North America: Business Intelligence Software Vendor Makes Name for Itself

By Rombel, Adam | Global Finance, May 2002 | Go to article overview

North America: Business Intelligence Software Vendor Makes Name for Itself


Rombel, Adam, Global Finance


CRYSTAL DECISIONS

Crystal Decisions will be an attractive acquisition target or wellreceived if spun out through an IPO." -Mike Schiff, Current Analysis

If you've ever had to create and present reports on your company's profits, sales, inventory, or expenses, chances are you've used Crystal Reports.The software program allows users to slice and dice data and produce interactive reports filled with snazzy charts, graphs, logos, and colors in a variety of Web and desktop formats.

The company behind the product that has been installed on up to 10 million desktops worldwide may not be as well known. Crystal Decisions, a privately held Palo Alto, California-based maker of business intelligence software, has had three different names and at least that many owners in its 18-year existence.

Indeed, the current name dates back only to March 2001, when it dropped the moniker Seagate Software and received new ownership after its then-parent, the big diskdrive maker Seagate Technology, was taken private in a management-led leveraged buyout.

What's emerged is a hard-charging company bent on leveraging its flagship product, brand name, and high-profile distribution partnerships with tech giants such as Microsoft and SAP to attract more big corporate clients in a business intelligence area that has dodged much of the sharp down-draft in corporate technology spending.

"They're in a good position, have a strong product line, good partnerships, and are in a space with healthy demand," says Dan Vesset, research manager at IDC, the Framingham, Massachusetts-based IT research and consulting firm.

Crystal Decisionswhich has most of its executive offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, the city in which it was founded as Crystal Services in 1984-says it had a 30% compound annual growth rate through 2001, after six straight quarters of revenue and profit gains.That surpasses the average 20% growth rate for the business intelligence market as a whole.

"They're taking the right steps. It's definitely a company to watch," says Mike Schiff, an e-business and business intelligence analyst at Current Analysis, a Sterling,Virginiabased market research and analysis firm.

One of those steps, which came at about the same time as the name change, was introducing an Internet-based version of its reporting, analysis and information delivery software.The software, called Crystal Enterprise, allows big companies to manage their reporting and data sources by linking with a variety of applications such as e-commerce, customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management software. Crystal customers can use the program to deliver customized reports to employees, outside suppliers, and clients.

"Our customers can now get the same functionality outside the corporate firewall that they can inside the firewall," says Eric Patel, Crystal Decisions' chief financial officer. "We redesigned completely for the Web, and that's been a big success, one of the big drivers of our growth rate over the last year."

Lining Up an IPO?

An investment group led by Silver Lake Partners, Texas Pacific Group, and top management from Seagate Technology-now considered a sister company-currently owns Crystal. But some analysts are suggesting the company, with 1,400 employees, may be an attractive candidate to be spun out in an initial public offering or acquired by a rival soon.

"Crystal Reports' ubiquitous presence and brand recognition almost guarantees that Crystal Decisions will be an attractive acquisition target or wellreceived if spun out through an IPO," Schiff wrote in a January report for Current Analysis."It would not be surprising if Silver Lake Partners were to pursue the IPO option, and if so, it would be viewed positively."

He says that a spin-off would further help Crystal establish its own identity and give it the needed resources for focused promotion of Crystal Enterprise and its other business intelligence products beyond Crystal Reports. …

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