Business Objects Upgrades With a Focus on SMBs

Business Objects, which merged with SAP in October for $6.7 billion, has announced upgrades to two of its key products. It has unveiled BusinessObjects Edge 3.0, the latest generation of its mid-market business intelligence (BI) platform, and Crystal Reports Server 2008, the newest version of its reporting platform.

Both were introduced in January to give SMBs access to the same capabilities as the enterprise version. Edge 3.0 lets users access company data through a Web-based interface the company said is designed for ease of use. Users can use the standard point-and-click interface to analyze and customize data. Crystal Reports Server 2008 lets report designers create highly formatted business information that can be delivered within and outside the corporate firewall through email, corporate portals or Microsoft Office.

“Many medium-sized organizations have business intelligence needs that are very similar to large organizations,” IDC analyst Dan Vesset said. “The Business Objects offering to the SMB market offers the same functionality to SMBs as products for large enterprises.”

Business Objects is “leading the mid-market charge in terms of value,” said Forrester analyst Michael Speyer. However, while it is well positioned in that space, Speyer said Business Objects will face stiff competition in the future. That competition includes Oracle with Hyperion and IBM. “These companies are credible in their own right, and they all can go out and do business in the mid-market quite well,” Speyer said.

Microsoft is not a head-on threat because, while it is “very well positioned,” its BI capabilities go into its Dynamics products, and these have to be implemented by a third-party Microsoft partner, noted Speyer. Business Objects, on the other hand, is more of a packaged application.

“It’s not that the packaged application is necessarily easier; the question is to what extent are you using Microsoft for your front- and back-end applications,” Speyer said. “Do you want to continue with Microsoft business intelligence or do you want to go with another vendor?” Microsoft’s strategy is very new, so it’s too early to tell now how successful it will be, Speyer added.

The threat of competition does not faze Business Objects. “Microsoft and Oracle and others have been a threat since we were founded, because we provide a layer of technology that sits on top of their products,” said James Thomas, vice president of business intelligence content and tools at Business Objects. “We continue to be successful in the face of Microsoft because we have a tremendous installed base in Crystal Reports, our offering can work in both Microsoft and Linux environments, we have Java and .NET support, and we have 1,200 partners behind us.”

Also, Business Objects works closely with Microsoft. “Our products work well with SQL Server, and are still bundled with Visual Studio,” Thomas said. “Our Live Office product is bundled with Microsoft Office.” Live Office lets users embed corporate business intelligence data in Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel and Word documents. These can then be shared over the Web for collaborative decision-making.

On-Screen Dials and Gauges

The Edge product line includes a visual analytics tool, Xcelsius 2008. This is a drag-and-drop environment that lets users turn data from applications into Adobe Flash applications they can view within their portal. Business Objects said Xcelsius 2008 doesn’t require any programming skills and includes on-screen dials, gauges and sliders that users can manipulate to get different views of their data.

“Most people don’t know how to create a cost tab to compare one number to another, or how to slice and dice data, but they do know how to push a button,” Thomas said. Currently, Xcelsius uses Flash 8 as well as Adobe’s Acrobat 8, so users can save documents viewed as PDFs or Word documents.

Business Objects is working on integrating Acrobat 9 into Xcelsius “because Acrobat 8 doesn’t handle Flash as well as Acrobat 9,” said Thomas .

Adapted from

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