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November 7, 2005

Business Objects beefs up developer support

French business intelligence software maker BusinessObjects SA underscored its developer-friendly stance by quickly integrating its popular Crystal Reports tool with Microsoft Corp's newest IDE (integrated development environment) and announcing embedded reporting software for the Eclipse Foundation, one of the fastest growing development environments for Java developers.

By CBR Staff Writer

Continuing a long-standing OEM integration with Microsoft’s Visual Studio, which enables developers to create new reports or use existing Crystal Reports documents, and integrate them directly into their applications, Business Objects has now carried this over to Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, the latest version of its IDE which the company launched this week.

A special edition of Crystal Reports is now being included as the default install for Visual Studio 2005. It will let developers take advantage new capabilities like smart tags, code snippets, and click-once deployment.

Business Objects added that that customers upgrading to Visual Studio 2005 will be able to import their existing Crystal reports directly into the new IDE. Also developers can expose their reports as Web services for consumption by any development environment using a simple right-click.

Crystal Reports has now been bundled into the Visual Studio IDE for over a decade, making it the most entrenched reporting tool for Microsoft environments. Crystal Reports also provides embedded reporting directly to other IDEs like IBM Rational Application Developer, BEA Workshop, and Borland JBuilder.

Business Objects is also playing its first major open source reporting card by announcing a preview release of special version of Crystal Reports for the Eclipse Java development community.

The company already provides support for open source software infrastructure including support for technologies like Linux, Apache Tomcat and MySQL. Its now effectively added support for the Eclipse IDE to its long list of supported IDEs for Crystal Reports.

It’s another way of defending our turf in the embedded reporting space, said James Thomas, director of product marketing at Business Objects.

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He said that Crystal Reports for Eclipse takes advantage of the Eclipse user interface, which includes dockable panes and context sensitive menus, to customize the reports directly within the Eclipse environment.

Business Objects is also providing a development and test license of the embedded reporting engine to let developers build report viewing directly into client-server and Web applications.

Officially the move makes Business Objects an Eclipse Add-In Provider and commits the company to active involvement in the development of the community.

This is something we’ve been looking to do for a long time, said Thomas. Its our first 100% pure Java integration into Eclipse and a continuation of our strategy of providing reporting tools directly within all the major IDEs out there.

Business Objects would be providing a commercial version of the code on top of the Eclipse IDE – a strategy that’s similar, but not exactly the same, as other BI vendors like Actuate Corp and JasperSoft Inc that sell support, services and indemnification around their open source reporting products.

The idea is to make the report designers free to developers, like in Visual Studio, but to charge for different deployment options with support and services packaged in, he said. We think the right approach is for commercial vendors provide add-ins on top of the core platform.

Thomas added: Our Eclipse involvement is also partner-driven. IBM is also building its next generation platform on Eclipse. We’re now providing a 100% Java engine that plugs into that environment.

The preview version of the embedded reporting engine license will be accessible to Eclipse developers in the fourth quarter of 2005. General availability of Crystal Reports for Eclipse is expected in the second half of 2006.

These two developer announcements were pick of the announcements that Business Objects made on the opening days of its annual user conference which kicked off in Orlando, Florida this year.

The company also unveiled a verticalized version of planning and budgeting tools it picked up from its acquisition of SRC Software Inc earlier this year.

The Business Objects Planning for Retail application helps retailers model and optimize performance across their in-store, merchandising, supply chain and finance operations. The application is broken up into four main applications – budgeting, forecasting, plan reporting and payroll planning.

While the solution is pretty much a re-packaged and re-branded version of SRC’s software, Thomas pointed to the value-added inclusion of best practices gleaned from business experts.

One of the hidden secrets of SRC was the depth of its domain expertise which the company hired in. We’re now putting that expertise into the software, he said.

Business Objects already counts 160 of the top global retailers as customers of its BI software and sees a natural up-sell opportunity.

In many ways the vertical planning approach is very much a continuation of SRC’s preferred market strategy. SRC also has strengths in healthcare which Business Objects is likely to tap into for future verticalized performance management and BI offerings.

Right now the Business Objects Planning applications are integrated at the user level by tying together views at the dashboard and scorecarding levels.

This has all the integration that our users need today, Thomas said though he acknowledged that much deeper integration is yet to come. Our overriding goal is to make planning a true service of the XI platform.

Separately, Business Objects also announced a new OEM deal with UK-based ThinkAnalytics Ltd to embed real-time predictive analysis capabilities into its performance management applications. The OEM builds on the existing capabilities to build statistical and data mining capabilities into its core XI BI platform.

Officials say that the inclusion of predictive modeling and analysis from Glasgow-based ThinkAnalytics will bump-up support for the operational aspects of BI and performance management by helping them to better anticipate things like customer behaviors and forecast demand more accurately.

Instead of looking backwards, ThinkAnalytics’ technology lets you be more forward thinking in your analysis, said Thomas.

The partnership will also let Business Objects tap ThinkAnalytics’ strong presence in the banking, telco, retail and pharmaceutical sectors.

Another partner, New Jersey-based Teleran Technologies Inc which provides application usage management software for BI and data warehousing, has developed an extension to XI for improving performance and scalability. XI sites can now benefit from direct integration with Teleran’s patented performance tracking, user and query controls and auditing tools to scale-up their expanding BI application deployments.

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