Check your definition of business intelligence. Some believe that business intelligence involves query and reporting and is only for the power user. However, Business Objects disproves the notion that business intelligence is strictly the domain of power users. Bernard Liautaud, Business Objects CEO and chairman of the board, notes, "We have customers today who have deployed our business intelligence software to tens of thousands of users."

France Telecom, one of the principal telecommunications operators in the world, has 70,000 users of BusinessObjects. The U.S. Military Health System (MHS), the 125,000-person healthcare organization for the U.S. Department of Defense, has 50,000. Business Objects has many other customers in the 20,000 range. Thousands of successful businesses benefit from Business Objects business intelligence (BI) solutions.

BusinessObjects 2000, which runs on all leading UNIX operating systems and Microsoft Windows, consists of tools for query, reporting and analysis; a BI Portal with full broadcast functionality; and administration tools. BusinessObjects Analytics provides users a suite of integrated enterprise analytic applications built on the BusinessObjects 2000 platform for best practice analytics and the development of custom analytic applications. BusinessObjects takes information from any customer source, transforms that information, aggregates it, stores it and delivers it to the users (power and otherwise) for interaction.

"Everybody needs information, and the power of BusinessObjects is that we are able to address the many different kinds of business users," begins Liautaud. "It's true that there are power users and advanced analysts, but there are also casual users and people who just want to receive a report on a desktop." BusinessObjects can be used in just that way. However, notes Liautaud, "The value of what we provide is an ability to have one infrastructure from which you can manage all of these different profiles. That's why we have customers, and are gaining more every day, who say they want to standardize on BusinessObjects. They know it will be able to scale to all these different profiles."

"The trend that we're seeing from our customers," observes Liautaud, "is that they want to have more and more integration between the different components of business intelligence. They also want to reduce the number of suppliers. We felt that in order to respond to that customer demand, we needed to bring to them a more complete solution. That's why we acquired Acta and that's why we build analytic applications – and now we have that much more robust and complete solution. That said, if we take the different components of what we offer – a data integration platform, a business intelligence platform and analytic applications – these products can work with other pieces of technology. We're not turning away from Informatica or Ascential. We have many customers in common, and we'll continue to ensure integration with ETL. However, if a customer wants to have an analytic application from one supplier based on a complete technology stack, now we can offer it all. We offer a broad range of products and solutions so that a company can basically bring our products and our solutions in house to fulfill all of their analytic requirements."

This represents a new focus for the company, transformation from a company that has built great success in providing technology and tools to its customers to a company that is providing business solutions to business problems – a strategic partner to its customers, as opposed to just a software supplier. The transformation from a technology software supplier to a business solution partner means several things. Product- wise, it means moving from feature products to more robust, packaged solutions. Business Objects is dedicated to bringing more services to the customer. The focus is on showing customers how they can apply Business Objects' technology to reach specific business goals. "We're transforming to be more accountable for reaching that business objective," Liautaud states. "If our customer wants to reduce customer churn, then we need to help them achieve that goal with our products."

Because of the very nature of business intelligence as the technology to provide solutions to help customers gain greater insight into their businesses, this transformation will undoubtedly prove beneficial for Business Objects customers during this difficult economic period. According to Liautaud, "When business is suffering as it is today, people throughout the corporation ask lots of questions. Are we losing customers? How many of our customers are profitable? Why is the level of revenue with our existing customers going down? Is this the economy or is it us? When business is going well, there's no question, everybody is happy. However, business intelligence is particularly useful in a tough time." It comes, therefore, as little surprise that in the past quarter, three out of Business Objects' four top deals in the U.S. were with telecommunication companies: Cingular Wireless, T- Mobile (formerly VoiceStream) and US Cellular. BusinessObjects will afford these companies a better understanding of what's impacting their profitability.

"In general," says Liautaud, "there is a realization that business intelligence is very strategic to business performance. It's not just about providing a benefit to the IT organization. BI is an enabler to reduce expenses, gain better business visibility and generate more revenue. Business intelligence is a vehicle for better business performance and return on prior investment – including ROI for ERPs and the big CRM systems. Many companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on these systems, and the only thing they have right now is automated transactions. They have automated a number of business processes, but they still don't have the visibility of all the information that's been collected through these ERPs. Now they need to explore it. That's when they get a return on these millions of dollars. Notably," says Liautaud, "a fairly small investment in business intelligence will enable companies to use that information effectively."

Business Objects
Bernard Liautaud
Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board

The transition from a technology-focused organization to a solutions provider has been challenging for Liautaud and Business Objects. Fortunately, Liautaud does not shy from challenges. During this interview, he recalled his experience several years ago in which he embarked on an expedition with some friends in an attempt to find an obscure high-altitude lake in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. Liautaud learned about this lake while reading an ancient book of legends. The group drove from Paris to Morocco, through chains of mountains and other obstacles with the goal of putting a windsurf board on that lake. "It took us a long time to actually find the lake because there was no map or anything – it was in the middle of nowhere and it was pretty hard to get to," he remembers. "It took us a month, but we found the lake, put our windsurf board on it and took pictures. It was a great moment. I was proud of our accomplishment. It was a difficult journey, and we faced many obstacles. The cars broke many times. We got lost. We had to find our way through a population that didn't speak any of our languages. It was fun and produced a feeling of accomplishment that we were able to share as a team of friends." This is indeed a story with parallels to Business Objects.

Some say that it was during this Moroccan expedition that Liautaud learned the seemingly foreign phrase embossed on the reverse side of each Business Objects business card – LCT2IP. Joking aside, a look at the back of Liautaud's business card reveals this acronym, and each letter represents one of the six core values of the company. L stands for leadership. C is for customer-focused. As Liautaud notes, "If you want to be a business partner, you need to be obsessed about customer satisfaction and customer loyalty." This customer satisfaction commitment is one of the reasons that part of every employee's compensation is tied to the company's customer loyalty index. T is for transnational identity. "You will find customer focus as a core value of a number of companies," remarks Liautaud, "but transnational identity is something special. Business Objects was born in France but very quickly expanded to the United States, the U.K. and different parts of Europe. A year after we started in Paris, we already had an office in California. With just 10 people in Paris, we already had two or three people here. The idea is that there's not a dominant nationality within Business Objects. Anyone can rise through the organization. If someone develops a great idea or great practice, we may – regardless of where that idea came from – duplicate it in many different places. Transnational identity is really a part of our culture." 2I stands for innovation and integrity – both very important to the success of Business Objects. P stands for passion. "Our people are quite passionate about what they do." Liautaud summarizes the acronym's meaning by saying, "In the end, what you see here is balance within the organization. We have an aggressive sales and marketing culture. We want to be the leader. We innovate in technology. But at the same time, we have a high sense of integrity. We're very conservative in the way we report, and we're very focused about meeting the needs of our customers."

Business Objects Fact Table

Year Founded: 1990
Publicly traded (NASDAQ:BOBJ)
Number of Employees: 2,200
Revenue: $415 million for 2001
Net Income: $44.9 million 2001
Number of Customers: 16,500

Liautaud was born in Paris and raised in France until the age of 21 when he moved to California to pursue a master's degree at Stanford. After a year at Stanford, he spent a year and a half at the French Embassy. "The combination of my French upbringing and my U.S. education helps me look at things with a more global and more open perspective. I understand that people look at issues in very different ways according to where they live and their own point of reference. It doesn't mean that people are wrong or right, but that they are heavily influenced by their point of reference. The fact that I was born and raised in France and now live here has enabled me to function really well in both environments. What's interesting is that my family, like the company, is transnational – my wife is from the U.S. and our children are bilingual. So there's a little bit of a parallel between my home experience and the company culture. I think in both cases the transnational identity provides a richer environment where there are more opportunities."

The Multidimensional Aspects of Bernard Liautaud

Last book read: Empire Falls of Richard Russo
Most memorable movie: Life is Beautiful
Favorite entertainer: David Letterman
Most entertaining game: tennis
Dream car: Toyota Land Cruiser
Perfect vacation spot: Chamonix, France - back-country skiing
Favorite Sports Team: French National Soccer Team
Hobby: Spending time with my five kids
Type of music: Enjoy artists such as Sting and Mark Knopfler (member of musical group Dire Straits)
"Can't live without it" food: A ripe Camembert from Normandy
"Can't live without it" beverage: A bottle of '82 Chateau Margaux

While he enjoys competition and likes to win, this leader of a transnational company nearing $500 million in revenue notes, "I also want to feel that we're really making an impact on our customers – on how they process, use and interact with the data. To me, the most gratifying moment is when a CIO or a CFO comes to me and says, 'We couldn't live without your products. We're realizing amazing gains with your products.' That is very, very gratifying."

Today Business Objects tools and applications are used around the world, and versions are available in 13 languages. Millions of people in more than 16,500 organizations within 80 countries use Business Objects products. Just as there are world travelers known to carry Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard with them wherever they go because they believe food without it just isn't worth eating, there are businesses that would not dream of operating without BusinessObjects. This begs the question, "Pardonnez-moi. Do you have any BusinessObjects?"

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