Business Objects Pushes Real-time Decision-making

Business Objects bills XI Built for Operational BI as a version of its BI suite that’s optimized for operational decision-making

Last week, Business Objects SA unveiled a new version of its popular BI suite optimized for operational—or “real-time”—decision-making.

The new offering, dubbed Business Objects XI Built for Operational BI, adds two not-so-new products—Business Objects Process Tracker and Business Objects Process Analysis—to the company’s conventional application stack, which (as of this year’s XI release) now includes both the classic Business Objects BI toolset and the former Crystal Enterprise (now Business Objects Enterprise).

The advantage, officials say, is a BI suite that’s better suited for real-time applications, with support for embedded analytics and process optimization.

To some extent, XI for Operational BI is a no-brainer for Business Objects. The company’s Crystal Reports and Crystal Enterprise products have long been synonymous with operational BI, after all, and both products are still widely deployed to support operational reporting against relational and even multidimensional repositories.

“Many of Crystal Decisions’ customers deployed Crystal’s offerings—especially Crystal Reports, which shipped with many third-party software products and was considered by some as the de facto reporting standard—in operational environments,” explains Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc.

Business Objects isn’t unmindful of this history, of course. If anything, company officials say, the combination of Crystal’s traditional excellence as an operational reporting front-end with Business Objects’ strengths in both operational and data-warehouse environments results in an even better operational reporting solution.

“If you’re going to provide complete performance management, you need to have really powerful reporting and a business intelligence platform underneath it, [where] you can plug in dashboard components … and all of the things required for business performance management and business intelligence in one complete sweep,” says James Thomas, director of product marketing with Business Intelligence, and a veteran of the former Crystal Decisions Inc.

In this respect, XI for Operational BI tries to do three things. First, it’s an attempt to explicitly (and credibly) couple the Business Objects and Crystal technology assets in a way that helps promote their effectiveness for operational reporting, business performance management, and other real-time (or near-real-time) initiatives. Secondly, it’s part of a branding effort to establish Business Objects as an operational reporting champ in the minds of consumers—although “Business Objects XI Built for Operational BI” doesn’t exactly roll off of one’s tongue. Finally, it’s an attempt to ride the operational BI wave, which, analysts say, is the driving engine behind a lot of BI capital expenditures these days.

“With the BusinessObjects XI Built for Operational BI announcement, the company is rebranding and packaging two of its offerings in order to ride the operational BI wave,” comments Schiff, who notes that the extra—or “operational”—goodies Business Objects bundles with XI for Operational BI are actually based on existing solutions.

For example, Schiff explains, BusinessObjects Process Analysis was first released in 2002—as Statistical Process Control, an analytic application. BusinessObjects Process Tracker, released in April of this year, was developed in tandem with an existing Business Objects’ customer. “Whatever its heritage, one thing is certain—with the branding extension, Business Objects is making sure that the marketplace understands that its BI technology can be applied to both operational systems and data warehouse environments,” he says.

The branding effort is important for another reason. According to Thomas, some customers still don’t know that Business Objects has Crystal under its thumb. “A lot of people don’t know that Business Objects owns Crystal Reports, and I think it’s a real marketing challenge that we’re embracing,” he says.

To some extent, this may have been the impetus behind Business Objects XI Built for Operational BI—namely, to leverage Crystal (and its reputation as an operational reporting powerhouse) to help establish the Business Objects brand as a viable solution for operational applications. As Business Objects’ Thomas points out, executives who depend on operational reporting tools and dashboards to make informed decisions are still largely in the dark about the underlying BI technology that enables these displays.

“People know if they have bad reporting, and the C-level doesn’t get the information that they need, but the actual process—what it takes to get [the information] there—is more of a challenge,” he explains. “What is getting attention at the C-level is really about performance management, and, in fact, a lot of the performance-management reports are dashboards, but they’re powered by Crystal Reports. The business user isn’t looking for a reporting solution, but [reporting, BI, and performance management are] totally linked, and this is where the whole strategy makes sense.”

About the Author

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