No BS: BO's CEO Sees Wider Audience for BI

Business Objects is charting a plan, independent from SAP, to keep more workers in the business information loop.

The business intelligence sector may be consolidating, but John Schwarz, CEO of Business Objects, believes market opportunities are expanding.

The office of the CFO has been the traditional customer for BI, but Business Objects hopes to make those tools accessible and useful to a greater variety of roles within the enterprise. This, in turn, would make knowledge workers more valuable contributors to their organizations.

"When we make real time [tools] connecting structured and unstructured data, then we open the BI environment to everybody," Schwarz said. "You start to get users who are not decision makers, people who are doing casual analysis, collaborating in teams. That's where we're heading."

Schwarz said the most exciting development in BI is fueled by the idea that people inside organizations have multiple roles, or personas, that can be mirrored in a BI application's user interface.

"Taking the underlying fixed processes that exist today and layering on top of that a set of tools and an environment with capabilities that allow users to interact on their terms with their workflow and UI, linking unstructured and structured the most exciting thing coming up," said Schwarz.

This approach echoes the strategy employed by enterprise applications giant SAP, which introduced Duet, a role-based product created jointly with Microsoft, in order to expand from its traditional user base.

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SAP is in the process of acquiring Business Objects (the acquisition is expected to close during the first quarter of 2008).

Schwarz sought to reassure customers that the company remains committed to working within heterogeneous environments, and to assuage concerns that Business Objects would switch to SAP's proprietary NetWeaver developing environment.

"Our intent is to create a separate division in SAP that will be a separate company with independent management, an independent brand and independent R&D and go-to-market strategy. And this independent company is absolutely in its mission, vision and marketing is going to stay committed to an open, heterogeneous environment," said Schwarz. "We will not be using NetWeaver. We will borrow components. But we will not be integrating to NetWeaver."

Schwarz also said that this independence will give his company an edge over the competition in an increasingly consolidated field.

Indeed, the three largest BI software developers-Hyperion, Business Objects and Cognos-have been or are in the process of being acquired by three of the world's largest software companies: Oracle, SAP and IBM, respectively.

"The landscape has clearly dramatically changed; 2007 has been a seminal, pivotal year in the evolution of the BI marketplace," said Schwarz. "That said, what I think is going to happen in 2008 is a dramatic differentiation of SAP and Business Objects from what the other guys are doing."

Schwartz was critical of how other applications companies are integrating BI acquisitions into their existing portfolios of products.

He said IBM's acquisition of Cognos is primarily a play to enable IBM's database business to grow. "IBM is very much focused on DB2 and enabling customers to use it," he said. "Cognos has some applications; we'll see whether those survive in the future."

Not surprisingly, given the historical animosity between SAP and Oracle, Schwartz aimed his most powerful salvos for Oracle's acquisition strategy. "Oracle has been acquiring maintenance streams and they haven't done a lot in terms of enhancing them," said Schwarz. "Case in point, Hyperion brings its EssBase OLAP engine and Brio engine. I believe both of these will disappear, as Oracle is focused on Seibel."

In fact, the differences between the two companies' approaches are not so great. Both SAP and Oracle are heavily focused on utilizing BI technology to enable the "Office of the CFO" to better plan and control underlying processes and to link corporate strategy to execution through GRC [governance, risk and compliance] and CPM [corporate performance management] applications.

SAP said it plans to fold Business Objects into its Business User group, which houses GRC and CPM, and then spin it off as an independent subsidiary.

Oracle likewise has developed a GRC suite that brings together capabilities from its Stellent acquisition and plans to use Hyperion's technology to offer a CPM suite.

AMR Research analyst John Hagerty told eWEEK that consolidation should lead to more analytic applications and BI applied to specific contexts. Most BI is currently centered around finance, but Hagerty said AMR Research expects more tools around supply chain, operations, manufacturing, banks or sales and marketing analysis. "It's the whole emergence of BI in context," he said.

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