Business Objects Inks Deal with SPSS

As SAP moves to buy the company, Business Objects adds predictive analysis capabilities to its offerings.

Business Objects may be in the process of being bought by enterprise software giant SAP, but that's not keeping the company from pushing forward. The company is moving ahead with plans to make business intelligence capabilities ubiquitous through the enterprise, moving beyond the typical 15 percent of BI users in IT to reach business users.

Business Objects announced a partnership Dec. 3 with SPSS that will have the latter company's predictive analytics technology integrated into Business Object's XI platform.

Business Objects hopes to reach two separate audiences through the integration of SPSS' technology: The lab coat folks and statisticians within the IT department who traditionally analyze data, and harder-to-reach business users.

For the traditional data mining user, Business Objects will integrate SPSS' Predictive Workbench into its XI platform. For business users, the company plans to add a wizard-like user interface to SPSS' predictive services technology to enable business users to tap current and historic data to create what-if scenarios.


Read more here about SAP's agreement to purchase Business Objects for $6.8 billion.

"Where we want to change the game is predictive services," said James Thomas, vice president of BI content and tools at Business Objects. "The goal is to provide business users simple access to predictive technology without them having to be a data expert—to really continue the trend around [reaching] the information worker through much simpler access to technology."

Predictive analytics technology helps users explore past and present business scenarios to predict future outcomes. For example, a marketing professional could generate a standard report looking at revenue by country and by product and then map the outcomes to a marketing campaign. With predictive services, that same professional could use predictive analytics to look at the same data to determine the outcome if certain conditions are applied, Thomas said.

"With SPSS' predictive services, the concept would be to say, 'Look at my data and look at where my most profitable regions are and then show what my mix would be if I invested more in a specific region,'" he said. "This would be taking the existing data I have, look forward and give me back some information."


Business Objects plans to release SPSS' integrated predictive workbench for the data-mining set in the first half of 2008. While the company is not yet releasing a road map for the predictive services release, Thomas said the company will start releasing some applications in 2008. While SPSS already has done a lot of the work to open up its predictive analytics software to partners, making integration with partners a lot easier, Thomas said most of the work to bring predictive services to Business Objects' customers will be around creating a good user experience.

"Predictive services are really about changing the user experience and not so much [changing SPSS'] technology," he said. "Most of the work is going to be on our side, on the user interface front."


To read about why the SAP/Business Objects deal has put the market into turmoil, click here.

Business Object's deal with SPSS is part of its larger effort to expand BI capabilities throughout the enterprise by making the technology palatable to business users—really an industry goal that goes beyond Business Object's efforts. Business Objects has worked to coin the phrase BI 2.0, a reflection of the Web 2.0 movement that really looks to make all kind of information collaborative and interactive.

A lot of Business Object's work in the area of BI 2.0 centers around search capabilities—navigating data using an type user interface by pointing, clicking and searching, or using instant messaging, Thomas said. Business Objects' work in this area ties into development at SAP.

SAP officials told reporters at its TechEd conference in Bangalore, India, the week of Nov. 26 that they intend to use technology and tools acquired from Business Objects to create offerings that enable business users make more informed decisions. The company did not make any formal announcements regarding its plans with business user applications.


SAP announced Nov. 29 that it expects to launch its offer for Business Objects Dec. 4, after receiving the final regulatory approval to buy the company earlier in the week from U.S. and European antitrust authorities and the French Ministry of Defense. The deal remains contingent on SAP getting 50.1 percent of voting rights in Business Objects, which is based in both the United States and France. SAP will commence its offers in those countries Dec. 4, with the French offer open for shareholder approval until Jan. 10, and the U.S. offer until Jan. 15.

Thomas said while he is part of the group that is working on business user applications, he's not ready yet to go into detail.

"The whole BI industry trend has really been focused on getting BI out of the hands of the 10 to 15 percent of users that need it, to a much broader audience," he said. "That's a trend we've been focused on for a long time. That's the concept of BI 2.0 for business users, not analysts. SAP recognizes that trend as well."


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