Latest Oracle BI software tries to close the ‘insight to action’ loop

The latest iteration of Oracle’s Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition aims to close the loop between gaining insight and taking action

The latest version of Oracle’s business intelligence (BI) platform includes new features that could, at least according to one analyst, “set Oracle apart” from its BI competitors.

The new features include the ability to initiate a business process or other action from directly inside Oracle dashboards and other analytic applications. Developers can easily create connections between Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) 11g and other Oracle applications via Web services and import business process definitions, Oracle said.

Oracle’s human resources software, for example, can be hooked into OBIEE so an HR manager can analyze headcount and authorize a new hire in a dashboard. This contrasts with making the determination to make a new hire via dashboard analysis, then picking up the phone or moving to a separate HR application to actually begin the hiring process, said Paul Rodwick, vice president of product management for Oracle Corp.’s BI division.

Likewise, marketing executives analyzing campaign performance via an Oracle dashboard could redirect funds from one campaign to another without leaving the dashboard .

Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said traditional BI tools help users get insights from data but usually “stop short” of turning those insights into action.

OBIEE 11g’s new Action Framework, as Oracle is calling it, could help close this loop and, along with another new development, “could at least for awhile set Oracle apart,” Evelson said. “That’s a very significant feature.”

Cindi Howson, founder of BIScorecard, said the Action Framework doesn’t just allow users to take action inside analytic applications, but also recommends specific actions based on predetermined parameters.

She said Oracle is the first BI vendor she knows of to take this step. “That’s a pretty smart move,” she said.

The Action Framework only applies to Oracle applications, however.

Another noteworthy new feature is OBIEE’s Common Enterprise Information Model. The model allows developers to define data elements (what is a customer or product, for example) in a single semantic layer for use in all Oracle applications, now including OBIEE.

This will make it significantly easier for users to do complex analysis between applications, Oracle said.

Howard Dresner, founder and chief research officer of Nashua, N.H.-based Dresner Advisory Services LLC, said the integration of the Common Enterprise Information Model was perhaps the most significant upgrade Oracle made with the latest OBIEE release.

The lack of a single semantic layer had been causing some “customer frustration,” Dresner said. “I think customers are going to get a lot of value out of this.”

Dresner was more cautious about the new Action Framework, however.

“We’ve been talking about closed loop processing for about forever,” he said. “But my greatest concern is that it will be misused.”

Without enterprise-wide standards, Dresner said, different divisions within a company might take different actions based on the same analysis. He said Oracle should offer consulting services around the Action Framework to ensure “consistent” actions are taken enterprise-wide.

Other enhancements and new features in OBIEE 11g include:

  • The ability to analyze data from relational, OLAP and XML data sources, including Hyperion Essbase, in a single environment.
  • A thin-client report design editor that allows business users to publish both interactive, Web-based reports as well as high fidelity, but otherwise static production reports.
  • Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management, a new tool that Oracle says will help executives better integrate business objectives with key performance indicators.
  • Easier to navigate user interface and improved collaboration capabilities that allow users to share, annotate and make changes to reports and other analyses.

For all its new BI features and enhancements, Oracle still has some work to do on the in-memory analytic engine front, Forrester’s Evelson said. And the vendor lacks a strategy around brining its BI suite to the cloud, he said.

Still, thanks to recent enhancements, “Oracle really is a very significant player in business intelligence,” Evelson said.

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