Business Objects’ Late April Binge

Business Objects picked up a best-of-breed PM provider and launched new versions of its ETL and EII tools last week.

Business Objects SA capped an otherwise sleepy April with a flurry of activity, acquiring performance management (PM) specialist Cartesis SA and shipping new versions of its Data Integrator and Data Federator ETL and EII tools—all during the last week of that cruelest of months.

The $300 million Cartesis acquisition gives Business Objects a proven PM platform—with expertise in financial reporting, consolidations, and planning—as well as access to Cartesis’ 1,300 customers.

The Cartesis acquisition builds on Business Objects’ burgeoning PM portfolio, which sprung from its acquisition of the former SRC Software nearly two years ago. ( Like Cartesis, SRC was a purveyor of budgeting, planning, and forecasting software. Like Cartesis, SRC boasted more than 1,000 customers (1,200, to be exact).

Unlike Cartesis, SRC was a relative steal, costing Business Objects all of $100 million. Rivals such as Cognos Inc. claim that there’s a lot of overlap—let’s call it complementarity—between what Business Objects delivers today (largely by means of SRC and related acquisitions) and what Cartesis brings to the table. But the Cartesis acquisition isn’t so much a case of a square peg fitting neatly in a round hole, analysts say—instead, it’s a competitive response to Oracle’s $3 billion acquisition of Hyperion Solutions Corp.

“Business Objects’ announcement was a necessity for [it] to counter Oracle’s recent acquisition of financial-CPM market leader Hyperion and to show continued progress on its own aggressive CPM strategy,” notes James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with Current Analysis. “Business Objects has delivered a clear signal to Oracle and other rivals that it too will continue to make strategic acquisitions to compete aggressively in strategic data management … market segments such as financial CPM.”

Nor is Business Objects sugarcoating what’s involved here, at least when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts work of integrating—and reconciling—Cartesis’ PM stack with its own PM offerings, Kobielus argues. “Business Objects has clearly stated how Cartesis’ products complement its own and has, in those segments where the two vendors’ offerings overlap, effectively spelled out how they will be positioned so as to minimize go-to-market conflicts,” he claims.

Just how much overlap is there? A lot, say competitors, who note that Business Objects must now reconcile at least two planning engines, along with redundant reporting and analysis engines and metadata repositories, for that matter.

Of course, if any company has proven itself adept at successfully incorporating—and, indeed, making the most of—large acquisitions, it’s Business Objects. Over the last half-decade, that company has acquired a prominent ETL provider (the former Acta), a powerhouse enterprise reporting specialist (the former Crystal Decisions), an EII player (the former Medience), and a best-of-breed data quality player (the former Firstlogic). In every case, Business Objects has successfully integrated and extended its inherited technologies.

In the case of its Data Integrator tool, for example, Business Objects arguably delivers an ETL facility that is superior—both in capabilities and scope—to its predecessor (the niche-y Acta tool, which focused largely on SAP data).

For a number of reasons, the Cartesis acquisition could be business-as-usual for Business Objects. For one thing, Kobielus notes, even though there’s overlap, Business Objects has already outlined the segmentation that it envisions for its own and the former Cartesis products. “Business Objects [will] provide the core BI platform, scorecards, analytics, and cost and profitability management tools, whereas Cartesis provides financial reporting and consolidation and financial GRC offerings,” he observes. “Business Objects plans to position Cartesis’ financial planning and budgeting offerings to corporate-level customers, and its own financial planning and budgeting offerings to the division level.”

Elsewhere, Kobielus says, Business Objects plans to yoke Cartesis (and its ensuing PM power play) to what it claims are its own best-of-breed differentiators—namely, its data integration (Data Integrator and Data Federator) and data quality (Data Quality) offerings. ”Whereas Hyperion brings fairly limited finance-specific DQ tools to Oracle—and Cognos [has] no DQ tools at all—Business Objects has flexible, best-of-breed data profiling and cleansing solutions that it can leverage across the Cartesis products, plus its current and future CPM offerings as well.” Kobielus points out.

Data Integrator, Data Federator Reborn?

Speaking of data integration, Business Objects last week also announced a refresh of its ETL and enterprise information integration (EII) products, Data Integrator XI and Data Federator XI, respectively. The new tools include grid computing enhancements, along with improved data governance features, thanks to a tighter coupling with Business Objects Metadata Manager.

Says Kobielus: “Business Objects clearly knows that it must continue pushing the envelope on grid-based scalability in order to compete in the DI market against IBM, Oracle, Informatica, Sybase, and others, and that it must continue to evolve its data governance features to continue differentiating itself in the DQ market.”

Kobielus says he doesn’t see all upside to Business Objects’ ETL and EII refresh, however. For one thing, he says Business Objects still hasn’t integrated Data Federator XI into its Data Quality XI offering—even though similar integration exists between Data Integrator and Data Quality. To some extent, this is understandable: Business Objects acquired the former Acta (the vendor which developed the ETL technology upon which Data Integrator was originally based) nearly five years ago; moreover, Business Objects had a long-standing OEM relationship with the former Firstlogic Corp., which it resold along with Data Integrator.

On the other hand, Business Objects acquired Medience (Data Federator’s parent) in October of 2005; then, early last year, it plunked down $70 million for troubled FirstLogic. To a degree, then, it’s still building linkages between both product offerings.

Nor is that all, Kobielus argues. “[Business Objects] has not provided [a] unified suite-based packaging of its sophisticated DI, DQ, data governance, and metadata management products. Furthermore, it has not articulated a comprehensive master data management (MDM) strategy, under which its ETL, EII, DQ, data governance, and metadata management products could potentially serve as core functional components,” he points out.

That said, Kobielus acknowledges, the revamped Data Integrator and Data Federator do deliver substantive enhancements. He cites improved memory utilization, persistent data caching, and sub-data-flow parallel processing capabilities in Data Integrator, along with new support for transform-processing pushdown to intermediate data servers and automated ETL-server tuning. On the EII front, Kobielus says, Data Federator delivers an enhanced query optimization facility that’s able to automate the selection and execution of optimal join operators for the population of target or virtual tables.

Kobielus says he also likes the improved integration between Business Objects’ data management tools and its Metadata Manager offering: “Metadata Manager actively collects and unifies BI, ETL, EII, and third-party metadata. Data Federator now relies on Metadata Manager to capture information about the dynamic relationships among native sources and target tables, enabling end-to-end data lineage and impact analysis across dynamically integrated data sets.”

And even though Business Objects has yet to effectively integrate Data Federator XI and Data Quality XI, the integration between Data Integrator XI and its data quality counterpart is much improved, Kobielus says: “Data Integrator now integrates fully with the DQ business rules repository in BusinessObjects Data Quality XI, … provides a simplified, visually oriented DQ business-rule configuration tool, and … supports straightforward graphical insertion of DQ data flows into DI projects.”

About the Author

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