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New Business Objects Platform Crystallizes

Armed with new technology and a stronger tie with Microsoft , Business Objects has revamped its business intelligence (BI) platform for enterprises.

The company issued Extreme Insight (XI) Tuesday after finalizing its integration of Crystal Decisions technology, the reporting software vendor Business Objects acquired for $1.2 billion in 2003.

The acquisition made Business Objects the number one BI vendor in terms of revenue and enterprise reporting licenses, according to analysts.

Darren Cunningham, director of product marketing for Business Objects, said XI is a major redesign of Business Objects' and Crystal's offerings, based on a service-oriented architecture approach. Available now on Windows, XI is geared to deliver reporting, query and analysis and performance management information to new non-technical users in new ways.

"Historically, BI vendors have hoped that users would come on board and start to work with their BI system, but a lot of mainstream users perceive it to be complex and difficult to use -- something in the domain of the 'power user'," Cunningham said. "We're trying to bring BI to new users instead of them having to go to BI."

To do this, Business Objects provided tighter integration with Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite, Cunningham said.

XI embeds business intelligence directly in the Office applications and allows documents to be secured and managed in the platform through an offering called Live Office. For example, a user can update an XI report directly within a Power Point document by right-clicking on a graph or grid to make important changes.

By contrast, other BI vendors make the user export the report back into the BI environment, perform analysis, and then import it back into the Power Point file. The integration of XI with Office cuts out several of the steps normally associated with accessing reports.

Forrester Research analyst Keith Gile said it was about time business intelligence vendors acknowledged the value of the Microsoft Office user base.

These vendors, Business Objects included, thought that export to Excel was enough, Gile said. "And it is not. With this, you are inviting those consumers of BI data to actively participate. You're not just saying 'Stay out there and we'll send it to you when we're damn good and ready.'"

Another feature embedded in XI reports is BI Encyclopedia, which tells users the business terms and the questions the report answers, as well as how to find other reports with related information. In one example, Cunningham said an individual looking at a report on liabilities could use the BI Encyclopedia to find related reports.

BusinessObjects XI also allows users to work directly within dashboards, scorecards and reports. If a sales manager looks at a dashboard and notices that sales in a particular region have decreased, they can conduct discussion within the environment, working with colleagues to handle the business problem.

Lastly, XI is also tuned to distribute processing among servers. If a server fails, XI automatically re-directs processing to another server that can handle the load. Products from rival BI vendors have to be restarted. XI also turns server resources on and off based on peaks and valleys in demand.

The changes come at a crucial time in the BI space, which, while it has contracted considerably the last two years, remains more competitive than ever. Cognos enjoyed a solid third quarter, reporting a record $210 million in revenue.

Cunningham said the year-long integration process of tucking in Crystal may have given rivals like No. 2 Cognos or No. 3 Hyperion the opportunity to make some strides in the market. But he said Business Objects is more than capable of springing back into the thick of the rivalry with XI.

"I applaud Business Objects for buying market share and for making themselves the No. 1 vendor in terms of overall product portfolio," Gile said. Now can they maintain that?"



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