Business Objects Unveils Data Quality XI

Before customers can adequately take stock of BO’s EIM push, it must deliver next-gen versions of its ETL and EII tools.

Nearly six months ago, Business Objects SA snapped up data quality provider (and perpetual auction block dweller) Firstlogic Corp.

Shortly thereafter, in early May, Business Objects outlined an ambitious enterprise information management (EIM) strategy that draws on its strengths in data integration (with its Data Integrator tool), data federation (with its Data Federator tool), and now—thanks to Firstlogic—data quality. At the time, all of Business Objects’ EIM ducks were more or less in a row, with the exception of one: a branded version of the former Firstlogic’s data quality technology.

On Monday, Business Objects trotted out its data quality duck and lined it up with the rest of the pieces in its EIM stack. Company officials formally unveiled Data Quality XI, the first branded version of the former Firstlogic’s data quality technology. Officials stress, however, that Data Quality XI isn’t just a re-badging of Firstlogic’s software: the new release boasts several enhancements, including a centralized business rules repository, expanded international capabilities to better support localized data quality projects, and integration with Crystal Reports. The flip side to that, acknowledges Frank Dravis, a Firstlogic veteran who now heads up Business Objects’ EIM push, is that most of this stuff was already in the pipeline before Business Objects acquired Firstlogic.

“Prior to [the acquisition], Firstlogic had been working about 18 months on a substantial upgrade to its IQ 8 data quality platform and IQ Insight data profiling product. So with the acquisition, we were primed and set the stage for this new release, and now that we’ve been fully integrated into the Business Objects organization, we’re pleased to re-brand these new products under Business Objects XI as the name of the new platform and [as] Data Insight for our data profiling component,” he comments.

At the same time, Dravis argues, the new Data Quality XI release also incorporates “synergistic” enhancements that Business Objects and Firstlogic developers discovered when they first started comparing notes with one another. “When you go through M&A, there may be some hidden synergies that you hope to expose post-acquisition that you can’t really expose prior to the acquisition just because the development teams can’t talk to one another, and that’s just what we found, mainly in the way that we can expose our metadata and start passing business rules between applications and our EIM suite.”

Besides, Business Objects officials point out, it wasn’t as if Firstlogic was an unknown quantity: the two companies had a long-standing OEM agreement, so some of the foundational interoperability between Business Objects XI and Firstlogic’s IQ8 was already in place. That said, Dravis allows, interoperating with a third-party product and integrating that product into one’s own platform vision are two entirely different propositions.

“OEM relationships take a joint product a fair distance, but still it’s two separate companies, and that was one of the things we recognized during the acquisition planning and fulfillment of that, we could deepen our integration and actually expose much more data quality functionality than had originally been required during that OEM agreement. So much of that deeper integration is going to appear in the next version of Data Integrator later this year, for example,” he comments. Dravis and other Business Objects executives declined to be more specific about when the next version of Data Integrator will ship, however.

Delving into the nitty gritty of the new Data Quality XI release, Kristin McMahon, a product marketing manager with Business Objects, says there’s plenty there for both existing Firstlogic customers as well as first-time adopters to sink their teeth into. “One thing we’re introducing are new integrations with proprietary and third party applications, so SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and Informatica. These are targeted at users being able to quickly deploy and ensure data quality within those applications,” she comments. “We’ve also expanded our international capabilities for those localized data quality projects, so now when our clients and companies expand globally, they can maintain those same business rules across the company. We’ve [introduced] support for [localized versions of] Arabic, French, Spanish, and Portuguese data, as well as new global matching capabilities for China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.”

The revamped Data Quality XI also boasts improved matching capabilities, including an automated watch-list processing feature that compares data with government watch lists. The new matching capabilities have applications above and beyond compliance, however, McMahon stresses.

“This is about empowering users so they don’t have to become matching experts. They can leave it up to the matching wizard and spend more time improving their data quality projects. It is also helping them speed the development of business rules, because we’ve also incorporated best practices templates that we’ve developed over the last 20 years.”

EIM Push Still Taking Shape

Data Quality XI doesn’t quite plug the gap in Business Objects’ still-coalescing EIM strategy. As Dravis and other executives acknowledge, it’s largely based on technology that was already in the pipeline when BO acquired Firstlogic several months ago. Before customers—and competitors—can adequately take stock of Business Objects’ EIM push, the company must deliver next-gen versions of Data Integrator and Data Federator, both of which are provisionally slated to ship later this year. Both products will achieve much tighter integration with the new Data Quality XI release. Of course, Business Objects probably won’t completely close the loop until it ships the next version of Data Quality XI.

“We see some opportunities [to tighten integration with] our Metadata Manager Product, and [are] doing a very holistic aggregation and analysis of providing data lineage of all of the metadata that’s created and gathered and available across that EIM framework,” Dravis comments. “In [the next version of] Data Integrator, there’s a lot of exciting activity around metadata management and business rule passing. In Data Federator, they have basic data quality caps and functions that they necessarily need to add as part of an EIM solution, but that group was not closely involved in the integration planning; but once we came together, then we were able to meet with the Data Federator product management folks. So these are things that really have to wait for the next versions [of these products].”

Dravis declined to disclose when either of these products, much less the next version of Data Quality XI, are expected to ship, however. “We do indeed have development plans going out at least 18 months and a roadmap and a vision for [Data Quality XI]; there’s a lot of give and take, pull and play, [of] what features we need to accomplish strategically,” he concluded.

In the interim, the marketplace itself may finally determine what it thinks of the highly integrated BI stack. And—if BI consumers finally do make up their minds—this could have disruptive ramifications for a host of BI powers that be. After all, Cognos Inc., Hyperion Solutions Corp., and MicroStrategy Corp. have thus far failed to develop credible data integration strategies, notes Philip Russom, senior manager of research and services with TDWI. This hasn’t traditionally been a problem, Russom stresses, in large part because the highly vertical BI stack—at least as envisioned by Business Objects—is currently a product vision in search of a market: users haven’t yet had a chance to vote with their IT budgets, and it’s not clear that going deep (i.e., vertical) is the answer for a critical mass of users.

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About the Author

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