Business Objects XI Gets Favorable User Feedback
It’s no silver bullet, but those who have used XI say the product goes a long way to addressing most of their concerns
As expected, Business Objects SA last week announced its long-awaited XI business intelligence (BI) suite.
XI is probably Business Objects’ most important release to date. For the past 18 months, competitors have fomented fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the company’s ability to successfully integrate the assets of its $840 million acquisition of the former Crystal Decisions Inc., and there’s been some doubt among Business Objects and Crystal users alike about how, exactly, the company planned to reconcile the two product lines.
Those who have looked at, or used, XI say the product goes a long way in addressing most of these concerns.
Cindi Howson, a principal with Analytic Solutions Know-How (ASK), recently put XI through its paces. While the new release isn’t quite a silver bullet, Howson says it does a lot of things right—starting, first and foremost, with successfully integrating the once-discrete Business Objects and Crystal worlds.
“Wow, on the integration within XI,” she says, noting that Business Objects’ interim 6.5 release (which shipped last June) offered good integration on the front end but left a lot to be desired in the back end. “XI does it on the back end as well. They've taken the best of both product lines and merged them together.”
There’s also integration between Crystal and Business Objects’ own reporting tools, Howson notes. “Crystal Enterprise's componentized architecture now has a couple new modules to support Web Intelligence reports." More to the point, she says, Business Objects appears to have kept the best from both worlds—Crystal’s offerings and its own classic product line—and exposed everything in the context of an integrated offering. “They kept Designer, which is the module used to create universes, [along with] the semantic layer for business users, and have integrated the Crystal security which did a better job of using NT or LDAP for authentication,” she points out.
Long-time industry-watcher Mike Schiff says Business Objects appears to be running on all cylinders with the XI release. In addition to a laundry list of new enhancements, Schiff notes that Business Objects has updated its virtual training program to help users get up to speed on the substantially revamped XI release.
“Business Objects has created a new version of its Knowledge Accelerator training product [BusinessObjects Knowledge Accelerator XI] to facilitate the user training and, therefore, quick adoption of BusinessObjects XI,” he says.
The upshot, Schiff notes, is that XI makes Business Objects “a force to be reckoned with”—thanks in no small part to the (more or less successful) integration of the Crystal technology stack. “The additional collaborative and ease-of-use functions should appeal to non-technical business users, and overall serve to expand BI usage throughout an organization,” he says.
Among other enhancements, Schiff lauds XI’s improved integration with the Microsoft Office suite, delivered by means of a homegrown technology called “LiveOffice.” This capability lets users embed reporting and analysis capabilities into Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, and refresh that data on demand.
“With Business Objects XI, the company has done more than fully integrate two strong technologies—it has provided a platform that should appeal to both sets of traditional Crystal and Business Object users,” he writes. “It should also increase cross-selling opportunities within these accounts, as Crystal users, who oftentimes deploy the technology against a single production system, discover the BI and data-integration capabilities of the traditional Business Objects portfolio in data warehouse environments, and vice versa.”
ASK’s Howson is similarly enthused. “I … have been impressed that they've done integration along with new features. The on-demand reporting formatting and interactivity is excellent,” she concludes.
Of course, Business Objects said little about licensing during the XI launch festivities. Users have groused in the past about the high-cost of Crystal’s flagship Crystal Enterprise reporting solution, and Business Objects’ own business intelligence suite can hardly be called inexpensive (see http://www.esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=6969). This may not sit well with some users, such as Craig Somberg, an independent business intelligence integrator who has consulted for a prominent home-design firm and a well-known Wall Street brokerage house, among others. Somberg says that Business Objects—specifically Crystal Reports—accounts for about four-fifths of his consulting activity. With a few specific exceptions, he says, he’s been satisfied with the manner in which first Crystal, and now Business Objects, has supported and enhanced that product.
What he’d like to see addressed, however, is pricing—not just for Business Objects' Crystal component but for other BI products, too.
“I personally feel the costs for enterprise level licensing to be exorbitant with the BI vendors. There is no issue spending X dollars for the base product, but when the BI vendor is asking an equally high value for ‘per user’ or ‘concurrent licensing,’ it puts stresses on the community to come up with creative programming practices to reduce the rape and pillage,” he comments.
Nor does XI immediately address the needs of a sizeable segment of Business Objects customers—those using platforms other than Microsoft Windows, notes Current Analysis’ Schiff. For example, Schiff says, customers on Unix platforms shouldn’t expect to see an XI deliverable until later this quarter, which could cause problems for adopters in mixed Windows and Unix environments.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.