Users Applaud Idea of Oracle BI as Center of the Universe

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-12-07

Users Applaud Idea of Oracle BI as Center of the Universe

SAN FRANCISCO—Know more, spend less.

The message was, characteristically, all-Oracle: Consolidate, ditch the special-purpose data warehouses, and move to a version of Oracle Corp.s Database 10g and Oracle BI (Business Intelligence) 10g that feature unified OLAP and relational (SQL) data engines and infrastructure, hooking directly into the Oracle database and in the process erasing all difference in data formats, making users blind to OLAP/relational sourcing, and ushering in the nirvana of plunking data directly into the beloved and ubiquitous Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheet.

Thats the mantra that Oracle Vice President of BI Ray Roccaforte trumpeted in his keynote here on the opening day of Oracle OpenWorld, as Oracle announced Oracle BI 10g, a vision of information reporting that, unsurprisingly, puts Oracle Database 10g squarely in the center of the universe.

Audience members in a keynote devoted to BI 10g loved it, practically without reservation.

"I was shocked you could touch the database and pull in the data, tweak and modify a report," said Randy Zenk, team leader of database administration at Priority Health, a health insurer in Grand Rapids, Mich., after witnessing a demonstration of the unified BI environment.

Priority Health now uses a mishmash of Discover, Microsoft Access and Oracle Reports for its reporting. Thats typical of most enterprises, which have a laundry list of BI tools and are drowning in data that they dont know how to prioritize and cant handle centrally because of disparate formats, Roccaforte said.

"The old approach would be that youd have a central database, but then to handle special-purpose processing, people would purchase an OLAP engine to do advanced analytics, another BI engine to do data mining, yet another to do relational," he said. "Youd also have a complicated set of tools. Tools written to run against OLAP servers dont run against relational engines as well."

Oracle is proposing that users consolidate servers and databases, thus lowering costs and improving back-end performance; consolidate BI infrastructure, moving to one integrated dashboard for business users; focus on data quality and data integration, arriving at a "single version of the truth"; and take advantage of Oracles pre-built BI over integrated transaction systems.

Zenk liked the look—one seamless environment, regardless of data source, that would mean streamlined training. "Its similar no matter which application piece youre in," he said. "It would probably be easy to train people once somebodys caught on" to the general environment, he said.

Zenk also liked the ability to e-mail a dashboard, it being a means of ensuring that end users would all have the same data. At this point, thats not a given, since one user may create an Access report one day, another user can report against Access the second day, and the reports would differ when the two went into a meeting, Zenk said.

But would Priority Health be willing to consolidate to such an extent on Oracle systems? Oh, yes, Zenk said. The insurer is now an Oracle and Sybase Inc. database shop, but its on track to become 100 percent Oracle, moving its Oracle 9i.2.04 databases in the direction of RAC (Real Application Clusters).

Why RAC? Roccaforte said that RAC and ASM (Automatic Storage Management) allow users to take advantage of low-cost storage devices and low-cost servers. Thats Oracles grid message: Put together a large number of commodity components into one, scalable system.

One consultant for a major defense contractor, who requested anonymity, said that her firm was absolutely interested in implementing BI 10g for the Department of Transportations Federal Aviation Administration, since the FAA now suffers from the same mishmash of BI servers, applications and databases that Oracle is proposing to squeeze out.

Next Page: BI 10g a step in the right direction.

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Another Oracle user, Jack Biliter II, said Oracle BI 10g is a step in the right direction when it comes to figuring out which specific data in the companys ocean of data is relevant. "Weve gone through several phases of being inundated with data," said Biliter, vice president of planning and analysis for EverBank Financial Corp., a private holding company headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. "Whats worth looking at?"

He said that BI 10gs capability of setting up "stoplights"—i.e., the ability to set parameters around data that flags when sales are slipping too low in a given area or time frame, for example—would help departments start analyzing data more efficiently, as they narrow down their focus to whats really important. For example, when a sales region is doing well, cells in a table turn green. When they slip below a specified limit, cells turn red.

Biliter would like to see BI 10g go further with regard to integrating with Excel, however. "[This version] still needs to go to Discover to set up a data pool," he said. "Id like to work from Excel."

One question Roccaforte tackled was what, exactly, is different in BI 10g from the Oracle BI tools that have been available exclusively in Application Server. He said that, while Oracle put OLAP and advanced calculation data-mining capabilities into the database with the release of 9i, Oracle "didnt complete the job."

"We still had the tools problem," he said. In other words, tools built to access relational data typically couldnt access multidimensional data structures. Thats the problem thats been solved with Oracle BI 10g, he said, and its this that has provided unified access for OLAP and relational data and what will provide a totally new, unified end-user experience, wherein users wont be able to know if data is relational or OLAP.

Data quality is another target of BI 10g. ETL is now a "huge time sink" for many customers, Roccaforte said. BI 10g provides rich metadata support and rich data quality support, featuring Oracles Customer Data Hub, which serves up one master version of customer data and which is the model for a series of data hubs the company announced at OpenWorld on Monday.

Oracle Vice President of Product Lifecycle Management Development and Chief Applications Architect Kurt Robson said that the Data Hub model is targeted at dealing with the fact that different records exist in myriad applications throughout an enterprise.

"What we found [since releasing the Customer Data Hub] was that some customers were using the customer database as a master for other legacy systems and other point solutions," he said. "We built that not just to carry predefined information but to be extensible. They were making it the truth for their entire environment. So we packaged this module of Oracle e-Business Suite up as a separate component, focusing on APIs around the customer master so co could implement that customer master, even use it as a master for the data warehouse.

"Even when a separate system would introduce a customer record, it could go through the APIs, check for duplicates, and if there was no duplicate, introduce it into the Customer Data Hub, and other systems would subscribe to that."

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