Q&A: Business Objects and Crystal, One Year Later
A merger marked by complementary products that work synergistically—we talk with Business Objects about their acquisition
One year and $800 million later, Business Objects SA and Crystal Decisions Inc. are one. To discuss the Crystal acquisition at its first anniversary, we spoke with Lance Walter, director of BI platform product marketing with Business Objects.
There’s been some suggestion that the Crystal purchase hasn’t worked out as well as Business Objects first anticipated, but Walter dismisses this as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) stirred up by his company’s competitors. On the contrary, he says, the acquisition has been an unqualified success: The products complement each other, and the synergy is there; Business Objects is executing on its roadmap; and a substantial majority of the company’s customer base already uses Crystal products.
With Business Objects poised to deliver on back-end integration between Crystal and its own products later this year, Walter says, the hard part is effectively over.
A year ago this month, you ponied up quite a bit of money for Crystal. Looking back at that acquisition, what was the foremost driver from Business Objects’ perspective, and how has this [driver] been borne out?
I would say probably complementarity, more than anything else. We saw complementarity early on. I won’t position myself as someone who was central to driving the acquisition process, but I was at the advisory board meeting last June when we brought together some of our biggest and most active customers and asked them how they were doing. When we asked those customers [who among them were] standardized on Business Objects, of the ones who weren’t fully standardized on Business Objects, every single one had investments in Crystal Reports and Crystal Enterprise.
These customers told us, ... “Really the best tool for creating operational reports off of our operational systems is Crystal Reports.” That made us say, hey, these products are obviously complementary, and that there was certainly some synergy in the customer base.
As you [have dug] down to the nuts and bolts of integrating the two product lines, have you discovered any areas of synergy that you didn’t or couldn’t anticipate before the acquisition?
Probably the best example I can think of is one that wasn’t on our radar early on, but we had a couple of things happen in parallel based on what our engineers told us they could do. For example, Crystal Reports used to capture daily snapshot data about customer account balances, inventory levels, and so on—you’d go into the system sand there’s this archive of reports. We delivered the Data Mart accelerator for Crystal Reports as part of [Business Objects] 6.5, so some of those customers that have the data archived in Crystal Reports ... want to actually be able to do some trending and historical analysis and see how that inventory varied over time, or what that customer account balance looked like over time. Now, our Data Integrator tool is able to source from those Crystal Reports and build a data mart or a data warehouse, and that’s something that was not an obvious synergy at the outset.
When you introduced Business Objects 6.5 last month, you billed it as primarily delivering on front-end integration between the two product lines. What exactly does this mean?
We can allow customers to tie [Crystal Reports] in, bring that directly into a unified dashboard that comes directly from the Business Objects system and lets them expose that to operational information that came directly from Crystal Reports. In terms of what we bring together, we’ve really delivered largely an end-user benefit in terms of bringing the products together, so the end user experience is very seamless. They don’t have to worry about whether something is a Crystal Report or a Web Intelligence report. The next benefit is bringing more of that benefit from the IT side: giving users access to certain data, being able to schedule reports to run during the evening, things like that.
What do you say to charges that the Crystal acquisition hasn’t been as successful as you thought it would be, or that you’re having more trouble than you anticipated integrating the two product lines? Is there any truth to these charges, or—as at least one analyst has charged—is this largely FUD kicked up by your competitors?
The question is a good one. We took what was a pretty unique step in enterprise software and what we hope is the start of a vendor trend of greater disclosure when we said, “We’re going to publicize to the world our product plan for the next two years so that they can see where we’re going and rest easy with the enhancements coming to the products that they already own.” Some of our competitors took that openness as an opportunity to say, “You never know, they’ve made a plan, but can they hit it?” A lot of them have worked to spread [these charges], but one of our big wins coming out of the second quarter is that our competitors just aren’t able to say this anymore.
Because we delivered Business Objects 6.5 on schedule, which was a key deliverable of our roadmap. If you look at what we published, we have executed on this roadmap. We delivered Crystal 10 [earlier this year], which was a pretty important release because it showed customers that we’re going to continue to deliver on our enhancements. Now, [with Business Objects 6.5,] we delivered not just the integration we promised, but new enhancements. We expanded to support the Linux platform, we added some really compelling and innovative Office capabilities. We added Unicode support, so we really just sort of [crossed]-out two of the issues that competitors wanted to raise—that we wouldn’t be able to hit our milestones and execute [on the roadmap].
Crystal gave you a best-in-class operational reporting tool, and since that acquisition, the BI landscape has changed considerably. You now have plenty of competition on the operational side of things, for example. Another trend is the increasing importance of data quality. And yet, I’ve talked with a few Business Objects customers who don’t yet have a data quality solution in place. Is [data quality technology] something that you might think about acquiring in the future?
We think that data quality is very, very important, and in fact in the Business Objects 6.5 release, we actually embedded best in class data quality capabilities through our partnership with FirstLogic. It’s actually part of the Data Integrator product, so I think we’re on the forefront of business intelligence vendors in addressing the data quality issue. That’s why we did this as an OEM and actually make it part of the capabilities in Data Integrator.
Is that [data quality] technology available at a premium over what a customer pays for the base Data Integrator tool?
It’s a pretty high-value solution, and it solves a very, very complex problem, so, no, it’s not free as a feature. I don’t have the pricing information right here in front of me, but I can tell you there’s no value in us taking [the FirstLogic data quality technology] to market if it’s prohibitively expensive.
Is data-quality technology from FirstLogic or some other vendor something that you’d consider acquiring in the future?
Oh, I certainly couldn’t talk about that.
What about data mining? With regulatory requirements such as USA PATRIOT Act, for example, I’ve heard talk about a renaissance in the importance of data mining. What’s your take on that, and is this something that you’d be interested in delivering as part of the Business Objects BI stack?
Our company has a bit of a history with the data mining market, and what we’ve seen so far is that there’s a lot of use of data mining, but we think that the mass adoption of that to date has been a non-event. The idea of giving a data-mining tool to the average end user—that didn’t take off. We didn’t see [a] mass-market uptake for broad data-mining tools. What we’ve done instead is embed data mining techniques directly in other applications, so the end user just gets the business benefit of seeing sort of the result and seeing the prediction of what’s going to happen.
Any idea if you’ll introduce a dedicated data mining solution, though?
In terms of where it goes from here, I would suggest that we have partnerships with some companies like IBM, who have had a big investment here for a long time. Our strategy will be ... to continue to stay open to those types of data mining solutions, so if that market gets momentum, we want to be there.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.