A relatively stable company, Business Objects S.A. has had a shake-up or two recently at its top levels. The companys founder, chairman and former CEO, Bernard Liautaud, stepped down from the helm of the Paris-based company Sept. 11.
Liautaud named former Symantec Corp. President John Schwarz as his successor at Business Objects, and took on the new role of chief of strategy for the company. Liautaud will maintain his chairmanship.
As the chief strategist, Liautaud is making it his goal to take business intelligence to the next level by reaching a much broader audience. Hes doing that by expanding functionality and making Business Objects software easier to use. To this end, the company released the 2.0 version of its Business Objects XI platform on Sept. 27.
The release introduces a new user interface that makes it much easier to query back-end databases—and makes the Business Object tools accessible to more people. Liautaud spoke with eWEEK Senior Writer Renee Boucher Ferguson about his plans for the future.
eWEEK: There were some executive shifts at Business Objects earlier this month. What happened there?
Liautaud: I founded this company 15 years ago, ran it as the CEO of 15 years and had a great run. The company is at an interesting stage. We have grown to becoming a billion-dollar company and were looking at the next phase of growth, from a billion to a multibillion-dollar company.
I felt it was a natural time for me to bring in a manager who has the experience of taking the company to the next level.
Schwarz has done it once at Symantec. [Naming Schwarz] has accomplished several things: Its a good time to separate the two roles—chairman and CEO; its a good time to bring someone who is going to manage the next phase of growth; and its a good time to have someone who is really focused on long term strategy and vision. When a company is at this stage, its very important to have strong clarity of where were taking company. [With this in mind] I went to board about six months ago, to propose the change.
Were there some other things that precipitated your move to chief strategy officer?
The market is in great shape. I believe that business intelligence is becoming one of the most important areas of the software industry. Most companies are moving toward BI now that theyve finished their ERP [enterprise resource planning] implementations—BI has become one of top two or three top priorities of CIOs. It is very exciting. So there is nothing in industry that would bring change—its more me, personally, what I think is best to develop.
What are your new roles and responsibilities?
Ive been chairman since the very beginning, and will continue that duty, leading the board, supervising the direction of the agency. And as well, I will be 100 percent engaged in the strategy of the company.
What are your plans there?
Exactly what my role is about: Defining and helping the rest of team build a strategy to go forward. We want to be a multi-billion dollar company. Ive set a goal of being amongst the top 10 software companies, and there area a lot of growth opportunities we want to capitalize on.
First is within large enterprises. One is to really get behind the hands of a much larger group of users than BI is now. Its not been democratized yet. Theres still very small usage.
We believe only about 15 percent of potential users [actually use the software]. The other area of growth is around the development and deployment of strategic performance applications, as opposed to just look at BI as a way to deploy reporting, and analyze the path of organization.
Now its about BI to help drive the future performance of company.
This is a key element to move Business Objects in a much strategic relationship—weapon—to large enterprise.
The goal is to establish a much more strategic relationship with the customer. Today, we are that strategic partner but weve not reached that many [employees].
Where does technology come into play with your strategy?
Its an evolving process. Were bringing new innovations. The Intelligent Question [released Sept. 27 with Business Objects XI 2.0 release] is very exciting. Its a new paradigm.
Thats one brand new innovation with release 2.0. Going forward, [well look at] how we can deploy BI to even larger numbers of users, and to other devices—using mobile technology will towards future releases.
Now weve focused energy on enabling people on desktops and PCs, to really use the information. Intelligent Question is an example.
What we do with integrating Microsoft Office—we now have embedded BI within Office products—is another example.
Business Objects Embedded in
What is happening with Microsoft Office?
If you take charts in PowerPoint, today they are static charts. With Business Objects embedded in Office, now you have the ability to drill down—by quarter, by revenue, by product. You can navigate through data using Power Point on the front end.
It becomes a window into enterprise systems and enables people to get to enterprise information without having to leave [the Windows] environment.
How is that concept different from dashboards?
They are a separate environment, and we provide that. What we do now, you can take a digital element, and embed that into Word, Power Point, Excel.
Where is your technology at now?
We have a complete product today, with reporting, query analysis, data integration. But we clearly envision a future where our product line will be even broader than it is today, as we develop new functionality.
We will do that organically—that will be our primary way to expand—but we will also do it with acquisitions. We have done about 10 in the past, and we will do more in the future.
What do you see as the growth path for business intelligence?
If you look at the broad market, from a BI perspective, its about a $12 billion opportunity right now, but its fairly fragmented with the core business reporting analysis—and we have about a 20 percent market share.
In the business performance management market, where you do things like strategy goal management, planning, budgeting, consolidation, dashboard, score cards—thats an emerging market. Then there are analytic applications that can analyze customers and suppliers.
In terms of providing tools and data mining, forecasting, modeling, those are all in separate buckets.
Everything is related to the integration of data, aggregated to the database, data warehouses and federated data.
When you start looking at all that technology it becomes a broader marketplace. Right now, there is not one company that has taken the lead over the broader market.
Companies like Microsoft and Oracle are taking a much deeper look at BI, developing their next-generation suites around business intelligence. How will that change your competitive landscape?
The world of BI is changing. These companies, we well continue to partner with them, because were doing business a lot with Microsoft, with Oracle. Were embedded in their applications in a number of ways. But it will be more competitive.
The reason why we have been so successful and will continue to be, against competitors—the first criteria is independence of tools, vis-à-vis the database and applications.
Customers have multiple databases and hundreds if not thousands of applications. They are looking for independent information coming from Oracle, IBM, SAP, Lawson, etc.
Thats usually the number one criteria for BI. Therefore, offers that come from Oracle, or another vendor, are biased toward one environment. Thats why we feel confident.
How much does integration play a part in your products, and do you have that capability now?
We have a solution called Data Integrator—the result of an acquisition we did about three years ago. It brings data from different production applications—SAP, Oracle—into a data warehouse and data mart. So thats a primary ETL product. But there are also a number of capabilities [inherent] in it, like managing meta data.
Integration seems pretty important. Do you need further capabilities?
We will continue to expand the offering. If you think about the big issue, its quality of data, so having trust in information in data [users] look at.
For that we are doing two things: bringing quality into data integration solutions, but also because we have one suite of products that is all integrated, we enable business users to access information about where data comes from.
So in a report, users have the understanding of where data comes from, know from where its accessed, where it comes from.
You mentioned modeling previously. What are your plans there?
Its more toward the “what if” analysis and planning [than process modeling]—how you want to model the growth of your sales organization, or how you want to model your human capital management.
Weve done that with planning software; thats what we have brought in with the acquisition of SRC. It brings BI into the financial planning world. But planning is geared toward all sorts of planning—demand planning, supply planning.
This is a big element of performance management. We feel we have a great position with a full product portfolio now. And we have big ambitions.
What are you looking for from the new CEO?
John comes in at a good time. Usually when a company had a change of CEO, there is something wrong with company. There is nothing wrong with Business Objects.
Its growing, its profitable, its been for a while. Our market position is terrific. So there is a very good foundation to build on.
Im looking for—were going to take to next step. The next phase of growth is going to build on the foundation that we have built for past 15 years. We have 33,000 customers. He has a lot to build on right now.
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