On the process side, Business Objects is making more very interesting commitments. The first versions of the eXtreme Insight server will be Windows-based, but versions for AIX, Linux on Suse and Red Hat plus Solaris are anticipated by the end of the first half of 2005. Crystal Report Designer (standard, professional and developer editions) remains a Windows-only product while deployment of reports is to MS Office, .NET and Java.
But on the broader BI design front, eXtreme Insight has replaced the metadata repositories of Business Objects, including Data Integrator (the ETL component of Business Objects), with the Crystal repository which has more functionality and better performance. As well, the APIs retain a Service Oriented Architecture that simplifies interfacing to new platforms and more readily incorporates new services. The new collaboration/discussion features, plus the ready incorporation of the Business Objects Intelligence programs into the Crystal Enterprise plug and play infrastructure -- including more stringent security and authentication frameworks -- are testaments to the effectiveness of that choice.
However, we remain surprised that two major design programs, Crystal Reports Designer and Data Integration Designer, remain Windows-only. Given the robustness of the Java-based Eclipse, JBuilder, and NetBeans development environments, conversion to Java would seem natural while heading off some of the newly emerging Java-based report writers.
Finally, it appears that Business Objects may have passed on a strength of its metadata repository -- its ability to contain and attach common but also unique methods/services to any object. True, the order of the day is to rationalize and integrate the existing Business Objects and Crystal Reports product lines. And on that score eXtreme Insight has pleasantly surprised most analysts and commentators -- arriving 1/2-year or more ahead of schedule. However, within the BI domain, the ability to know about and integrate such BI objects as SAS or SPSS statistical datasets, Microsoft or IBM data-mining resource files, Microstrategy or Cognos NoticeCast real-time messages, ILOG or Maximal optimization containers, will be a critical characteristic of the winning BI Integration framework. So far, Business Objects is ahead of the curve; but let me assure you there are other BI, CRM, ERP, CMS and portal vendors also hearing the convergence and integration drumbeat. They may very well be first to market with those capabilities.
Meanwhile, Business Object and Crystal users have some immediate benefits to consider. Business Object 6.x users are going to get better admin, security, and scheduling options at the cost of more difficult security settings. Crystal users are going to get the ability to make browser-based, interactive reports and OLAP analysis available to clients in very attractive dashboard and scorecard layouts. Both sets of users can take advantage of better collaboration and Encyclopedia-based help and coaching features. Best of all, there will be only one server and admin console for supporting Crystal and Business Object users. And customers like what they are seeing as they vote with their dollars -- Business Objects had 11 percent growth in revenues in 2004's last quarter, even before eXtreme Insight was announced and delivered.
Jacques Surveyer is a consultant and trainer; see his latter work at thephotofinishes.com.