Business Objects Enhances XI, Debuts Mobile Product, Elevates Image

Releasing new search, Office integration, query-as-Web-service, mobile delivery and Xcelsius presentation capabilities, Business Objects aims to take BI mainstream while losing the lab-coated guru identity.

Mixing messages on substance and style, Business Objects today unveiled several product enhancements, a new mobile solution and a rebranding effort around the tag line "Let There Be Light." The product enhancements are aimed at spreading business intelligence (BI) throughout the enterprise while the new branding is intended to move Business Objects' identity beyond that of a mere BI products company.

The meat of today's announcements focused on the BusinessObjects XI Release 2 Productivity Pack, which includes extended BI search, an upgraded Microsoft Office integration and new services-based query capabilities among other upgrades.

The BI search component lets users seek relevant data and reports using ordinary search terms rather than complex query languages. If the system doesn't come up with a high-confidence result – or, indeed, too many results – it's said to automatically suggest narrower result set or a more explicit search that could even trigger a new query to find the desired answer.

The new search capability extends Business Objects' open search initiative announced last year, but while that offering was tied to third-party search tools such as the Google Appliance, the new feature employs an embedded (Lucene) open-source engine to search within the BI environment.

"The number of people who understand search is orders of magnitude higher than the numbers who know even the most popular BI tools," said analyst Henry Morris of IDC. "This gets us closer to the point where search becomes a single point of access to all information, but I don’t think we're there yet."

In another Productivity Pack stab at mainstreaming BI, an upgrade of BusinessObjects Live Office lets users securely tap in to BI data from within Microsoft Office applications. Previously, users could only publish information to Word, Excel or PowerPoint using Live Office, but the upgrade lets you hit a refresh button from within Office apps to get the latest data from the BI environment. The feature works with all current versions of Office.

To deliver BI within portals and third-party applications, the Productivity Pack includes a wizard-driven interface that lets you design and publish queries as Web services without writing code. These services can then be exposed within any services-consuming interface or application. Web services and new integration capabilities will be specifically being exploited within business process management (BPM) environments, a market in which Business Objects is working with BEA and Savvion, among other vendors.

The key selling point of the BusinessObjects Mobile offering released today is that it can reformat any chart, gauge or drillable report while taking advantage of the specific navigation capabilities of Blackberry, Windows CE, and other devices. The system also offers write-back capabilities and requires no intermediate server between users and their usual environment. "You basically publish and deliver by going straight to the BI Server, and you'll see real-time information as if you were at your desktop," explained Juliette Sultan, vide president, Information and Discovery. Sultan said the system uses the same security model as the BusinessObjects XI platform, but pricing of the add-on module wasn't available.

Most BI vendors already have mobile offerings (as does Business Objects), but it's too early to tell if this new offering is demonstrably better, said analyst Boris Evelson of Forrester Research. "Yes, Business Objects provides a client app that communicates with the back-end server in real time, but WAN communication is slow and service is inconsistent," he explains. "Other vendors provide disconnected mobile apps via push e-mail messages. That may be less sexy, but it's more reliable."

In yet another announcement today, the company released BusinessObjects Xcelsius Enterprise, which combines Crystal Xcelsius with the new Query-as-a-Web-Service functionality in BusinessObjects XI Release 2 Productivity Pack. Xcelsius Enterprise lets users deploy personalized dashboards across the enterprise, and it lets executives present and collaborate on cross-enterprise information in the BI environment.

"Xcelsius is a great, sexy product for executive dashboards, presentations and lightweight analytics, but I'd be cautious with this product since it does not offer real-time connectivity to the back-end sources," said Evelson. "It's a great presentation tool as long as you know that you're analyzing pre-built, pre-loaded data."

With Oracle and Microsoft invading the BI market, it's understandable that Business Objects would want to seek higher marketing ground. "We're not just BI vendor, we’re in the business of making businesses more intelligent," proclaimed Franz Aman, vice president of corporate marketing. "The 'Let There Be Light' tag line is about bringing insight and enlightenment to people and helping them see things they couldn't see without business intelligence."

New versions of the Business Objects logo and new marketing materials incorporate a color spectrum (rainbow) reflecting a range of capabilities from data management to analysis, scorecarding, dashboarding and performance management.

"It's a very high-level message," commented Morris, "The point is that they're bringing BI to where people live, whether it's through search, on their mobile devices or in Microsoft Office. The branding dramatizes that."

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