Intelligent Business

Business Objects CEO charts business intelligence's next step.

Through the current downturn in IT spending, many vendors of business intelligence software have continued to grow. One of those is Business Objects S.A., of San Jose, Calif. On the eve of the companys launch last month of Version 6 of its namesake platform, Business Objects CEO Bernard Liautaud met with eWEEK editors to discuss the competition and the future of BI.

Why has BI not been as severely affected by the IT buying slowdown?

Several reasons. One is that when companies realize that their revenue is not going to grow as much—maybe its going to decline—they still need to protect their margin. Therefore, they need to focus on reducing expenses. To reduce expenses, they need to have a very good understanding of their cost structure. I think most companies, when they went through that exercise, realized they dont have the right information. BI is a very good tool to look at all this. Also, in a downturn economy, customer loyalty is very important. So the concept of customer intelligence—understanding what the customers do, what kind of product they buy, in what segment they belong and how they move from one segment to another over time—has pushed the BI space.

Third, companies realize they spent a ton of money on SAP [AG], Siebel [Systems Inc.] and so on, trying to automate business processes. But none of that really matters if they cant really use the information that is being created by all these transactions. The real return from these applications comes from the exploitation of that information. Finally, with all the financial scandals, you need to have very good reporting. And the CEO and the management team absolutely need to understand how the business is going.

Whats new in BI?

This concept of performance management is the new trend. Its the idea of using BI to drive corporate initiatives and measure these corporate initiatives. So, when a company defines its strategy, it defines goals that are specific to the strategy, and then BI starts playing a role, enabling the capture of these goals and being able to assign these goals to managers, functions, individuals throughout the organization and track the performance of the company vis-à-vis these particular targets. Then notify the proper people or organization when a particular metric or target is not met.

How will you enable your products to actually execute a change in a companys operations?

We are creating the concept of intelligent documents, which are not only reports or particular pieces of analysis, but we also have some specific action items linked to a particular analysis. So you [might] have three or four recommended next steps or next actions that are linked into the analysis. When someone receives a piece of information, he has options of different actions to take, and he can check these actions or link directly to the place where he can take the action. And, if he takes a particular action, this is recorded in the system. So, afterward, a manager can look at what has been looked at and what have been the actions taken.

It doesnt mean everything is automated. We dont try to automate the closed-loop process. Customers in general would be very reluctant to let that happen, to have a process where business intelligence is in the middle, makes a decision and then automates the closed loop. But enabling the user to close the loop is important.

Is this idea more than a vision at this point?

Its translating into products. The first thing is the change of business intelligence products from being very report-centric to being more metric-centric. Youve started seeing that in Business Objects products today. We have products that cover the management of metrics. And then you have, in the products, the ability to go from a metric all the way to analysis.

But we also need prepackaged analytical applications that cover many different functions in the enterprise. So weve spent the last two years building a full suite of enterprise analytic applications that cover customer intelligence, supply chain intelligence, HR intelligence and financial intelligence.

For now, the most important thing for us is to complete the enterprise suite. We feel it is more important for us to have a suite of analytical applications that cover all the functions in the enterprise before starting to verticalize. The verticalization will start happening next year. Today we have about 14 modules, and we have about five more in development.