John Schwarz, CEO, Business Objects

John SchwarzThe last several months have been something of a blur for Business Objects CEO John Schwarz.

In July, he was president of security software giant Symantec, closing the $10.5 billion purchase of storage software maker Veritas. Two months later, he took over for Business Objects CEO Bernard Liautaud, who stepped into the chairman role.

One would think that taking the helm from the founder of a multi-billion-dollar company that happens to be the leader in the business intelligence applications space would be a daunting task. After all, Schwarz had spent the previous three years toiling in infrastructure software, helping Symantec grow from $1 billion to $2.7 billion in revenues.

Not for John Schwarz, who, after spending 25 years developing, manufacturing, selling and marketing applications for IBM before he went to Symantec, returned to the applications world he said he has the most affinity for.

He simply wanted to run his own ship, which is what the Business Objects opening offered.

Now Schwarz has new challenges: building out the company’s analytics software offerings to bulk up Business Objects’ leadership position against business intelligence mainstays such as Cognos and relatively new challengers such as Microsoft.

Q: You left Symantec to take the helm at Business Objects just a couple of months after closing the Veritas deal. How did this change come about so quickly?

The acquisition had very little bearing on my leaving the company. I enjoyed thoroughly working at Symantec with John Thompson and Gary Bloom. I think the new company is a force in the infrastructure space.

My arriving at Business Objects had more to do with me wanting to be a CEO and moving into a different market space, a market space that I have perhaps more affinity for than I did for infrastructure. In my past life, I was a developer and spent the majority of my development time working on applications and tools. So this is coming home for that domain that I like.

Q: By your own definition, Business Objects is about solving customers’ problems. As of now, what are the chief problems customers want you to solve?

Customers are looking to standardize and consolidate their IT infrastructures.

One of the standardization thrusts is to single out a business intelligence solution and to converge on to it all of that data integration, query reporting and analysis, as well as deep analytic tools. We have traditionally been a very strong data integration and query analysis company.

With the Crystal Decisions acquisition, we became a very strong reporting solutions company.

We have traditionally not had a lot of content in the analytics space. So this is where we are aiming now because customers are telling us that if we are going to be a single-solution provider for them, we need to have the analytics tools, as well as the reporting, query and integration tools.

The SRC acquisition last summer was our first foray in that direction because we had to add the planning and budgeting solution.

But we are now looking at other ways to extend the analytics environment to the customer. We are looking at modern analytic tools that have been built on current algorithms and current standards and techniques that present data in ways that even a non-IT expert can adopt without a lot of additional help.

Q: You filled in the reporting gap with Crystal and started on the analytics hole with SRC. Where do you see Business Objects’ acquisition tendencies going?

Business Objects is not about acquisitions, but the organic growth the company has been able to generate. We have a very competent development team and, having combined with the Crystal team, we really gained a phenomenal engine for development and innovation.

The core strategy for the company is organic growth. Obviously, we can’t do everything in house, and we are a pretty profitable business, so we generate cash that allows us to do other things.

We are always looking for ways to complement the offering. We listen to our customers. They tell us the tools and solutions they prefer. When we come across a good match, we have the ability to execute and we do. Based on customer input, we will look to add other components to our portfolio through acquisitions.

Q: How does Business Objects view the competitive landscape in business intelligence applications?

We see a lot of big companies being partly competitors and partners. The big Players — Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM — all have some technology in this space that addresses a segment in the market place. But none produce a complete solution. None have the credibility in the market place to solve these business problems for customers.

They need us to complement what they’ve done. So we partner with them, we OEM, we go to market together. It’s a co-opitition [cooperative competition] story.

That said, we are under no illusion that these competitors will not continue to improve and add compatibles, and potentially squeeze us in some point in time from whatever direction they may be coming. We are well attuned to that and understand that we have to innovate at a rate and pace that exceeds theirs, and have to serve customers better than they do.

In that relationship, in that innovation, lays our strategy for success. We will continue to partner with those players as long as they’ll let us.

We just renewed our partnership with SAP. We have an OEM relationship with Microsoft around Crystal Reports. We have a relationship with IBM. We are talking with Oracle about how we can extend their solutions.

At our level of size and maturity, you never want to declare one partner off limits to partnership. Cognos is a head-to-head competitor. They are a credible, competent business. We have to watch them like we watch everyone else.

Q: You mentioned working with Oracle. Were you impressed with its rate of acquisitions during the last two years?

I guess I am not quite as impressed as you might think in the sense the acquisitions they have made of late will require an incredible amount of effort to integrate effectively and to satisfy customers’ requirements, which are in new functionality in more productive solutions.

As a user of some of these applications, as well as a potential partner to Oracle, I’m concerned that the effort required to integrate is going to take too long, too much energy and will de-emphasize the development of new functions and capabilities.

In some ways it gives us an opportunity because we can fulfill the requirement for their new functions, but in other ways I think it is probably slowing the industry down.

Q: Where do you see Business Objects in the business intelligence market in the next five to 10 years?

I think we will be one of the surviving, large software vendors — let’s say one of the top 10 — in the not-too-distant future. We are investing to make sure we reach that goal.

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