Business Objects offers soup-to-nuts BI platform

XI 3.0 has something for everyone, including use of unstructured data and traceability of data

Business Objects, an SAP company, unveiled today the next iteration of its business intelligence platform, XI 3.0.

Bigger and in some ways better than previous versions, it includes so many features that it may be a bit daunting to some users.

Leveraging Business Objects' acquisition of InXight Software in May 2007, XI 3.0 ties together structured information with unstructured information.

"Now you can read through e-mails, Web pages, and documents to understand text and extract sentiment from text," said Franz Aman, vice president for business intelligence platform, product marketing at Business Objects.

Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, called the ability to include unstructured data a significant improvement in the platform. "It is an acknowledgement that data comes from all kinds of applications and all kinds of formats," he said.

The technology parses and organizes unstructured data so that users can apply more traditional -- that is, more statistically oriented -- methods to the data.

Greenbaum said that although it is a "somewhat artificial" structure, it does lend itself to data analysis, and he called that an enormous improvement for businesses that have grown so much more complex over the years. "ERP used to be about one activity, closing the books every quarter," he said

Traceability is another key feature in XI 3.0. The technology can trace back the so-called lineage of data in order to give users better insight into how the data was created, what transformation it might have gone through, and whether or not it was merged with another data set.

While knowing the lineage of data is a must-have for regulatory and compliance, it is also essential to good business, said Greenbaum, noting that it is a vast improvement over the old days when executives sat around arguing over the data in a single cell in a spreadsheet.

The lineage capability is available only to those who buy the optional Business Objects Data Services that combine Data Integrator and Data Quality components.

Another significant improvement in the platform is a technology dubbed Polestar that gives nontechnical users the ability to do complex searches and to make natural-language queries. "You don't have to be a special user with SQL knowledge to find information," said Aman.

However, Greenbaum said that while XI does a good job in elevating the accessibility and comprehensiveness of BI, it is also a "bit of a Swiss Army knife."

"What haven't they put into this product?" he wondered.

Nevertheless, it should also replace all the departmental one-off solutions that are typically floating around a company, according to Greenbaum.

While XI 3.0 was in development long before Business Objects was acquired by SAP in January 2007, there are some unique linkages between XI 3.0 and SAP applications, said Aman. For example, XI is more tightly intertwined with the SAP Business Warehouse and offers faster performance when users tap into data that comes from R3 or the Warehouse than if the data was from a non-SAP source.

Also, XI can tap into SAP's use of metadata so that if a user in North America searches for Total Revenue, and a user in France is looking for the same information, despite the fact that the French use a phrase other than "total revenue," both will get back the same information because of the metadata layer.

Business Objects 3.0 will be available later in the first quarter. Later in the year, it will also be available as a SaaS (software as a service) offering.

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