Business Objects steps up midmarket BI focus

Business Objects steps up midmarket BI focus

Business Objects debuted the second in three planned versions of BI software aimed at midmarket users

Business Objects has released the second of three planned versions of its Crystal Decisions business intelligence software suite aimed at midmarket users.

Rather than viewing other BI pureplays as its main competitors, the vendor increasingly sees Microsoft as its rival for midmarket customers' loyalty, and is trying to differentiate its offerings accordingly.

Crystal Decisions Professional Edition, which debuted Tuesday, follows the February release of a Standard version of the suite aimed at users with no previous experience with business intelligence software. The Professional version builds on the Standard Edition, adding data integration so users can extract information from a variety of databases including Microsoft's SQL Server, IBM's DB2 and databases from Oracle, Sybase and Ingres.

Still to come is the third member of the family, Crystal Decisions Premium Edition, due out in the fourth quarter. The Premium release will also include performance management functions such as scorecards, metrics and goals, according to Todd Rowe, vice president of worldwide midmarket business at Business Objects.

"We took a stair-step approach in adding functionality" when designing midmarket versions of the company's enterprise BI software, Rowe said. All offerings share the same code-set so a midmarket user has the ability to upgrade to the enterprise software.

The midmarket offerings are focused on simplicity, integration and aggressive price points, he added. Business Objects has added wizards, prebuilt templates, reports and data marts for users who are migrating to their first BI software from simple spreadsheet applications. The vendor has also spent time creating integrated suites since, unlike enterprise users, midmarket customers don't tend to have employees who work on tying together individual BI modules. The midmarket products sell from low tens of thousands of U.S. dollars compared to US$100,000 to US$150,000 for enterprise versions.

Business Objects defines midmarket companies as those reporting less than US$1 billion in revenue or with less than 1,000 staff. With perhaps only 10 percent to 15 percent of those customers currently using BI software, Rowe said the primary competitor for Business Objects in the midmarket is market awareness. The market is also highly fragmented, with analysts estimating that 18 software vendors divide up 80 percent of the market.

"Microsoft is our primary competitor for midmarket for the medium to longer term," Rowe said. "We're no longer focusing as much on Cognos [Inc.] or other BI pureplays." Business Objects is trying to differentiate itself from Microsoft by offering Crystal Decisions not only on Windows but on two flavors of Linux -- Red Hat and Suse. The company also believes it's ahead of the game in providing the Professional version that includes BI and data integration in a single product.

Business Objects has made a number of acquisitions in performance management, including the recent purchase of Cartesis for around $300 million. The vendor is currently integrating the planning and budgeting capabilities it has bought, but will look to offer that functionality for the midmarket in 2008, Rowe said. Business Objects has yet to determine what that midmarket budgeting and planning product will look like. It could be the fourth member of the Crystal Decisions family or could be a separate offering, he added.

Pricing for Crystal Decisions Professional Edition starts from US$35,000 in North America for five concurrent users on a single Windows or Linux server. Pricing elsewhere in the world will vary according to local market conditions. The software is available in 12 languages -- English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

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