Business Objects Rounds Out Its BI Offerings

Business Objects SA was by no means a small player in the business intelligence (BI) market, but with its recent acquisition of OLAP@Work Inc., the company has helped itself in a big way -- and for a relatively small price.

As a BI vendor, Business Objects ( determined that OLAP@Work ( could provide it with OLAP tools that would round out its BI offerings. The two companies originally opened talks to hammer out an OEM agreement, but the discussion soon switched to acquisition, says Robert Lendvai, vice president of marketing at OLAP@Work, which is now part of Business Objects.

"OLAP@Work was at a key juncture of its evolution: The companies that were working with us were large enterprise customers, and to continue to be successful we either needed to get cash, or very quickly find a company to back us up," Lendvai says.

Looking to improve its overall capabilities, Business Objects was right there to back the company up. For $15 million, it scooped up OLAP@Work and all its products. It is still uncertain as to how Business Objects will integrate its newly bought products. The two signature products gained from OLAP@Work were OLAP@Work for Excel and OLAP@Work for Office.

The future of these products and other technologies is still being ironed out. "It could go in multiple directions, there are some plans to do integration, or we may keep the products as standalone with the OLAP@Work name. But new products will arise out of the merger," Lendvai says.

"Business Objects is going to try and integrate the stuff, but can they fully integrate it and take advantage of it?," asks Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (

With the purchase, Business Objects also gained the working relationship that OLAP@Work had with Microsoft Corp. ( OLAP@Work came to Business Objects with partner status in the Microsoft Data Warehousing Alliance 2000. Business Objects holds member status, which is not as qualified as partner status, so the recent acquisition may give the company an opportunity to up its position in the alliance. "OLAP@Work are already partners in the Microsoft Data Warehouse Alliance, and this might make Business Objects a partner automatically," Schiff says.

But of all the things Business Objects gained, OLAP@Work's corporate office may have been icing on the cake. Based in Ottawa, Canada, OLAP@Work had one location where almost all of its 45 employees worked. This office is now the home of Business Objects' new development center. But Ottawa is also the home of Cognos Inc. (, one of Business Objects' biggest competitors.

In addition to being a main Business Objects competitor, many former employees of Cognos went on to careers at OLAP@Work. "All members of OLAP@Work's management team spent at least part of their careers at Cognos, including the company's co-founder and CEO, who was previously employed by Cognos as director of PowerPlay development," Schiff noted in a recent Current Analysis report, "Business Objects: Utilizing Olap at Work."

Because they are now both in the same city, it is likely that Cognos and Business Objects will not only be vying for market share, but for employees as well. Should this be a cause of worry for Cognos? Schiff believes there will be increased competition in recruitment for the two companies, and makes a recommendation for Cognos in his report: "Cognos should keep a careful watch on Business Objects' enhanced Ottawa presence and take active steps to ensure that its employees are not enticed by Business Objects recruiters." But Schiff also tells Business Objects to tread carefully: "Business Objects must move quickly to ensure that OLAP@Work employees are comfortable with the acquisition and are not tempted to jump to competitors such as neighboring Cognos."

Even if Cognos dismisses the same-city competition as inconsequential, it should understand the merger is a significant threat. "Business Objects bought a rich robust OLAP technology. OLAP@Work is OLE DB compliant, our tools can be used to build front ends for any server, including SAP," Lendvai says.

By obtaining such flexible technology, the move is expected to help Business Objects make its presence more powerful. But only if the company plays its cards right, Schiff says. With its October 1999 acquisition of Next Action Technology -- also known as Answersets ( -- and its more recent purchase of OLAP@Work, Schiff warns in his report, "Business Objects must be careful that it does not over-extend its ability to digest these new companies and integrate their technologies with its own."