Business Objects boosts Office integration

Business Objects is promising tighter integration with Microsoft Office to make its tools more accessible, but Microsoft itself is looking for a bigger slice of the BI pie

On Wednesday French business intelligence (BI) vendor Business Objects released the latest version of its software platform, which it claims finally integrates much of the functionality it gained from its recent acquisition of reporting tool company Crystal Decisions.

Business Objects Extreme Insight (XI) is a push towards the ultimate goal for BI providers -- the creation of a single platform that meets the needs of a broad a base of customers as possible, the company told journalists.

Business Objects chief executive Bernard Liautaud said that the new release will drive much wider adoption of BI in organisations and allow them to standardise on a single platform.

"Companies often have 10 or 15 tools within their organisation. But now the industry trend is to consolidate the number of suppliers they deal with. So now the trend is for suppliers to broaden their offerings," he said.

New features within XI include tighter integration with Microsoft Office to encourage staff that may not be familiar with business intelligence applications to utilise the Business Object tools. For example a business user can analyse and drill down into data within Powerpoint rather than having to flit between Office and XI.

The purchase of Crystal Decisions in July 2003 has allowed BO to expand its product range. Liautaud said the deal, valued at £517m, brought together two strong and profitable companies.

"At the time it was one of the largest acquisitions in the software space. Two companies growing and profitable decided to create the number one company in business intelligence," he said.

The acquisition makes Business Objects the largest single provider of BI applications, the company claims, ahead of its nearest competitor Cognos. Other providers include Hyperion Solutions, SAS, Microsoft and IBM

"Two years ago the market was very undecided -- but today we are clearly the leader with a significant gap between us and the second place competitor," said Liautaud.

As well as producing a product that it claims fully integrates Crystal Decisions software with its own offerings, Business Objects has also marked the completion of the acquisition by re-designing its corporate logo and branding.

"Today is really the birth of a new company so it is time to put a new face on the organisation," said Liautaud.

Chris Caren, vice-president of corporate marketing at BO, said the tighter integration with Microsoft Office is about delivering information to business users "where they work" instead of expecting them to go to a BI platform all the time.

"For years BI companies have been trying to convince people to leave Excel and use a BI platform. But now we have stopped trying to coax people from Office and have opted to embrace it instead," he said.

Business Objects claims to have close to 30,000 customers, such as France Telecom and UK clothing retailer Allders, including 82 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
 
BI continues to be one of the more profitable areas in a largely flat enterprise software market. "The returns average around 400 percent -- that's way more than any other software platform can provide," said Liautaud.

But this growth has not gone unnoticed by other leading IT vendors. Microsoft recently entered the market with applications aimed mainly at small to medium-sized companies. IBM also announced this week that is planning several initiatives this year to grab a bigger slice of the BI action including a new version of its main BI product, Data Warehouse Edition.

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