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Business Objects has agreed to buy Crystal Decisions in a stock transaction valued at $820 million.

In a surprise move late last Friday, French-American business intelligence vendor Business Objects announced its intention to buy privately-held Crystal Decisions, a Canadian enterprise reporting vendor. Business Objects has a good track record for integrating acquisitions, but Crystal may prove more of a challenge.

Business Objects CEO Bernard Liautaud says that the acquisition of Crystal Decisions leverages current market dynamics - pointing specifically to business intelligence's (BI) growth potential, current under-penetration, and relative immaturity. "Only 10-15% of the market has been reached...it's still a fragmented market, with no clear leader...it's not unusual for ten or more BI technologies to be used within a single organization".

Mr Liautaud isn't far off the mark here. After a gold rush of technology purchasing in the 1990s, companies are indeed looking for ways to rationalize their investments and standardize on a single, complete BI set.

Business Objects may have a strong case. It will now be able to offer a full gamut of functionality - from data integration, ad hoc query/analysis, analytic applications, and now enterprise reporting - that fulfills the needs of all BI users across the enterprise. But past experience has also shown that the 'end-to-end' approach does not necessarily work unless all the components are in fact 'best-of-breed'.

Once completed, the merger will create one of the biggest BI companies with over $736 million in combined revenue, 3,800 employees, over 16 million licenses, and over 20 patents (or patents pending). It will also propel Business Objects above archrival Cognos, which reported $551 million in revenue last year. Specifically, the deal will strengthen Business Objects' foothold in the enterprise reporting market; a segment of the BI market that Crystal dominates with its Crystal Reports authoring tool and Crystal Enterprise platform products.

While the merger looks good on paper, integration at product, sales and cultural levels still needs to be executed. The signs are encouraging; Business Objects did a sterling job of assimilating Acta's technology, sales team and developers into its fold after its acquisition in July 2002. However, Business Objects may find it challenging to unravel Crystal's vast channel program, particularly its 350 or so OEM relationships, which could throw up some conflicts as both sales teams start to target each others' account base.

Source: Computerwire/Datamonitor

Recommended research: Reuters Business Insight, "The Business Intelligence Outlook" (RBTC0056)

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