Business Objects Reaches Out to Office

Meanwhile, Microsoft builds bridges between Office and BI application vendors

At Microsoft’s TechEd user conference this week, Business Objects SA unveiled an add-on for its Crystal Enterprise reporting environment which boasts tighter integration with the Office productivity suite.

Microsoft also took advantage of the conference to announce new Web services features that should allow BI vendors to more easily integrate their products with Office.

Business Objects’ new Crystal Enterprise Live Office builds on top of an Excel add-in that the former Crystal Inc. announced last June. What’s new, officials say, is that the new offering supports not just the bread-and-butter Excel spreadsheet—a BI mainstay in many organizations—but Microsoft’s Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook software as well. Users of Live Office can embed reports and report components in Office versions 2000 and up.

On the surface, the new offering sounds similar to Microsoft’s own SQL Server Reporting Services, but Business Objects officials—who are clearly wary of running afoul of Microsoft—say that there are substantive differences between the two offerings, starting with Live Office’s support for real-time data refreshing.

“Reporting Services is definitely a solid product, but they haven’t yet enabled any live connectivity back to the data source for the business user to be able to do that instant refreshing, so [Microsoft’s offering] is more what most business intelligence vendors have, which is exporting data and cutting and pasting data back into that Office environment,” says Jaylene Crick, senior product marketing manager with Business Objects.

Microsoft’s Reporting Services add-on supports report distribution and lifecycle management, but Crick maintains that Crystal Enterprise is a mature product with proven support for such capabilities. “Users are not only getting data stored in a data store somewhere, but it’s managed data through an enterprise reporting solution, so they can be more confident that the data is already being managed by corporate IT,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Business Objects stresses that the new offering is designed for ease-of-use—it installs a navigation bar in each of the Office applications—and features wizard interfaces to facilitate the point-and-click mapping of reports and data sources. Users can also embed reusable report components such as tables, charts, and graphics in their documents, Crick says.

“It’s extremely intuitive, even our own execs (or at least their assistants) are starting to use it. You can be in a PowerPoint, you can use a wizard to log onto Crystal Enterprise, select a report (which can be a sales report), and you can do things like view the fields in the report and bring in data,” she notes.

Live Office will be generally available in mid-June for Crystal Enterprise Professional Edition as well as Crystal Enterprise Premium. At this point, Crick says, Business Objects doesn’t have plans to deliver versions of Live Office for users of its budget Crystal Enterprise Express and Crystal Enterprise Embedded products.

Microsoft Gets Web Services Religion

Also at TechEd, Microsoft demonstrated its Information Bridge Framework (IBF), an integrated set of XML- and Web-services-based tools designed to expose application data to business users within the context of familiar Office programs. IBF is positioned as a complement to Web Services Enhancements (WSE) 2.0, which is itself an add-on for Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET IDE. The software giant says that WSE 2.0 lets developers use Web services protocol specifications to build and consume security-enhanced Web services.

The company announced the first technical beta of IBF and enlisted the support of Business Objects, Hewlett-Packard Co. and other partners to illustrate potential-use cases for the technology.

“It’s an add-on to Microsoft Office, an enabling technology that uses Web services to link relevant information from different sources such as ERP and enterprise reporting into the Office environment,” explains Crick.

She says that Business Objects is demonstrating a prototype based on IBF that more tightly couples Live Office with Microsoft Office and other application software. “With Microsoft Information Bridge Framework, what we’re providing is a sort of next-generation of Live Office that allows users to not only have live data in their Office documents, but actually to establish links between [Live Office] and Office using Web services,” she maintains. “For example, if I receive an e-mail that has a customer complaint in it, I work in customer service, when I click on that customer ID, it can launch all of the reports in Crystal Enterprise that are relevant to that particular customer.”

As it evolves, says Crick, IBF should allow Business Objects and other vendors to “close the loop between reporting and business intelligence and Office. I really think it’s going to enable greater collaboration.”

About the Author

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