Business Objects SA is prepping a user-friendly upgrade of its flagship XI Release 2 business intelligence platform that incorporates new innovations the company has been working on around enterprise search and data visualisation.
The new release, which is being called 'Productivity Suite', is expected in the first half of 2007 and comes with a usability twist on the XI Release 2 platform that was launched a year ago.
"It is a new version of XI that is targeted at enhancing the productivity of end users," said John Schwarz, CEO of Business Objects at the company's annual Insight user conference in San Francisco yesterday.
Schwarz said that Productivity Suite leverages newly integrated Google-like search capabilities for BI. The technology, which was developed in-house by Business Objects, extends Business Objects' recent collaboration with search vendor Google.
"The idea is that you can now use search technology within a BI environment," Schwarz said. "Search is based on indexing while BI queries are based on metadata and a structured language. We are marrying the two to allow business users easier access to BI data."
As part of its search initiative Business Objects has also announced an open search initiative to engage in joint development with other search vendors like FAST, IBM, and Endeca as well as text analytics firms like Attensity and ClearForest.
Business Objects is not the only BI vendor to tap into the ubiquity of Google-like search to extend the reach of its BI products. Rivals Cognos, Information Builders and SAS Institute have also announced search capabilities to their BI platforms this year.
Productivity Suite will also integrate Flash-based widgets from its Crystal Xcelsius data visualisation for more dynamic visualisations.
"We have decomposed Xcelsius' technology and are making it part of Productivity Suite's front-ends. The widgets let users retain the dynamic visualisation of BI data even when it is embedded into spreadsheets and e-mails."
Also included in Productivity Suite is a new OLAP client called Voyager that improves access to multiple multidimensional data sources, an updated Live Office connection to Microsoft's popular desktop productivity tools, and a wizard-driven query-and-publish interface that lets business users easily publish BI queries as Web services.
Schwarz also said that overall integration would be tightened up with Business Objects' enterprise information management tools including upgraded versions of Data Integrator and Data Federator and recently acquired activity-based costing software from ALG Software.
Schwarz stressed that Productivity Suite was not a migration release and that XI customers will not be forced to change their underlying BI platform.
"No migration is required for Productivity Suite. It is simply an upgrade that installs over what XI customers already have."
That is probably just as well as Business Objects is already trying to push its older BusinessObjects and Crystal customers onto its new XI platform.
Schwarz said that around 5% of Business Objects' 39 000 customers have shifted over to XI to date. "That is to plan. We are looking at a 4-year migration cycle."
Many of the user innovations introduced in Productivity Suite have been developed by Business Objects Lab, a new research division that was officially launched yesterday to help define the next generation of BI products and functionality.
Bernard Liautaud, former CEO and now chief strategy officer for Business Objects, said that some of current projects that the Lab is working on include: making BI a more pervasive part of daily operational tasks (Business Objects calls this 'ambient BI'); making BI more actionable using mobile and instant messaging technologies; graphics and analytic mashups; and leveraging multifaceted search for BI access and querying.
"Customers can participate in Lab's process of innovation by freely downloading our early prototypes concepts for feedback," Liautaud said.
Separately Business Objects also said it would continue to sharpen its vertical go-to-market strategy by making more investments in industry-specific services, support and applications development.
Schwarz singled out retail, financial services, telecoms and government as key target verticals for BI.
"We are becoming more focused on industry knowledge and looking to deliver our services in a more industry-specific format."
He also said to expect a big mid-market push, playing off last week's major strategic alliance with IBM, pointing to the future delivery of new 'packages' specifically targeted at small and medium sized businesses.
"The SMB space is hugely important to us. It is less than 20% penetrated by BI and is a greenfield opportunity."
"We will use the expertise gained in large installations and translate that into packages aimed at market deliver cheaply effectively and productively to the mid market".
Another area of focus for Business Objects is software-as-a-service, a model that Business Objects embraced this year with the release of a SaaS version of its Crystal Reports Server software that is aimed at the low-end of the BI market.
Schwarz said that Business Objects has around 7000 SaaS Crystal customers, largely restricted to pockets of small user groups or departments in large enterprises.
But he hinted that Business Objects will start to offer its more sophisticated BI tools as SaaS offerings in the future.
"SaaS provides alternative model and channel to deliver high performance capabilities to larger companies, albeit at the departmental level."
Business Objects' Insight conference drew in a healthy crowd of 2400 users and partners.