The future of business intelligence in Australia

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.
Written by Swayne Hill, Contributor and  Brenton Smith, Contributor

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.

Brenton Smith,  Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, Business Objects

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 analytic applications.

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.

Swayne Hill, Managing Director, Cognos Australia/New Zealand

About Cognos
Cognos specialises in business intelligence (BI) and performance planning software for the enterprise. Solutions cover the key steps in the management cycleââ,¬"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 finalised.

Smith: Cognos Series 8 is presented as a unified platform yet ReportNet and Query operate on completely different architectures (separate 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.

In addition, 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 enterprise.

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 catch-up?

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 Services) approach.

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 Cognos portfolio.

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 integrated?

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 Reports?

Smith: Both Business Objects and Crystal products have report bursting capabilities. The ability to share the output of a report execution with 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 other vendor.

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 the table.

Hill: Are you witnessing any differences in approach to implementing business intelligence in corporate Australia when compared to other parts of the Asia Pacific region?

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 product set?

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 infrastructure challenges.

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 system.

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 Intelligence solution.

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.
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