When Rony Ross, co-founder of Israeli online analytical processing (OLAP) specialist Panorama Software, approached Microsoft about developing partnership activities in 1996, she came away with a somewhat different proposal. Microsoft offered to buy her company.
At that time, there was no prominent business intelligence tool for collating and analysing data in a Windows operating environment, and Microsoft was keen to offer one.
Microsoft, therefore, bought Panorama’s OLAP server technology but Ross retained ownership of the company. Now known as Microsoft Analysis Server, it recently became the best-selling OLAP server product on the market, according to Nigel Pendse, author of The OLAP Report.
Panorama went on to develop a front-end business intelligence application – NovaView – to sit on top of the server-side software it sold to Microsoft. The NovaView Intelligence Server, a web application server, compresses and caches data from operational databases and data warehouses and delivers reports to users either over the web, as an Excel spreadsheet or as a client-side application that works off feeds from Microsoft Analysis Services.
The rationale behind this, says Ross, is that it makes business intelligence available to a far wider audience. “The amount of data organisations accumulate today is huge, but their ability to analyse it has not improved, so they have to delegate that analysis to more people,” she says.
Panorama’s success depends on Microsoft retaining its leadership of the OLAP server market. While the company is currently the market leader, Pendse points out that Microsoft has not had a major OLAP product release for the last three years, so is fortunate not to have lost ground to competitors.
But this does not faze Panorama’s management team. In March 2003, it launched a new version of NovaView with more sophisticated reporting and alerting functions and the ability to track usage patterns. Around the same time, the company secured a second round of funding to open an office in the US and hired former Lucent executive Janice Anderson as CEO.
Panorama also has the advantage that Microsoft does not offer a comparable front-end analysis tool. So while its customers continue to invest in Analysis Server and build OLAP cubes with it, they will always require a presentation layer, which Panorama is uniquely placed to provide.