SAP unveils Microsoft Excel transformation tool, provides Crystal Reports to Business One customers

SAP released a desktop application that converts Excel-based data into interactive dials and made Crystal Reports available to Business One customers at no charge.

BOSTON -- Business Objects today released a desktop application that converts data from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets

into one of a number of visualization tools, including interactive dashboards.

The application, called Xcelsius Present and based on existing Business Objects technology, was unveiled at the Business Objects Influencer Summit held here. Business Objects and its parent company, SAP, also announced the availability of a basic version of Crystal Reports to SAP Business One customers.

Microsoft Excel is embedded within Xcelsius Present, allowing users to create new spreadsheets directly in Xcelsius Present or import existing spreadsheets. They can then transform the data into one of 10 preconfigured visualization templates, including charts and graphs, via a point-and-click interface.

Among the visualization templates are interactive gauges, including sliders and dials, for testing "what-if" scenarios, such as the effects of commodity prices on sales. The resulting charts, graphs and interactive gauges can be exported to Microsoft PowerPoint files, allowing users to manipulate the data during presentations.

"You can imagine a typical finance director presenting information to his CEO, and the CEO is asking questions," said James Thomas, vice president of volume products for Business Objects. With interactive Xcelsius Present visuals, the finance director can adjust the data to answer questions and test scenarios on the fly, rather than "going back to the spreadsheet to do all this work [later]," he said.

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Advanced Xcelsius Present users can create their own, more complex visualization templates, Thomas said, which can also be exported to PDF files.

In a separate announcement, Business Objects and SAP said a basic version of Crystal Reports, Business Objects' analytic reporting tool, is now part of Business One, SAP's enterprise resource planning system for small and medium-sized businesses. The slimmed-down Crystal Reports can only access Business One data, however. Customers who want the complete version will have to pay for it, a potential new revenue stream for SAP.

Both moves are part of SAP's continuing Business Objects integrations efforts and its strategy to extend business intelligence capabilities to more frontline workers. SAP, which finalized its acquisition of Business Objects in January, hopes to take advantage of what it sees as a growing demand for analytics capabilities at the departmental versus enterprise level, according to Thomas.

"The business user, the casual user, is the one that's making the millions of decisions every day," he said. "If you can make them a little bit more effective and have a little bit more insight into information, then the company can be more effective overall."

Dan Vesset, program vice president of business analytics research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said SAP is trying to make BI more pervasive, an industry-wide trend, by developing easier-to-use BI applications like Xcelsius Present and marketing them to its many operational software customers at relatively low starting prices.

"Business Objects has long been aimed at the power user," Vesset said. "So these aren't very exciting announcements, but they are important ones."

Thomas acknowledged that the addition of Crystal Reports will fill an important hole in Business One's functionality. "Business One customers have had different reporting tools all doing different things," he said. "So what we're doing is providing a single tool that can give them all the reporting they'll need as part of the application."

Xcelsius Present starts at $195 per user and includes video demonstrations. The basic version of Crystal Reports will be included standard for new Business One customers, while existing Business One customers will need to download the application. Business One pricing will not change, SAP said.

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