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Business Objects Delivers XI

Newly updated suite bridges the gap, once and for all, between Crystal’s product line and the company’s own classic offerings

Business Objects XI, the long-awaited release from BI giant Business Objects SA, is finally here.

Originally christened Business Objects 11, XI—which officials say is an acronym for eXtreme Insight—is said to bridge the gap, once and for all, between the products of the former Crystal Decisions Inc. and the company’s classic offerings. At first glance, analysts say, it appears to do just that. What’s more, the XI release comes in on time and with several enhancements in addition to its promised back-end integration between Crystal and Business Objects.

Business Objects ponied up more than $800 million for Crystal in July of 2003. Since then, several of its competitors have made much hay out of suggesting that the BI giant bit off more than it could chew.

In this regard, then, Business Objects officials took pains to stress the importance of the Crystal acquisition to the finished XI product.

“Really what we’ve leaned heavily on is building the XI infrastructure largely based on the Crystal Enterprise framework,” says Darren Cunningham, director of product marketing with Business Objects. “Crystal two or three years ago had re-architected to be service-oriented in nature, and to deliver all of the scalability that’s required if you’re pushing reports to hundreds of thousands of users. What we’ve now done with Business Objects XI is we’ve updated that entire infrastructure and added to it the Business Objects semantic layer, created a new portal interface, and added a number of enhancements.”

One upshot of this, says Wayne Eckerson, director of research at TDWI, is that Crystal gives Business Objects a new, speedier architecture on which to build for the future. “The Crystal architecture adds a lot of power to the platform and makes it easier to add new server-based functionality,” he says. “On the speed side, the response times were noticeably faster than in older versions. When I asked about this, they said it had to do with the new Crystal server, which is a much higher-performance processing environment. So users will really like these additions.”

In addition to the long-expected integration between the Crystal and Business Objects products, XI boasts other bells and whistles—such as improved integration with Microsoft’s Office productivity tools.

XI’s new LiveOffice functionality lets users embed reporting and analysis capabilities into Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, and even refresh that data on demand. One result of this, Cunningham says, is that business users need never draw a blank when asked to produce the data to support a chart or graph during a PowerPoint presentation, for example. Although Microsoft is touting similar functionality with its Office Foundation Bridge technology, Cunningham says that LiveOffice was developed entirely by Business Objects.

“This is something we’ve engineered; you would plug this into the Office environment for the various users. How we’re evolving this is to take advantage of some of the unique Microsoft technologies, as well as Web services,” Cunningham says. “We don’t think it makes sense to fight Microsoft in this regard. So instead of trying to get users to replace Excel, we’re recognizing that this [in Office] is where most people want to work today.”

Elsewhere, Business Objects XI ships with a brand new portal, dubbed InfoView, that provides out-of-the-box support for other popular enterprise portals. In addition, XI features new capabilities that allow users to collaborate and discuss reports and dashboards. One example of this, says Cunningham, is when a sales manager collaborates with other sales managers—perhaps in offices distributed throughout a region—to determine why her dashboard view indicates that sales have fallen off.

The revamped suite also ships with a new “BI Encyclopedia,” which the company says provides context to information along with answers to common user questions.

TDWI’s Eckerson likes what he sees in the new XI enhancements. “In particular, the Office integration, collaboration—which they pulled from Dashboard Manager—and the BI encyclopedia are good additions,” he says.

Business Objects also revamped XI’s Web Intelligence interface, a move that Eckerson lauds. “I think I was most impressed with the simplicity and speed of the Web interface,” he notes, adding that XI features a user-interface that is more consistent with that of Microsoft Windows.

Other XI enhancements include improvements to Crystal Reports, which Eckerson says is now easier to use and design. Business Objects added support for dynamic cascading prompts, along with the ability to view and edit reports in text documents, as well as preview reports before publishing.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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