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Business Objects aims to predict the future with business intelligence

Business Objects announced today that it's offering new tools for predictive analysis to help companies analyze trends

Business Objects customers can now add predictive analytics to their business intelligence software suite.

The SAP company is offering a product that will allow companies to play out "what if" scenarios and identify trends and patterns with their data to predict future business outcomes, according to Franz Aman, Business Objects' vice president of business intelligence platform product marketing.

"In these challenging economic times, how do [customers] look further into the future?" Aman said. "[This tool] gives them a much better understanding of what's fundamentally driving their business."

This is the second enhancement Business Objects has made to its XI business intelligence platform since SAP bought the company less than a year ago.

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The Predictive Workbench, available today and priced to order, will make it easier to see trends, patterns and outliers. It can mine data across heterogeneous IT systems, Aman said, so there's no need to create code or algorithms to find trends. The product allows customers to create predictive models from historical business information that can be used to solve both horizontal and industry-specific business problems.

Reporting tools, point-and-click visualizations and a library of algorithms are available for query, reporting and analysis. The end users still need to have a background in statistics to use the product, but they don't need the technical expertise to mine the data, according to Aman.

The new release will help bridge the gap between the CFO and the CIO, according to Dave Kasabian, research analyst with Boston-based AMR Research.

"They will be able to tap into the same data, the same information," Aman said. "You don't have to be a techno wiz to benefit from that. You're speaking the same language."

Business Objects customer Organic Valley plans to use predictive analytics to stay competitive with rival Silk, among others, in the organic foods market, according to George Neill, Organic Valley's IT director. The company, based in LaFarge, Wis., finished last year with $435 million in annual revenue and has about 450 employees.

Neill said Organic Valley already has a group that monitors demand and looks at sales, promotional planning and discounting. But the visual tools offered through Business Objects will make the group's work much easier and help to catch things that may not be apparent in typical spreadsheets.

"We saw this as a big help in … present[ing] large amounts of data in ways that we've not seen it, and help[ing] with some of the tools [to] identify outliers and trends," Neill said. "We actually have the tools to do that, but they aren't visual."

And, with diesel fuel up near $5 a gallon, Organic Valley is also hoping the product helps it minimize its transportation costs. Being headquartered in Wisconsin and having most of its product sold on the coasts requires a lot of driving, Neill said.

"It will tell us how much [to make], where to make [it] and when," he said of predictive analysis. "Hopefully, again, it'll help us see things that we may not be seeing."

Aman said Business Objects itself used the tool to figure out where it should go with its midmarket products.

Analysts agree that this is a good thing for Business Objects customers, especially SAP customers already on the NetWeaver platform.

Madan Sheina, principal analyst with London-based technology research firm Ovum, said predictive analysis has been missing from Business Objects.

"It was an area they were looking at for quite some time," he said.

The biggest benefit goes to SAP clients because they'll be able to leverage the NetWeaver stack, Kasabian said.

It also points to the further integration of SAP and Business Objects, he said. It's the first post-acquisition product that truly does that.

"It shows they are dedicated to doing the integration," Kasabian said.

But the new product is still capable of tapping into many different systems, including Oracle, Aman said. Organic Valley, for instance, is an Infor ERP Adage -- not SAP -- customer.

That said, Aman recommended that all SAP business intelligence (BI) customers should move to Business Objects.

"If you're an SAP customer today, you should absolutely move onto Business Objects," Aman said. "If you're an existing SAP customer and you have NetWeaver BI, there's no question. This is a must-do at this point in time for any SAP customer."

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