EIM: The Method to Business Objects’ Acquisition Madness

EIM strategy takes BO somewhat far afield from its bread-and-butter BI stomping grounds. Analysts say that might be a good thing.

Business Objects SA last week made it official: there’s a method to its acquisition madness, and it’s called enterprise information management (EIM).

At its Insight Europe user conference, held last week in Cannes, the BI giant announced an ambitious new EIM strategy that gives both form and purpose to the separate enterprise information integration (EII) and data quality purchases it made over the last six months.

Last October, Business Objects acquired fledgling EII provider Medience SA. Medience gave Business Objects a homegrown alternative to EII technology it had previously licensed from MetaMatrix and Ipedo. (http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?id=7692) Earlier this year, Business Objects snapped up data quality pioneer (and long-time partner) Firstlogic Corp., which had been abortively courted by Pitney-Bowes Inc.

Business Objects last week announced a productized version of the former Medience technology, dubbed Data Federator XI. The company also plans to resell Firstlogic’s technology as Business Objects Data Quality XI. Packaged along with its Data Integrator ETL tool (which has evolved considerably from the SAP-centric ETL technology Business Objects acquired four years ago from the former Acta)—and fleshed out with a brand new Metadata Manager XI tool—officials claim Business Objects now has the makings of a credible EIM stack.

“If you think of what we offer as a sort of iceberg, our core BI and enterprise performance management [products] are the things that are above the surface of the iceberg, and really the things we’re doing on the EIM side are addressing the data and the things below the surface of the iceberg, addressing the data management issues that underpin all BI and performance initiatives,” says Philip On, a group manager for product marketing with Business Objects.

BO’s On doesn’t pretend that Business Objects was contemplating an EIM master stroke as far back as its acquisition of Acta in July of 2002, but says EIM obviously isn’t something company executives cooked up overnight. For the most part, he says, the push for EIM came from customers, particularly users of Data Integrator, who were agitating for ever more data management functionality.

“Why we developed this EIM strategy was to help our [Data Integrator] customers in addressing the issues of poor data quality and consistent data, disparate data, and metadata visibility,” he comments.

Data Integrator posted revenue growth in excess of 120 percent last year, On says. Not surprisingly, he and other Business Objects officials argue that the company’s new EIM strategy—which buttresses Data Integrator’s ETL capabilities with data quality, EII, and metadata management functionality—should see similar uptake among customers, and could also bring new customers into the fold, too.

“EIM is a combination of a strategy for knowing… what kinds of business initiatives you want to address and having a process or best practices to address the issues around managing information. This is something everyone is having to deal with now,” he argues. “Think about it this way, if you’re building a house without a foundation, if you don’t have the foundation right, it’s going to be difficult for users who look at BI reports to gain trustworthy or accurate information for many projects, such as compliance or financial reporting. ETL, EII, [or] data quality alone just aren’t sufficient.”

In one (perhaps short-term) respect, says Philip Russom, senior manager of research and services with TDWI, Business Objects’ new EIM strategy is still very much about BI. “[T]hough still focused on the reporting and analysis tool end of the data warehouse stack, [Business Objects] is supporting more of the middle pieces of the stack, [those that involve] data integration, data quality, data federation, and metadata management,” he comments. “The short-term goal is to enable user organizations to acquire more of the technology pieces from a single vendor. After all, these and more pieces are required of a complete BI and data warehousing implementation.”

Its long-term directional thrust should take Business Objects somewhat far afield of its bread-and-butter BI stomping grounds, however. “Looking at the competitive landscape for a moment, Business Objects' expansion into more of the data warehouse technology stack brings them closer to the fairly comprehensive product lines of SAS and Information Builders, and puts them ahead of Cognos in terms of data integration and data quality,” he comments.

But there’s a lot to like about this move, suggests Russom—particularly in the area of actionable business intelligence. “[T]he long-term goal is for all these pieces to interoperate deeply, using Business Objects Universe—a metadata layer that's the golden thread that stitches the stack together and will eventually provide master data management. Once products are integrated to interoperate [at] this level of sophistication, users can see data, its transformations, and its origins from the report level all the way back through integration and quality processes, back to data sources.” As a result, he concludes, “users [can] assess the accuracy of report data, which they always want to do before making a critical decision based on it or to move the data into sensitive external deliverables like financial reporting or regulatory reporting.”

Something Happened on the Way to Heaven

That’s the long-term idyll. The short-term reality, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. For example, BO’s On concedes that his company’s new EIM platform is very much a work in progress.

“There is definitely going to be more meaningful synergy between these products over time, although we also want to develop and maintain each of these products as standalone products over time. We also recognize that there are some benefits of sharing some of the services, [and] that’s why we’re moving toward an open and standards-based approach,” he comments.

The implication, of course, is that (right now, anyway) there’s very little sharing between and among constituent components. BO’s On acknowledges as much, stressing that Business Objects has had less than six months to integrate the fruits of its Medience and Firstlogic acquisitions.

“[B]ecause of the recent acquisitions, there is not direct integration between these products at the moment, although we’ve had code-level integration [with Firstlogic] technology for two years now. Their data cleansing technology is accessible via three new transformations in the Data Integrator product,” he indicates. “Going forward, with our EIM products, we’re basically developing capabilities that are services-enabled through an SOA model. There are capabilities that can be shared [along with] connectivity to different databases.”

About the Author

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