Business Objects Makes Its Case to Users

At a user conference last month, company officials worked overtime to sell users on Business Objects’ upcoming XI release. Initial reaction from analysts: a thumb's up.

For a variety of reasons, Business Objects SA has struggled to convince fence-sitting users to upgrade to new versions of its eponymous BI suite. At its international user conference last month, company representatives and business partners continued the push, working overtime to sell attendees on its forthcoming Business Objects XI release.

According to at least one industry watcher, Business Objects may have its work cut out for it. “Through various keynote and track presentations about the value and procedures for upgrading from version 5 to version 6.5, [Business Objects] presenters worked hard to convince a reticent audience to upgrade,” writes Eric Rogge, a vice president and research director with consultancy Ventana Research. “This emphasis is not surprising as most Business Objects sites are still using Version 5. Few are using version 6.1 and [an] even … smaller [number] are now using version 6.5.”

Business Objects delivered version 6.5 of its BI platform in June. The BI giant positioned that release as a stepping stone to its Business Objects XI über-release, which—when it ships next year—promises to fully integrate the technology assets of the former Crystal Decisions Inc. with Business Objects’ own (“classic”) products.

Ventana’s Rogge says that customers who’ve made the move to Business Objects 6.5 generally have good things to say about it. “[Business Objects] customers and partners … that have tested or upgraded to Business Objects 6.5 claim it is more stable and better performing than past 6.x releases,” he writes, noting that potential adopters must nevertheless “assess the benefits of upgrading as well as the costs.”

For this reason, Business Objects put a full court press on attendees at its user conference, offering preview demonstrations and feature overviews of version XI, which is currently in beta. Based on the testimony of several beta users, Rogge says, Business Objects XI looks to be a winner.

“Early feedback is that the product is significantly more stable than other prior beta releases. Business Objects customers interviewed by Ventana Research stated that upgrading of non-customized installations was very quick, taking only a few hours if the automated upgrade tools were used,” he comments.

Just as important, he says, Business Objects XI appears to make good on the long-promised integration between the Crystal and classic Business Objects products. “XI is a significant release for Business Objects as it is the integration release for Crystal Enterprise, Crystal Reports, Business Objects WebIntelligence and Performance Manager,” he writes. “XI appears to make good on BOBJs promise of an integrated Business Objects and Crystal platform. BOBJ management hints at innovations to be included in the release as well.” (BOBJ is the company's stock-trading symbol.)

According to Rogge, it’s vitally important that Business Objects demonstrate both the quality and desirability of the upcoming version XI release. “Past quality issues with version 6.0 and 6.1, customer hesitancy to upgrade to version 6.5, inconsistent messaging and botched keynote demonstrations at their conference, and unexpectedly flat quarterly revenues leave Business Objects more vulnerable to competitors,” he writes. “Nevertheless, beta feedback and glimpses of new XI functionality show a solid XI launch could neutralize these factors. Business Objects will likely experience sales challenges until the early 2005 release of XI, but these challenges are unlikely to cause lasting problems.”

Rogge gives Business Objects high marks for consistently executing on its Crystal integration roadmap, which it announced nearly 12 months ago. “So far, the plan for integration of Crystal Enterprise/Reports and Business Objects has not changed significantly and has been executed as initially described in the integration road map,” he notes.

So what should customers do? For shops that are in the market for enterprise-class reporting and ad hoc query and analysis tools, Crystal Reports 10 and Business Objects 6.5 are worth a look, Rogge says. “Customers and partners … stated they found these products scalable, stable, and reliable,” he indicates.

As for customers on older versions of the Business Objects suite, the options aren’t quite so clear-cut. “Business Objects customers using version 5.x should look to upgrade to version 6.5 only if there is a reasonable business case to do so. Both costs and benefits should be evaluated,” he writes. “The good news is that organizations that have not extensively customized their Business Objects configurations via SDKs should expect rapid migration.”

About the Author

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