Oracle Customer Data Hubs Chief Defends CDH Model

Q&A: Peter Heller, Oracle senior director of Customer Data Hubs, elucidates the potential value and current implementation of the technology.

/zimages/5/100213.jpg How much did you sell yesterday? How much was in inventory? If it wasnt in inventory, how much will it cost to build? What did you spend yesterday? Who is your best supplier of PCs? Whos got the lowest cost? Who can deliver most quickly?

Oracle Corp. wants to hook you up with all the answers via its most recent technology vision, based around data hubs that feed into one huge, centralized database. The Redwood Shores, Calif., company announced the first of this hub series, the Customer Data Hub, 14 months ago.

Its an ambitious vision, encompassing everything from stopping terrorists at the border to hooking pancake restaurant customers up with guaranteed response times to complaints.

But at least one critic, The CDI (customer data integration) Institutes Aaron Zornes, says that Oracles hub vision is mostly fluff.

Whatever technology is out there, Zornes says, is mostly built on precursor technology such as Oracles data engine—known as TCA (Trading Community Architecture)—or OCO (Oracle Customers Online).

Oracles CDH hasnt been proved scalable, Zornes contends, nor is much of anybody using it except Type A shops that can build it themselves. Moreover, with no formal training until recently, it doesnt even qualify as a product, Zornes maintains.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about Aaron Zornes doubts about Oracles customer data hubs, click here for the column by Lisa Vaas.

Ouch, ouch and double-ouch. Database Editor Lisa Vaas recently got Oracle Senior Director of Customer Data Hubs Peter Heller on the line to dig a little deeper into where exactly Oracles hub technology is at, as well as to answer some of Zornes charges.

One of the complaints about Oracles approach to CDI is its too broad: that Oracle is missing the crucial vertical industry insight of a product such as the financial industry has with DWL Customer, for example. Whats your response?

The way we model customers allows us to model for what we call business-to-business interactions. It allows us to do business-to-consumer, business-to-employee, and business-to-business-to-consumer. The fact that were structured in this robust way means the data model applies to many industries. Customers in 17 industries are now using this Customer Data hub.

When we speak to customers about solving customer data problems, everybody has questions about fields: "Do you have this field, that field?" Its an easy answer: You can always add another field.

We have the metadata on top: It doesnt require programmers to add a field to the data model. You can just add a field through the mechanism of the system. Whats important is the way customers are related to each other, the way they form these structures—b2c, etc—thats the heart and soul of it. Thats the hard part, the part that people value.

Is anybody actually using this stuff out of the box, though? Or are they all building it themselves from TCA and OCO, as Zornes suggests?

[Zornes] misunderstands a few things. Weve tried to make it clear. What were getting at here, the heart and soul of this, the oldest element of this product thats been in place is TCA, the data model.

Its the richness of that data model thats the value statement, the most valuable part of the architecture. On top of the data model and subsequent to our early release of it, we released [OCO]. It was a viewer that looks at all the customers in the data model. Its very cleverly laid out. Its very cool.

We consider it a product. Its on the price list, and were selling it. You just dont do that willy-nilly. The stepback is the make-or-buy conversation. There are about 40 vendors that make bits or pieces: integration, data quality, enrichment, synchronization or data models, themselves.

What Oracles offering is more of these pieces pre-built, pre-integrated and supported by a major vendor, than anybody else. When it comes to product features vs. integration features, for product features, what theyre implementing is the data model, DQM [Data Quality Manager], OCO and APIs to the data model.

Thats the package. Those are the things that make up the heart and soul of this product. IHOP [Corp.] will tell you thats what they have, and Church Pension Group and other customers.

The integration portion is always going to be custom. Thats a level playing field for all vendors across the board. I dont have that as a fact, but when it comes to hooking systems up, thats a custom effort. Its the event model, in the system itself, when changes are made and detected, that is the product feature.

We have 53 inbound APIs. Thats part of the product. That doesnt mean everybody uses 53. They might use five, or one. But the product is considered to be an open platform. You can access it, send data to it through a standards-based infrastructure. Theres no dependency on Oracle Applications Server. Many customers implemented choices of middleware—they had made prior choices, and we considered that a good thing.

Theres always an element of customization. It takes a couple of years to implement this kind of thing. The fact that we released initial components in May of 2000 … the fact that we had early customers doesnt eliminate the fact that … weve enhanced the whole offering for three to four releases.

Not everybodys going to use all the features. Thats nothing false about what were saying just because theyre not using all the features. Customers are on different product paths.

Next Page: Does CDH work best in all-Oracle shops?