server. End users need only Internet Explorer 6.0 to view the scorecards. Microsoft also is including an Active X control based on Visio for mapping out corporate strategies and objectives.The Business Scorecards Accelerator is a free download but requires the use of SQL Server 2000 with Analysis Services, Office 2003, SharePoint Portal 2003 and Windows Server 2003."The idea is to allow a much broader audience to get at this business data," says Peter Bull, group program manager for Office at Microsoft. "We're focusing on extending the reach of business intelligence to more employees and doing it within familiar interfaces."The Excel Add-in for SQL Server Analysis Services lets data be accessed and analyzed within Excel. The tool expands on the familiar pivot tables in the Office application by letting users analyze data from more than one source. Previously, analysis was limited to one online analytical processing data cube.Also new is real-time connection to back-end data so users are always looking at the most current information. The Excel tool adds a menu item into the Excel XP or Excel 2003 interface called Cube Analysis and a new Task Pane for laying out reports.Both the Scorecards and Excel accelerators are available for download from Microsoft's Web site and are supported by Microsoft Product Support Services.