Business Objects Announces Integration Strategy, Product Road Map

Analysts say the combined company looks like a winner.

BI vendor Business Objects SA announced its long-awaited strategy for integrating the products and technologies of the former Crystal Decisions Inc., last week. The company also disclosed a long-term product road map for the combined companies.

It’s been a long time coming. Since first announcing its plans to acquire Crystal in July, Business Objects has been silent about its strategy for integrating the Crystal product stack, largely, sources say, as a result of the unprecedented size (more than $800 million) of the purchase.

Last week, Business Objects sought to allay the concerns of Crystal users as well as those of its own installed base.

To that end, Lance Walter, director of BI platform product marketing for Business Objects, says his company will continue to develop and support Crystal’s reporting platforms—Crystal Reports and Crystal Enterprise—along with Crystal Analysis. Moreover, says Walter, Business Objects is revamping its own licensing model to conform to that of the former Crystal Decisions. Crystal users will be able to license the products that they’ve always used—either singly or in tandem with Business Objects solutions.

Walter stressed that Business Objects is committed to supporting Crystal’s own near-term product road map, and cited the release of Crystal 10 last week as proof.

“Crystal users can continue to buy the products that they have purchased under the same licensing models. They can continue to buy the same modules—Crystal Reports, Crystal Analysis, or the multiple flavors of Crystal Enterprise—all of that is still there,” he asserts. “We hope that the win for Crystal customers is that we can continue to show them some of the really neat capabilities for ad hoc query or business analysis that we can bring to the table.”

Three-Phase Future

The combined product road map outlined by Business Objects consists of three phases, each characterized by successively higher levels of integration.

In the first phase, scheduled for the second quarter of 2004, Business Objects is slated to release an Integration Pack for its Enterprise 6.5 BI suite and Crystal 10, which also includes a common BI portal based on its InfoView product.

The Integration Pack will enable Crystal Reports to work with Business Objects’ semantic universes, and will support common Web services APIs along with a Data Integrator connector that facilitates access to archived Crystal data. This deliverable will be a boon for customers using software from both companies, Walter observes. “If a customer was using Business Objects and Crystal Products within the same organization, they can deploy this in conjunction with those to get a few nice pieces of integration.

“From an end-user perspective, this will deliver a single portal, single sign on, and for the first time, common Web Services APIs. We’ll continue to support—we’ll need to support—the APIs of both product lines, because there are so many partners out there who have built products on both. But we’ll also introduce new, common APIs so they won’t need to worry about if it’s in a Crystal Report or in a Business Objects report or whatever.”

In the second phase, also scheduled for the second quarter of 2004, Business Objects plans to deliver common infrastructure and management capabilities between its own and Crystal’s products, including user administration, security, report scheduling, and auditing. The company will also introduce a new version of its end-to-end BI suite, called Business Objects 11, that will be heavily based on infrastructure components from Crystal Enterprise.

“This will be moving the core enabling technology behind our primary query and analysis and performance management and reporting products on to a common integrated infrastructure that borrows a lot of components from the Crystal Enterprise framework, but incorporates the Web engine and the Business Objects universe in such a way that upgrade will be very straightforward for customers,” Walter explains.

At this point, Business Objects plans to execute on the final phase sometime in 2005. During this phase, Walter says, Business Objects will expand the functionality of current products and introduce additional integration for common components and services. It will introduce another new version of its BI suite, Business Objects 12. “This is the final phase of integration, and with Business Objects 12, we’ll really complete that integration."

In the near term, Business Objects is on track to release version 6.5 of its Enterprise BI suite in Q2 2002, Walter confirms, stressing that his company will do what it takes to make upgrading to the new version 11 and version 12 releases of its BI suite as painless a proposition as possible. “We want to give customers a long time frame and a lot of flexibility in terms of how and when they upgrade. We're going to automate the eventual upgrade to the new platforms, so that any modules that can’t upgrade from 6.5 to 11 directly, we can take care of in a later Enterprise 6.x release so that they will upgrade to 12.”

Analysts generally give Business Objects high marks for its product road map and integration strategy, noting that the combined company appears to have given careful consideration to the concerns of users of its own and Crystal’s software. “[T]he overall integration road map seems to combine and protect the core functionality of each companies’ product set without compromising either,” writes Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc.

Adds Schiff: “One thing is crystal clear. When taken together, and successfully integrated, the resulting combined capabilities exceed the strong individual capabilities of the pre-acquisition companies. This is a well thought-out integration strategy, with a road map to measure progress and accountability. It is one that we expect will be successful.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.