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Business Objects targets the SMB with new offerings

Closing the gap between strategy and execution is the message as Business Objects releases its first integrated product with parent SAP

Boston – Business Objects used its Influencer Summit here Tuesday to announce a number of new product releases and enhancements playing to the theme of closing the gap between strategy and execution, including an SMB-focused announcement it promises will provide strong opportunity for the channel.

Executives from SAP (NYSE: SAP) and Business Objects told analysts, media and bloggers that they see a convergence happening in the business applications arena where business intelligence (BI), governance, risk, compliance and enterprise performance management (EPM) tools are all converging.

By marrying strategy and execution more closely through a more tightly integrated suite, strategy can be translated into execution and, as importantly, execution can also influence strategy, said Jonathan Becher, senior vice-president of marketing at Business Objects. Their answer for the market is an SAP back-end with Business Objects as the user interface.

The first integrated fruits of the Business Objects acquisition see a basic version of Crystal Reports integrated into SAP Business One, SAP’s suite for the SMB space. Existing customers will also receive a copy of Crystal Reports, and users will be able to connect data from Business One and more easily create visually-compelling reports.

Paul Clark, senior director, corporate product marketing with Business Objects, said having Crystal Reports as part of Business One will make the suite a more feature-rich and user-friendly offering to pitch to potential clients. And as it’s the basic version of Crystal Reports that’s baked-in, there’s also the opportunity for the partner to up-sell once the client sees the power of the platform. The full version would allow users to pull data in from other, non-SAP data sources, and add more functionality.

“There’s an up-sell opportunity there for partners, and a very big part of the Crystal Reports business historically has worked exactly like that,” said Clark.

Business Objects also released BusinessObjects Xcelsius Present, a single-user version of its data-visualization tool that allows users to manipulate Microsoft Excel spreadsheet data in interactive, visually compelling ways and share the functionality via Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe PDF files. Clark says VARs will more likely sell the enterprise-versions of Xcelsius, but the company hopes the Present edition will gain traction at the user-level and in the SMB with its US$195 price-point.

And on the more enterprise-side the two companies made a number of launches under its EPM umbrella. They include SAP Spend Analytics, a new EPM solution to collect and analyze procurement data from multiple sources. Business Objects also updated its BusinessObjects Profitability and Cost Management and its BusinessObjects Financial Consolidation applications. In addition, SAP unveiled a new services program to help businesses prepare enterprise risk management strategies.

Even with this Tuesday’s announcements, there’s much work ahead for Business Objects, said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Boris Evelson. Earlier this year, Business Objects unified its tools under one platform, called XI 3.0. However, the tool set does not provide users with a deep level of integration, such as the ability to migrate a report developed in Web Intelligence to Crystal Reports, Evelson said.

As it comes though, that standardization opens the door to optimization, and there are strong gains to be seen from having one version of the truth said Dan Miller, associate partner of BI and performance management with IBM (NYSE: IBM).

“We see that as being a key enabler for our clients being able to effectively manage risk and compliance down throughout the organization,” said Miller.

Lee Dittmar, a principal with Deloitte, said the discussion he has with clients are not just about ERP anymore, but about process, control and risk as well. While they had to turn to multiple point solutions before, he says there’s a pent-up demand for an integrated approach.

“People aren’t ever looking to solve a single business problem,” said Dittmar, noting he sees less room in the market now for partners and vendors that focus on specific niches. “We now have this Lego-set, this portfolio of pieces we can put together to solve a business problem, and it’s extremely powerful.”

And, if all goes well, an integrated approach should also be cheaper.

“We want to be able to lower the cost of ownership from customers having to stitch it together on their own,” said Sanjay Poonen, senior vice-president and general manager of business user global sales, SAP.

–With files from IDG News Service