Business Objects: Refocusing BI's Role?
Business Objects made several announcements at its Insights 2005 conference in Orlando today, including a key OEM partnership and a new product for the retail space. The partnership, with predictive analytics specialist ThinkAnalytics, extends the reach of the Business Objects XI platform in regards to data mining and statistical applications, helping users take the initiative in business. The company also released Business Objects Planning for Retail, a vertical-focused software package providing retailers with tools to instill accountability, collaboration, and optimized financial and operational performance into their operations. Last, the company's Crystal Reports application has been added to the default install for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, allaying fears that Microsoft's competing tools would break the bond between the two companies, according to Business Objects.
Under the OEM agreement, ThinkAnalytics will integrate its predictive analytics software technology with Business Objects' performance management applications. The intended result is the delivery of real-time performance data that enables executives to spot the seeds of problems before they sprout, and to predict results based on current trends. "The use of business intelligence in an operational setting is expanding quickly, and Business Objects has taken a leadership role in providing the solutions required," said Donald MacCormick, vice president of performance management applications, in a written statement. "Our OEM agreement with ThinkAnalytics expands our ability to deliver advanced, predictive, real-time analytics to business users. Having the ability to anticipate future results using predictive analysis helps organizations react quickly to changing environments and enables them to make better business decisions."
Business Objects is beginning to change the focus of BI from serving as a broad palette of universal tools to serving a more focused role in particular industries, according to the company. Its new retail tool provides the ability to monitor adherence to corporate goals, strengthen departmental collaboration, and accurately forecast and optimize payroll and other budget issues, placing four new applications into the retail toolbox. "[The] solutions that allow retailers to model what-if scenarios to help them exceed their financial goals," said Tom Malone, planning business unit group vice president, in a written statement. "In combination with our existing retail analytics, Business Objects now provides a complete solution that enables better management of performance across the retail organization--from the CEO to finance executives down to store managers."
Analysts noted the significance of Business Objects' industry-specific intentions. "This speaks a lot about Business Objects' future direction. It will take applications that work across a broad range of organizations and focus them on specific verticals. They're saying BI isn't just a horizontal tool anymore," says John Hagerty, vice president of research for AMR Research. "Business Objects is being especially aggressive in retail, at a time when retailers are rearming themselves technologically. This vertical concentration puts added pressure on BI competitors to think not just horizontally, but vertically as well."
In continuing a long-standing relationship with Microsoft, Crystal Reports adds a number of functions to Microsoft's development suite, enabling software developers to increase productivity while shortening the development cycle. It allows users to generate interactive reports for enterprise Web and smart-client applications without leaving the Visual Studio environment, import data directly into it from Crystal Reports, and expose the reports as Web services, so that users of Visual Studio or an application created with it can more easily manage their operations. "Crystal Reports has been a part of our product offering for more than a decade," said S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's developer division, in a written statement. "By providing Crystal Reports within Visual Studio 2005, we help customers protect their investment in existing projects, and continue to provide a variety of options for their new projects."
The Microsoft news is likely to be welcome in the developer community, according to Hagerty. "One concern organizations had going forward was that Microsoft has reporting products that compete with Crystal Reports," he says. "Customers will breathe a sigh of relief over this one."
The overall effect of these developments should result in a stronger market for BI. "What Business Objects is doing overall is [leveraging] its recent acquisitions and make a push for analytics by industry. The needs of a retail company are different from financial services, for example, and customers have expressed a desire for industry-focused analytics and BI products," Hagerty says. "This speaks a lot about Business Objects' future direction. Business intelligence has historically been backwards-looking. These developments mean that users can have 20-20 vision, not just in hindsight anymore."
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