Responding to the trend that businesses now ask less sophisticated users to perform analysis and rely on software to help them, Oracle recently announced a new release of its flagship Oracle BI Foundational Suite (OBIFS 188.8.131.52) as well as updates to Endeca, the discovery platform that Oracle bought in 2011. Endeca is part of a new class of tools that bring new capabilities in information discovery, self-service access and interactivity. Such approaches represent an important part of the evolution of business intelligence to business analytics as I have noted in my agenda for 2013.
Oracle Business Intelligence Foundational Suite includes many components not limited to Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE), Oracle Essbase and a scorecard and strategy application. OBIEE is the enabling foundation that federates queries across data sources and enables reporting across multiple platforms. Oracle Essbase is an in-memory OLAP tool that enables forecasting and planning, including what-if scenarios embedded in a range of Oracle BI Applications, which are sold separately. The suite, along with the Endeca software, is integrated with Exalytics, Oracle’s appliance for BI and analytics. Oracle’s appliance strategy, which I wrote about after Oracle World last year invests heavily in the Sun Microsystems hardware acquired in 2010.
These updates are far-ranging and numerous (including more than 200 changes to the software). I’d like to point out some important pieces that advance Oracle’s position in the BI market. A visualization recommendations engine offers guidance on the type of visualization that may be appropriate for a user’s particular data. This feature, already sold by others in the market, may be considered a subset of the broader capability of guided analysis. Advanced visualization techniques have become more important for companies as they make it easier for users to understand data and is critical to compete with the likes of Tableau, a player in this space which I wrote about last year.
Another user-focused update related to visualization is performance tiles, which enable important KPIs to be displayed prominently within the context of the screen surface area. Performance tiles are a great way to start improving the static dashboards that my colleague Mark Smith has critiqued. From what I have seen it is unclear to what degree the business user can define and change Oracle’s performance tile KPIs (for example, the red-flagged metrics assigned to the particular business user that appear within the scorecard function of the software) and how much the system can provide in a prescriptive analytic fashion. Other visualizations that have been added include waterfall charts, which enable dependency analysis; these are especially helpful for pricing analysis by showing users how changes in one dimension impact pricing on the whole. Another is MapViews for manipulation and design to support location analytics that our next generation BI research finds the capability to deploy geographic maps are most important to BI in 47 percent of organizations, and then visualize metrics associated with locations in 41 percent of organizations. Stack charts now provide auto-weighting for 100-percent sum analysis that can be helpful for analytics such as attribution models. Breadcrumbs empower users to understand and drill back through their navigation process, which helps them understand how a person came to a particular analytical conclusion. Finally Trellis View actions provides contextual functionality to help turn data into action in an operational environment. The advancements of these visualizations are critical for Oracle big data efforts as visualization is a top three big data capability not available in 37 percent of organizations according to our big data research and our latest technology innovation research on business analytics found presenting data visually as the second most important capability for organizations according to 48 percent of organizations.
The update to Oracle Smart View for Office also puts more capability in the hands of users. It natively integrates Excel and other Microsoft Office applications with operational BI dashboards so users can perform analysis and prepare ad-hoc reports directly within these desktop environments. This is an important advance for Oracle since our benchmark research in the use of spreadsheets across the enterprise found that the combination of BI and spreadsheets happens all the time or frequently in 74 percent of organization. Additionally the importance of collaborating with business intelligence is essential and having tighter integration is a critical use case as found in our next generation business intelligence research that found using Microsoft Office for collaboration with business intelligence is important to 36 percent of organizations.
Oracle efforts to evolve its social collaboration efforts through what they call Oracle Social Network have advanced significantly but do not appear to be in the short term plan to integrate and make available through its business intelligence offering. Our research finds more than two-thirds (67%) rank this as important and then embedding it within BI is a top need in 38 percent of organizations. Much of what Oracle already provides could be easily integrated and meet business demand for a range of people-based interactions that most are still struggling to manage through e-mail.
Oracle has extended its existing capabilities in its OBIEE with Hadoop integration via a HIVE connector that allows Oracle to pull data into OBIEE from big data sources, while an MDX search function enabled by integration with the Endeca discovery tool allows OBIEE to do full text search and data discovery. Connections to new data sources are critically important in today’s environment; our research shows that retaining and analyzing more data is the number-one ranked use for big data in 29 percent of organizations according to our technology innovation research. Federated data discovery is particularly important as most companies are often unaware of their information assets and therefore unknowingly limit their analysis.
Oracle’s continued investments into BI applications that supply prebuilt analytics and these packaged analytics applications span from the front office (sales and marketing), to operations (procurement and supply chain) to the back office (finance and HR). Given the enterprise-wide support, Oracle’s BI can perform cross-functional analytics and deliver fast time to value since users do not have to spend time building the dashboards. Through interoperation with the company’s enterprise applications, customers can execute action directly into applications such as PeopleSoft, JD Edwards or Oracle Business Suite. Oracle has begun to leverage more of its score-carding function that enables KPI relationships to be mapped and information aggregated and trended. Scorecards are important for analytic cultures because they are a common communication platform for executive decision-makers and allow ownership assignment of metrics.
I was surprised to not find much advancement in Oracle business intelligence efforts that operate on smartphones and tablets. Our research finds mobile business intelligence is important to 69 percent of organizations and that 78 percent of organizations reveal that no or some BI capabilities are available in their current deployment of BI. For those that are using mobile business intelligence, only 28 percent are satisfied. For years, IT has not placed a priority on mobile support of BI while business has been clamoring for it and now more readily leading the efforts with 52 percent planning new or expanded deployments on tablets and 32 percent on smartphones. In this highly competitive market to capture more opportunity, Oracle will need to significantly advance its efforts and make its capabilities freely available without passwords as other BI providers have already done. It also will need to recognize that business is more interested in alerts and events through notifications to mobile technology than trying to make the entire suite of BI capabilities replicated on these technologies.
Oracle has foundational positions in enterprise applications and database technology and has used these positions to drive significant success in BI. The company’s proprietary “walled garden” approach worked well for years, but now technology changes, including movements toward open source and cloud computing, threaten that entrenched position. Surprisingly, the company has moved slowly off of its traditional messaging stance targeted at the CIO, IT and the data center. That position seems to focus the company too much on the technology-driven 3 V’s of big data and analytics, and not enough on the business driven 3 W’s that I advocate. As the industry moves into the age of analytics, where information is looked upon as a critical commodity and usability is the key to adoption (our research finds usability to be the top evaluation consideration in 63 percent of organizations), CIOs will need to further move beyond its IT approach for BI as I have noted and get more engaged into the requirements of business. Oracle’s business intelligence strategy and how it addresses these business outcomes and the use across all business users is key to the company’s future and organizations should examine these critical advancements to its BI offering very closely to determine if you can improve the value of information and big data in an organization.