Oracle’s BI Suite Reborn?

The revamped BI Suite incorporates analytic technology from the former Siebel Systems Inc., which Oracle acquired 16 months ago.

It was just about a year ago that Oracle Corp. unveiled Oracle Business Intelligence (BI) Suite, a revamped, enlarged, and Project Fusion-ized version of its erstwhile Oracle Business Intelligence offering.

At the time, some industry watchers groused that Oracle BI Suite promised a bit more than it actually delivered. There may have been something to that (http://www.adtmag.com/article.aspx?id=18373), but with Monday’s release of a revamped BI Suite offering, Oracle hopes to put such grumblings to rest.

The retooled package, dubbed Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition 10g R3, incorporates analytic technology from the former Siebel Systems Inc., which Oracle acquired 16 months ago. The new R3 release amounts to an incremental upgrade over Siebel 7.8, even as it adds significantly to the functionality of the BI Suite Enterprise Edition which Oracle first introduced last March.

Nor does the new BI Suite incorporate the ETL and data integration assets of the former Sunopsis Inc., which Oracle nabbed late last year. Not yet, at least: earlier this month, Oracle unveiled a re-badged version of the former Sunopsis technology, dubbed Oracle Data Integrator (ODI), on its Oracle Technology Network Web site. Unlike Oracle Warehouse Builder (OWB), ODI is designed to complement Oracle’s Project Fusion middleware layer.

Oracle plans to provide more details about ODI in the coming weeks, officials promise. In the meantime, they say there’s plenty for new and existing customers to explore in the retooled Oracle BI Suite.

Oracle Does Right By Its Namesake

Legend has it that the priestesses at Delphi and at other ancient oracles used to prophesy instantaneously, with little or no pause for reflection or cognition.

Call it real-time decision-making, circa the first millennium BCE.

BI-driven decision-making isn’t quite as turnkey. And in this respect, Oracle’s BI technology—like that of its competitors—has charted a more torturous course to real-time nirvana. The reason, experts say, is that real-time BI—or, more precisely, the loosely coupled data and application infrastructure that (in most cases) empowers real-time decision-making—is a lot more complicated than spontaneous divination.

That’s why Project Fusion gives Oracle a demonstrable edge, officials claim. True, it might have been born of necessity—i.e., as a means to integrate Oracle’s disparate PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, and classic applications—but Project Fusion also gave Oracle an opportunity to optimize the integration between and among its constituent applications.

The result, experts say, is a cohesive BI Suite whose whole is much greater than the sum of its disparate parts. “Unlike products such as Oracle BI Discoverer, Oracle Reports Services, and Oracle Portal, the query and delivery tools within BI Suite Enterprise Edition were built from the ground up to share the same metadata, application server platform, calculation infrastructure and administration tools,” writes Oracle consultant Mark Rittman.

Nor does R3 disappoint on the real-time tip. Nearly a year into its Project Fusion make-over, the revamped Oracle BI Suite delivers what Oracle officials claim are bona-fide real-time capabilities—including a real-time Interactive Dashboard component. “We made some enhancements to the Oracle Interactive Dashboards, which make those dashboards even more interactive [so that users can] change presentation variables on-the-fly, change the value in real-time and have the analytics be calculated on-the-fly,” says Rick Schultz, vice-president of Fusion Middleware with Oracle. “They [are] instantaneous [calculations]. Before, there just wasn’t an easy way to quickly sub in a new value and have the entire set of information recalculated based on that new variable. Now there is.”

Other improvements include support for conditional chart formatting, PDF generation (such that users can generate PDF files from snapshots of their interactive dashboards), and JSR168 portlet support. Oracle Answers—the BI Suite’s ad hoc query and analysis tool—also gets an R3-ready revamping, says Schultz: “We’ve added a drag-and-drop layout editor [and] we’ve added a calculations editor to make it easier for end-users to modify a formula.”

While a lot of new Oracle BI Suite features came from Siebel, its revamped reporting component—which boasts pixel-perfect reporting capabilities—is homegrown, officials claim. “The reporting came from Oracle, [what used to be called] Oracle XML Publisher, which we now call Oracle BI Publisher. It supports pixel-perfect analysis and reporting,” Schultz indicates. “So you can do documents to forms to checks, statements, invoices, labels, etc. It also supports editing and production in Word and Excel and Adobe Acrobat.”

Speaking of Word, Excel, and other Office productivity tools, the revamped BI Suite Enterprise Edition boasts improved Office integration, too. New features include support for most Office output formats, enhanced data export capabilities, and live interaction with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

Elsewhere, Oracle officials touted features like improved data mart automation—such that users can create data models directly from business views and automatically generate the physical data mart structure—improved performance (including native 64-bit support, a new hypercube infrastructure, and multi-pass calculation optimizations and others), and other niceties.

Big Deal or Big Brouhaha?

So just how big of a deal is Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition R3 10g? Oracle consultant Rittman says it’s all a matter of perspective.

“This is more or less what Siebel themselves planned to release as part of the Siebel 8.0 stack, but it’s got Oracle’s XML Publisher integrated—[although it’s] now known as BI Publisher—plus it’s got some integration points with Oracle Fusion Middleware,” Rittman says. “It’s not dramatically different [than] Siebel Analytics 7.8; it’s more of an update to the existing product rather than a complete overhaul—this will come with the 11g release in 2008.”

In this respect, Rittman says, while R3 is a significant improvement over the first rev of Oracle’s BI Suite, it’s only an incremental improvement, at best, over Siebel’s next planned analytic release. “[R3] is a big improvement over the previous offering,” if by “previous offering” one means Oracle Discoverer, Oracle Reports, and other legacy offerings, he says. “If … you mean Siebel Analytics 7.8, then it’s not a major overhaul—this will come with 11g.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.