Business Objects completes Crystal integration

Business Objects Tuesday announced the availability of Business Objects XI, a platform infused with new features designed to enable all potential enterprise users to tap into reporting, query and analysis and performance-management capabilities.

XI, which began shipping late last year, provides back-end integration of the reporting tools Business Objects acquired through its purchase of Crystal Decisions to Business Objects' intelligence platform. New features include support for embedding business intelligence into Microsoft Office applications and additional technical and business metadata to provide context for reports and dashboards.

These new features are designed to push BI -- traditionally limited to business analyst power users -- to more casual users, said Chris Caren, vice president of corporate marketing at Business Objects. "We've done a tremendous amount to simplify the user experience. We started from (Microsoft) Office and how people want to access information. We let end users establish a live connection between an Office document and the BI platform."

Emergency Medical Associates (EMA), an emergency-room staffing company, which has beta tested XI, uses Business Objects to deliver electronic patient records stored in a data warehouse to end-user dashboards.

Jonathan Rothman, EMA's director of data management, said the user interface in XI has simplified tasks such as scheduling metric and analytic refreshes. "The most important thing ... is hiding the technology from the end user, whose main interest is obtaining their analytics," he said.

Before XI, EMA had to deploy a separate interface for users at different hospitals who wanted to access Crystal reports from the Web. With the integrated platform, the company will have a single point of entry for analytics, regardless of whether they were generated from the data warehouse or the operational reporting system, he said.

Rothman said he would like Business Objects to enhance the tools used to create Web-based reports to support linking of multiple data providers. Those and other advanced features are now available in the PC-based report generation tools.

Gene Fichtenholz, senior software engineer at Meriwest Credit Union, said the OLAP intelligence tool in XI is much better than the one in Business Objects 6.0, where creating OLAP reports was slow and difficult. In addition, XI brings reporting closer to the user with a new interface that "looks almost like Excel on steroids," he said.

Business Objects has positioned itself well as a single supplier of technology for BI, said Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Research. "When a customer is looking to satisfy business users, those business users live in Excel, and the casual users live in PowerPoint and Word."

Howard Dresner, an analyst at Gartner, said that while XI will allow enterprises to push basic BI functionality to a larger number of users, companies need to ensure that more access does not lead to "information communism" -- where everybody gets the same information, but it's not tailored to their specific needs.

"IT, left to their own devices, will just take a carte blanche approach and give them everything," Dresner said. "They simply don't know what the business users need. Organizations need to have this core of individuals who develop and promote best practices for BI."

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