Business Objects: serious about data services

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I have to say that to-date I am impressed by what Business Objects has been doing since it entered the SAP fold. Of course, a lot of the product announcements that have recently been made were based on developments that were underway prior to the takeover but, nevertheless, I am hearing all of the right sort of noises.

I am particularly impressed with EIM (enterprise information management). This includes all of the company’s data movement (both traditional and federated) and cleansing products, add-ons such as Composer (which provides high-level mapping for data movement, and collaboration), Rapid Marts, text analysis (based on the Inxight acquisition), metadata management (with direct BI integration) and what used to be SAP’s MDM (master data management) products. While the last of these won’t be as tightly integrated as some of the others yet, I like the fact that all of the products that might be applicable to data governance are now in one place.

However, specifically, I want to talk about Data Services XI 3.0, which is the product that combines BusinessObjects Data Integrator with BusinessObjects Data Quality. Now, Data Integrator was originally developed by Acta, Data Quality by FirstLogic (and to a certain extent by Fuzzy—another acquisition providing broader global coverage for European address cleansing) and Data Insight (profiling) largely in-house. So, all of these have come from very disparate sources. What tends to happen when vendors have multiple products like this is that a) they integrate them, b) they give them a similar look and feel and c) a long time later they rebuild them on a common repository. Sometimes, d) they re-develop the data quality products to leverage the data movement product’s parallel engine.

The big deal about this release is that Business Objects has gone a step further to e) and introduced a common user interface. That is, data integration, data cleansing and data profiling use the same interface. This is a serious advantage: you can do everything from a single screen.

That’s not all of course. There are facilities for defining validation rules when you are moving data, which will be particularly useful when doing migrations; there is a growing library of pre-built data integration and data quality transforms; there are dashboards for monitoring data quality and validation (successes and failures with drill-down); widespread reporting capabilities (for lineage, impact analysis, documentation and so forth; and there is support for a wide range of non-relational data sources, including flat files, XML (DTDs and schemas), COBOL copybooks and Excel workbooks.

Despite the fact that Business Objects has maintained for some years that it is serious about being a general-purpose data integration vendor, and despite the fact that it has a number of notable customer wins in this regard, the company is, I think, thought of primarily in a BI and data warehousing context. Outside of traditional ETL it is still not typically thought of in the same breath as the likes of Informatica and IBM (Ascential). With this release that impression could (and should) change: Business Objects is a serious player in the data integration market and Data Services XI 3.0 is a major contender.