Oracle: Embedded BI detects, analyses and acts

Oracle’s senior director for business development, BI in the UK Nick Whitehead argues that the company’s BI Foundation Suite delivers the capability to act on insight.

Nick Whitehead is a 13-year veteran at Oracle, with an engineering degree from the University of Bath. He is senior director, business development for business intelligence (BI) in the UK.

He took time out to brief on how Oracle sees the BI market. What follows is an edited excerpt from that conversation.

What is the Oracle BI proposition, in your own words?

Nick Whitehead: One aspect is managing information for analytics and another is presentation of analytic information to business users. We have consolidated our platform into the Oracle BI Foundation. On top of that we have built analytic applications. It is worth noting in passing, too, that Oracle Fusion Applications have business intelligence embedded.

The BI applications are not just for Oracle customers. We’ve launched a BI application for SAP financial customers and we shall extend that. And [we] also [have] content for specific industries, for example, around Solvency II for financial services.

Below the platform itself, and on the information management side, there is Oracle for data warehousing, and most recently, the Exadata appliance for managing that. It’s been quite successful for us, giving high query performance and high scalability.

What, for you, is the particular value of Exadata?

Whitehead: One of the virtues of the Exadata platform is the capability to manage OLTP [online transaction processing] and analytic workloads. So, the sweet spot is where customers are doing an infrastructure refresh around their OLTP and doing more with analytics. From an information management point of view, it represents the culmination of many years of investment in the database itself – [for example, in the form of] embedded OLAP [online analytical processing] technology or embedded spatial technology, which is increasingly important.

Tell us about the BI Foundation

Whitehead: It’s the integration of several capabilities. BI Suite Enterprise Edition is our core, which we acquired with Siebel, bought, of course, as a CRM [customer relationship management] company. What was interesting when we took the covers off Siebel was the analytics. The next capability was Hyperion, bought primarily as a company for the CFO. It automates classic processes like planning, strategic finance, profitability analysis, but is increasingly used outside the finance function. Finance professionals have moved on from the idea of Excel as a planning tool; other areas are following.

A lot of Hyperion had been built on Essbase, which is also an OLAP technology that gives a world-class modelling environment. That is significant because with a typical analytical model you start with detecting something that affects your business. The next thing is to analyse what has happened and the impact of that. But next is what do you do? Essbase’s scenario planning comes in there.

Excel is a competitor to Essbase, as are other multidimensional technologies, too. But there is nothing with quite the pedigree of Essbase in terms of installed base.

You imply a strategic cycle of detecting, analysing, assessing and then acting. What does your technology in this area put an organisation in a position to do?

Whitehead: Acting on insight is quite hard to do. You can chair swivel from your BI system, (which gives detection and impact) to OLTP. We’ve sought to build into the BI Foundation the ability to act. This action framework was a core part of the Business Intelligence 11g launch in July 2010. At the deepest level, one can automate the process of defining an action using SOA [service-oriented architecture], you can integrate a business workflow with insight – for example, procurement supplier choice, involving, say, quality lead times, not just cost; or what is the right risk path to take in financial services.

This building of end user [analysis and decision making] capability into the BI Foundation – the balance score carding, the anomaly detecting around KPIs [key performance indicators], and so on – is recent for us. It is more tightly embedded than elsewhere in the market. What binds everything together is our common information model – a metadata-driven layer in our tool. That provides a consistency of decision making that is essential.

Is the technology buyer changing for BI?

Whitehead: In the past, central IT dominated decision making in BI and it still does in large corporates, but there is a growing interest in central IT being more connected with the businesspeople. And so, we can't just rely on talking to a centralised IT function; the business units can have their own pools of technical expertise. We work with our management consultancy and systems integration partners to set up BI competency centres. There is usually a BI group in large corporates, and dedicated architects. In the UK, especially, we spend time running architect master classes in information management. We’ve been running those for three to four years and are starting to see those elsewhere in Europe as well.

See our coverage from Oracle OpenWorld 2011.

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