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Oracle BI platform on the comeback trail

Time had seemingly left Oracle's business intelligence tools behind -- until the vendor responded by consolidating its BI products and catching up to the pace of innovation.

The Oracle BI platform remains a relevant, vibrant suite of analytics products after all these years.

Oracle is one of the legacy business intelligence vendors -- one of the companies that began producing tools for data analysis long before terms like augmented intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing were born. But while many of its long-ago competitors have disappeared and some that remain struggle to keep up with the pace of innovation, the Oracle BI platform is going strong.

"They've generally been followers, but they're keeping up," said Rick Sherman, founder and managing partner of Athena IT Solutions. "They've done an extremely good job."

That's not to say there weren't hard times. In fact, just a few years ago Oracle BI software seemed out of date.

The company was in danger of becoming one of the legacy vendors that time passed by.

The vendor reacted. It met with customers and heard their complaints. It invested in innovation to include more AI and machine learning. It simplified its product suite. And it changed its management team to help take the Oracle BI platform forward.

"They had a leading traditional semantic-based platform, but when the industry transitioned to user-based visualizations, Oracle didn't respond quickly," said Rita Sallam, data and analytics analyst at Gartner. "Over the last three to four years, they've invested heavily in new capabilities … and their new products are well-positioned to compete with the rest of the market."

They had a leading traditional semantic-based platform, but when the industry transitioned to user-based visualizations Oracle didn't respond quickly. Over the last three to four years they've invested heavily in new capabilities ... and their new products are well-positioned to compete with the rest of the market.
Rita SallamData and analytics analyst, Gartner

From 18 BI products to three

The Oracle BI platform, operating in the umbrella name Oracle Analytics, currently consists of Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC), Oracle Analytics Server (OAS) and Oracle Analytics for Applications.

OAC is a platform delivered as a cloud service; OAS is an option that can be deployed on premises or through a third-party cloud vendor and allows users the option of migrating to Oracle's cloud at their own pace; and Oracle Analytics for Applications is aimed at SaaS users.

"They've done a nice job of weaving augmented analytics capabilities into OAC, with its natural language generation and natural language query and interaction options being particularly strong," said Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

He added, however, that it remains to be seen just how actively Oracle will facilitate multi-cloud deployment and the extent to which AI capabilities will be featured in OAS.

Before being pared down to three products, the Oracle BI platform consisted of a mind-boggling 18.

"The first thing we heard from customers was, 'Make it easier for me to deploy Oracle Analytics,'" said Bruno Aziza, vice president of Oracle Analytics. "The first aspect of that was to simplify our product lineup. It's a lot easier for customers to understand how to consume the value from Oracle."

Despite being pared down from 18 to three products, capabilities that users relied on weren't eliminated. The Oracle BI platform still supports the first-generation tools that IT departments and data developers used to make semantic models and reports, along with the data visualizations popularized in the second-generation products, as well as the machine learning, natural language processing and AI features that make up the next generation.

"We believe that these three waves of analytics are net additive," said T.K. Anand, senior vice president of Oracle Analytics. "They do not replace previous waves -- they build on top of the other. … We don't believe that IT reports and dashboards are going to go away in the future. At the same time, we believe that analytics can reach an order of magnitude made available through mobile devices, through natural language, automatic insights that are revealed through AI algorithms.

"Our strategy is to provide all of these capabilities in a single integrated platform."

Daily traffic volume for the Washington, D.C., area is displayed on an Oracle Analytics dashboard.
An Oracle Analytics dashboard shows the traffic volume per day for the Washington, D.C., area.

Beyond the complexity of 18 products, according to Aziza, customers complained about the complicated nature of Oracle's pricing. The response was to change it to two plans -- payment on a per-user basis or on a per-server basis.

Finally, he said, customers wanted more transparency. As a result, in June, Oracle held an Oracle Analytics Summit at which it unveiled the pared-down product lineup and even went so far as to publish its roadmap.

Beyond the three products that make up the current Oracle BI platform, an addition will be unveiled next week at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

"Their technological prowess is much brighter than [other legacy vendors]," Sherman said. "They've spawned off adept entrepreneurs, and they've impressed with their survival capabilities."

Despite all Oracle has done to respond to customer concerns and improve the Oracle BI platform, according to Sallam, there are challenges that remain. In particular, while Oracle has taken steps to appease its existing customer base, attracting new clients could be a challenge.

"Will they attract new customers who are looking at Tableau, ThoughtSpot, Qlik, Power BI?" she asked. "They're doing everything they can, but it's easier to change a product than it is to change hearts and minds. ... The pieces are in place, but the market just has to believe them and give them a chance."

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