Review: Extreme Insight, Business Objects Edition - InformationWeek

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Review: Extreme Insight, Business Objects Edition

Business Objects' new XI release of its combined Crystal and Business Objects product line fulfills its commitment to the market to provide an integrated product.

Business Objects' new XI release of its combined Crystal and Business Objects product line fulfills its commitment to the market to provide an integrated product. Significant portions of the various products in the new release now share resources such as the InfoView Portal, the metadata management layer, security, collaboration features, and several new innovations like Microsoft Office integration. However, the integration is not complete: development tools are still separate and the final integration of the server will not happen until the next major release, later this year. Ventana Research believes this release strengthens Business Objects' competitive position. IT organizations looking to migrate should assess XI's fit and ROI prior to launching an upgrade initiative.

Analysis

Business Objects announced the release of its new product suite, Business Objects XI, on January 11, 2005. XI is intended to mean "eXtreme Insight." First shipped to customers in December 2004, the new release delivers on BO's commitment to an eleventh version of its product in the Q4 of 2004. The new suite integrates Crystal Enterprise, Business Objects Web Intelligence, Business Objects Performance Manager, Business Objects OLAP Intelligence, and Data Integrator.

Integration of these products occurs at various levels. All reports, dashboards, and scorecards are now launched from BusinessObjects InfoView. Administration of each product (including run-time processes) is done through a common administration interface. Queries can be assembled from a Business Objects Universe for all reporting and analysis products. Data caching underneath the universe is shared by XI products that submit queries to the Universe. Discussion groups, threads, and report scheduling are now shared across reporting and analytic products. Run-time environment software such as application servers, web servers, databases, and operating systems are now equivalently supported across all XI components.

Some areas for possible further integration or consolidation still exist. Crystal Reports still uses a fat-client report editor whereas Web Intelligence uses a browser-based report analysis (and editing) tool. WebIntelligence still offers two interfaces, one pure DHTML and one based on a Java browser add-in, with the Java browser component providing extended analytic capabilities. Report file formats are different and lack portability between Crystal Repots and Web Intelligence.

Organizations that deliver both Crystal reports and Web Intelligence analytics to a common user community will benefit most from this integration. However, this is likely a small sub-set of Business Objects' client base. More likely, many organizations deliver Crystal reports to one set of users and Web Intelligence analytics to a different set of users. In this scenario, the XI integration will benefit those administrators tasked with managing both systems concurrently. Organizations that intend to consolidate to one system for both reporting and analytics will benefit as well. Users who create both Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence reports will only benefit from sharing the Universe between both development environments. New users will still need to learn two different tools if they want to create both Crystal reports and WebIntelligence reports.

The XI release also includes new beneficial enhancements that were not in any of the previous products. The administrative interface has been reorganized and simplified, and is now delivered through a shared set of administrative web pages. For users, the new feature 'Encyclopedia' provides business definition and lineage metadata about metrics in the Universe. This feature will help drive consistent understanding of business metric definition and source. Through XI's Office integration, users can now integrate tables and charts directly into PowerPoint and other Office applications just as they have been able to do with Excel. The innovation XI brings to the table is its enhanced ability to subset, massage, and format data prior to export into the Office environment. Users can now select pieces of tables found in static and interactive reports for export, reducing the need for an Excel side-trip. Charts and tables in existing Office documents can easily be edited to add/remove rows and columns and to refresh data.

The Encyclopedia feature in XI addresses key user needs for consistent definition and perception of meta-data and reports. This will improve organizational analytic efficiency and effectiveness. The Office integration capability is interesting because it simplifies and streamlines the transition of data from the BI environment into the Microsoft Office environment.

Integrated platforms like XI (and Actuate 8, Cognos ReportNet/Series 8, and MicroStrategy 8) offer the promise of lower administrative costs. However, this only works if tasks that were previously performed independently can now be combined. Doing the same tasks, but on a single piece of software, generally isn't considered an efficiency improvement if all of the tasks must still be done. As part of their upgrade ROI analysis, organizations should carefully consider whether the integration of the BO and Crystal platforms will reduce the administrative workload. Similarly, consolidated platforms work if excess capacity can then be efficiently redeployed. But the redeployment must happen for the benefit to be gained.

Market Impact

XI largely fulfills Business Objects' commitment to the market to integrate the Crystal and Business Objects products. In that regard, Business Objects is now a stronger competitor within the leading BI software vendors. Certainly, for organizations that currently use or are considering using Crystal, the XI release only strengthens their argument for staying with BO. For the large installed base of Business Objects 5.x client/server deployments, XI could offer significant benefits, but at potentially significant upgrade costs (if existing systems are highly customized). If the upgrade business case is marginal, then that leaves BO vulnerable to other competitors. A number of 5.x BO customers interviewed by Ventana Research view XI as an opportunity to significantly grow the size of their deployments at a lower cost (via web deployment) than could be done with even BO's 6.5 client/server products. If BO can successfully grow migration momentum for its client/server installed base, then it will be a significantly stronger BI market competitor. This will hinge largely on its ability to articulate the ROI and benefits of migration to XI.

Recommendations

For organizations that currently deploy Business Objects 5.x client/server software, web deployment via XI will offer significant administrative cost savings, holding migration costs aside. However, any proposed upgrade project should use total-cost-of-ownership calculations to fully assess the costs of various scenarios. TCO estimations should include user training, support and efficiency costs. Current users of Crystal should consider XI as a logical upgrade, if only to gain the improved administrative interface. Current users of WebIntelligence 6.x should also consider XI as a logical upgrade.

Eric Rogge is VP & Research Director - Business Intelligence & Performance Management at Ventana Research.

Ventana Research is the preeminent research and advisory services firm helping our clients maximize stakeholder value with Performance Management throughout their organizations. Putting research in a business and IT context we provide insight and education on the best practices, methodologies and technologies that enable our clients to leverage assets to understand, optimize, and align strategies and processes to meet their goals and objectives.

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