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2/3/2005
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Extreme Makeover

BusinessObjects XI is the company's most distinct release in a long time, a fusion under one server architecture of the best that two product lines had to offer

When Business Objects acquired Crystal Decisions, the company promised to deliver a unified suite of products incorporating the best of both lines. BusinessObjects XI is that suite. For new customers, the product integration is seamless. Crystal administrators will find most screens familiar. Business Objects administrators will need some retraining but will applaud the easier installation and configuration.

This review focuses on the broadest-reaching aspects of XI: updates to the architecture and to WebIntelligence, the business user interface. (See "Piece by Piece".)

Tight Architectural Integration

PROS
•Single, scalable, proven architecture
•Better e-mail bursting and report scheduling
•Extensive report interactivity
CONS
•Some security tasks more difficult
•Full-client documents not yet supported

Business Objects took advantage of the Crystal plug-and-play architecture to add engines that run and schedule WebIntelligence reports into the updated Enterprise server. The WebIntelligence report and job servers can now interact with other processes that existed in Crystal Enterprise 10 to store, schedule and cache reports. The integrated server infrastructure enables companies that previously had separate deployments of Crystal Enterprise and BusinessObjects to run the full suite on one architecture and use one set of administrative tools while still getting the full spectrum of BI functionality (production reporting, ad hoc query, OLAP and dashboards). This integration will lower the cost of ownership. Furthermore, BusinessObjects users benefit from some things that previously existed only within Crystal Enterprise, such as a faster repository, integrated scheduling and e-mail distributions and report archiving.

The old BusinessObjects repository, while open and platform independent, was slow for storing shared reports. In XI, both shared and personal WebIntelligence reports are now stored in the file system and maintained by the Crystal repository. This approach, combined with caching and optimized processes, speeds performance noticeably, according to beta customers. My own test showed reports loading twice as fast in XI versus version 6.5.

Security: Good & Bad

Security in XI is a blend of strengths from Crystal and BusinessObjects. It introduces a steep learning curve for existing WebIntelligence administrators; less so for Crystal administrators. BusinessObjects Supervisor has been replaced with Crystal's Web-based Management Console, which allows user authentication against one or more security systems. All the universe-level restrictions (formerly defined in Supervisor) are more tightly integrated into the BusinessObjects Designer, a more sensible place for them.

However, I found the process of granting access to universes (the metadata layer), folders (groups of reports) and individual reports confusing. Current BusinessObjects administrators may find controlling access at the universe, or metadata, level is more tedious than in the Supervisor module. Also, the inability to pass login IDs through to the source database will be a step backward for some customers.

Improved Scheduling

I gave BusinessObjects 6.x less than stellar scores for its scheduling capabilities last year (see iemagazine.com/go/biscorecard-id-4.jhtml). Business Objects' Broadcast Agent is not well integrated compared with competitors' scheduling utilities. Also, you had more scheduling options with full-client reports than with WebIntelligence reports, and more via the desktop than via the InfoView portal.

WebIntelligence provides extensive report-based interactivity with a popup menu at a mouse click, plus discussions.

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