Business Objects to Improve Web Capabilities

Business Objects SA will take a large step forward in improving its Web-based query, analysis and reporting tool when it debuts the 2.7 release of WebIntelligence Wednesday.

Business Objects SA will take a large step forward in improving its Web-based query, analysis and reporting tool when it debuts the 2.7 release of WebIntelligence Wednesday.

The software, which requires only a Web browser client to query databases, access reports and perform ad hoc analysis, now supports both multidimensional and relational querying, such "hybrid" support that the company previously only offered in its client/server product.

While such support is nothing new in the business intelligence software space, Business Objects is breaking some new ground. WebIntelligence 2.7 supports access to several different OLAP sources, including Hyperion Essbase, IBM DB2 OLAP Server, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services and SAP BW.

In addition, WebIntelligence 2.7 is handling the drill-through from relational to multidimensional in a new way, using an XML interface and workflow to transfer queries between sources. This keeps the proper context for the translation between the summarized OLAP data and the generated detailed relational report, Business Objects officials said.

"Depending on what youre looking at in an OLAP cube, [WebIntelligence 2.7] can offer different, related, prebuilt reports that provide additional detail on the same information, even if the dimensions dont exactly match," said Nigel Pendse, OLAP consultant and lead author of Business Intelligence Ltd.s The OLAP Report and The OLAP Survey. "Cognos cant drill down to relational from OLAP databases other than its own, and while some other OLAP vendors do offer automatic relational drill-down, they dont have Business Objects rich reporting capabilities."

Cognos officials disputed Pendses claim, noting that the companys PowerPlay can handle the drill-through to third-party OLAP cubes with scripting work.

Bob Moran, research vice president and managing director at the Aberdeen Group in Boston, also noted WebIntelligence 2.7s ability to maintain proper context when drilling down from relational to multidimensional.

"You can look into any multidimensional database and from there go into any relational database and maintain context awareness and query memory. Its like going from one room into another room and being taken to the precise shelf youre looking for in that room," said Moran. "You get to the right information in the shortest possible time."

Users of analytics technology have a definite need to combine relational and multidimensional data in as seamless a fashion as possible.

Corporate travel site offers Cognos PowerPlay Web reporting tool to its customers as a service called Direct Observer. The service allows customers to access reports on travel data to track how much money is being spent on travel and in what areas its being spent. There are multidimensional cubes that break travel history down by air, car rental, hotel, individual trips and purchases by vendor. Dimensions include travel to/from, date of travel, date purchased, who booked and compliance with company policy. Relational data includes comparisons of spending from one department to another or one vendor to another to leverage volume discounts.

"It can give our customers a better understanding of what kind of commitment to make to a particular vendor," said Jay GaBany, director of product marketing at GetThere LP, in Menlo Park, Calif. "It allows them to see how big a job it will be to take share from one vendor and give it to another."

GaBany said it also helps to give employees a better understanding of travel policies.

"Its a huge value-add," he said. "Weve been told by some of our larger customers that its the principal reason they use our service."

SAS Institute Inc. plans to add similar capabilities in a packaged application. Full release should be within a year, though a beta should be available around the middle of this year, according to company officials. Developers can currently use the companys SAS/IntrNet application framework to build Web reporting applications.

And Crystal Decisions will expand its OLAP support in the 8.5 release of its Crystal Enterprise product to SAP BW and Holos, though company officials would not say when that version will ship. It currently supports MS OLAP, Hyperion Essbase and IBM Essbase.