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Will Microsoft Join in the Big-Money BI Buyouts?

You don't have to believe this story if you don't want to, but it really is true. Almost six years ago, your editor got a (short-lived) job as a documentation writer with Business Objects, the big French maker of business intelligence software. On a dreary January day in 2002, his second day with the company, your editor went to a huge, companywide confab on the edge of Paris. While listening to a standard state-of-the-company presentation, he turned to the (completely disinterested) person sitting next to him and said, "This company sounds like a perfect acquisition target for SAP!"

OK, so we weren't the only -- or probably even the first -- wannabe pundit to predict an SAP buyout of the company known in France as BO. But, almost six years later, here we are. SAP is snapping up Business Objects for almost $7 billion in the largest acquisition in the German enterprise resource planning vendor's history. The financial markets haven't liked the huge deal so far, but from a technology perspective, it just makes so much sense.

SAP, after all, automates all sorts of back-end functions -- manufacturing, human resources, accounting, supply chain, you name it -- for most of the world's biggest companies. And the whole point of business intelligence is to give executives at those big companies easy access to back-end data that they can use for all sorts of forecasting and planning purposes. Business Objects provides that access as well as any independent vendor out there, with Cognos also very much a major player. SAP has never had an especially friendly front-end application, so Business Objects will help the German giant's powerful software communicate better with its users.

Oracle, SAP's main challenger in the ERP space, has spent wildly in recent years, including dropping more than $3 billion on Hyperion, a Business Objects competitor, this year. So SAP is finally getting into the act on the acquisition side after seemingly having failed to develop its own BI technology.

The question now is whether Microsoft, an emerging player in the BI space (and in the ERP space, as well, with its Dynamics line), will swallow a BI player of its own (hello, Cognos) or continue to build technology from the small acquisitions its has made in the space into its offering. At almost $7 billion, the asking price for a big BI firm is high, but Microsoft has the money to spend. And we know that Redmond will spend it if it's serious about jumping head-first into a market; just look at the $6 billion acquisition of aQuantive that has launched Microsoft as an advertising agency.

There are other questions that arise from SAP's deal, too, such as how the buyout will affect SAP's tenuous cooperation with Redmond on the Duet product, which uses Microsoft technology to do some of what SAP will now presumably want BO's wares to do.

Plus, there's a quandary for partners: How is an SAP festooned with a useful BI tool going to affect the sales pitch for Dynamics, which revolves in part around integration of tools, ease of use and the familiarity of the Microsoft interface? Sure, Dynamics will still have some advantages over SAP in terms of native integration with the Microsoft stack and a lower intimidation factor (not to mention cost, in many cases) for SMBs, but SAP making a serious BI move does complicate things a bit for Dynamics partners.

Will Microsoft respond to SAP's BI play with a big acquisition or with further internal development? If we had to offer a prediction, we'd go for the latter -- and, hey, we've been right before.

How does SAP's purchase of BO affect your Dynamics business? What do you make of the acquisition? Let me know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on October 09, 2007 at 11:54 AM