The recent Business Objects (BOBJ) user conference highlighted the stability and improved performance of version 6.5 over previous releases. The focus of Business Objects' management was clearly centered on persuading customers to upgrade to the latest versions of Business Objects Enterprise and Crystal Enterprise. Conversion to version 6.5 provides a critical path to the upcoming major release of XI (formerly Business Objects 11) in 2005. Customers interviewed vouched for Business Objects 6.5 and Crystal 10 stability but are still reluctant to upgrade to newer versions, especially 6.5. Management's XI preview demonstrations (of which two failed on stage) and overview presentations showed new features and benefits of the soon-to-be-launched version XI. Ventana Research advises existing Business Objects and Crystal customers to validate compelling business cases for upgrading prior to doing so. Stakeholders should leverage BOBJ resources for information and expertise to mitigate upgrade risks
On Monday, November 8, 2004, Business Objects opened its annual international user conference in Grapevine, Texas. Six strategic initiatives were cited, among which were the soon-to-be-launched version XI (eXtreme Intelligence, formerly known as version 11) product and a new focus on serving small and medium-sized businesses. Keynote presentations at the conference reviewed this past year's performance, promoted various migrations to current products and provided glimpses of BOBJ's vision for BI and their soon-to-be-launched product, Business Objects XI. Significant emphasis was placed on upgrading to version 6.5, as it is a requirement to upgrade to version XI.
Through various keynote and track presentations about the value and procedures for upgrading from version 5 to version 6.5, BOBJ presenters worked hard to convince a reticent audience to upgrade. This emphasis is not surprising, because most Business Objects sites are still using Version 5. Few are using version 6.1 and an even smaller amount are now using version 6.5. Various customers gave testimony to the stability and improved performance of version 6.5 over version 6.1 and version 5. Less emphasis was made about upgrading from Crystal 8 or 9 to Crystal 10, although upgrading to Crystal 10 is a technical prerequisite to upgrading to Business Objects XI. BOBJ customers and partners contacted by Ventana Research that have tested or upgraded to Business Objects 6.5 claim it is more stable and better performing than past 6.x releases. Ventana Research advises BOBJ licensees to assess the benefits of upgrading as well as the costs. Both short-term and long-term requirements should be factored into the assessments. Organizations anticipating an upgrade to 6.5 should take advantage of experts, information, references, and other risk-mitigating resources BOBJ can provide.
Although the formal launch of XI is still some months away, Business Objects gave preview demonstrations and feature overviews of the product. XI is currently in beta with approximately 50 customers and partners. Early feedback is that the product is significantly more stable than other prior beta releases. Business Objects customers interviewed by Ventana Research stated that upgrading of non-customized installations was very quick, taking only a few hours if the automated upgrade tools were used. XI is a significant release for Business Objects. It is the integration release for Crystal Enterprise, Crystal Reports, Business Objects WebIntelligence, and Performance Manager. Demonstrations were made of XI's new thin-client administration interface and user-oriented report customization features. XI appears to make good on BOBJ's promise of an integrated Business Objects and Crystal platform. BOBJ management hints at innovations to be included in the release as well. Ventana Research advises organizations to carefully assess the additional business benefits and costs of upgrading to XI prior to license purchase.
Past quality issues with version 6.0 and 6.1, customer hesitancy to upgrade to version 6.5, inconsistent messaging and botched keynote demonstrations at their conference, and unexpectedly flat quarterly revenues leave Business Objects more vulnerable to competitors such as Actuate, Cognos, Hyperion, Information Builders, Microsoft, and MicroStrategy. Nevertheless, beta feedback and glimpses of new XI functionality show a solid XI launch could neutralize these factors. Business Objects will likely experience sales challenges until the early 2005 release of XI, but these challenges are unlikely to cause lasting problems. So far, the plan for integration of Crystal Enterprise/Reports and Business Objects has not changed significantly and has been executed as initially described in the integration road map.
Business Objects XI, while a significant achievement for BOBJ, is just one of a number of BI platform announcements from the leading BI platform vendors. These platforms are becoming more alike than ever before. Increasing functionality overlap between BI platforms will force vendor emphasis on other differentiators such as building solid account relationships, delivering more complete or diverse solutions, providing better service, and supporting deeper integration into enterprise operations, processes, and software environments. Differentiation in these areas will likely determine the long-term leaders in the business intelligence market.
Organizations intending to purchase enterprise-class reporting or ad-hoc query and analysis software should consider Crystal Reports 10 and Business Objects 6.5 respectively. Customers and partners interviewed by Ventana Research stated they found these products scalable, stable, and reliable. Business Objects customers using version 5.x should look to upgrade to version 6.5 only if there is a reasonable business case to do so. Both costs and benefits should be evaluated. Costs should be assessed using a TCO approach and benefits should be assessed both in terms of IT and LOB cost reductions as well as improved effectiveness. The good news is that organizations that have not extensively customized their Business Objects configurations via SDKs should expect rapid migration. New Business Objects customers should carefully consider other options prior to licensing the Windows client version of Business Objects 6.5. Almost equivalent functionality can be obtained from Business Objects Web Intelligence 6.5 along with the management advantages to thin client deployment. Organizations dissatisfied with their BOBJ relationships and deployments should consider other enterprise-scale BI platforms from vendors like Actuate, Cognos, Information Builders, MicroStrategy, and Siebel,
Eric Rogge is VP & Research Director - Business Intelligence & Performance Management at Ventana Research (www.ventanaresearch.com), a research and advisory services firm.