These days it is rare to find a successful new economy company coming from anyplace but California, New England, Texas or Washington. One of the most financially successful examples is Business Objects. With one foot in France and the other in Silicon Valley, BOBJ (its NASDAQ moniker), now nearly a quarter billion bucks in annual revenues, is making a habit of doubling its annual profits. Alan Greenspan notwithstanding, over the past year BOBJ has moved from about $8 to $130 per share.

Outside of the fact that the company makes money ­ a not so common trait these days ­ Business Objects is the first of the independent front-end BI tool vendors to exploit the Web in a significant way. While just about every company connected with BI/DW is touting its so-called e-business prowess, Business Objects got a jump on the market in 1997 when it announced WebIntelligence ­ a query, reporting and analysis solution designed specifically to work over the Web. Now in its version 2.5 incarnation, WebIntelligence supports both intranets and extranets, where it is being used by customers for supply chain-related applications when communications with suppliers and customers is essential.

Survey.com's latest forecast is that the North American market for BI applications that rely on extranets is increasing at an annual rate of about 50 percent. By 2003, it will be roughly $15 billion (of a total North American BI market of $73 billion). Further, in Survey.com's recent survey, Database Solutions III, it was shown that 87 percent of the universe of BI users is or soon will be Web enabling their data warehouses and data marts.

WebIntelligence has incorporated several features that have captured the attention of its customers and are no doubt responsible for the system's popularity. (The company announced its 100th extranet WebIntelligence customer in January 2000.) Perhaps most important from the implementer's perspective, it shares the same meta data and security information as its client/server tools. Thus, from a systems viewpoint, it supports either thin or thick clients transparently.

From the user's perspective, the system stresses self-service and ease of use. Users can autonomously request data using familiar terminology, analyze it from a variety of perspectives and share the results with colleagues using preformatted reports. The data feeding the reports can be from the client's own warehouses or operational sources or from external sources residing on the Web at large.

WebIntelligence also has sophisticated security control features. The system administrator creates groups, assigns security attributes to each group and assigns each user to the appropriate group. In addition, data transferred over the network is protected via encryption algorithms.

To achieve scalable performance, the software runs on a distributed architecture. The number of users that can be supported at a given response time is a function of the number of processors available in the server complex. At this time, Business Objects is quoting, for a 10-second response time, that it will support 30 users per processor under Windows NT and 50 users per processor under UNIX. (Solaris available now; HP-UX and AIX soon.) The claim is that populations of more than 20,000 users can be reasonably supported employing today's server technology.

Sounds good, you might say, but I'm sure you want to know where all this is headed. The folks at Business Objects tell us that they are moving into BIPs big time. (For those of you still in the stone age, a BIP is the new acronym for a business intelligence portal.) Ultimately this will require support for universal objects, tight integration with document management systems and related esoterica.

The future directions of business intelligence seem pretty well defined these days. More data, more analysis, more users, more applications ­ more of everything. The Internet, in its various guises, will be instrumental in enabling the "more" to happen, and solutions must be deployable over the Internet. It appears that BOBJ has found the need and begun to fill it ahead of most of the pack.

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