Infrastructure and Analytics Power Oracle BI 11g to New Levels
At the Oracle Business Intelligence analyst summit in June, company executives touted the advances and accomplishments of Oracle Business Intelligence 10g over the last several years along with outlining the features of what was announced in April as Oracle Business Intelligence 11g is now available for purchase. The new version was three years in the making, and so I last wrote about aspects of that back in 2008. Apparently it took this longer-than-usual product cycle to fully integrate the BI platform with the Oracle 11g middleware as well as with the analytic database Oracle Essbase and to create a seamless user experience with the BI capabilities. It is also important to note that Oracle BI 11g is the foundation for analytics in the Oracle Fusion Applications, the first of which are being released in 2010 though announced last year at Oracle OpenWorld.
Oracle has invested heavily in its BI platform in terms of manageability, reliability and adaptability, which are three key criteria of our evaluation framework for business intelligence in what we call our Value Index and I will be assessing this release from Oracle in the coming months for the 2010 BI Value Index. These components are critical to support broad enterprise and even Internet deployments of business intelligence. Also Oracle has expanded its information model to support more caching, personalization and data access services across multiple sources. Oracle claims this is the fastest platform for ROLAP and MOLAP processing, but only a head-to-head comparison with top competitors like IBM Cognos and MicroStrategy would determine whose is the fastest as these vendors have similar analytical database support.
I like that the selection and interaction of data from Oracle BI 11g to Oracle Essbase is transparent to the BI user; other BI platforms such as IBM Cognos and MicroStrategy have equivalent capabilities and are simplifying the user experience. Also Oracle has spent significant time and effort ensuring that its platform works more seamlessly through the cycle of development, testing and deployment in IT organizations and global BI teams. This is critical because large global organizations cannot tolerate conflict in development and deployment across multiple users in any software development project. The level of security in 11g is high and utilizes the sophistication of Oracle’s middleware. However, I could not get a clear answer from Oracle on support for level 3 compliance of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), which is critical for government entities and really should be part of every BI product used across the enterprise and the Internet because it prevents security breaches at the URL level where code based injections occur. Oracle is listed as a member of OWASP, but so far I have found only Information Builders embracing this security level. I can say that Oracle has a very robust systems management tool, Oracle Enterprise Manager, which is a technology it has been perfecting over 20 years for its database and middleware products.
From a usability perspective Oracle BI 11g has new graphics capabilities that are significant improvements in business-level quality and allow interactivity with built-in sliders and links. The company has integrated with it Oracle Fusion Middleware MapViewer to add what I call and we categorize as Location Intelligence to analyze data geographically, and the new version can utilize Oracle Spatial to manage this type of data. In addition the whole look and feel can be easily adjusted to match an organization’s themes of color and branding. More important is the consistency of the business metadata that is used across the tools; you can have, for example, actions that start from the data such as further discovery or invoke actions through workflow to ensure that guided activities take place to address issues that are found.
An old-timer like me in the analytics world is glad to see it has a common “selector” that enables the basic functions of select, keep, add and remove data items and also allows for top/bottom ranking and the assembly of custom groups of data and custom measures without having to get IT involved. Analysts desperately need this level of capability, which is missing from many BI products and has forced many users to turn to Microsoft Excel. Oracle has simplified the entry point to its BI capabilities with a personalized start page where the user finds a set of analysis and actions along with easy methods of ad-hoc analysis and reporting. It also has improved integration of Oracle Search and publishes all of its metadata to be available for indexing. However, I think the presentation and usability of this tool should be more business-like than just search results like those found in Google, which is insufficient for business needs. This point was validated in our BI and Search benchmark research where organizations want better context to take more rapid action from search results. Oracle has also simplified the automation of notifications and delivery of BI-related information to be more proactive than requiring individuals to drill into and rotate data to find issues.
In the past Oracle spread its performance management capabilities and the use of scorecards across multiple products obtained through acquisition and not integrated into its BI platform. In 11g Oracle has finally integrated its scorecard into the product so that everything in the scorecard – from cause-and-effect relations to fishbone diagrams – are using actual measures, metrics and key indicators from the BI platform; only Actuate, IBM and Information Builders also have this integration. This product is designed to be intuitive to use, which should go over well with the business management people who need it most. Our recent benchmark research on BI and performance management found that for 41% of organizations indicate it is a top priority but only 12 percent are completely confident with current technology.
For collaboration Oracle BI 11g uses Oracle WebCenter Workspaces and Collaboration, which now is the center of Oracle’s focus on collaboration as Oracle Beehive is not gaining significant traction in the market. The ability to use any BI content with Oracle WebCenter enables a broad scope of discussion forums, chat, communities and other avenues of business collaboration. I have written about the importance of collaboration, which also was found to be critical in our benchmark research on BI and performance management. This is a step forward for Oracle, which previously had little to offer in collaboration; I would have liked to see tighter integration from within the BI environment, but I expect that might come in the future. Oracle WebCenter is the company’s vehicle for assembling and deploying what I call Information Applications, which is a new technology category that we have defined and advanced in the industry. Our recent benchmark research on the topic found significant demand for a simpler approach to assembly and deployment of information. I wrote about Oracle’s advancement in this area at last year’s Oracle OpenWorld.
We should not forget about the demands on enterprise reporting, which Oracle has addressed with Oracle BI Publisher; although it does not require the full Oracle BI 11g to use, it adds significant value to the BI portfolio. This product handles significant scale in print quality of over 70,000 pages per hour. With pixel-level layout capabilities it now matches the level of scalability, quality and deployment required by large scale customer invoicing requirements.
Oracle is further along than I thought in integration with SAP, including R/3 4.6c, ECC 6.0 and SAP Business Information Warehouse (BW); Oracle has blended the administration of this application source so that its metadata can be managed in a single environment. I would have liked to get more customer deployment examples but this appears to not be as high of a priority as I would have thought. This is an environment that I have written extensively about IBM, MicroStrategy and QlikView who compete fiercely and Oracle has lagged in competitive engagement. Of course SAP is advancing their own product suite to be a more integration platform and suite of tools (See: “SAP Brings Business Intelligence and Business Analytics Advancements to Industry“). It should be interesting to see how Oracle engages in opportunities to attract its arch-nemesis SAP’s customers.
Oracle does not get full industry credit for the prebuilt analytics gathered in tools for the lines of business and vertical industries in its Oracle BI Applications as it should, which I wrote about last year (See: “Oracle Taking BI into a New Set of Applications”). I have written repeatedly on business analytics and the needs of lines of business that must be met before developing vertical-industry-specific capabilities. These applications soon will be using the 11g platform, which will make them even more relevant and competitive in the market. Oracle has focused on delivering applications that run on its own suite of applications but has made steps in proving they can operate in a heterogeneous environment with non-Oracle sources of data. I like that the BI Applications have built-in analytic workflow that goes beyond basic analytics or BI to produce applications suited for business and its processes. Oracle has enabled these applications and its BI 11g for just about every common currency and language in the world. This support is essential as a response to the focus on analytics for business of its competitors IBM and SAP. The products are more mature than they used to be, but Oracle faces marketing and sales challenges to engage more with the business side and explain how its products benefit those users. All the competitors in this market must add integrated planning and line-of-business performance management capabilities to be taken more seriously by functional areas such as human resources, sales, customer service and contact centers. This is required to also compete with smaller line of business focused providers in each line of business area.
At the analyst summit, Oracle said little about Oracle Data Integrator and its role with the BI platform as compared to the Informatica product Oracle resells, and it seems this area is not advancing as fast as I would have thought. Informatica has on the other hand been advancing its enterprise class capabilities and support for integration across the cloud computing environments with data plugs. These are necessary for accessing and integrating data, which are critical functions to enable BI. In contrast, I like what Pentaho has done to bring BI and data integration into one package. IBM, Oracle and SAP have similar products, but those are not packaged to work easily in integrated installation and configuration for actual deployments.
Oracle did provide updates on its approach to mobility. Oracle’s development philosophy is to publish once to many devices, and it is adapting to support newer platforms from Apple and Google (Android) along with the established RIM BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile. This approach makes is simpler to manage mixed devices in an enterprise environment, but it does not take full advantage of native capabilities of the platforms. The look and feel is customized to the platform and appears to be functional, but since it is not available to download from Apple’s App Store or its Web site like other vendors’ products, I am not able to verify its functionality as I have done with most of the other vendors. I get grumpy when a vendor shows software support for the Apple iPhone and iPad but the marketing demonstrations at these launch events do not let you try it that happened this week with Oracle. The demand for mobility of BI by business is part of a new contest in the BI market in which the likes of MicroStrategy, QlikView and SAP are fiercely competing against each other as I reviewed recently. I am sure Oracle wants to get onto the short list of competition for this new business.
When we turn to advanced analytics, let’s remember that Oracle has long been investing in predictive analytics and planning through acquisitions, and these capabilities are part of its BI platform where the common enterprise metadata can be used. Oracle even has a specialized product called Real-Time Decisions (RTD), which is able to apply analytic models and rules to provide self-learning, closed-loop capabilities. This is a critical capability for applications used in marketing, sales and the supply chain. Also Oracle has standardized its many different Microsoft Office and Excel interfaces into one called SmartView, which will help organizations simplify access from personal productivity tools to enterprise BI environments. Oracle is not forcing organizations to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010, which is wise. I did find that the BI selector in SmartView is not exactly the same as the one in the BI platform, but that could be resolved in the next release.
In summary, Oracle BI 11g has advantages in its ability to link action from BI with interactivity and presentation. Oracle refers to this as Actionable Intelligence, and it can provide person-to-person interaction that in most organizations is left to the inefficiency of e-mail. The action-taking capability can be easily integrated into Web services and other enterprise systems. In having predictive analytics and planning integrated along with location intelligence, Oracle BI 11g is quite robust. I also like the breadth and depth of its prebuilt analytics that can help lines of business such as finance, sales and contact centers as well as vertical industries. Oracle has the platform running in a 64-bit computing environment that can also leverage appliances like Oracle Exadata that I have written about. I am surprised Oracle has not done more to integrate its own complex event processing and Operational Intelligence technology that I have written about, too, instead just focusing on a transactional, database-centric approach, but this might come in the future if organizations and competitors pressure the company for it. Also Oracle is completely absent in conversation of having its Oracle 11g BI operate in the cloud or be available to rent, but they do provide the software in both purchase and hosted approach. Of course you should also realize that integrating data from the cloud environment into the enterprise is just as important to many organizations.
Oracle has brought BI and performance management closer together, which is a progressive step in the evolution of the industry and in helping organizations bring business and IT closer together. I hope Oracle can also advance best practices in the types of metrics and indicators I have written about that are necessary to for organizations to become more sophisticated in BI. Our research in BI and performance management found that two-thirds of organizations need leadership from the top of both business and IT; while consulting firms can help augment skills, only one-fourth of research participants said consultants have the ability to drive change in their organizations. Now Oracle will have to demonstrate it can execute in the field as the global war for BI supremacy in revenue and number of customers escalates. Oracle 11g BI is a world class BI platform and set of tools and is designed for the enterprises that really need a solid middleware infrastructure for meeting its business needs.
If you want to hear directly from Oracle executives at the summit, here is the link; once you get past the marketing claims, you can see some of the products and unique elements I have discussed in this blog.
Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research
CEO & Chief Research Officer Ventana Research
Mark Smith is the CEO and Chief Research Officer of Ventana Research and leads the firm’s global market agenda for business and technology as a subject matter expert in digital business and enterprise software. Mark is a digital technology enthusiast using market research and insights to educate and inspire technology buyers and suppliers.