Business Objects offers BI software on-demand

Business Objects rolled out a suite of on-demand business intelligence software for Salesforce.com customers, with other services to follow

Business Objects has started to roll out a full suite of business intelligence (BI) software in the form of an online service, initially for customers using Salesforce.com applications.

The service allows customers to use Business Objects' BI tools without having to maintain the software themselves or buy extra servers on which to run it. The company loads the customer's data to a data center and creates a data warehouse for them, and employees access the data and BI applications through a browser.

Business Objects took its first steps in on-demand software last April with the release of crystalreports.com, for sharing reports online. That service has attracted about 50,000 customers, the company said. The new service announced Monday, called Intelligence OnDemand, includes a broader set of applications for formatted reporting, running ad hoc queries and analysis, and displaying BI "dashboards" on a user's desktop.

The first version of the service, available now, is for customers who have data stored in Salesforce.com's online CRM applications.

"We started with Salesforce.com because, obviously, its customers are on-demand friendly," said Steve Lucas, a Business Objects vice president. In the next six to twelve months it will offer services for other back-end systems, he said. They are likely to include big applications vendors such as Oracle and SAP.

The service is priced at US$99 per user per month, plus a one-time activation fee depending on the volume of customer data, Lucas said. The activation fee for up to 250G bytes is US$15. There are also implementation service fees negotiated individually with customers.

The service is aimed at sales and marketing staff and business analysts at companies with a high volume of Salesforce data. It includes on-demand versions of its Crystal Reports, Crystal Xcelsius and Web Intelligence products. The service is only in English today, but will be localized for French, Japanese and other languages, Lucas said.

Business Objects has staked out an early lead in on-demand BI, although SAS Institute and some smaller BI vendors are also getting into the game.

Proponents of such services say they helps customers to cut costs because they don't have to manage applications themselves or buy servers on which to run them. Business Objects said it's new service will take the "heavy lifting" out of building and maintaining a data warehouse. The trade-off is that customers must trust a third party to look after and provide access to their sensitive company data.

Business Objects' data hosting partner, Opsware, recently announced plans to be acquired by Hewlett-Packard Lucas said it was "very rare" for customers to express concerns about their data being hosted by a third party.

The new service is being unveiled Monday to coincide with the start of Salesforce.com's Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco. Some more information is at Business Objects new On Demand Web site.

The company also opened an online store where customers can buy external market information, such as sales data for other companies' products, and include it in their data analysis. The information comes from firms such as Thomson Financial, EBay and Dun & Bradstreet. Customers can buy individual reports from US$150, or sign up for a subscription.

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