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Why is SAP buying Business Objects?

The first time I made contact with Business Objects was in 1992 when I was hired by a venture capitalist to conduct due diligence on Business Objects. At that time the company was still emerging. At that time Business Objects was a tiny Paris-based that offered a windows based reporting product designed for use with the Oracle database. My advice to Atlas Ventures was that it would be a wise idea to invest in the company. I recommended that they improve their user interface, add more databases than Oracle, and learn how to partner. And as they say, the rest is history. So, more than 15 years later is to become part of the SAP empire.

So, what do I think? I have a mixed reaction. Here are my first takes:

1. Business Objects has a diverse and interesting base of technologies. For example, it has its traditional reporting platform that is a huge source of revenue (especially maintenance). Over the years it has added lots of products to its bag of tricks including the low end Crystal Reports to text analytics (acquisition of inxight Software ) and Cartesis for financial reporting. It appeared that the company was on a path to positioning itself as a full service information management player.

2 . Today, Business Objects is about $1.5 billion in revenue. While it is growing at about 20% a year in many areas, new license revenue is only about 9% of revenue. Many companies in the information management space are finding that it is hard to grow into a major player organically — or even with solid acquisitions.

3. SAP is paying a lot of money; making this a big gamble. Unlike Oracle, SAP has not made a lot of big acquisitions. Perhaps the company felt that Oracle was simply getting a bigger piece of the information management pie than was comfortable. SAP will have its work cut out for it as it tries to learn to sell at the low end of the market. Yes, it has introduced its mid-market platform but it still has a steep learning curve. It will also have to rationalize its existing offerings with those from Business Objects. For example, now SAP will have two financial reporting systems — Business Object’s Cartesis and Outlook Soft, a company with a similar product that SAP purchased.

4. I think that integration is very tough to full off. The plan mentioned in the announcement is to integrate the Business Object suite with SAP’s NetWeaver middleware. While this might be a good long term strategy, it might not be a high priority for customers who just want to get their reports done.

I plan to keep an open mind. My old friend, Josh Greenbaum, who is one of the most knowledgeable SAP watchers around is pretty bullish on the plan. So, it is definitely worth a second look as the acquisition moves forward.

I’ll make an obvious prediction right now — business intelligence vendors will continue to be targeted for acquisition by the big players. As this happens, the strong vendors that do remain independent will be attractive to customers who want to work with an independent player and to vendors who are looking for good ecosystem partners. Who is on my list as attractive independents: Information Builders and SAS Institute. Ironically, both companies are around Business Objects size and neither are public. Now there is some food for thought…

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