A one-time licence compliance charge for Crystal Reports teaching organizations is a simple cash grab by parent company Business Objects, users and trainers say.

In an April letter, Dan Klein, vice-president of worldwide

education services for Business Objects, told Crystal Reports training providers their software licences don’t permit training third parties. To do that, they’d have to buy a separate classroom licence agreement (CLA). Existing trainers who registered before June 30 got the bargain price of $4,000 for the licence. New trainers – and those who didn’t register before the deadline –pay $20,000 to enter the market.

“You are not authorized or certified but, upon execution of the Classroom Licence Agreement, you will be compliant with your Crystal Reports software licence,” the letter says. “You are not authorized to offer any other (emphasis is Klein’s) software training other than Crystal Reports I and II (beginner and advanced).”

Nicole Parsons, Crystal Reports designer for specialty printer Canada Ticket in Langley, B.C., doubts Business Objects’ assertion the program is about improving training quality.

“Business Objects claims that the steep increase in CLA costs (is) due to a sudden desire to improve the quality of training,” she wrote in an e-mail interview.

“You would think that an organization wishing to truly ensure quality education would have a modest annual fee and a process for ongoing review and certification, wouldn’t you?” Parsons says.

Business Objects also lists only two approved vendors for Crystal Reports courseware – those that have agreed to pay royalties to Business Objects for the use of screen shots, says trainer and consultant Ken Hamady. He estimates that adds $30 to $40 to the cost of each package.

Queries to Beth Christopher, Business Objects’ education alliances manager for the Americas, were referred to the corporate communications department. In a prepared statement, the company’s public relations manager Robin Meyerhoff wrote that the program is aimed at raising the bar for end-user training.

“We estimated that more than 80 per cent of Crystal Reports training classes in North America were unsanctioned or unapproved by Business Objects – meaning that many trainers had out-of-date software and course material” Meyerhoff said. “With this new classroom licence model, all trainers will be licence-compliant, and more importantly, have access to the most current and approved training material.”

Compliant training outfits will get vouchers for free e-learning courses and certification exams, increasing the number of certified trainers and improving training quality, Meyerhoff said.

Not so, says David Hopaluk, systems analyst with Here2Help Solutions in Abbotsford, B.C. He thinks the end result will likely be service providers leaving the market.

“If independent service providers are forced by BO to comply and pass on higher costs attributed to compliance, then effectively we will either exit because it is no longer profitable, or work with clients to find other alternatives,” says Hopaluk. “I am currently exploring the latter for a number of customers.”

His customers aren’t the only ones. In an interview for a previous story, Marie Howran of Peterborough Technology Services said the provider of technology for the City of Peterborough, Ont., had looked into Java reporting, albeit over a different licensing beef. And independent Crystal Reports consultant Michael Ouchi of Vancouver says his clients “wonder aloud how quickly Microsoft will get SQL reporting services up to speed” as an alternative to Crystal Reports.

Parsons wonders why a software vendor would make training a more expensive proposition. “Software vendors are only too eager to have as many people as possible knowledgeable about their product,” she says. “People choose software based on what they’re familiar with – they don’t choose software where the cost of gaining that ‘comfort zone’ is too high or too difficult.”

Before Business Objects bought it from Crystal Decisions in January 2004, Crystal Reports was a versatile and affordable – “dirt-cheap,” in Howran’s words – reporting platform. But as Business Objects has increasingly incorporated the technology into its flagship BI platform, the cost has spiraled. And the entrenched user base that just wants the reporting functionality is resisting, says Hopaluk.

“I think that it has frustrated BO that Crystal users are loyal to the brand and have not quickly assimilated BO’s offering of products,” he says.

Business Objects made another acquisition on Wednesday in a US$100-million all-cash deal for SRC Software, a vendor of financial planning and performance management tools.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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