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SAP acquisition opens up world of opportunities for Business Objects, according to execs

Becoming part of SAP has, if anything, improved Business Objects' position against rival Cognos, extended the company's market reach, and significantly upgraded its technology's functionality.

SearchDataManagement.com: A big theme of this year's summit has been extending business intelligence to business users -- that is, non-power users. Why is that such an important goal for Business Objects?
We're very focused on business intelligence for all users. There have been enterprise employee surveys asking, 'Do you have the information you need to do your job effectively?' and 85% of people say 'No!' That's just so high a number.

Even though I was an executive at one of my former companies, I would have to run down the hall begging a finance person to give me an Excel spreadsheet with all the data that was associated with my product and my customers so I could do an analysis. You're running the halls asking anybody you know to give you what is likely an illegal dump of the data, because the only folks that were ever given access to the data were the finance people or the IT folks. Unfortunately, that is an everyday situation today for most people in the world.

SearchDataManagement.com: A big theme of this year's summit has been extending business intelligence to business users -- that is, non-power users. Why is that such an important goal for Business Objects?
And it gets worse. Not only is that information hard to get, but when they do get it, people often don't trust it. And often they're right, because it's old, it's full of data quality problems, it has perhaps been integrated on-the-fly in Excel. SearchDataManagement.com: A big theme of this year's summit has been extending business intelligence to business users -- that is, non-power users. Why is that such an important goal for Business Objects?
People trick-or-treat throughout the organization for information, and you shouldn't have to trick-or-treat. SDM: Your recent release of Xcelsius Present, the Microsoft Excel transformation product, is a good example of a tool designed to make business intelligence more accessible to the everyday user. But that's a huge shift for most people. How is Business Objects helping its customers make the cultural shift from a gut-instinct-type organization to an information-based one?
We certainly have services and partners that offer change management and change acceleration. And there are lots of practices out there for something called CAP, change acceleration process. So we have partners that do that today and education classes as well.

And over time what I'm hoping to see – though certainly not today – is more viral marketing of our software so that people can start sharing and collaborating and doing it themselves. If we can get that viral component going, to me that will start the wildfire.

SDM: So how far along is Business Objects in terms of integrating its software with SAP? Are you where you hoped to be at this point, six months after the acquisition was finalized?
I didn't think it was possible to get to know so many people, be involved in so many projects so fast. The SAP culture is very open, and that's a real core asset of a company. Had we been bought by a different [company], I'm not sure it would have been the same experience.

From a dashboard standpoint, we're exceeding our expectations on almost all measures. We're in the midst right now of our data migration, and so we've got a lot of work to do. But I think almost every department that was going to have business processes integrated are just about integrated, and we're really proud about how far we've come and how fast.

SDM: So how far along is Business Objects in terms of integrating its software with SAP? Are you where you hoped to be at this point, six months after the acquisition was finalized?
We're delivering on our promises. We've delivered on the roadmap now as these products start coming out. We've proved our openness. SDM: It's interesting you mention openness, because of course a big concern among customers is how compatible Business Objects software will be with non-SAP data sources and systems going forward. You say you are committed to keeping Business Objects software heterogeneous, but isn't it inevitable that you'll tend to favor SAP customers?
It is our job, no matter what, to get access to any data source on the face of the planet -- period. Because otherwise, if there's a data source that we haven't got best-in-class access to, we've created a knowledge shadow for our customers. It's critical that we work in a heterogeneous environment. If there's a database or a data warehouse or an application that we can't quite get to, that makes for an incomplete intelligence platform. So we will every step of the way work to make sure we have that access to non-SAP data sources, there's no question about that. And we'll make sure that we've got great performance as well, because you know darned well that people are going to be scrutinizing us for any step that we miss.

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And we're competing against all big players right now [thanks to the wave of BI consolidation last year], and they all have the same issue. How heterogeneous is Oracle going to be about DB2? How heterogeneous is DB2 going to be about Oracle? It's a different style of vendor that's out there now in the business intelligence world, and so I think we'd be playing roulette if we chose data sources that we didn't like and vice versa.

SDM: It's interesting you mention openness, because of course a big concern among customers is how compatible Business Objects software will be with non-SAP data sources and systems going forward. You say you are committed to keeping Business Objects software heterogeneous, but isn't it inevitable that you'll tend to favor SAP customers?
SAP has been a huge priority for Business Objects for years because it's the No. 1 applications platform. So what's changed now is that integrating with SAP is easier because we actually have more people devoted to doing this, and we have access to SAP's expertise. If anything, we might even have more time to spend working with non-SAP data sources. SDM: So how has the wave of business intelligence consolidations changed the competitive landscape and how Business Objects is positioned against rivals like Cognos?
IBM is obviously a huge partner of SAP, but we don't hear very much about Cognos, and they're a little bit buried in the organization. One of the biggest differences with Business Objects is that John Schwartz (Business Objects' CEO) is an SAP board member, and Business Objects is a huge, strategic part – 15% -- of SAP. Every presentation you go to on SAP, we're at the table. For the other consolidations, it's a footnote in a sub-division of a sub-division. It's at least not portrayed as a part of their strategic vision. SDM: So how has the wave of business intelligence consolidations changed the competitive landscape and how Business Objects is positioned against rivals like Cognos?
Since the acquisition, lots of things have opened up for us. We now have an incredible distribution mechanism in addition to an even better product portfolio. So if we continue to execute as we have, we could go from the leading position to a commanding position in the business intelligence market. SDM: How has the acquisition affected your customers?
Existing Business Objects customers, even if they have nothing to do with SAP, suddenly received a huge upgrade in product capabilities and just the market power of the company. Business Objects customers now have a much broader portfolio – a GRC product, fantastic strategy management tools from SAP – all of this now they can get integrated from their existing vendor. SDM: How has the acquisition affected your customers?
We can now add master data management, in-memory capabilities, etc. And I feel that we (Business Objects) were able to acquire something ourselves in the deal. The portfolio has expanded aggressively, so it really was a win-win situation. SDM: How has the acquisition affected your customers?
GRC capabilities in particular are really important. Managing performance without taking into account risk always seemed incomplete. Imagine choosing only stocks that had a high performance over a time period without thinking about risk. But that's basically what people were doing with business intelligence. Now, with SAP, our customers can have that GRC component. Boards are fed up with seeing 70 years' worth of profits getting wiped out in two months by a rogue trader or a bad decision. SDM: So, going forward, what can we expect from Business Objects in terms of new technologies and functionality?
There's a lot of things that we want to add to the portfolio that are on the horizon. Certainly we want to go ahead and make our text analytics far more pervasive and add improved master data management capabilities, so stay tuned on that.

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