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Bernard Liautaud, CEO, Business Objects

Bernard Liautaud Business Objects President, CEO and Chairman Bernard Liautaud has a lot to look forward to in 2005. Earlier this week, his Paris-based company launched the most significant business intelligence (BI) platform since he co-founded the company nearly 15 years ago.

Liautaud and his staff believe the new BusinessObjects Extreme Insight (XI) platform will tow the line in the space, as rivals try to come up with the most intuitive, graphics-friendly software for providing customers with a clear window into their businesses' performance.

The events leading up to XI date back to July 2003, when Business Objects announced its intention to acquire Crystal Decisions, the leader in reporting software.

That acquisition closed a few months later, giving the company more customers, partners and the BI market leadership position in one fell swoop. These are all key factors in a segment analysts say has a market potential in the billions of dollars. Liautaud discussed with internetnews.com the evolution of the company and where it's heading.

Q: Why did Business Objects choose to buy reporting software capabilities as opposed to build them the way a company like Cognos did?

When we go back to the situation in 2003, we looked at how the market was then and we saw that there were some new customer trends. Customers wanted to consolidate their purchases, have one standard as opposed to many fragmented tools, and reduce the number of suppliers to just a few strategic partners and one in business intelligence. We felt there was a great opportunity to create the No. 1 position in the market.

We looked at the space and saw that Crystal Decisions was the ideal partner for us because they were the largest and fastest growing software vendor in BI. They were growing at 20-something percent, moving towards $300 million. They were the de facto standard in enterprise and embedded reporting. So we decided to create that gorilla in the space with the largest customer base, the largest set of partners, and build the one product solution that will meet all of our customers' requirements.

Q: You've called the release of XI a game-changing event in the BI industry. What will XI mean for the industry and Business Objects?

The BI market has always presented the opportunity to reach out to a large number of users in the enterprise. And we're doing so by providing an unprecedented ease of use and BI in new ways, such as embedding Xtreme Insight into Microsoft Office workers' environments. But we're also giving much more understanding to the user of what this information is about, where it's coming from and its business context, so that BI becomes part of the everyday business life, as opposed to something on the side.

We also have built-in accuracy, or the ability to trace where the data is coming from to eliminate lack of trust in the data. No one else in the industry has one integrated platform to support all of their BI capabilities. Our competitors tend to have two or three different architectures because their products come from different environments.

Q: Is the emphasis Business Objects is putting on the Xtreme Insight release going to be a distraction for the separate releases of Business Objects 6.5 or have any bearing on your ability to sell to customers who just migrated to Crystal version 10?

That was a big project but we had some fundamental principles in there. We wanted to build a platform that would leave no customer behind, meaning that customers didn't have to eliminate everything they had done with their existing products. We would provide a smooth transition for the Business Objects customers and Crystal customers. That's what Xtreme Insight is about. This is the foundation for all future Business Objects products.

Q: Cognos seems to be your main competitor. After the release of XI, will Business Objects change anything about the way you approach BI based on its success with its ReportNet platform?

When you look at where we were a year ago, companies were about the same size and battling for the No. 1 position in the space. Through the Crystal acquisition, we completely redefined the landscape. Cognos is now far behind, and they've had to do things to battle that. The first thing they did was try to cast doubt on our ability to integrate the two companies and provide an integrated product. We announced a bold integration plan to integrate the front end in six months and the back end in six months, and we delivered.

Q: Looking forward in 2005, what are some of the major trends in business intelligence and in the software industry on the whole?

What we hear is that customers want to work with a small set of strategic partners, not a myriad of small companies. They want the partners to offer full functionalities in one category of software. The second piece we hear is that they want software that is simple to deploy and use. So, there is continued focus on the overall cost of ownership and simplified deployment. We will continue to push toward that.

The third part is that customers want to use business intelligence in more and more specific ways, meaning not just to analyze the past but to drive performance forward.

Q: Finally, as the CEO of a company that negotiated a peaceful merger, what do you think of the hostile way Oracle went after PeopleSoft?

I think acquisitions and mergers are very hard, but they can be extremely successful if they're handled the proper way. Our industry is one where people matter and customers matter enormously. Customers make choices and you have to embrace their choices and the people who have built the technology the market acquirer has designed to get.

I am not very confident in long-term successes of hostile takeovers. Oracle has a very hard task ahead of them because during the past 18 months there has been a lot of things that have been said. Acquisitions need to be planned, prepared and handled extremely well in order for them to succeed.