No customer left behind

In the rapidly developing world of business intelligence, a policy of leaving no customer behind in old technology is an ambitious one, but it is one that Business Objects says it is sticking to as well as committing more resources to the region.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  April 2, 2006

|~|Francois,-Thierry200.jpg|~|Nicault: BI is still in the hands of power users.|~|Like most IT-based business technologies, business intelligence (BI), is going through a transition that is seeing smaller, tier-two players being swallowed up the majors such as Cognos, Hyperion, Business Objects and SAS. It is a transition that is resulting in the development by the different vendors of single BI platforms rather than a multitude of siloed point solutions. But there is always the issue of migration when diverse solutions are integrated.

However, the move to single platforms is seen as an emerging BI driver. Gartner spelt out the danger of siloed information within organisations in its guidelines to customers considering Business Objects' XI Release 2, which was officially launched in the Middle East last month.

"There is a high degree of overlap and redundancy in organisations' BI tools portfolios because different projects, departments and lines of business will have chosen their own standards or made very short-sighted tactical purchasing decisions," the Gartner report comments. "The large number of tools leads to high costs because of the need for overlapping and redundant skill sets to support the variety of tools and the larger overall investment in software licenses."

The answer is standardisation and consolidation aimed at reducing cost and increasing effectiveness and collaboration across the enterprise and beyond, though Gartner admits sharing information with external stakeholders is "a practice that continues to be far from realisation".

Such benefits, according to Thierry Nicault, Business Objects' country manager, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, are what the latest version of its BI platform, Business Objects XI seeks to do by delivering performance management with dashboarding and scorecarding, reporting, query and analysis, web access and data integration on the one platform.

The company wants to provide that ubiquitous 'single view' of an organisation as well as get more users involved in leveraging information to improve their individual contributions to business performance improvements.

"We are not using three or four different platforms to deliver BI. We have worked to have one platform and then expand the features and innovations on top of that platform. We have worked hard to integrate our systems with easy interfaces to bring the power of BI to a much wider type of user," he says.

He was referring to the fact that the latest release of XI opens up BI beyond power users to users across the enterprise - typically those people who need to discover information quickly, but who do not have the skills to generate an ad-hoc query themselves.

"IDC says that only 15% of potential users are getting the benefit of BI because of complexity and the fact that BI has traditionally remained in the hands of power users within department silos. Our intention is to open up BI to the remaining 85%."

To that end, the latest version of its BI platform has an 'Intelligent Question' feature. This allows non-traditional users of BI tools to query business information and generate reports by inputting simple questions such as ‘Who are my top 10 customers this year?’ They can then drill down into the data and ask supplementary questions such as ‘What products did they buy?’

||**|||~|Francois-Trouillet200.jpg|~|Trouillet: A need to take better advantage of BI.|~|"What we are pushing today is the fact that the IT department can have a strategic BI layer in its IT system that goes to address any kind of need of the internal users whether they are power users or report consumers, whatever they are doing in the company and whatever the technical context from which they will take data out," he says.

The latest release also addresses collaboration issues,providing users with a means to create and maintain comment threads on documents and reports shared among colleagues. Another feature lets users embed updateable data in Microsoft documents, spreadsheets and presentations for sharing with other users via corporate portals.

When introducing such features, says Nicault, the company has maintained its "no customer left behind" strategy initiated when the company acquired Crystal Reports two years ago. With the latest version, for example, existing users of its earlier full client version can migrate to the platform's new Desktop Intelligence thereby protecting their investment.

Not leaving customers behind also applies to ensuring the optimal use of those technologies. That is why the company says it is investing more in the region to establish a direct presence, deploy consultants and build a training facility.

Although the company has traded in the region since 1990 and has 250 customers, it has only been directly represented in the region by a small three-man team supporting its channel partners. Now it has created a full subsidiary in Dubai Internet City with a team of 10 people comprising consultants and sales personnel to drive the market.

The company, says Francois Trouillet, director of marketing and communications, will continue its indirect go-to-market focus. Its regional partners, based in UAE, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi and Oman, currently account for 75% of its business. Worldwide direct/indirect business split is closer to 50-50, but he does not see this happening in the region.

"It is more of an indirect market here and is likely to remain so. Our new team will be consulting to deliver new skills to our partners and users. There are two consultants on board currently and we will be adding more later this year," he adds.

The company is also opening a training centre for its partners and end users. This is being finalised currently and follows requests from the market, says Trouillet.

"The plan is to help our customers take better advantage of our technology. At the moment, usage tends to be at the departmental level. Our wish in setting up the subsidiary here is to be in sync with our corporate strategy, which is to help our customers use more BI features strategically," he says.

"By more strategically, I mean that the customer usually uses BI mainly for reporting or ad-hoc query needs at departmental level. What Business Objects offers now is a full suite of products that will not only help them get a better understanding of data stored in their conventional systems, but also help improve their own performance with dashboarding and scorecarding applications."

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