Brenton Smith, Business Objects ANZ managing director and Swayne Hill, Cognos ANZ managing director go head-to-head on the future of business intelligence.Hill: With many disparate technologies across the combined Business Objects/Crystal Reports portfolio, your organisation has stated that the product lines will be integrated onto a common platform in about two years.
Brenton Smith, Business Objects ANZ managing director and Swayne Hill, Cognos ANZ managing director go head-to-head on the future of business intelligence. Hill:With many disparate technologies across the combined Business Objects/Crystal Reports portfolio, your organisation has stated that the product lines will be integrated onto a common platform in
about two years. What do your customers do in the meantime to maintain two very different products, architectures, and approaches?
Smith: It would be a misrepresentation to suggest that our customers will need to wait two years before they can start to benefit from the combined technologies of Business Objects and Crystal Decisions. Prior to the acquisition, both companies offered one single integrated solution based on a common infrastructure and continue to do so in the new organisation.
As our publicly stated product roadmap shows, customers can start to integrate their Crystal "classic" and BO "classic" installations from Q2 of this year with the Business Objects Crystal Integration Pack. This free software will enable customers to have an integrated view of both environments,
as well as allowing development of reports and other content across the two platforms.
In the meantime, Business Objects has committed $150 million to research and development to ensure their combined product offering continues to be the leading business intelligence solution.
About Business Objects
Business Objects is a worldwide
provider of business intelligence (BI)
solutions. The company, with the
incorporation of Crystal Decisions,
offers a suite of BI software that
includes data integration, query,
reporting, online analytical processing,
information broadcasting, business
alerts for end users, analytic
application framework, and pre-packaged
Smith:Cognos' product strategy has fluctuated between everything from OLAP, CPM, and PowerPlay to BI, scorecarding, and dashboarding. How do you define your product strategy today and how can the market be sure this approach will prevail long enough to evolve into what customers want?
Hill: Cognos has always been in the
business of helping our customers improve
the performance of their businesses. This was
initially through gaining understanding of the
business with query, reporting, and analysis.
As our customers achieved a better view of
their past performance it led naturally to them
wanting to impact their future performance.
Cognos raised the bar for BI companies, being
the first to understand the need to incorporate
ETL, scorecarding, dashboarding, and event
detection into our BI suite. This strategy has
been validated by numerous vendors who
followed suit, including Business Objects,
which added these features after Cognos.
To meet customer needs our product
strategy has evolved to provide a complete
Corporate Performance Management
(CPM) solution. This strategy enables
companies to improve and direct corporate
performance by enabling all of the key steps
in the management cycle--from planning
and budgeting, to measuring and monitoring
performance, to reporting and analysis. We
are the only company to support all of these
key management activities with a complete
solution that spans all of the essential
components of CPM--enterprise planning,
scorecarding, and business intelligence.
Cognos specialises in business intelligence
(BI) and performance planning
software for the enterprise. Solutions
cover the key steps in the management
cycleÃƒÂ¢Ã¢,Â¬"from planning and budgeting,
to measuring and monitoring performance,
to reporting and analysis. Cognos
has been operating in Australia since
1985 and now has five branch offices
throughout the country.
Hill:You did well to retain all of the
Crystal employees as part of the acquisition
process. Do you expect that you will have
layoffs later in this year when you finally
consolidate internal systems (eg accounts,
support, GL, etc)?
Smith: It has been great that we were able
to retain all of our staff, and while I'd like
to claim credit for that, I really can't. This
happy outcome underpins the whole purpose
of the acquisition, in that Business Objects
and Crystal Decisions are two very strong,
very profitable organisations both locked into
strong growth curves. When we looked at the
two organisations to find cost synergies we very
quickly determined that, in order to service our
growth and therefore our growing customer
base, we needed all hands on deck.
Business Objects now employs almost
4000 people, 1000 of
those being in research and
development. I therefore do
not see any retrenchments
related to this acquisition in
Australia and New Zealand.
In reality we have actually
been hiring ever since
the acquisition has been
Smith:Cognos Series 8
is presented as a unified
platform yet ReportNet
and Query operate on
portals, different security
systems, etc) How do you
address the need for an integrated BI
environment and will we ever see a true
single architecture solution from Cognos?
Hill: We have introduced a new platform for
BI with ReportNet which enabled us to fully
meet the needs of mass, global deployments
in a full Web environment that encompasses
all reporting needs from production to
operations to business. The revolutionary
approach allowed us to address not just the
traditional requirements, but also the need
for new dynamic web reports in a completely
open, modern Web architecture.
a single product allowed us to transcend the
lines between the business and professional
report users. ReportNet is part of the Cognos
Enterprise BI Series, which is a completely
integrated solution that offers end to end zero
footprint for broad user impact, fast time to
results and low cost of ownership.
Hill:We all agree that business intelligence
gives organisations better insight into how
they are performing against their business
plan. In an ideal world, these insights are
fed back into the planning cycle. How do
you propose that your customers manage
their planning cycles when you provide no
mechanism to do so?
Smith: Business Objects is a pure business
intelligence vendor. We focus our expertise on
the three core areas of business intelligence:
reporting, query, and analysis and performance
management. Driving business performance is
not necessarily about feeding back into the
planning cycle, but can also be driven by
KPIs and goals reaching across the whole
Smith:ReportNet is a version 1 product
that offers only static reporting. How will
this compete in a version 10 marketplace
that demands interactivity, drilling, and
scalability and aren't you simply playing
Hill: ReportNet is not a simple static reporting
tool. It satisfies all of the requirements you list
(interactivity, drilling, scalability) and goes
well beyond the reach of the Business Objects
and Crystal Reports product combined.
ReportNet is the result of five years
of research and development that can be
measured in tens of thousands of man-years
and hundreds of millions of dollars. It was
released to the partner community one year
before reaching general market availability.
According to industry analysts Giga, Cognos
ReportNet gives Cognos a long-term advantage
over competitors given the solution's focus
on scalability, broad enterprise deployment,
native integration with its entire product
portfolio, and open standards (SOA and Web
Version 10 is based on the numbering
scheme of the Crystal products that Business
Objects has chosen to adopt across the board.
Customers are looking for functionality, they
don't care what the version label is--that is a
marketing tactic employed by vendors.
Hill:Can you describe your architecture
and how your solution takes advantage of
modern technologies such as Web services,
XML, and SOAP? How will you deal with
your reliance on CORBA, which is steadily
withering as a standard?
Smith: Business Objects has a strong
commitment to delivering a solution suite
based on open technologies and industry
standards. In doing so, we support a wide
range of specifications including emerging
technologies such as the Web services
Technology stack (HTTP, XML, SOAP, WSDL,
UDDI, and WSFL).
It is argued by some that Web services
offer a high level of interoperability. This is why Business Objects has embraced this
approach in integrating our solutions with
other technologies. Our embedded reporting
solutions have provided web service interfaces
for the past several releases, and our support
for XML--both as a source of data as well as
an output format--is even more mature.
However, when it comes to architecting
the internal mechanics of a highly reliable
and scalable BI infrastructure, the need for a
mature, proven technology outweighs the need
for openness. Therefore, selecting a proven,
well-defined middleware technology such as
CORBA over an emerging, evolving one such
as Web Services is a sensible approach.
Smith:Customers are increasingly
demanding an open architecture from BI
vendors. What is the future of PowerPlay
considering its architecture is closed and
proprietary in nature?
Hill: Customers increasingly demand
solutions that address real business problems
and deliver positive ROI and quick turnaround.
PowerPlay is the most deployed
analysis product in the market because it
meets these needs. PowerPlay is based on open
standards with an open Web services API,
XML report specification, zero footprint, 24x7
availability, and load-balanced architecture.
Its PowerCubes provide the fastest, most
portable cubes on the market to solve real
business issues, and can be accessed by other
applications through the Web services API. It
supports cube technology from our partners--
Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle--as well as cube
technology from competitors like Hyperion's
Essbase product. It will continue to develop
well into the future and is a key product in the
Hill:Are the Business Objects products
able to create production reports in addition
to managed reports? If so, can you explain
how Crystal Reports fits in?
Smith: The Business Objects "classic" and
Crystal Decisions "classic" product suites were
both complete BI suites, offering the full range
of end-user services from reporting through
Q&A to EPM. In the combined product family
there are areas where the product lines have
provided similar functionality. Where this
has occurred, we have chosen to leverage
the best capability available. Therefore, as
publicly stated in our product roadmap, we
will be using Crystal Reports--the most
powerful and widely used report writer in the
marketplace--as the basis for our production
and managed reporting. We believe that this
provides a reporting solution that is unmatched
by any other in the market in terms of maturity
of reporting and scalability of delivery.
Smith:A CPM solution requires a single
enterprise business intelligence platform
for tight integration with an organisation's
data sources. We understand the Cognos
CPM solution is made up of multiple
products. Are those products genuinely
Hill: Yes, the Cognos solution delivers on
all the facets of Corporate Performance
Management by providing an integrated
solution set. The key facets of Corporate
Performance Management are (i) plan your
business, (ii) monitor your business, and (iii)
understand where you are deviating from the
plan. Our key customers need these aspects of
their performance management strategy to be
linked into a closed loop system--that means
tight integration, which Cognos provides in the
current product set. BO has decided to partner
with over vendors for these requirements.
Hill:How does your solution handle
bursting of reports, so that the report is
executed one time and shared by many?
Does this bursting solution handle Business
Objects and Crystal
ability to share the
output of a report
multiple end users
has been a core
feature of Crystal
Reports for over
five years and,
as I mentioned
before, we have demonstrated scalability and reliability in
this area that is yet to be matched by any
As the reporting capabilities of the combined
Business Objects solution will leverage Crystal
Reports, this functionality will be available for
data sourced from both the Crystal "classic"
and BO "classic" infrastructures. However,
either scheduling tool can already be used to
schedule Business Objects or Crystal reports
should that be necessary, as indeed they can be
used to schedule any other program outside of
the BI solution.
Smith:Do you think your budgeting
and forecasting tool is as good as other
competitive solutions such as Hyperion's?
Hill: No, I think it's far better. When you
look at the customers that recently chose
the Cognos solution like Arthur Yates and
the Australian Tax Office, they were looking
for a solution that was going to solve their
budgeting problems and also deliver on the
closed loop promise that Cognos brings to
Hill:Are you witnessing any differences
in approach to implementing business
intelligence in corporate Australia when
compared to other parts of the Asia
Smith: We definitely see more activity in
the larger customers, and evidence of a shift
towards business intelligence standardisation.
This continues to keep us very busy in Australia
and New Zealand whereas we are only just
seeing this starting to happen in Asia. Another
difference is that traditionally Asian business has
been generated via partners, strategic alliances
and consultants, however the local teams in Asia
continues to build in strength. Australia/New
Zealand has currently the biggest direct sales
force in the region.
Smith:Organisations are increasingly
looking for an ETL tool that accelerates
enterprise-wide data access, integration,
transformation, and delivery. Does
DecisionStream meet customers' complex
data integration requirements, through
both batch and real-time processing, and
what value does it bring to the Cognos
Hill: DecisionStream does it all--perhaps
this is what forced Business Objects to buy
Acta a few years ago. Our customers think it
meets their needs:
AAA Travel says: "DecisionStream is
an incredibly powerful data integration
tool, offering an ease of administration
and automation that allows our staff
to accommodate rapid changes in our
business". Industry experts like Ralph
Kimball have also endorsed DecisionStream's
approach to solving the most complex of BI
Cognos DecisionStream unites data from
different sources. It makes operational
data report-ready, and most importantly,
lets our customers report from one version
of data--one version of the truth. Our
customers build, deploy, and manage a
series of linked, dimensional data marts
to form an integrated business intelligence
These flexible information stores let
them adapt their data structures to
respond to business changes--product
line additions, new staff responsibilities,
mergers, consolidations, and acquisitions.
Cognos DecisionStream provides the
foundation for the Cognos Business
Hill:When did you have your most
embarrassing business meeting?
Smith: I would have to say my most
embarrassing business meeting was last year
in front of 150 Melbourne-based Business
Objects users. As I took my seat at the
speakers' table, I heard that heart-stopping
sound of tearing fabric. I looked around to
check the damage only to realise that the
rear of my pants had split from alpha to
omega! Desperately praying that I had my
best underpants on, I decided to crack on and
present in a "free flowing fashion".
Smith:Would you mirror CEO Ron
Zambonini's promise to deliver results in
the nude if ReportNet falls below par on
quarterly sales targets?
Hill: ReportNet is having huge success in
the market. This is one bet that would be safe
for all to make--the sensibilities of the public
will be protected!
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine. Click here for subscription information.