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Business Objects Swings for the Fences

It’s been a busy fortnight for Business Objects, which previewed its next-gen BI suite and touted its new sales and marketing alliance with IBM.

It’s been a busy fortnight for Business Objects SA, which last week pre-announced a new rev of its all-in-one BI suite, Business Objects XI Release 2 Productivity Suite, at its annual Insight user conference. And late last month, Business Objects notched an alliance with middleware and data integration giant IBM Corp., which amounts to its most significant accord with that vendor to date.

Call it end-of-year housekeeping—Business Objects-style.

Officials say Productivity Suite—which Business Objects hopes to release in the first half of 2007—will pack search, OLAP, grid computing, and SOA enhancements. The Productivity Suite pre-announcement was just one of several highlights from Insight, during which Business Objects also unveiled a new partnering initiative centering on BI search and text analytics.

The upshot for Business Objects, says James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis, is padding of a sort: the search, OLAP, SOA-ready additions to Productivity Suite will help raise the functional bar in the rapidly evolving BI market of today.

“The new BI Search feature supplements the ad-hoc query and simple search features of the current BO XI R2 platform,” Kobielus points out. As a result, he says, users will be able to retrieve relevance-ranked, categorized business information, via keyword searches, from their Business Objects environments.

Elsewhere, Kobielus points out, the new BusinessObjects Voyager tool will permit business or financial analysts to bring together and view data directly from multiple OLAP cubes, while Business Objects’ forthcoming “Query as a Web Service” feature exposes a wizard-driven interface and lets customers design queries and publish them as Web services without writing any code.

Nor is that all. Officials also outlined enhancements to BusinessObjects Live Office that should facilitate secure access to BI from Microsoft Office applications outside of corporate firewalls.

Add it all up, Kobielus concludes, and you’ve got an important news item from Business Objects—pre-announcement or no.

“The pre-announcement … coincided with other announcements that show Business Objects intends to maintain its position of industry leadership,” he points out, citing—among other news items—the creation of a new customer- and partner-centric BI lab; the establishment of a partnering initiative focused on BI search and text analytics; the forthcoming delivery of new business performance management (BPM), software-as-a-service (SaaS), and BI mid-market-friendly offerings; as well as the re-affirmation of last month’s strategic alliance with IBM, which focuses on BI global services and cross-vendor integration.

BO and Big Blue Cozy Up to One Another

The latter news item, in particular, is really the first and most substantive of its kind between the two vendors, officials said. In this respect, says Alan Pancoast, vice-president of the IBM alliance for Business Objects, it’s one both companies are quite excited about.

“It’s a movement forward in what’s been a long term relationship with IBM. We’ve been partners for over ten years, and we’ve had various relationship agreements in place, but this is the most significant partnership we’ve had to date,” he comments. What should customers expect? Pancoast outlines several areas in which the two companies expect to cooperate with one another.

“There’s some fine-tuning that we want to do in the area of data integration and around metadata, so that our joint customers have a much more extensive view when they want to bring the data together,” he continues. “And when we look at bringing solutions up to the marketplace, which is really where our focus is going to be, we see an opportunity to try to drive additional solutions into expanding markets, [such as] retail, where there’s an opportunity to make much more intelligent use of information down at the store level, not just at the corporate level.”

There’s another upside, too, Pancoast indicates: Business Objects—which is a French company with a global presence—will almost certainly benefit from IBM’s ever more massive global reach. “From a Business Objects perspective, we’ve got a fairly good presence on a global basis, but if you start looking, there’s places where we could expand a bit more comfortably. I look at Russia and eastern Europe, for example. The Chinese market is absolutely huge, and IBM has been in that market for a very long time. Business Objects is over there, but if we really want to do this thing at an accelerated pace, there are advantages to using both sides of the partnership.”

Jay Ennerser, vice-president of cross-industry alliances with IBM, seconds Pancoast’s optimism. He says Big Blue and Business Objects will probably collaborate on several mid-market-oriented projects, for starters. And even though IBM has partnerships or alliances with several other prominent BI vendors—including Cognos Inc. and SAS Institute Inc.—Ennerser says there are several unique facets to the Business Objects alliance.

“One thing I like about Business Objects is that they’ve got a strategy where they’re OEM-ing their tech to other partners, for example, at InSight [last week], Citrix and Lawson, both of which are part of my portfolio that I manage [were in attendance],” Ennerser comments. “But the partnership doesn’t center around just BI, the partnership centers around solutions and how we support our customers, whether it be a retail process, or a financial management thing or risk management; orr a package which could be as simple as BI, or it could support somebody’s supply chain or whatever. It’s really getting away from the notion of tools and talking about what we could bring to the market.”

Final Thoughts

This year’s Insight conference had to be an encouraging one for Business Objects and its users, but Kobielus says the BI giant must still address several issues if it hopes to make the most of this momentum. For one thing, he notes, Business Objects hasn’t said when, exactly, XI R2 Productivity Suite will ship.

More to the point, and even though Business Objects has been very good about executing on deadlines in the past—especially after its acquisition of the former Crystal Decisions Inc.—Productivity Suite could pose unknown challenges, migration-wise, at least, for some Business Objects users.

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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