BusinessObjects XI -- the Roman numerals stand for both the number 11 and the flashy moniker "extreme insight" -- goes a lot further than the almost patchwork integration the vendor had managed until now between its own query and analysis capabilities and Crystal's popular, service-oriented architecture framework. The release comes more than a year after Business Objects shook up the analytics market by annexing rival Crystal Decisions. True integration, Business Objects says, is here at last.
But as interesting as the integration itself is the way Business Objects expects customers to use XI. The product is designed to be deployed broadly within companies, used by both IT savvy technophiles and easily spooked technophobes alike. Design elements including a built-in "BI Encyclopedia" and easier blending with Microsoft Office apps point to the future of business intelligence. Business Objects recognizes that BI is morphing into an enterprise-wide, operations-level undertaking practiced not only by executives with strategic data dashboards, but also "line-of-business" staff who need access to dynamic business data in order to handle the tasks at hand. BI is becoming diffuse within businesses big and small. The tools that support it have to be diffuse as well.
Business Objects isn't the only vendor that recognizes the emergence of what's sometimes called "operational BI." Software companies that compete on some levels with Business Objects -- Information Builders comes to mind, among others -- have already gone out of their way to identify themselves with the trend. But such clear design focus from Business Objects, one of the biggest players in the business intelligence market, affirms the democratization of BI within the business world. Ease of use by non-IT staff is a central design theme in XI, not a mere afterthought.
Business Objects still faces big challenges related to to XI. Huge swaths of Business Objects customers have yet to migrate to version 6.5, much less even consider XI. The vendor will have to sort out those issues in the coming quarters. But for the long term, at least, the vision behind XI is right in line with the way analytics will be practiced in the future.