Business Objects takes on predictive analytics

Business Objects SA announced Monday it is adding predictive analytics data mining technology to its business intelligence (BI) software, a move that didn’t surprise its competition at Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute Inc.

Business Objects, which creates the BusinessObjects XI platform, will look to Chicago-based statistical analysis software maker SPSS Inc. to integrate data mining capabilities into its flagship BI product. Predictive analytics allows businesses to explore data to uncover future business trends, scenarios, or outcomes. For example, a consumer goods sales executive could review historical sales of plasma televisions within a specific geography and mine the data for any patterns, trends or anomalies.

With the agreement Business Objects, which is based in Paris but has development facilities in Vancouver, is trying to answer the demand from its customers for a unified BI solution that can handle complex data mining results. James Thomas, vice-president for business tools at Business Objects, said its customers have been very successful using BI to look at historical and current data, but are increasingly looking to understand the impacts of that data in the future.

“We wanted to bring technology that is typically made for data mining experts and deliver it to our business intelligence users,” Thomas said. “Our product line is really about providing access to information and delivering it to people in many ways. So, this type of integration allows our customers to do much more without having to go to another provider for data mining.”

The move comes on the heels of Walldorf, Germany-based enterprise software giant SAP AG’s recent $6.8 billion buyout of Business Objects. At the SAS Institute, Product Marketing Manager Mary Grace Crissey said her company had been watching both Business Objects and SPSS over the last few months recently and was not surprised by the agreement. But while she admitted SPSS is bringing a lot to Business Objects software offering, she said the solution will still be lacking a crucial piece.

“The partnership still wouldn’t give Business Objects optimization modeling, which is where you not just look ahead and predict with data mining techniques, but you actually decide how to change your business and make more profits,” Crissey said. “We’re really trying to concentrate in visualization for analytics, which I think Business Objects will need to go further on. Because ultimately, you need to take these complicated analytic reports and show them to high-level bosses so they can digest them better.”

Crissey cited an IDC report that showed SAS with a 31 per cent market share in the analytics space compared with SPSS’ 14 per cent share. She said that these consistent profits and growth, coupled with the fact that SAS is already in the BI space, gives its enterprise intelligence products the leg up.

But Thomas disagreed, saying that once the predictive services are embedded into the Business Objects’ offering, the easy to use data mining capabilities will be attract a slew of business customers; especially those who aren’t experts at data mining. SAS, he said, has started out at the higher-end and has catered to the needs of analysts and experts in trying to provide business intelligence technology.

“We’re coming at it from a different direction and I think where Business Objects has its strength is in taking complex data and really simplifying it for executives and managers,” Thomas said. “SAS has had trouble getting into the executive realm and has been strongest with the expert data analyst. And if you’ve ever seen a data analyst present to a CEO, you know it can be a very scary thing.”

Business Objects said the integrated BI and data mining software will be officially rolled out early 2008.

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