Just in Time: Business Objects Delivers on Crystal Integration

Company beats its self-imposed deadline by a single day

Business Objects SA this week introduced a much-anticipated release of its popular BI suite. The release—which boosts integration between Business Objects’ own products and those of the former Crystal Decisions Inc.—comes only one day before the unofficial integration deadline announced by the company earlier this year.

The new integration with Crystal 10 is enabled by means of an Integration Pack, which is available at no extra cost to all joint customers. This deliverable is the first in a roadmap of planned milestones that Business Objects announced in January.

According to product marketing manager James Thomas, the Integration Pack enables front-end integration between products from Business Objects and Crystal. The upshot, he says, is that the new release gives Crystal Reports designers access to the Business Objects semantic layer, which enables transparent query access to a variety of different data sources. As a result, users can perform a variety of tasks, such as linking Crystal Reports with Business Objects’ Web query and analysis tools. In addition, says Thomas, the Integration Pack gives customers a unified portal and dashboard interface—along with a single Web services API --for both product lines.

“With this release, what we’re providing is really a unified business intelligence portal, where a user can log in and access both Crystal and Business Objects deployments and bring back both of the reports in the system in a seamless manner,” he explains. “There’s also support for contextual report linking, where what we’re providing is the ability to click a link in a Crystal Report and go directly to a Web Intelligence report that has your trend analysis in it.”

The next major deliverable in Business Objects’ integration roadmap should ship later this year in the form of a Business Objects 11 release. It incorporates much of the nuts-and-bolts back-end integration necessary to further tie together the Business Objects and Crystal product lines. “With the Business Objects 6.5 and the Integration Pack or the integration components, we’ve completed the front-end integration. To really unify the back-end infrastructure—security, scheduling, repository—that’s scheduled for the end of this year,” Thomas says.

The new Integration Pack is largely targeted at existing, joint customers, Thomas says, although it’s expected that many customers who are intrigued by the potential of the combined Business Objects and Crystal products will benefit, too. Because of the pervasiveness of Crystal Reports—which is OEM-ed in a variety of products (such as Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET development environment), Business Objects believes that as many as two-thirds of its customers may have investments of some kind in Crystal technologies.

“We have tons of joint customers,” Thomas asserts. “Last November at the Business Objects user conference, when [company CEO] Bernard [Liautaud] asked how many users also had Crystal in their organizations, it was more than two out of three,” Thomas asserts. “Just about anybody who has SAP, PeopleSoft, or Microsoft [in their environment] also has Crystal.”

Revamped Web Intelligence

Elsewhere, the new Business Objects 6.5 release includes a revamped Web Intelligence facility that boasts improved ease-of-use features.

What this means, says Lance Walter, director of BI platform product marketing for Business Objects, is that users of many different skill levels can now perform common tasks—such as adding calculations, filtering data, changing the appearance of tables, or selecting different data for reports—from within Web Intelligence itself. “The idea is that an end user with less sophisticated skill can do something like right-click on a chart and do some lighter-weight but important analysis. So we’re making Web intelligence easier to use for a broader set of people,” he explains. “A lot of work has gone into making Web Intelligence more interactive, because we wanted to make sure that we provide more control for the report designer over interactive report design.”

Business Objects 6.5 also features a new multilingual server—powered by Unicode—which enables double-byte character support at the server level, confirms Thomas. Other additions include performance and scalability enhancements, such as better caching, along with improved use of some of the capabilities of databases such as Oracle and Teradata.

Finally, the new release ships with the Data Integrator 6.5 ETL tool, which Business Objects previously announced in April. Highlights of that release include new change-capture features for Oracle databases and optional data quality capabilities via an agreement with Firstlogic, as well as new Data Mart Accelerators for Crystal Reports.

“A lot of Crystal customers just don’t build the data warehouse, and they don’t have data marts. They actually use the report to do a lot of complex calculations … [and] they store that report in an archive,” Thomas explains. “In order to do any trending and analysis, they have to cut and paste into Excel and do the analysis that way, so what the Data Mart Accelerator does is essentially lets the administrator log into Crystal Enterprise, bring back those historical instances, and do trending and analysis of the historical instances of those reports.”

Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis, says that the Business Objects 6.5 release is important because it helps to counteract much of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) disseminated by Business Objects’ competitors, who have made a great deal of marketing hay out of the idea that the Crystal integration is proving more difficult than Business Objects anticipated. The opposite, Schiff says, seems to be the case, and the fact that Business Objects is executing on the self-imposed deadlines of its integration roadmap should reassure customers and give competitors pause.

“There’s been a lot of FUD out there about Business Objects and Crystal not integrating well, and any time they come out with a new release, it’s like one more milestone. I think it’s still a marriage of winners,” he observes.

Schiff notes that the Data Integrator ETL tool is based on technology that Business Objects acquired from the former Acta, which specialized in getting data out of SAP systems. The fact that Business Objects has developed Data Integrator into a full-fledged ETL product capable of competing on its own in many accounts bodes well for the company’s Crystal integration effort, Schiff argues. “They continue to invest in both products, and the nice thing about the Acta product is that you can see it kind of foreshadowing what they’re doing right now with Crystal,” he notes.

About the Author

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