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Oracle Business Intelligence Applications Get Analytic Infusion

Oracle's BI Application product line was updated with the addition of several analytic amenities. What's new and how do the changes improve Oracle's E-business Suite?

Ever since its debut two years ago, the E-Business Suite from Oracle Corp. has functioned as a kind of kitchen-sink repository for Oracle's enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management (SCM) applications.

Last month, the Oracle E-Business Suite received a business intelligence infusion of sorts thanks to a new platform refresh (to version 12.1) and an update (to version 7.9.6) of Oracle's Business Intelligence Applications. The revamped Oracle applications boast improved connectivity to J.D. Edwards and introduce a number of new analytic amenities. They also raise at least one question -- how does Oracle position its Business Intelligence Applications relative to its bread-and-butter Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition?

Oracle Business Intelligence is by no means Oracle's successor when it comes to BI. Instead, Oracle maintains a separate kitchen-sink-like repository, the aptly-branded Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation, which consists of a quintet of offerings, with the flagship Oracle Business Suite Enterprise Edition Plus at the top of the pecking order.

On the other hand, Oracle has had demonstrable success with its Oracle Business Intelligence applications, thanks to their canned integration with the Oracle E-Business Suite.

"I am seeing Oracle BI gaining momentum because of the analytic apps, which [offer] prebuilt integration with [Oracle] E-Business [Suite] and PeopleSoft and Seibel. I don't see them getting their foot in the door because of the [Oracle] database," said industry veteran Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard.com, earlier this year.

That's what makes last month's Oracle Business Intelligence 7.9.6 release so intriguing. It's largely based on analytic technology that Oracle acquired in late 2005 from the former Siebel Systems Inc. (It should be noted that the former PeopleSoft gave Oracle at least some analytic functionality, along with performance management technology.) Over time, however, Oracle has built more and greater BI functionality (including data integration linkages – in the form of adapters to PeopleSoft, Oracle, and other applications) into the Oracle Business Intelligence Applications.

For example, the recent 7.9.6 release includes prepackaged ETL links for Oracle's J.D. Edwards applications; new data warehouse schemas; canned metrics and key performance indicators (KPI); and new module-specific analytic functionality.

"The idea is to offer [customers] something that's prepackaged, so it can be deployed quickly and can connect directly to the transaction systems, but also has a low cost of ownership," comments John O'Rourke, vice-president of marketing at Oracle. "So what we're offering … is expanded content, a new adapter for J.D. Edwards, [so that] J.D. Edwards financial customers can use the business intelligence applications … to do financial analytics."

O'Rourke describes the new J.D. Edwards-specific adapter as a superior alternative to the general-purpose Universal Adapter that Oracle had previously prescribed for use with J.D. Edwards. Customers traditionally used that connector to get data out of non-Oracle systems -- chief among them, SAP. The new J.D. Edwards adapter, on the other hand, is based on a "conformed data model" that's optimized for J.D. Edwards applications. In other words, O'Rourke maintains, it offers a more straightforward -- and more elegant -- way to get data out of J.D. Edwards and into Oracle Business Intelligence.

He points out that users of multiple Oracle applications -- e.g., PeopleSoft, Siebel, and J.D. Edwards -- can effectively consolidate data from each of these sources into a single data warehouse with a shared metadata layer. "We have 2,000 customers using [Oracle BI applications] … that's still a pretty small percentage of the Oracle E-business Suite that are using that application. There's a big opportunity for us in the Oracle installed base to help customers move data from those systems and bring it into [the Oracle BI Suite]," he observes. "Our conformed data model allows you to integrate data not just from one source but from multiple sources into the warehouse, [and] also allows you to link data from multiple modules, so there's one big conformed data model that has a lot of different schemas and subsets to it for integration across those data models."

The revamped Oracle Business Intelligence ships with new Project Analytics and Loyalty Analytics components. The former is designed to ease tracking of project-related budgets, forecasts, costs, revenues, funding, and -- of course -- project performance.

"There's a lot of demand for Project Analytics. I know that many organizations … in the public sector and private sector run things by projects as opposed to just cost centers. They have different project management systems that are collecting budgets, costs, billing information, and there's a need for individual project managers to have better visibility into their projects. This is also ideal for managers managing portfolio projects, or government managers managing 10 different projects. It lets them look at the overall portfolio of projects and see which ones are tracking … well, as well as take corrective action, to get … [projects that aren't tracking well] back on track," he says.

The new Loyalty Analytics component is designed to complement Oracle's existing Siebel Loyalty Management application.

"This lets [users] improve customer loyalty through membership programs. This is really there to help those types of managers improve the effectiveness of their programs, improve their retention levels, improve customer loyalty," O'Rourke says, "so when we pull information in from a Siebel Loyalty module, we can look at [for example] which [customers] are the frequent fliers or the frequent users of your program. You could maybe then create a special program to reach out to these customers, but you also want to understand the effectiveness of these campaigns -- understand how effective those are in terms of driving the business and driving overall customer loyalty."

O'Rourke is careful to position the analytic capabilities that Oracle has delivered as part of Oracle Business Intelligence 7.9.6 as "in no way" competitive with the features of the Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition. The former are analytic applications designed to enable turnkey integration with Oracle's E-Business Suite; the latter, for its part, offers a general purpose foundation for BI and DW.

In this respect, he says, the new Oracle Business Intelligence features "complement existing [functionality] where it makes sense to do so," he maintains. Indeed, Oracle's competitors – including both IBM Corp. (steward of the former Cognos Inc. application stack) and SAP AG (proprietor of the former Business Objects SA product stack) have also touted application-specific -- and increasingly industry-specific -- analytic offerings. Since acquiring Cognos Inc. in November of 2007, for example, Big Blue has articulated both general BI (similar to what Oracle is about with its Business Intelligence Foundation) and application-specific BI strategies. Earlier this year, IBM even outlined a new top-to-bottom analytic framework for aspiring organizations. This vision encompasses the universe of Big Blue's BI, DW, data federation, and other middleware offerings.

The same can be said (though to a lesser extent) for SAP, which – owing in part to Business Objects' comparative late start relative to symmetrical competitors Cognos and Hyperion Solutions Corp. -- recently announced its Enterprise Performance Management Framework.

The issue, then, isn't so much one of cannibalization as of application- or even industry-specific enhancement, according to O'Rourke.

"The major new content we're providing now -- Project Analytics, Loyalty Analytics -- these are things customers have been asking for," he notes. "For example, HR is a popular application. There's a lot of demand for additional content there, so we added some HR Analytics, because customers are looking for more content around things like recruiting, or around employee development," O'Rourke concludes. "It's really the additional content we're adding here."

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